Are Paper Towels Really Necessary?

I’ll admit it. I can be a bit of a paper towel junkie.

Not too bad. I don’t dry my hands with them (I use a cloth towel for that), but I still use paper towel probably more than I should, given the waste.

It’s 99.9% the convenience of it all. Kids are messy and paper towels are fast. When you’re cleaning up several spills a day most days, you get very fond of convenience.

At the same time I do think about the overall impact. Overusing paper towels generates quite a bit of waste. Using cloth over and over can be better.

There are some things which I do like paper towels better for. I use cast iron frying pans, and oiling them for storage I find paper towels are simpler. Otherwise I’d get a single use out of a clean towel and have to get oil out of it. I’d pretty much need a dedicated set that I didn’t mind the oil on.

If you can, I recommend switching to primarily cloth towels. If you have a nice supply in the hand towel or washcloth size range you can cope well with most jobs you would have used a paper towel for.

One of the tricks is to know that they often can be reused. If it’s a stinky or germy job you may only get one use before you need to wash, but just drying off your hands won’t require that you immediately send the towel to the wash. Keep that balance.

Different kinds of cloths can do some jobs better. There are some things I prefer the old style cloth diapers for. Not the new kind that work so nicely as diapers, but the old ones you can still see at the baby stores that you’d probably have to fold up a couple together to really soak up what babies can generate. The ones I have are pretty thin, but they do the job quite nicely in the place of paper towels a lot of the time, even if they aren’t pretty.

Other jobs do well with the standard terrycloth kind of towels. You’ll develop your own preferences as you go. The nice thing is that a cloth towel can do the job of several paper ones, as a rule, so you may be saving more than you think if you just count by the job.

Will I be giving up paper towels entirely anytime soon? Probably not. But I am working to steadily decrease my usage of them. It’s a challenging thing to give up with young children in the house.

One reply

  1. Kate says:

    I try to cut down on paper towels as much as possible and also try to only buy the ones made from recycled paper, but I live in an apartment with shared laundry facilities so using cloth generates a huge laundry pile pretty quickly–and I’m not thrilled about having damp dirty cloths sit in that pile for a few days if I can’t get to it right away.

    I wish “green” paper towel companies would start doing the half sheets that some regular brands have. Most of the things I use a paper towel for are easily handled by the smaller size so I’d be using less.

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