Tag Archives: paper towels

How to Quit Using Paper Towels

Paper towels are almost ubiquitous these days in the United States. Most families use them because they’re just so convenient! No extra laundry, just use that quicker picker upper and throw it in the trash.

Only trouble is that it’s a bit wasteful. How wasteful depends on the source of your paper towels, whether they’re made of post consumer recycled materials and so forth, but overall, they’re probably on the wasteful side of things. At the very least you have to keep buying them.

But they’re so convenient, how do you quit?

1. Warn your family

Your spouse and children are the most likely to resist the switch. It can be a bit difficult to get buy-in on getting rid of paper towels, even if you’re the main one doing the laundry.

On the other hand, my oldest was delighted to see that a microfiber cleaning cloth was indeed as good at absorbing water as the one on the commercial. Made paper towels a bit less interesting.

2. Pick other cleaning cloths

You have a few options for other cleaning cloths. The most eco friendly is to use rags made of cloths you’d be throwing out otherwise. Think of bath towels that have gone bad and are ready to be torn into smaller pieces. Think of t-shirts with holes that really shouldn’t be worn anymore.

These are great, eco friendly and really kind to the budget.

But if you’d rather buy something, microfiber cleaning cloths are popular with good reason. They do an amazingly good job, and good quality ones last a long time.

They’re made of synthetic materials, so they aren’t perfectly environmentally friendly, but the good ones last very well and are strong enough to help you get surfaces clean even without conventional cleaners. I use vinegar and/or baking soda for much of my cleaning, and those products get along great with my microfiber cloths.

Microfiber cleaning cloths are soft, but are textured well enough to scrub. They can absorb a nice amount of liquid, so one cloth can go pretty far when you’re cleaning.

3. Finish off, store or give away your remaining paper towels

You have the paper towels, you may as well use them. You have a few options for what exactly you’re going to do with them.

You could just finish off what you have, trying to slow down their use rather than making the family go cold turkey on paper towel use.

If you have an emergency kit, you could put the rolls in there. You will need such convenient supplies if you ever have the sort of emergency where you need to use an emergency kit, so having paper towels in there is really not a bad thing.

You could also give your excess paper towels away. Just tell the people you’re giving them to what you’re up to. They might want to follow along eventually.

Stop Using Paper Towels – Green Step By Step

Paper towels are in many ways a wonderful convenience. I can admit that. But they’re also really wasteful. Use, throw away. Many recycling programs won’t even take them. The fibers in them are too short.

About the only good thing you can do with them is compost them if they don’t have any harsh cleaning chemicals on them.

Better yet is to get used to using cloth towels. It adds a bit to your laundry, but perhaps not as much as you might think.

I love my microfiber cleaning cloths. For general cleaning they do a great job and last a long time. But for most jobs any appropriately sized towel you already own will do the job. But microfiber holds a lot of liquid as a rule, and doesn’t leave as much lint behind all the time.

Making the switch may cost a little upfront, but think about what paper towels cost you over a year. You will save money overall.

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.