March 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Paper Towels

One item our family has given up is our use of paper towels.  It took some sweet-talking, but after I got Amelia's ok it has been smooth sailing and got rid of one of the items that we regularly threw out in the garbage.



In our efforts to be more environmentally friendly we've tried to take a look at the items that go into our recycling and trash cans and determine how we can eliminate or reduce those items.  Paper towels were an early and somewhat obvious choice.  For the following reasons we decided to get rid of paper towels:

  • Single-use - after using a paper towel there is no opportunity to reuse, and usually no opportunity to recycle either.
  • Cost - although paper towels are not an expensive item per unit (around $1 or $2 each) it is a cost that can be almost entirely eliminated by using reusable cloth towels.  Cloth towels have a similar, or often lower, up-front cost, but can be reused many, many times (we haven't yet discarded one in about a year and half of use).
  • Readily available alternative - Cloth towels / tea towels have been around for many, many years and are more durable than paper towels.  We use these towels to dry dishes, clean off the table and countertops, and for any other kitchen cleaning need.  It is also easy to add cute animal designs, as you can see here.  
  • Lower environmental impact - paper towels are usually not made from recycled materials and utilize a number of chemicals in their production including chlorine related dioxins (from the bleaching process to make paper towels white).  We use an environmentally friendly detergent to wash our cloth towels and the usable life is long - I would guess at least 2 or 3 years per towel.
We put out a new cloth towel every day or two, and put the used towel in the laundry to wash with our clothes.  When the towels are too worn for use in the kitchen we plan to use them for cleaning around the house.

Suggested action steps:
  • Stop purchasing disposable paper towels and enjoy the cost savings
  • Purchase a set of 6 to 12 cloth towels to use in your home.  
    • We do keep a paper towel roll (non-bleached recycled paper towels) in a cabinet in case we have blood, motor oil, or some other harsh material to clean up but have rarely had to use them and have had the one roll for about a year now.


  1. I love it! Isn't it amazing how you can get by without some things. See this site about one year trash free. This guy didn't throw trash away for one year! The beginning of the year:
    After a year:

    1. Dianna,

      Thanks for the heads up on this blog - definitely some cool ideas and how-to instructions for the yard and home. I hadn't seen this one before, it's good to get new ideas and see what other people are doing.

  2. We have very similar linen dishtowels from my fiance's great grandmother. They are pretty cool and I definitely prefer to use them versus paper towels.

    1. Must be an art lost on the younger generation. I definitely don't have much in the way of sewing skills, so I'm hoping the ones we have last for a good long time.