How to Stop Using Paper Towels (and Be More Eco-Friendly!)

Let’s talk about paper towels. Raise your hand if you know where they come from. Trees. Everyone answered trees there, right? Right?! Well… here’s something that surprises so many Americans. You don’t actually need paper towels. I know! I know! It’s gonna be okay, I promise, this is not the apocalypse!

So I actually grew up never using paper towels. We had sponges and dishtowels that cleaned up all the kitchen messes and used rags for all the other messes. As I got older I eventually realized how disturbing this was to most Americans. It wasn’t all that rare for people to say things such as, “You don’t use paper towels? Such a dirty hippie!” or “How inconvenient, you must like making your life more difficult!” This happened regularly! It was like we offended people, by having a different lifestyle choice. Isn’t it funny how people take differences as insult? We certainly weren’t trying to convince anyone to change their own ways, we just simply said, “Oh we don’t have those,” when people asked for a paper towel at our house and handed them a sponge / dishtowel / rag depending on their need.

When I grew up and began living in my own space, I had no interest in turning to paper towels. After all, I wasn’t used to having them, so it would have been a change to try to remember to purchase them. I did not however, want to use a sponge either. Now there are totally environmental reasons to avoid plastic sponges and there are natural sponge alternatives which address those concerns. But, if we’re being honest, my decision to not use sponges came more from dislike than environmentalism. I really dislike the sensation of picking up a used, cold, wet sponge. Yuck! Plus, I was never one of those people who would remember to stick sponges in the dishwasher or microwave to sanitize them regularly, so I just feel like any sponge that’s ever been in my possession was a secret harbor of germs and grossness. So I decided to find a better alternative.

So how did I replace paper towels and sponges? I went old school. For the kitchen, I bought these Target RE brand washcloths, but in navy which they no longer sell. I picked navy, because it’s a difficult color to stain with things like berries. I wipe down any messes in the kitchen with these and can wash dishes with them too.  I mostly use a bamboo scrubber for dishes though. Every day I use one or two kitchen towels and then they go into a pile to wash.

I keep a big stack in a bin under the sink and I use a sponge holder to hold the one “in use” in the sink. It drains this way and dries pretty well for the next use. I make sure to wring it out before sticking it in here though.

The towels absorb way more water than a paper towel and are super easy to wring out and reuse if I spill a large amount of liquid. You guys – I really think these are functionally way better than paper towels! And function is the most important right?

And… I have these washcloths in a second color color: tan. I use them to remove make up and wash my face. Works like a charm. The tan can’t be stained tan by my foundation and my mascara washes right out. I also keep a drawer full of hand towels that I literally only use for drying hands after washing them. Since it’s only being used for just cleaned hands, the towels stay super clean and nice.

Finally, since I’d really am obsessed, I own the same wash clothes in a third color: white. I use them as rags for any gross messes. It makes my brain happy to have separate towels for separate uses even though I know it really wouldn’t make a difference since I am washing them.

A few steps from the kitchen are my basement stairs (the laundry is in the basement) and I keep two buckets there on the first two steps. One blue can for kitchen towels & hand towels and one white one for white rags. When the buckets get full I wash them separately and then fold them to stick in a bin under the sink or with the cleaning supplies. This actually takes less time than going to the store and back for paper towels. Also more functionally, the amount of space it takes to store these is super minimal. No huge pack of paper towels hogging the precious closet space at my house!

So if you’re looking for a quick and easy change that’s environmentally friendly saving some trees, consider giving this a try. But, also remember, to not deride your friends and family for having alternative methods and practices. Everyone has to figure out what works for them. This works for me and I think it’s actually more functional and space saving, but it might be different for someone else’s lifestyle.

Do you use paper towels? How do you feel about it? Are you considering a switch, happy where you are, or have you tried to give them up only to realize they’re the best thing for your lifestyle? Let me know in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “How to Stop Using Paper Towels (and Be More Eco-Friendly!)

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