Paper towels have become a staple in many households for their convenience in cleaning up spills, grease, pet messes, and more. However, they come at a high environmental cost. Paper towels are made from trees and require large amounts of water, chemicals, and energy to produce. They also pile up quickly in landfills, as most paper towels are used only once before being tossed.
Thankfully, there are many reusable alternatives that are just as effective. Switching to more sustainable options like washcloths, microfiber cloths, Swedish dishcloths, and other cloth towels allows you to greatly reduce waste and disposables in your home.
Key Takeaway: Paper towels generate huge amounts of waste and aren’t recyclable, but sustainable reusable alternatives can save money, trees, and the planet.
Why Make the Switch From Paper Towels?
Before we dive into the various reusable paper towel alternatives, let’s first look at why you should consider making the switch in the first place. There are several compelling reasons to swap paper towels for more sustainable options:
Immense Environmental Impact
The production, use, and disposal of paper towels takes a heavy toll on the environment. Here are some of the major concerns:
- Trees: Paper towels are made from trees, with an estimated 15 million trees harvested globally each year just for paper towel production. This contributes to deforestation, habitat loss, and reduced carbon absorption from our forests.
- Water use: It takes around 17 gallons of water to produce a single roll of paper towels. With U.S. consumption estimated at over 8 billion rolls per year, that’s a massive amount of water being used.
- Chemicals: Bleaches, inks, and other chemicals are used in paper towel production. These can pollute waterways near production facilities.
- Waste: Paper towels make up over 2% of landfill waste in the U.S. and are not recyclable. Even “recycled” paper towels require virgin wood pulp.
Clearly, the life cycle of paper towels takes a heavy toll on natural resources and the environment. Shifting to reusable options can massively reduce this impact.
They Aren’t Cost-Effective
Households spend an average of $115 per year on paper towels. Over a lifetime, the costs really add up compared to reusable towels that can be used for years. Even inexpensive reusable options like washcloths can save you big bucks in the long run.
Health Concerns About Chemicals
Many conventional paper towels are bleached white using chlorine bleach. Traces of these chlorine compounds can transfer to your hands and food. This may pose health risks, especially for children. Reusable cloth towels avoid this concern entirely.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Reusable Towels
When selecting reusable paper towel alternatives, keep the following factors in mind:
- Absorbency – The towel should soak up spills and messes effectively. Look for more absorbent fabrics like cotton terry or microfiber.
- Durability – It will need to stand up to regular use and laundering. Check product reviews to ensure good longevity.
- Drying speed – Quick-drying towels inhibit bacterial growth. Look for thin, lint-free fabrics like linen or microfiber.
- Stain resistance – Towels should clean up easily in the wash without stains. White or patterned fabrics hide stains well.
- Eco-friendly materials – Choose organic cotton, recycled fabrics, cellulose, bamboo and other green materials. Stay away from synthetic fibers like polyester.
- Price – Calculate cost per use over the towel’s lifespan. More durable options that can handle lots of washes are often worth paying more upfront.
Keep these factors in mind as we explore the best reusable alternatives to paper towels below.
7 Top Reusable Alternatives to Paper Towels
Simple cotton washcloths make an excellent eco-friendly paper towel swap. Look for highly absorbent cotton terry or textured waffle weave washcloths. The wrinkled texture helps soak up spills.
Washcloths come in affordable multi-packs. Get a stash in different colors for versatility. Use them for:
- Cleaning spills and messes
- Drying hands and dishes
- As reusable napkins
Cotton washcloths are highly durable and last for years with regular laundering. Toss them in the wash after use to rinse out stains, grease, and bacteria. Washcloths are less prone to odors than sponges. Letting them air dry prevents mildew smells.
Key Takeaway: Inexpensive cotton washcloths are eco-friendly paper towel swaps that can handle most cleaning tasks.
2. Swedish Dishcloths
Swedish dishcloths are amazing reusable paper towel alternatives. They’re made of a cellulose-cotton blend that is extra absorbent and quick-drying.
The key features that make Swedish dishcloths ideal paper towel swaps include:
- Made of renewable materials – The cellulose comes from sustainable wood pulp. Better for the planet than paper towels.
- Can absorb 20x their weight – Excellent absorbency for mopping up large spills and messes.
- Dry quickly – Inhibits bacterial growth better than regular cotton towels.
- Durable and long-lasting – Each cloth can withstand over 200 machine washes.
- Biodegradable – Break down naturally when composted after they wear out.
Swedish dishcloths come in fun colors and patterns. Wring them out and hang to dry between uses. They work well for most kitchen, cleaning, and drying tasks.
3. Microfiber Cloths
The ultra-fine fibers that make up microfiber cloths give them unique properties that make them ideal reusable paper towel alternatives:
- Highly absorbent – Their structure soaks up 7x more liquid than cotton. Great for spills.
- Lint-free – Won’t leave behind pesky lint and fuzz like fabric towels.
- Quick-drying – Fast evaporation inhibits bacterial growth.
- Static charge – Attracts and traps dust and dirt. Excellent for cleaning.
- Durable and long-lasting – Stands up to repeated use and washes.
Microfiber towels are safe for all surfaces. The fine weave won’t scratch delicate materials like glass or tile. This makes them perfect for mirrors and windows.
They come in multi-packs for affordability. Toss them in the wash to renew after use. Avoid fabric softeners as they reduce microfiber’s absorbency.
4. Flour Sack Towels
Basic flour sack towels are amazingly versatile reusable paper towel options. These thin cotton towels have been kitchen staples for generations.
Flour sack towels are ideal for:
- Drying dishes, hands, and counters
- Covering rising dough
- Layering under plates as napkins
- Cooling baked goods
- Light cleaning
- Wrapping veggies or bread storage
As a natural fabric, cotton is compostable when flour sack towels wear out. The generous size, absorbency, and durability make these towels workhorses in an eco-conscious kitchen.
5. Bamboo Paper Towels
For a disposable product, bamboo paper towels are a decent option. These tree-free paper towels are:
- Made from renewable bamboo – No trees are cut down to make them.
- Biodegradable – Break down faster than regular paper towels.
- Chlorine-free – Avoid harsh bleaching chemicals.
- Packaged plastic-free – Reduce single-use plastics.
- Soft and absorbent – Great for cleaning, spills, and hand drying.
While not as green as reusable cloth towels, bamboo paper towels are much better than conventional paper towels when you need a disposable option. Compost them after use.
Brands like Bambooee make them from 100% bamboo without added chemicals. Just avoid perfumed or synthetically dyed versions, as these contain toxins.
6. Cellulose Sponge Cloths
Cellulose sponge cloths offer a biodegradable paper towel alternative. Brands like Willow & Everett make them from plant fibers without chemical binders.
Key benefits of these reusable food-safe cellulose sponge cloths include:
- Made from plants – Eco-friendly and renewable. Much better than tree fiber paper towels.
- Highly absorbent – Excellent for sopping up spills and cleaning.
- Odor-resistant – Stay fresher than cotton towels and sponges.
- Naturally antibacterial – The material inhibits bacterial growth between uses.
- Easy care – Toss them in the laundry to freshen up.
Let them completely air dry before putting away to prevent mildew smells. These cellulose cloths break down naturally when composted.
7. Reusable Paper Towels
If you want an alternative that mimics the look and feel of paper towels, try reusable paper towels. Brands like Marley’s Monsters make them from soft cotton flannel or other fabrics.
The key perks of reusable paper towels are:
- Roll format – Feel just like regular paper towels. Fit standard holders.
- Cotton is absorbent – Soaks up spills and messes effectively.
- Soft and lint-free – Gentle on hands and surfaces. Won’t scratch.
- Wash and reuse – No wasted paper towels filling up landfills. Much better for the environment.
- Cute designs – Liven up your kitchen decor.
These reusable rolls aren’t the most cost-effective option per use. But the ease of swapping them for conventional paper towels can make going green much simpler.
How to Make the Switch From Paper Towels
Ready to go paper towel-free? Making the switch to reusable alternatives follows a logical series of steps:
1. Finish Your Current Paper Towel Supply
Don’t waste the paper towels you already have. Use up what you’ve got before purchasing replacements. Cut down on needless use in preparation for going reusable.
2. Select Reusable Alternatives to Try
Browse the recommendations above and choose 2-3 reusable options to try first. Pick ones suited to your home’s needs. Get a pack of washcloths, Swedish dishcloth, and flour sack towels, for instance.
3. Add a Convenient Storage System
Make your reusable towels easy to access. Position them near sinks, the stove, and anywhere you use paper towels. Dish holders, countertop dispensers, or wall-mounted paper towel bars all work.
4. Use and Reuse – Don’t Treat as Disposable
Break the habit of using each towel just once. Wash and reuse – it’s easy with practice! Set up a laundry routine to keep them clean and fresh.
5. Adjust Quantities as Needed
Gauge how many of each reusable towel works for your household. Buy more washcloths or microfiber cloths if you need. The goal is having an adequate paper towel-free system.
With the right tools and new habits, you’ll never miss wasteful paper towels again! It quickly becomes second nature.
Cost Comparison: Reusables vs. Paper Towels
One major benefit of switching to reusable paper towel alternatives is saving money long-term. Here is a cost breakdown:
- Paper towels – Households average about $115 per year, or $2.20 per week on paper towels. Over 10 years that’s $1,150.
- Reusables – An initial investment of $30-50 will buy a starter set of washcloths, Swedish cloths, and other alternatives that can last 5+ years with proper care. Plus minor costs of laundering.
Over a decade, reusable towels can save $1,000 or more compared to paper towels. And they keep saving you cash year after year rather than recurring paper towel costs.
The numbers make it clear – reusable alternatives are a frugal and eco-friendly choice that pays for itself quickly.
Tips for Smoothly Switching to Reusable Towels
Here are some handy tips to help your paper towel-free transition go smoothly:
- Ease into it in stages if going reusable all at once seems daunting.
- Involve family members so everyone adjusts together.
- Keep disposable paper towels on hand for the occasional messy emergency during your transition period.
- Wash reusable towels separately from regular laundry at first to prevent grease transfer.
- Use different colored towels for different purposes like cleaning counters vs. dishes.
- Let new towels air dry between wash cycles to maximize longevity.
- Scrub stains on used towels before washing to prevent buildup.
- Try several reusable options to find your favorites before committing to larger quantities.
Reusables for a Sustainable Lifestyle
With so many excellent alternatives, there’s no good reason to keep wasting money and resources on paper towels. Investing in reusable options is an easy and rewarding way to “green” your home and daily habits.
The small change of swapping paper towels for washable towels ripples out to substantially benefit the environment. By converting to reusable options you’ll:
✔️ Save money in the long run
✔️ Reduce waste dramatically
✔️ Protect forests and natural resources
✔️ Avoid exposure to bleach and chemicals
✔️ Set a sustainable example for your family
Making the switch does take a brief adjustment. But reusable towels quickly become second nature. The peace of mind from reducing waste makes the small extra effort worth it many times over. Give paper towel alternatives a try – your home and the planet will thank you!
Frequently Asked Questions About Paper Towel Alternatives
Are paper towels biodegradable or recyclable?
Unfortunately, most paper towels are neither biodegradable nor recyclable. The fibers are too short to recycle after their initial use. And the added chemicals, inks, and plastic packaging make them unsuitable for commercial composting. Paper towels end up in landfills.
Which fabrics make the best reusable paper towel alternatives?
For absorbency, cotton terry cloth and textured fabrics work best. Linen and microfiber dry quickly. Particularly durable options include cotton, hemp, and cellulose. Choose sustainable, chemical-free fabrics.
How do you clean odors and stains from reusable towels?
Rinse stained towels in cold water right after use before letting stains set. Soaking in baking soda and water helps deodorize. Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets, as they reduce absorbency. Hang to fully air dry before putting towels away.
Should you use bleach on reusable cleaning towels?
Occasionally using oxygen bleach formulas helps sanitize towels, but don’t over-bleach. Chlorine bleach should be avoided as it degrades fibers. Letting towels air dry and regularly washing in hot water keeps bacteria growth in check.
How many reusable towels does someone need to replace paper towels?
Aim for at least 2 dozen reusable towels in the kitchen to rotate through uses and laundry. Washcloths, dish towels, and Swedish cloths can all supplement each other. Have back-ups on hand for when towels are dirty or drying. Individual needs vary.
Key Takeaway: Sustainable reusable paper towel alternatives save money, avoid waste, and are better for the environment. Making the switch takes small adjustments but brings big rewards.
Paper towels certainly offer convenience. But the staggering environmental impact and waste makes them an unsustainable choice for daily household use.
Thankfully, reusable options provide a sensible alternative that is gentler on the planet and your wallet. Cloth towels like washcloths, Swedish dishcloths, microfiber cloths, and even tree-free bamboo paper towels are up to the task.
These durable alternatives reduce waste, save trees, and avoid the bleach used on conventional paper towels. And they’ll save the average household big bucks over time. Making the switch does take a small adjustment. But the benefits are massive.
Equipping your home with washable, reusable towels instead of paper towels is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste and save money. Your future self will thank you for choosing to make the small change for the good of the planet. Along with our tips, the eco-friendly paper towel alternatives above will set you on the path to sustainable, waste-free living.