Paper Towels vs. Cloth Towels

The debate between paper towels and cloth towels has been going on for years.

Paper Towels vs. Cloth Towels

Both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to factors like cost, convenience, hygiene and environmental impact.

Cost Comparison

One of the biggest considerations when choosing between paper towels and cloth towels is cost. Here is a breakdown:

Paper Towels

  • Tend to be more expensive in the long run since they are a single-use product that needs constant repurchasing
  • Cost around $1-1.50 per 100 sheets depending on brand and sheet size
  • Offer some cost savings options like bulk packs and coupon deals

Cloth Towels

  • Higher upfront cost of around $1 per towel, but towels are reused for years
  • Save money over time by avoiding constant repurchasing of paper towels
  • Require additional costs for laundry like water, electricity and detergent

So while cloth towels have a higher initial investment, they pay for themselves over time by eliminating the need to continually buy new paper towels. Just be aware of the extra laundry expenses associated with cloth.


Another big consideration is convenience:

Paper Towels

  • Extremely convenient since they can be used and discarded as needed
  • Easy to grab quickly for small spills and messes
  • Don’t require any special care or laundering

Cloth Towels

  • Reusing cloth towels requires collecting, washing, drying and putting them away
  • Not as instantly available and require some planning and maintenance
  • Individual “use and toss” cloths streamline process and contain mess

Paper towels offer maximum convenience, while cloth towels require some effort. Using single-use cloth wipes can help streamline the process and contain messes.

Key Takeaway: Paper towels offer the ultimate convenience. Cloth towels require more effort but single-use cloths can simplify the process.


Hygiene is another key consideration when deciding between paper and cloth towels:

Paper Towels

  • Typically hygienic when used directly from package
  • Disposable nature prevents cross-contamination
  • Recycled paper towels may contain more bacteria

Cloth Towels

  • Can harbor bacteria if not washed properly after each use
  • Air drying and microwaving between uses reduces bacteria
  • Single use cloth wipes contain messes

Proper handling like air drying or microwaving cloth towels between uses can reduce bacteria. Single-use cloth wipes also limit cross-contamination.

Key Takeaway: Both paper and cloth towels can harbor bacteria if not handled properly. Proper cloth towel maintenance helps maximize hygiene.

Environmental Impact

Many people also consider the environmental impact:

Paper Towels

  • Require cutting down trees and significant water usage for production
  • Most end up in landfills and are not recyclable or compostable
  • Recycled paper towels are better but still create waste

Cloth Towels

  • Reusable for years leading to far less waste
  • Require additional laundry resources like water and electricity
  • Choosing eco-friendly detergent reduces impact

Cloth towels generate significantly less waste over time. Opting for an eco-friendly laundry routine further reduces environmental impact.

Key Takeaway: Cloth towels have a lower environmental impact overall thanks to reuse and eco-friendly laundry options.

Aesthetic Appeal

Aesthetics may also play a role in your choice:

Paper Towels

  • Typically plain white and functional looking
  • Offer very little in terms of decorative appeal
  • Take up counter space with bulky rolls and dispensers

Cloth Towels

  • Come in wide range of colors, patterns and styles
  • Can coordinate with kitchen decor
  • Get stored out of sight when not in use

Cloth towels provide far more aesthetic appeal and less clutter compared to paper towel rolls and dispensers.

Key Takeaway: Cloth towels offer vastly superior decorative options and less visible clutter.


The versatility of paper towels versus cloth towels is also worth considering:

Paper Towels

  • Good for basic tasks like wiping spills and drying hands
  • Limited thickness and strength restricts heavy duty use
  • Mostly suited for kitchen use

Cloth Towels

  • Various sizes and textures available for range of tasks
  • Sturdier fabrics like cotton sheeting tackle tough jobs
  • Useful throughout home for dusting, cleaning, etc.

Cloth towels come in a wide range of fabrics, textures and sizes suited for every situation. Paper towels work fine for basic kitchen duties but are quite limited beyond that.

Key Takeaway: Cloth towels outperform paper towels for versatility thanks to the many fabric and size options.

Effort and Hassle

It’s also important to consider the effort involved:

Paper Towels

  • Grab readily available roll with no prep or effort
  • Toss away after use without a second thought
  • Replenish with occasional new multipack purchase

Cloth Towels

  • Require system for collecting, washing, drying and storage
  • Individual use-and-toss cloths streamline process
  • Weekly laundry schedule keeps things simple

Paper towels certainly add no work or hassle to your day. Maintaining cloth towels takes effort, but tactics like single-use cloths and batch laundry make it very manageable.

Key Takeaway: Paper towels involve zero effort while cloth towels add laundry tasks. Use single-use cloths and batch washing to simplify.

Special Considerations

Some other special considerations around paper towels versus cloth towels:

  • Raw meat cleanup is safest with paper towels that get tossed after use
  • Paper towels work better than cloth for blotting greasy foods
  • Cloth towels should be hung to dry rather than bunched up to avoid mildew
  • Use paper towels combined with disinfectants to thoroughly sanitize surfaces
  • When guests are over, cloth towels lend a more polished impression

The main takeaway is paper towels do have some specialty uses while cloth excels for everyday household cleaning and drying tasks.


What are the healthiest options – paper or cloth?

Cloth towels are healthier when properly maintained because they contain no fibers, chemicals or additives like paper towels. Choosing cloth made from organic materials takes it a step further. Just be diligent about washing and drying to prevent bacterial growth. Single-use cloths are great for hygiene.

Are cloth napkins and towels better for the environment?

Absolutely. The amount of resources like water, trees and energy needed to create paper towels makes them terrible for the planet. And most end up in crowded landfills anyway. The huge reduction in waste makes reusable cloth products much more sustainable.

Which is more affordable in the long run?

While paper towels don’t require an initial outlay, the cost of constantly restocking them really adds up. Purchasing cloth towels instead leads to huge savings over their lifetime. Laundry costs are vastly less than continually buying packs of paper towels.


Analyzing all the factors makes cloth the clear winner in many respects, especially given environmental and economic considerations.

Yet paper towels still serve a purpose when convenience and disposability are priorities.

The best solution may be consciously reducing paper towel usage in favor of reusable cloths, while keeping paper towels reserved just for their most essential purposes.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.