Shop Towel vs. Paper Towel

Shop towels and paper towels are both useful for cleaning and wiping tasks, but they have some key differences.

Shop Towel vs. Paper Towel


Absorbency refers to how well a towel can soak up liquid. This is an important consideration for any wiping task.

Shop towels are generally more absorbent than paper towels. They are made from thick cotton material that can absorb and retain a lot of liquid. A single shop towel can soak up spills that might take 5-10 paper towels to handle.

The higher absorbency allows shop towels to be wrung out and reused multiple times before needing to be laundered. Paper towels, on the other hand, fall apart when wrung out, so they can only be used for one task before being discarded.

If you regularly need to clean up large spills or wipe especially greasy or wet surfaces, shop towels are the better choice for absorbency. For smaller daily cleanups, paper towels may still get the job done.


Durability refers to how well a towel holds up over multiple uses without falling apart. This impacts how long a towel will last before needing replacement.

Shop towels are much more durable than paper towels. They are designed to withstand multiple uses, cleanings, and the frequent laundering required in commercial settings. The thick cotton material does not rip or shred easily.

Paper towels are made from wood pulp fibers that break down quickly. They fall apart easily when subjected to heavy use or moisture. For most tasks outside of very light wiping, paper towels will rip after only a single use.

If you want a towel that can handle tough jobs repeatedly without replacement, shop towels are clearly the more durable choice. Paper towels are only suitable for very limited one-time uses.

Key Takeaway: Shop towels are thicker, more absorbent, and significantly more durable than single-use paper towels.


Evaluating the cost of shop towels versus paper towels requires looking at both upfront purchase prices and long term usage costs.

At first glance, paper towels seem far cheaper. A roll of paper towels can be purchased for under $1, while a pack of shop towels costs several dollars. However, this fails to account for the reuse and replacement factors.

Shop towels can be used dozens of times before needing replacement. So while the upfront cost is higher, the cost per use becomes very low over time. Paper towels, on the other hand, get used once and thrown out. So the costs continue accumulating rapidly with constant repurchasing and restocking.

When total lifespan usage is calculated, a single pack of shop towels often works out to less total spending than continually buying cases of paper towels. The higher initial investment pays off over time.

If keeping long term operating costs down is important, durable and reusable shop towels are clearly the more economical choice compared to constantly replacing paper towels.


For convenience, paper towels have a slight advantage in most settings. They can simply be pulled from the dispenser and require no prep or maintenance between uses. Shop towels generally need to be kept in a dedicated storage area and laundered regularly.

However, the conveniences of paper towels come with hidden costs:

  • Shop towels require occasional laundering, but paper towels require constant restocking and taking out the trash when bins fill up with used towels.
  • Shop towels have a dedicated storage area, but paper towels take up space in supply rooms, closets, garages, etc. for storage.
  • With shop towels, remembering to move them from storage to point of use is an occasional hassle. With paper towels, continually restocking dozens of dispensers itself becomes an inconvenience.

So while paper towels hold a slight convenience advantage, it requires constant behind-the-scenes work to maintain that convenience. Shop towels are less instantly convenient but require much less ongoing effort. Which system is better depends on your setting’s needs.


For sustainability and waste reduction, shop towels are by far the better choice. Reusable products will always be more eco-friendly than single use disposables.

Every year over 13 billion pounds of paper towels wind up in landfills in the US alone. They also require harvesting significant numbers of trees for pulp fiber production. Using and discarding all those paper towels takes a heavy toll on the environment.

In contrast, each shop towel can be reused multiple times before being recycled themselves. Far fewer towels need to be manufactured overall. So the reusable system has minimal long term waste and environmental impact compared to constant paper towel disposal.

For any business that wants to reduce environmental footprint from operations and products, shop towel rental systems provide huge sustainability advantages over reliance on paper towels. Their reusability model directly supports green initiatives and zero waste targets.

Common Shop Towel Uses

Now that we’ve compared the overall pros and cons, here are some of the most common applications where businesses prefer shop towels over paper towels:

  • Automotive Shops: Durable for wiping grease; doesn’t shed fibers that can damage engine parts
  • Manufacturing Facilities: Absorbs oil, chemicals; perfect for wiping down machines
  • Printing Companies: Cleans inks without leaving lint; reusable saves money
  • Restaurants: Absorbs food spills quickly; laundered towels maintain clean image
  • Offices: Softer than paper towels for glass, furniture; reusable matches sustainability goals

Shop towels work well in almost any setting, but they excel in these industries that demand absorbency for liquids and greases paired with heavy-duty wiping tasks.

When Paper Towels Work Better

While shop towels beat paper towels on most factors, paper towels do still have benefits in select applications:

  • Delicate Surfaces: Less likely to scratch polished metal or glass than a cotton towel
  • Disposable Applications: Situations requiring towels be used once then discarded due to contamination
  • Bathrooms: Paper towels expected by public in restrooms; no concern for laundering

Paper towels work fine for very light jobs involving limited liquid as well. Just don’t expect a paper towel to hold up for most real shop or industrial work.

So paper towels still serve a purpose despite shop towels outperforming them overall. It’s best to keep some of both supply types on hand.


Can you reuse paper towels?

No. Paper towels are too fragile to withstand repeated use. They shred and rip apart when wrung out or subjected to any heavy wiping. They are designed only for extremely limited single use applications.

How do you clean shop towels?

Most businesses use professional industrial laundry services to handle all shop towel cleaning. The heavy-duty machines and chemicals can properly clean them while avoiding damage from consumer washers.

For home shops, it’s best to pretreat heavily soiled towels then wash using a gentle cycle with an extra rinse cycle to fully remove chemicals/oils they may have absorbed.

Where can I buy inexpensive shop towels?

Look for packs of shop towels at hardware stores, warehouse clubs like Costco, or online retailers like Amazon. Prices range from $10-$30 for a large multi-pack of reusable shop towels. Adds up to far less than continually buying cases of paper towels.


When it comes to absorbency, durability, cost savings, and sustainability, shop towels easily beat standard paper towels. The only real advantages of paper towels are minor conveniences and single use applications.

For the majority of wiping applications in commercial, industrial, and home shop settings, reusable shop towels are clearly the superior choice over disposable paper towels. They may require a bit more oversight for laundering, but the economic and environmental savings are well worth it.

Towels Edition
Towels Edition