June 17, 2013

How to Give Up Paper Towels Forever


Our family hasn't bought any paper towels since last summer. In fact, with the exception of toilet paper, (which we aren't giving up.  ever. ) we've bought very few disposable products at all.

Not only does it free up some space in our grocery budget, save trees, create less trash and decrease the pollution involved in the production, packaging and distribution of disposable paper products, all while teaching our children about the value of caring for our good green earth...

...it is also totally do-able.  Like, I don't even miss paper towels.


Here's what you will want to have around the house in order to go paper towel-free (psss... you likely already have most of these things)
  • Rags for cleaning things.  We have three types or rags in our house: blue rags for the kitchen, yellow rags for the bathroom, and miscellaneous rags made from old clothing and whatnot for everything else.
  • Cloth serviettes/napkins for wiping ketchup off your face.  They are also way classier and look super nice folded at the table for a dinner party. We bought most of ours second hand or on clearance and slowly built a mismatched yet still sorta kinda coordinated stash of them.
  • Old towels for big spills. (affectionately called "pee towels" in our home. we have a three year old boy who is at that potty-trained-but-still-easily-distracted stage of life. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about how they got their name....)
  • Bar mop towels for everyday spills and messes. These are what primarily replaced paper towels in our home. I keep a stack in a drawer at kid level and taught my kids to make use of them if they spill their juice or track mud through the house.

Here are some more tips for paper-free success:

Soak the grease off fried or fatty foods by placing them on a used paper bag. Whenever I get groceries in a paper bag, I save the bag to be repurposed later. I've heard of people using newspaper for this but I've seen how much ink comes off on my fingers, I don't want that on my chicken parmigiana.

Get perfectly cooked, not greasy bacon every time by cooking your bacon in the oven. No paper towel draining necessary.

Use your oldest, rattiest rags for the super messy jobs, then they can get thrown out if need be after a long and useful life.

Make it easy on yourself by keeping rags, cloths and towels in convenient places. I keep bathroom cleaning rags in the bathroom, bar mop towels in the kitchen, serviettes near the table. In fact, now that I have the right tools for the job in each room of the house, using cloth is way more convenient than always running to the kitchen for the paper towels ever was.



If you are up to it, why not make some of these un-paper towels?  They are super cute and can sit on a paper towel holder on your counter.  Fun fun fun!

But isn't it a lot of laundry? I recognize that living paper towel-free doesn't work for everyone, but if you own a washing machine and have a family, you are probably already doing multiple loads a week.  A few small cloths and rags won't change that.

What about germs?
  Let's face it, if you have kids or pets there is probably on occasion some pretty gross things in your washing machine. You don't throw your kid's bedsheets out because they peed their bed, you just wash them with soap and hot water and trust that they are clean, right?  I just keep kitchen rags separate from bathroom rags and wash icky things in hot when possible.  Simple as that.

Won't guests think I'm weird if they ask for paper towel and I don't have any? Maybe.  But you'll hand them a towel or a serviette instead and I'm sure they'll be just fine.

See.  You can totally do this.  
In the interest of full disclosure.... Last week we were at a birthday party and as we were pulling out of the driveway it became apparent that the combination of bouncy castle and hotdogs did not agree with my son's stomach. My friend, armed with a roll of paper towels, came to the rescue. And I was very thankful for that.
Thanks so much for visiting The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking!


54 comments:

  1. I use very few paper towels anymore.
    I have Norwex microfiber cloths for EVERYTHING. They are antibacterial, so I clean my floors, counters, cupboards, bathrooms, windows, doors, and anything else I can think of to clean with them. They are incredible!!
    The best part of Norwex microfiber? No chemicals or cleaners needed. Water and a cloth. My kids help me clean.
    A-MAZ-ING!

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    1. I love our Norwex stuff too and am slowly building our supply. :)

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  2. I have been using cloths in the kitchen for years now. We do use a lot fewer paper towels as a result. I've never gone and fully gotten rid of them though. But hey, every little step counts, right?

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  3. Hi Kelly
    I can't remember when paper towels came into being. I was born in 1960. What I do know that growing up, we just didn't have them. My dad would repurpose every bit of fabric in the house, from retired bedsheets to old undies for cleaning cloths, and because this was pre polyester days, dead ones would be laundered and go out into his compost bin.
    For the super crafty out there, get some cotton of a decent weight and knit yourself cleaning cloths. Especially good for when benches can get that stuck on bit of dunno-what. Cast on 4 stitches, and in alternate rows (3,5,7 each) increase a stitch each end until there is 50 of them, and then decrease in alternate rows by two until you have 4 stitches left and cast off. They'll have a nice texture and will be great for scrubbing pots as well. I have a friend that makes them and she just loves them. She was using Anchor brand of a heavy ply.
    As for draining paper for your frying etc., if you go to the paper craft suppliers and even packaging suppliers, you can get butcher's paper which is the best in the world and it can double as paper for the kids to create wonderful art that you can gift to granny or use as wrapping paper for gifts.
    Cheers

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  4. We recently started using bar mop towels instead of paper towels, and I love it! My only issue is making sure that we have an abundance of them washed at all times. I have trouble keeping up with my laundry and sometimes we get low on the cloths. I had bought 30 towels on clearance, so you wouldn't think that it would be hard to keep a steady supply. Darn laundry!

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  5. I never use paper towels anymore! I'm so glad to have read that others do n't use them either because my husband thinks I'm a freak!

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  7. Thank you for this post. I rarely use paper towels anymore but still buy them. I don't think I will buy them anymore. I've always used cloth napkins and have family members who insist I save the laundry and use paper. I love cloth napkins! Thanks again!

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  8. Kelly, I have a friend who had done this and I was like, girl, you're crazy, but then I saw a similar product to the "unpaper towels" and thought how cute! I went to the thrift store for old towels and fabric and made them. We keep a couple rolls around for just in case, but aren't missing them! I think the key really is to have enough towels around so no one misses the "real" paper towels.

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  9. I haven't bought paper towels since before my daughter was born! We're a fully re-usable family here - except when it comes to toilet paper because no please and thank you. I have kitchen cloths, kitchen towels, bathroom cloths, bathroom towels, and then miscellaneous towels for other spills and such.
    (We also cloth diaper and use washable cloths instead of wipes!)

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  10. When I came to the U.S. 7 years ago from Australia I was shocked at how much Americans rely on paper towels for everything. Now I've become used to using them too unfortunately. It's just surprising when you realize how much of what we do is cultural. I'm pretty sure they get by just fine in Africa without paper towels, why can't we?

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    1. My parents live in Africa. I'm almost 100% certain they do just fine without paper towel. :)

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  11. I too grew up without paper towels and so never really got into using them. I use a dishcloth for everything (a different one for different jobs, of course :)) and old rags for the really messy things.
    Your stash of towels looks so neat and inspiring!
    Also, the bigger font is back! Yay! :)

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  12. We've been paper towel free for a long time (4 years), but with two dogs, the kids getting older (and dirtier... and busier) I've switched to part rags part paper towels. I realized I was also spending a lot of money on water and laundry detergent (both of which are not eco-conscious) and A LOT of time folding towels. So, a combination works best for us.

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  13. We haven't used paper towels/napkins in our house for years. My MIL, who uses a roll of paper towels a day, finds it very odd and always brings a roll or two when she comes to visit (overnight)! Honestly, I enjoy folding towels/rags as it takes about 2 minutes and I feel like I've accomplished something! I do keep napkins on hand for parties but I can buy them on sale and don't really follow any theme.

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  14. If it were only up to me, we wouldn't have any paper towels but we are also about half and half and to save the hastle of folding, I just have a drawer that I stuff the cloths into! Works for us!

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  15. I was thankful my husband jumped on board with this so easily last year. I suggested it before we got married and started his home to have a paper-free kitchen months before we married. Then when I moved in we used the last of the paper napkin stash he had and haven't looked back since.
    Thanks for the tip about using paper bags.

    Guests are surprised when I hand out cloth napkins at meal time but they seem to just jump right in and welcome how much better they work anyways.

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  16. We've been living without paper towels for well over a year. At first, it wasn't on purpose - we ran out and I kept forgetting to put it on the list. It became "on purpose" late last summer when we started doing recycling projects with my son. We decided to give up the paper towels, and it hasn't been that big of a deal since. The only issue I had was draining the grease from bacon, but we recently switched to turkey bacon, so it's no longer an issue!

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  17. I hate using paper towels in my house. With that said my mother in law came into town to help my husband out with our kids and went out and bought a whole package of bounty. I think it was like 8 rolls or something. It was just because I don't keep them on hand in the house. The only thing I was grateful about was that I didn't buy them. But, I hate wasting products. She just couldn't live without them. I just think they are a waste of money.. lol. I didn't think about having a certain set for each job. That is a really good idea. Thanks for the tips will have to put them to use!

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  18. Kelly, where did you get the cloths you use in your bathroom? My mom used to have some like that!

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    1. Hmmm, probably the grocery store? I imagine most hardware stores would have the same ones. I'm sorry, I can't remember!

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    2. I've seen them at No Frills before.

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    3. They look like Handi-Wipes.

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  19. We switched from paper tissues to hankies last year and it has been great! Allergy season runs for about 6 weeks here and we were getting painful red noses (not to mention the trash build-up), so I cut up and old bed sheet and store the hankies folded in a left-over tissue box. Easier on the nose and the wallet, with a minimal amount of laundry added to the week.

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    1. I too no longer use paper towel but didn't know what to do about tissues. Great idea Lydia!

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  20. it's a virtuous goal but my germ worries and minimalism would have to take a huge backseat to color coded cleaning rags and complex laundry combinations. thank you for posting though. it's lending thought.

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  21. This is something I've been wanting to do forever but have been too lazy to do. Your blog is such an inspiration. I love it! Thanks for the tips!
    xo kerri at HollyMuffin

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  22. Great idea, and we're nearly there, but cloth rags and cloth napkins get stained so easily -- any suggestions for stain removal?

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  23. It's kind funny reading, because here in Denmark kitchen and cleaning cloths are the mainstream thing to do! But your post is still really inspiring - of course we use paper towels here and there, but in my family the big issue might be kleenex for those running noses and 'the big green ones'.
    How do you do that? It's not that handy with a stack of cloths in the bag during snot-season?

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    1. I cut up my girls' old baby swaddlers (the muslin is very soft on the nose) and stash them through out the house where we need them daily - bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, a few in the car and one or two in a jacket. We are in the middle of allergy season here in New Mexico and it really works for us.

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  24. It's really funny to see how different can the things be in other countries. I live in Spain, and here the cleaning clothes are the usual thing. We use paper towels too, but just for a few things. Anyway, this is a good post, I always enjoy taking a look in other countries life. Thank you!

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  25. We are using cloth for cleaning, and I would like to make the switch with napkins too. About how many cloth napkins do you have? How often do you wash them?

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    1. If it helps, I keep one or two for each family member and a stash of nice, dark-colored napkins for company that only come out for special occasions.

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  26. That’s something very useful to practice every day. I love this concept.

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  27. Maybe I'm gross, but I don't really worry about having separate cloths for kitchen and bathroom. However, I just use a dedicated sponge for cleaning the bathroom and my rags are only used for drying. Then I wash all rags in hot water with tea tree oil and an extra rinse and I dry on high heat or in the sun. My rags smell very clean and we've never gotten sick. In fact, I think they smell cleaner than they did when I used to try to just use some bleach in the laundry.

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  28. Like your Spanish and Danish posters, I found this interesting from the point of view of seeing what's "normal" or unusual in other cultures. Here in England I doubt you'd find paper towels for sale - we use fabric for everything except snotty noses these days - and my husband is even an exception to that! He sticks with cotton hankies and I like that they're way more environmentally friendly (and that I can make them out of old pillow cases that have thinned in patches but still have some use in them!) :-)

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  29. Love this idea - I also found that using rags vs. paper towels was a good choice. I went on a kick called 100 days of less and day 37 was all about using rags vs. paper towels. Love your ideas!

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  30. What do you do with soaking up grease (from bacon or sausage)? I tried giving up paper towels, but get stuck on what to do here. Thanks!
    -Sandy
    sj_unk@yahoo.com

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  31. This is the coolest website! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, your love for the Lord, and your wit and humor through life! It is so encouraging and addicting to read through all your different articles and actually know someone understands what you are going through! Many blessings to you!

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  32. I gave up all paper about 7 years ago. I made cloth napkins about 12 years ago when I made my napkins. I have lots of dish towels for the kitchen. I use a stack of washcloths instead of tp.

    I wash everything together with bath towels. I use a tiny bit of ALL along with 20 Mule Team Borax and Washing Soda in the washer. I use vinegar in the final rinse and mostly line dry everything except for when my allergies are acting up, it is freezing or raining. The sun does destroy germs. Vinegar is a disinfectant.

    At those times, I hang things on hangers in doorways or use the dryer. There is just me here, but I keep tp for the company I have that might object to no tp. I use a piece of paper bag for draining bacon.

    I keep all cloth and reuse it in a rag bag. The rag bag gets used if I step in dog or chicken poop and do not want to wash the rag. I just throw it out in the trash.

    I find new, neer used washcloths, dishtowels and dishcloths at yard sales and thrift stores. Occasionally, I do buy new ones, but I can afford to wait for deep sales.

    If there were children here, using washcloths for tp might be hazardous.

    People say I am eccentric. Oh well.

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  33. We switched from paper towels to cloth napkins for dinner about a year ago. I picked them up here and there at thrift stores and also pulled out all the good ones we never used because I'd been saving them for special occasions. My guests don't mind at all -- usually they comment on how civilized we are with our dinner linens!

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  34. I had never thought about the fact that we do this but apart from napkins we do use cloth for everything else. Nicely detailed post. I think it does bring the grocery bill way down. I buy my cleaning cloths from Don Aslett.

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  35. Great post :)
    I'd happily not have kitchen roll but mum brings one every time she visits! Hubby does like it too, but mostly we use cloths. I just shove em in the machine to be washed next time the machine is on. All washing is done at 30C with homemade wash powder, except nappies which get done at 40C. We don't have a dryer. Too energy draining. Much prefer wind through my washing (I love seeing washing blowing on the line. Ahem!)

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  36. Hey! I'm from Brazil and always read your blog! I really admire the efforts you (and your family) make to reduce the footprint you are going to leave on this Earth. Just out of curiosity: here in Brazil, almost everyone uses rags for cleaning activities. It's not part of our culture to clean the kitchen and bathroom with paper towels (actually it's even kind of funny - the paper stuff would just melt in your hands LOL). Anyway, we do use a lot of paper napkins. Tissue napkins are considered fancy! hehe
    Cheers!

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  37. just started reading and I love your blog! I found you through I heart organizing <3 I have been working on using less paper towels and after reading this post I went out and bought some cloth napkins and extra dish towels and recycled some of the older towels to rags! just wanted to share you were my final PUSH!

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  39. For many years, managing my restaurant, Yes very efficient to used paper towels, but I do preferred used cloth towels, for many reason towels is more absorbent than paper towels that's the main one, then you can wash it then used it all over again. So that's why I always find wholesale towels online.


    By the way thanks for sharing this informative blog.

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  40. We use very little paper because we have a limited budget (one reason).

    I need to get some bar towels along with more Norwex clothes. Love them!

    In discussing this topic with my DH though, he says he wants to go 100% paper. lol. But the biggest reason is the family size (there are 9 of us) and the laundry issue, as another commenter mentioned. We always get behind on laundry!

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  41. This post actually comes at a perfect time for me. I'm trying to slowly shift over to using fewer and fewer paper towels. I have one of those bag dispenser things in my kitchen cabinet too - what a neat idea to put the reusable rags in that! I've already stopped using paper towels for cleaning and as napkins. I think my next step is just keeping rags easily accessible so I won't be tempted to go the "easy" route when I have a big spill.

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  42. Know what to look for in buying the best towels. The best beach towels are different from the best bath towels and the fabric material used alone should tell the difference. Here’s how to buy the best towels online whether for home use or for outdoor use.Best Bath Towels

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  43. I started to go this route when I found that my kids were using them to dry dishes. I am a Mom of 7 and it's been hard. We've cut back but I haven't managed to cut out altogether. I'm inspired to try again.

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  44. I have also cut down paper towel usage. When we eat out, there are usually napkins put down for drinks, rolled flatware, etc. and often we use napkins that aren't really soiled. When we leave, I carefully fold all the clean ones together (which would be tossed) and quietly carry them out. I don't take napkins we didn't use, that's robbery and costly to other customers. They are still usable for wiping mud off shoes before getting into the car, wiping rain and mud off windows, wiping grease off pans, etc. I put them in the car pockets where they are handy and quickly reached.

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