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Q&A | Completely ditching paper towels & plastic bags | Re-dying black leggings

Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

I think about you and feel a little guilty every time I use paper towels and zip top bags in the kitchen.   I try to minimize their use by using regular towels for hand and dish drying and containers for leftovers and some marinades, but I don’t feel like I can completely stop using them.   

How do you handle thawing meat at the last second? I often forget to thaw meat for dinner and end up using bags in cold water (otherwise the meat gets very watery).   

Also, how do you handle greasy things like bacon and fried foods without using paper towels to drain them?   If there’s an answer for these situations, I’d like to know.


Aww, I’m so sorry I’m causing guilt for you!   Hopefully you’ll feel better after reading my answer.

As you know, I do try really hard to avoid using disposable products.   However, you should know that I am not at a 100% zero-waste level.

Getting to that point would require more time and energy and money than I have to spare at the moment, so I’ve made peace with simply operating at a low-ish trash level.

black paper towel holder

(Because really, if every first-world person just cut back on their trash output, that would be pretty world-changing.   And I strongly believe that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.)

Paper Towels

Like you, I use cloth towels for pretty much all drying purposes, and we use rags instead of paper towels for cleaning.

cloth dish towels


However, I do use paper towels for draining bacon and occasionally I use them for patting meat dry before I cook it.

(Side question for readers: Do you think there’s a health concern with using a dedicated thin towel to pat meat dry, so long as you wash it and then dry it on high heat after use?   That would kill the bacteria, right?)

Plastic Bags

As far as plastic bags go, I try to mostly use avoid using them for raw meat.   I too marinate foods in glass containers instead of in a plastic bag, and even though the marinade doesn’t cling as close to the meat this way, my food still seems to turn out just fine.

If I need to thaw meat in a hurry, I defrost it in the microwave or put in into cold water in the original packaging.

Here’s the thing, though:

(and this is a perfect example of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good)

If using a plastic bag to thaw your meat keeps you from eating out, then it’s probably the lowest-trash option available to you.

Pretty much any eating out you do is going to be far more trash-producing than what you cook at home, even if you do use a Ziploc bag and then throw it out.

So yeah, ideally, you should thaw your meat ahead of time.   But if it’s 5:30 and your meat is a frozen brick, just use a plastic bag to thaw it and go on your merry way without feeling guilty.   😉

As fall nears, I am looking to “refresh” my wardrobe on a budget. I have two pairs of (fairly thick) solid black cotton leggings. They’re basically my fall uniform, but after a few years of consistent wear and washing the black has definitely faded. Do you have any experience re-dying clothes? I thought that getting some black dye might help to return them to their original brightness…

Given that both are a cotton/spandex mix, what is your recommendation? Do you have a favorite dye and technique that you use for these situations? Can they be salvaged, or should I bite the bullet and buy a new, bright pair?

Taylor D.

I’d definitely give it a try! I bet there’s just a little bit of spandex and plenty of cotton to absorb the dye.

I usually use RIT dye and I opt for the bucket or stovetop method rather than the washing machine method.

how to use rit dye in a bucket

(I’m scared of permanently dying my machine, which is a little silly given how old and ugly it is! Ahem.)

If you print out a 40% off coupon from or, a box of dye will only be a few dollars, so even if it doesn’t work, you won’t have lost much.

And if it does work out, well then, you just saved yourself a bunch of money and breathed new life into your old clothes.


Readers, as always, I welcome your input on these questions!   Please do share your advice in the comments.


P.S. Shameless self-promotion (which is actually related to the question above):

I wrote an ebook filled with 20 ways to refresh and repurpose old clothes which might be helpful to any of you who are needing inspiration in that area.


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Friday 19th of September 2014

I use un-paper towels for virtually anything, except oily/greasy stuff. I did try with oil, but I found it takes sooo much detergent to get out, that it's just not worth it.

They get used for one yucky job and then get thrown in the pile for washing. When the washing pile gets big enough, it goes in the machine on a boil wash (actual temperature 95 degrees C). I have to boil wash my work clothes for decontamination any way and without the un-paper towels the load would be half sized at best, so I think it's probably as eco-friendly/thrifty as I can manage with out changing my job!

By the way, we are advised that 70 degrees C is sufficient to kill the bacteria/virus/spores that we get exposed to (pretty much anything humanly infectious), but my options for high temperature washing are either 60 degrees C or 95 degrees C, no contest!

Connie seward

Saturday 13th of September 2014

Trying to come to a conclusion about whether to use a thin towel or a paper towel to dry meat is making my head hurt and is seriously sucking the energy out of my morning.

Who gives a damn! If you want to lower greenhouse gases the choice is blatantly obvious.... get rid of the second family vehicle and stop buying plastic-bottled drinks. Those two choices would outweigh all others by a landslide not to mention we all would have a heck more money.

By the way, I haven't accomplished either of these two suggestions! lol


Saturday 13th of September 2014

Yeah, I'm not giving up my second vehicle any time soon. I would be in a world of hurt when Mr. FG was at work without my car!


Thursday 11th of September 2014

A good way to reduce your paper towel use is to move them. Take them from the nice convenient place on your counter, and put them someplace a little harder to get to, under the sink, hallway or linen closet, pantry, etc. Then place a basket of whatever you're going to use to replace them (I love old t-shirt rags) right next to where they used to be. Then when you go to automatically reach for paper, you can grab a cloth or rag instead, but if you need the paper for a certain job, you can go grab it. This just trains you to use cloth first, and only take the paper if you think the job really requires it. Like many other commenters, I still use them for cat messes, also wiping oil into my cast iron, and greasing baking pans.

Does anyone else buy the select a size paper towels, and still find themselves tearing them even smaller to use less?

I don't see any problem with using a cloth to blot meat either. You wouldn't throw away your apron or shirt if you splashed some meat juice on it would you?


Tuesday 9th of September 2014

I buy the "select-a-size" paper towels and find that I am using up a roll about every 3-4 months. We do have cloth napkins, dishtowels and often use racks and original packaging. I did consider Green and Clean Cloth Towels on as an alternative...

A box of plastic bags lasts me a year or so...I often wash them and re-use them.

Will opt for metal or glass containers. Canning jars of all sizes with re-usable lids are perfect for me. I find that most containers are designed to have a lid, thus can be purchased online. Pyrex and Luminarc especially. A little research is all that is needed.

I use disposable products out of habit more than anything...I guess I should just not purchase them and that will force me to create a new habit. Newspaper could be used for bacon... in our area the ink is non-toxic.

There usually two different kinds of sponges in my sink and a scrubber. Good enough to clean most messes. They often go in the microwave or sit in bleach/water solution once in a while before going back into circulation or I let them sun dry. I have never used a plastic cutting board and we have never been sick.


Tuesday 9th of September 2014

I think paper towels are one of the perks of the current time. They should be used responsibly not done away with all together. Some people use way more than needed, but there is a time and place for them.

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