This is one of those areas where frugality and environmentalism overlap (in my experience, that happens quite often!).
I also think that this is probably one of the most painless money saving moves I make.
I’ve poked around for quite a while and I cannot for the life of me find the statistics about how many rolls of paper towels a household uses on average, but let’s assume that you use two rolls a week.
Even if you get paper towels for $1 a roll (which is what the cheapie-cheap-cheap ones cost here), that’s $110 a year that you’re spending on something that you just throw away.
If you have $2/roll paper towels, that’s $220 a year.
Wouldn’t you rather spend that on something more fun?
And of course, it’s not exactly eco-friendly to throw away two rolls of paper each week either.
So, here’s what I use instead.
I always have a stack of cotton dishcloths in my cabinet, and I cannot imagine having a kitchen without them.
(organic cotton dishcloths from Mighty Nest)
I use them for wiping counters, wiping my stove, wiping my sink, and wiping anything else in the kitchen that needs wiping!
Cloth washcloths can get smelly if you’re not careful, so I change my kitchen washcloth each day.
Also, before I go to bed at night, I always hang the washcloth over my faucet or oven door so that it can dry out overnight.
(Leaving it wadded up in a wet ball behind the sink is not a good idea, just so you know!)
The next morning it gets thrown into the laundry pile.
Every so often the washcloths get dirty enough that they need some extra cleaning, so I boil them for ten minutes in a pot on the stove.
(More details on that, plus 7 other tips for keeping kitchen linens clean)
Even with heavy daily use, mine usually last me for a number of years.
Considering that I can get a pack of washcloths for the price of a multi-pack of paper towels, I’m definitely money ahead this way.
I know some people think that using a washcloth all day in the kitchen is unsanitary and unhealthy, but as long as you keep up on the changing and washing, your washcloths should be just fine.
Of course, if I use a washcloth to wipe up something that is truly unsanitary (a counter that’s had chicken on it, for example), I don’t use that particular cloth for anything again until it’s gone through the wash.
For non-kitchen wiping purposes, I usually use my stack of old t-shirt rags.
I LOVE these things.
They don’t really cost a penny, because I make them from old t-shirts that are ready for the trash, and they work so, so well.
I don’t do anything fancy to the t-shirts…I just cut them up into what seems like an appropriate rag size and throw them into a box in my linen closet.
These are doubly eco-friendly because they keep you from using a disposable product and they also keep you from having to throw old shirts away.
I used to use paper towels to clean windows and appliances, and all sorts of other things but once I gave t-shirt rags a try, I never looked back.
It took tons of paper towels to get my sliding glass door clean, but I can do the whole thing and then some with a single rag.
I also use them to dust my piano, clean the outside of my appliances, and to clean my mirrors.
Good ol’ kitchen towels
I have an entire drawer of cotton towels in my kitchen, which we use for hand-drying and dish drying.
(I have a variety of towels, but the ones pictured here are Now Designs cotton towels.)
Paper towels honestly aren’t that great for drying wet things (they get soggy so fast!), so I prefer real towels.
Plus, when you are drying clean hands or clean dishes, there really is no reason to use a disposable product, even if you are super duper paranoid about sanitation.
Doesn’t this make a lot of laundry?
I promise you, the rags and washcloths do not significantly increase my laundry load. They’re so small and I use so few of them each day, their impact is negligible.
Give it a try, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised, especially when you see how long a roll of paper towels can last you.
Tuesday 31st of March 2020
I'm another happy non paper towel user. We use cloth napkins - my sister-in-law made me a set of cloth napkins when our kids were little - and have rags for clean up. I've been doing this for a long time and will never go back to paper towels.
Thursday 19th of March 2020
We use cloth napkins and placemats. Each family member has a spot at the table, so no sharing napkins. I wash as needed, as opposed to all the napkins or placemats in each load.
In the kitchen, I have dish towels for drying hands or pots. We do have a dishwasher, but there are several things I hand wash and (usually) air dry on a towel on the counter. Cuts down on how often I need to run the dishwasher. In addition, I have one dishcloth for washing pots, mugs & things that aren’t dishwasher safe, and a separate dish rag for wiping the counters and stove top (which is multiple times per day because family members have multiple food allergies (but not the same ones). I keep all the dirty food-related textiles in one pile and wash a small-medium load every 2-3 days. We are fortunate to have a washer & dryer.
We keep a collection of rags of various sizes: old towels, retired holey kitchen rags and towels, cut up t-shirts, torn sheets, cotton socks. Flannel sheets and worn out shirts make great dust cloths. Since our rags are free to us, if they have to be used for something particularly disgusting, we just throw them out afterward. I only wash rags with rags so I can wash on a sanitary cycle. We have major pollen allergies so, sadly, no outdoors clothesline.
I keep a roll of paper towels around (lasts several months). Rather than banning whole categories of food (like wheat bread), I’ll reserve the paper towels for those times I’m worried the tiny allergenic crumbs have accumulated. It’s amazing how hard it can be to see them. Maybe due to my ugly beige counters? But that’s another issue.
Wednesday 18th of March 2020
I love this idea and have been using washcloths like this for awhile. I think we could cut back more but for things like cleaning the toilet or cleaning up from prepping meat, I still use the paper towels and dispose of them. I need to work on that. But we've been using much less paper towels now that we invested in the washcloths. We change them a few times a day and just bleach them in the washing machine.
Tuesday 17th of March 2020
Three cheers for rags, cloth napkins, Cloth cooland kitchen towels!! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Tuesday 17th of March 2020
We have cut up discarded T-shirts and other soft garments for rags for a long time, used cloth napkins and placemats, but we are just now trying to get over the kitchen scrunge habit and the paper towel habit. I got a dozen "surgical towels" from Amazon to use in place of paper towels, and I love to knit so I knit a dozen cotton dish cloths. Plus I bought some washable scrubby cloths to use as needed. We still use paper towels occasionally to cover food in the microwave to avoid splatters and for the occasional really greasy grungy cleanup but our usage is going way down.