Ditching Paper Towels – Answering your Questions

Spread the Sustainable Gospel!

Zero Waste and Paper Towels | Don’t get me wrong, I love a good “quicker picker upper.” With pets, a baby, and a tendency to spill things often, having something easily accessible to clean up messes is a must for me. And how great are paper towels? Just tear off what you need, clean up your mess, and toss – oh so – effortlessly. Many other people think so too considering the average person uses 45 lbs. of paper towels per year.

We love our disposable paper products. Paper waste accounts for over 25% of total landfill waste.

When I ran my “30 Days to Zero Waste” Challenge on Instagram and Facebook, I was surprised to see that overall, that tip raised the most resistance and had the most questions. So many in fact, that I felt that a dedicated post was due to answer everything and give everyone some reference material.
What was the number one hurdle?
Significant Others
Many of you stressed that you’d love to kick the paper towel obsession but your SOs wouldn’t do it. I can help you with this one – for the record, I’m asking my own husband’s advice!
  • Show them the money savings. From personal experience, our household saves $100-$200 a year now that we do not purchase paper towels. And no, adding small rags to your existing loads of laundry isn’t going to cost you more money in water – I’ve compared our usages.
  • Stop buying them. Everyone in the house will have to use cloth if the paper towels have disappeared.
  • Simply communicate that you’d like to give this a try and that cutting waste is important to you. Come on now, couple support! πŸ™‚ At the very least, ask them to just give it a try.
Here were some additional questions that you had…
“I live with roommates who will not switch – but I have”
Try making the rags more conveniently located than the paper towels. If the clean rags are conveniently on the counters and the paper towels are in the pantry – hidden somewhere –  you might get some converters!

“What about cleaning the bathroom and wiping up all that gross hair?”

I personally sweep all of the bits with a small hand broom, then spray down my bathroom with my homemade cleaning solution and wipe clean. 

“Do I have to purchase additional rags or make my own?”

That is completely up to you but I would suggest saving your money – I mean – they’re just rags. I personally use old wash rags because they are very absorbent. You can also take holey socks or rip up stained or torn t-shirts.

“What do you do when you are at work or in a public restroom?”

I always have a cloth napkin on me on the go. Avoiding waste is all about being prepared. If I don’t have a cloth on me I simply shake them dry.

“What do you do for cleaning up greasy or oily messes?”

I first sprinkle baking soda on the mess so that it absorbs the liquid, then I wipe clean.

“How many rags do I need for a family of 2 and a puppy?”

My rule of thumb is 3-5 per person/pet. Including pets I have a household of 10 so about 30 rags. Just a personal preference – it works perfectly for us.

“But cleaning up pet vomit – with cloth?”

Absolutely! And here’s why – not even a waste reason – with paper towels, my fingers always seemed to poke through to the dark side. Yuck. With cloth, that doesn’t happen. I wipe up the mess, my fingers stay clean, I shake off the particulates outside, and throw the rag into the wash. Easy.

“How do you drain oily food?”

On a baking rack that is on top of a baking sheet. Drains more oil that paper towels – and you know what that means – crispier potato chips!

Did I cover everything? I promise you, switching to cloth isn’t so scary. Just try it for little bit to test it out. I bet a lot of you will never switch back!

Do you have other questions regarding switching to paper towels? If so, comment below!



15 thoughts on “Ditching Paper Towels – Answering your Questions

  1. I've already almost completely given up paper towels, but this post still gave me great new insight. I'd been using them to drain greasy foods and hadn't thought that a baking rack might work just as well. I always felt like it needed something to *absorb* the grease, rather than just drip off. And the baking soda tip for greasy messes, that was new to me. Thanks so much!

  2. Ironically I am reading this the day after I have bought my first paper towels in the best part of a decade. The cat has taken to pooping outside of the tray this week and I just didn't have the rags to deal with it.
    However, I've lived quite happily without kitchen roll (as we Brits call it)through pets, illness, 3 children and numerous spills and thrills. I've probably saved almost Β£150 in that time, assuming I'd use two rolls a month.

    The thing that took me a while to figure out at the start was how to manage dirty rags. Bathroom rags have to be stored and washed seperately from other household rags; and have to be sanitised either with nappy sanitiser (ecofriendly stuff is good) or very high temperatures. It may be worth treating rags that are very greasy or waxy (car washing rags)as disposable. These are the jobs I use recycled rags for. I've just cut up some bobbly t-shirts for this purpose.

  3. What do you do with the cooking grease once it's drained? I've been storing it in a can in the refrigerator and tossing once full.

  4. Hi! We usually don't have much grease because of our dietary needs but I do save what little I create and reuse it to oil my cast iron skillets. I have also added a teeny, tiny amount in with my dogs food for a treat every once in a while, and if I get a huge amount that is just too much to keep, I bury it or use it to start our fires for our fire pit.

  5. Hello, we've gone almost all cloth, but I still use paper for two things. I always like to have some tissue with me when out in case of 'no loo roll' emergencies. I also use paper towel to line my in kitchen compost bin, so it does get composted. We don't have a news paper so this seems the best solution – any suggestions?

  6. Hi Geraldine! Fantastic job on being almost completely cloth! That is really a great accomplishment! I purchase and use recycled toilet paper so keeping some on hand for emergencies, I think is just a good idea. After the paper has been used up, I compost the tube. For your compost, you could use junk mail? That way you are using what you already have coming in – unless you don't get any junk and in that case…tell me your secrets! πŸ™‚ I personally don't use any liners in my compost, I just wipe it out with a rag after I dump it.

  7. What about oiling your cast iron skillet? I do it every time I scrub/clean my pan to add a liner of oil. The problem with rags is – 1 the get dark oil (residue from the pan) and 2. Can leave fibers on the pan, which I don’t like.

    • I use cotton rags that have the sole purpose of oiling my cast iron. The staining doesn’t concern me. Maybe the type of fabric matters as I’ve never seen fibers on my skillets after using cotton. Another alternative to oil your cast iron is to use a silicone basting brush to apply the oil and then to set the skillet on low heat to evaporate any excess.

  8. I have a question in regards to eliminating paper towels at a doggie daycare, we use paper towels for the inordinate amounts of urine big dogs, I would like to switch over to towels and much more sustainable options – what are your suggestions?

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