Switching to reusable paper towels can help save trees and help create sustainable practices for your household, here are some of our favorites.
Paper products are an ingrained part of our life. They’re convenient, they’re cheap, and they’re easy to dispose of.
But after being tossed, paper towels end up in the landfill where they sit emitting methane gas — one of the leading greenhouse gasses contributing to global warming — because they don’t degrade.
Making the switch to reusable paper towels can help you incorporate more sustainable options into your life.
When it comes to paper towels:
- 51,000 trees are cut down to make paper towels just for North America
- Americans use about 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year
- To make ~2,000 pounds of paper towels takes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water
- The Canadian Boreal forest is the supplier of most North American paper towels AND the world's largest land biome.
What are Reusable Paper Towels
Rather than using a paper product one time, reusable paper towels are made from a material that can be washed and reused multiple times for the same purpose you would use a paper towel for.
Whether you’re trying to hack your way to a zero waste kitchen, working towards creating a sustainable kitchen routine, or just trying to cut down on your paper towel usage, reusable paper towels are worth giving a try.
Environmental Benefits of Switching to Reusable Paper Towels
Do reusable paper towels still use natural materials?
- It requires less material to make these products than to make paper towels
- You’re repurposing material and saving it from the landfill
- Cotton, Flannel, & Swedish Sponge Cloths can be composted at the end of their life, which creates nutrients for more things to grow.
Don’t you still have to use water to clean reusable paper towels?
Washing reusable paper towels uses less water (and energy) than creating brand new virgin paper towels.
When making the switch to reusable paper towels, you’re helping to save:
- The trees used in making the towels (and the roll)
- The bleach/chlorines used to make the towels white
- The plastic the rolls are wrapped in
- The transportation/fuel required to get the rolls to your destination
- Energy — the cost of energy and materials to make your reusable towels comes at the beginning. If you take care of them well, the cost of energy and materials decreases over time as you continue to reuse them while the cost remains high for one time use paper towels.
Keeping Your Reusable Paper Towels Bacteria-Free
Keeping your towels clean and bacteria-free is a common concern when making the switch to reusable paper towels. Don’t worry, we got you!
- Sanitize your Swedish Sponge Cloths by running them through the dishwasher.
- You can also boil water and submerge the towel for a couple of minutes. Once it’s cooled (or with a pair of tongs) bring it to the sink, wring it out, and lay it flat/hang it to dry.
- Let reusable paper towels dry before tossing them in the hamper. Wet towels in a confined space become a breeding ground for bacteria. Wash them with a load of other towels.
- Microwave any of the towels for 30 seconds to kill any bacteria in between washes.
Are They Easy To Use?
Is using a reusable paper towel going to feel exactly like using a paper towel? TBH No.
Is using a reusable paper towel difficult? Also no!
Of course it’s going to feel different, but that doesn’t mean they’re less effective! Hang in there and give yourself and your family time to adjust. Any new habit takes some time to get used to and incorporate into your life!
You’ll soon be so used to using reusable towels that you won’t miss paper towels at all!
The 4 Best Reusable Paper Towels At ZeroWasteStore
ZWS Essentials reusable towels come pre-rolled in packs of 12 or 24 with a fun lemon design. Each towel is 12”x10” and will last years with the proper care. When these towels no longer work for your kitchen, consider turning them into rags. After that, they can be composted!
- Material: Oeko-Tex Standard Certified Organic Cotton, Low Impact Dyes
- How To Clean: Machine wash in warm/cold water and with like colors. Tumble dry low or hang dry.
- Price: $32—$58
- Review: “These are beautiful, soft, and functional, love them!” — Luke
- Tip: Rinsing and wringing prior to wiping may help towels to absorb more moisture.
These Swedish Sponge Cloths will transform your kitchen and maybe even your life! Each towel can hold up to 15X its own weight in liquid (we’re so serious) and one towel can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels. Lasting for 6+ months depending on use, each towel is 6.75”x8” and comes in a set of 4 with 7 different designs. When the cloth becomes unsuitable for kitchen use it can be composted.
- Material: Cellulose (wood pulp)-cotton
- How To Clean: Run through dishwasher or boil in hot water.
- Price: $6.50—$25
- Review: “These are definitely one of my favorite paper towel replacements. They’re super absorbent, which you wouldn’t think until you try it. I’ve started using some of my older ones under my plants to collect excess water.” — Emily
- Tip: Microwave in between dishwasher runs to sanitize.
These reusable towels from Marley’s Monsters come in pre-rolled or folded sets. Each towel is 12”x10” and come in packs of 6 or 12 with four different design options (Mixed Gray, White, Vintage Lemons, and Rainbow). These towels can last for years and at the end of their life consider repurposing then composting. It’s recommended to wash them before using as that will help them be more absorbent.
- Material: Cotton flannel
- How To Clean: Machine wash in warm or cold water and with like colors. Tumble dry low or air dry.
- Price: $16—$30
- Review: "We have been using these for about a year - they hold up well, work well and go thru the wash well. All 12 of our original order are still in use. Only use paper towels now to mop up grease or oil so one roll lasts months instead of days…” — Judyth
- Tip: With each wash the towels will become more absorbent!
DIY Reusable Paper Towels
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
You can DIY your own set of reusable paper towels as an alternative! The most eco-friendly way to make these would be to use whatever natural ‘scrap’ fabric you have laying around the house. You can pretty much use anything but a more absorbent material is best and you’ll want to avoid synthetic materials as they contain and shed microplastics.
Consider making towels from:
- An old cotton or flannel t-shirt
- Old hand towels or washcloths
- Old Tea Towels
- Flour sack towels
- Scrap material from any old projects
- Cut two pieces of fabric into 12"X10" squares (or whatever size works best for you)
- Pin the two pieces of fabric together
- Sew together about 1/4" from the edge — Sewing Machine Instructions Here
- Leave a gap big enough to turn the material inside out
- Trim the corners so they lay flat
- Flip inside out, sew the hole up, iron edges
- Optional: add a button or piece of fabric to hang the towel from
Reusable paper towels will take some time to get used to but seeing a significant reduction in your paper towel usage is worth it! Not to mention saving money and trees!
If the adjustment period is difficult, try having some Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) 100% recycled paper towels on hand. They’re still paper towels but made from post consumer recycled paper and are saving paper from ending up in the landfill!
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