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Help Me Kick the Paper Towel Habit

Updated on August 15, 2015

Reducing the use of paper towels

Not long ago, I was surprised to realise just how much paper towel we use in our home, and there are only two of us.

I imagine that households with kids and pets use even more. I'm not sure that I can stop using paper towels altogether (or can I?) but we've managed to reduce our usage quite dramatically.Maybe some of my tips can help you - but better, I'm hoping that you'll have ideas for me.

Cutting down on usage is a great way to save money but it's also much better for the planet too (see the rather scary statistics below).Paper towel has been commercially available since the nineteen thirties so most of us are just used to grabbing the roll when we need to do a quick clean up job - it's second nature and so easy. But is it right to do so?

All images are crops from copyright free photographs from Wikimedia.


Paper vs. cloths or rags

I know that this is the obvious answer but I do have a few problems with using cloths.

If I was truly green, I'd have a collection of cloths and old t-shirts to use for cleaning jobs (I do have some) and launder them.But I do my laundry once a week and I don't like the thought of dirty rags hanging around in my house for seven days, getting stinky and attracting whole families of bacteria.

Furthermore, doing the laundry costs me money and the addition of cleaning cloths would require more water, more electricity, more detergent - and, if I'm honest - more effort as I line-dry everything. So what's the answer?


I was using them wrongly

The first thing I realised was that I must buy the type that have a half-sheet.

Sometimes, we were using a whole sheet just to wipe up a few drops of red wine from the countertop.I switched to the type that are made from 100% recycled paper, so that was a step in the right direction too.Then I realised that the majority of the sheets we were throwing away were barely used.

Sometimes they'd been used to simply dry and polish a wine glass. Or used as a napkin and simply wiped a few crumbs from the side of my mouth at lunchtime.Surely I could re-use these?


I became aware

Once I realised just how much almost-unused paper towel were were throwing into the trash every day, I became a woman on a mission.

I now keep lightly-used sheets in a decorative jar on the countertop.When I find myself reaching for the roll, I head for the jar instead. Does using 'second hand' paper seem gross to you? It isn't really.I've seen himself tear off a full sheet just to wipe a few drops of water from his fingertips - that almost counts as clean to me.

Of course, we don't have pets and should any visiting dog leave a little gift on the floor that paper sheet would go straight into the outside trash. But I estimate that 95% of the sheets we use can be used again.

What for?

'Used' paper towel can be used for so many daily clean up jobs. Of course, if someone has sneezed onto it, or if it has been used to mop up raw meat juices, then it needs to go into the trash immediately. But in our household, virtually every sheet can be used again.

  • If the paper has only been lightly used, it's perfect for wiping food debris from pans, casserole dishes and plates before putting them into the dishwasher or washing up bowl.
  • Lightly used sheets can be used to wipe down the fridge door, the exterior of the oven or the stove top. Even after I've used it for that, it can still be used for spot-cleaning the kitchen floor.
  • I use them for wiping out the sink (kitchen and bathroom) or grimy woodwork such as door frames or the kitchen cabinets. Really lightly used ones can be used for windows and mirrors - if your glass isn't too dirty, they can even be used again.
  • Instead of grabbing the roll to wipe up accidental spills, I use my 'used' sheets.
  • When I'm cooking, I put a piece on the countertop. If I'm peeling potatoes for example, I peel them straight onto a sheet of used paper. This way, I can just scrunch it up and toss it in the trash.
  • A couple of evening ago, I fried eggplant slices in olive oil and drained them on paper towel. I kept the oily sheet in a glass jar in the fridge (I'm a manic jar-collector). Tonight when I make a dish that requires a greased oven tin, I'll use it.
  • If I composted, which I don't due to lack of garden, I understand that sheets of paper towel are ideal for the compost heap.


Skoy cloth?

Skoy Eco-friendly Cleaning Cloth (4-pack: Assorted Colors)
Skoy Eco-friendly Cleaning Cloth (4-pack: Assorted Colors)

Has anyone reading this used these?

They are marketed as an alternative to paper towel and I'm considering giving them a try.If you have, please let me know in the comments section below.

I'd love to hear from someone who has used them - personal recommendation is so important amongst the marketing hype.


Do you have tips for me?

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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Linda Smith1 - I love those with the smaller sheet too. We've really cut down on usage a lot :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Marie Flint - that's a great idea - thank you!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Dressage Husband - thank you so much. I only insist that himself throws paper towel away when he has used it to blow his nose! Although I suppose even that would be OK for the kitchen floor clean-up :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @heidithorne - 2- 3 rolls is brilliant!

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      3 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I've adapted worn-out socks. Crew socks are nearly lint free and work pretty well for cleaning most things.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      We have been using the half sheet ones, ever since they came on the market. I have not started re-using them, but I often mop the floor before throwing lightly used ones away. Liked the Hub found it interesting and amusing!

    • LindaSmith1 profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      I recycle mine whenever I can. I also buy those rolls where you pick a size, the ones that are perforated so you can tear off a small sheet or large one.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Useful tips! We use maybe 2-3 rolls per year at our house. We've pretty much switched to old, rewashable, reusable cloth rags. Now I just need to kick my Swiffer duster habit (but they work so darn well!). :) Thanks for being green and sharing your green living tips!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @TerriCarr: I'll look out for them- thanks!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Elsie Hagley: I wish I could!

    • TerriCarr profile image


      4 years ago

      Have you tried handi-wipes? Very, very thin cloths you rinse out and use over and over until they fall apart.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      I have never used paper towel, still rely on the good old dish cloths that are washed everyday.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @OhMe: Me too.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      We need to do a lot better with cutting down on paper towels and are trying.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @ecogranny: Oh no! I truly had no intention of 'competing' - even the same title (almost)! I wonder if I've seen your lens and the title went in subconsciously? Blimey.But if anyone can help me,I'm sure your lens can :)

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      Do I? Oh yes. I have an entire lens, coincidentally (I hope, unless of course this is a case of imitation being the highest form of flattery!) titled "Kick Your Paper Towel Habit!" It's a step-by-step guide to identifying the stumbling blocks you encounter and overcoming them.Right now, it looks like your chief stumbling block is storing the dirty rags until you have enough for a laundry load. We solved that problem, and it's on this page, along with all the others we encountered in our effort to kick our own paper towel habit:'m happy to report it was a whole lot easier than we thought and we've never regretted our decision for a moment.Thank you for sharing your journey in making a conscious choice about this one way we can all be a little more careful of the resources and health of our planet. I'm thrilled to find this page.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci: I don't think I could ever stop using it completely. Men, I find, are a problem. (In more ways than just paper towels!) If I have a cloth that I have designated as a dishrag, there's no guarantee that he won't wipe a wine spill from the kitchen floor with it.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Getting the half sheet is a good idea. I finally bought a batch of white towels that I can reuse. It's helped save a lot for me. But there are some times when you really want to use paper.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @lbrummer: What a coincidence. A friend of mine reckons that she saves $300 a year by cutting down on usage. I can get a return ticket to the Bahamas for that and I know which I'd rather spend money on :)

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 

      4 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      I didn't realize how many paper towels I waste until I read this. I'll be more aware from now on. Funny, I just wrote an article about using paper towels to make doll ornaments, I guess they could be made using slightly used sheets. Thanks for an interesting and timely article.


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