Why We Switched to Reusable Paper Towels

October 12, 2018

reusable paper towels

Paper towels are wasteful, bad for the environment
and expensive; here’s how our family ditched them for good


When we moved out to the farm a year ago, we decided it was past time to make the switch and live a more mindful, healthy, sustainable and eco-conscience lifestyle.

We were already making small steps in that direction.  We grow our own food, buy local when we can, and generally eat whole and unprocessed items.  I make my own cleaners.  We compost, and try to reuse a lot of things.

All theses things really felt like small beans to us though.  So, we decided to do something bigger:


I haven’t used a paper towel in almost a year.  And you know what?  It was so easy!  We simply didn’t buy them again after we ran out, and I haven’t missed having them for one minute!  Are you interested in replacing your disposables with reusable paper towels?  Here’s how to do it and, more importantly, why.

Why should you stop using paper towels?

For a long time I didn’t think twice about using paper towels.  Most people don’t.  They’re made out of paper, which means that they’ll eventually decompose, right?


Well, I guess technically that’s right, but it’s not as simple as that.  Paper towels alone generate up to six million pounds of paper waste per day and they don’t just disappear.  Every single one of those sheets will take up to a month to break down.  And as they decompose they release methane, a very potent and environmentally harmful greenhouse gas.

You might be interested:  What is methane and why should you care?

I know you’re thinking that paper towels are just so darn convenient!  Well, that’s true.  But the convenience comes at a terrible cost to the environment; and it’s a cost we really can’t afford to make for much longer.

Still not convinced you need to give up paper towels?


  • 40% of American landfill trash is paper and paper products
  • The paper industry is the third largest contributor to global warming
  • 51,000 trees are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day
  • Most commercial paper towels contain chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, and other carcinogenic chemicals

Eco-friendly reusable paper towels

Now you’ve heard how wasteful and damaging all those paper towels are to the environment, so what should you use instead?  Easy.  You replace them with … reusable cloth rags!

Yep, the same thing people used to clean their homes and belongings with before paper towels were invented.  We are going back in time to save the future, people!

When we started doing this I didn’t buy any new cleaning cloths; I just used the old stained towels we already had in the rag basket.  I cut them up into smaller squares and went to town.  After a while though, I did purchase some cloth specifically for cleaning.  I’ve got an assortment or materials now, and can honestly say I like my bamboo and birdseye cotton the most.


  • 100% bamboo fiber cloth
  • Recycled birdseye cotton cloth diaper inserts
  • Flour sack towels
  • Cotton napkins

You could really use just about any rag or cloth as reusable paper towels.  I’ve heard of people using cut up cotton tee shirts, flannel, bar towels and even specialty products on Etsy made to look like real paper towels, that snap together into a roll.  The possibilities are endless.


A lot of people like to use microfiber cloths for cleaning, since they’re known to absorb a lot of liquid and are gentle on surfaces.

Here’s the catch, though: microfiber isn’t even actually cloth.  It’s made from petroleum-based polymers (otherwise known as plastic) and won’t ever decompose.  Instead, every time you wash them, those harmless-looking rags will break down and release microplastics into our waterways and pollute the earth for all the years to come.  Taken like that, microfiber is actually kind of worse than paper towels.

Obviously, everyone’s comfort level is different, but if you’re trying for natural and sustainable, microfiber isn’t it.

reusable paper towels

Care and washing

Caring for cleaning cloths is really very easy.  I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t as easy as throwing away a used paper towel, but not much harder in essence.  Instead of the garbage can, I throw dirty rags into the laundry basket.  From there it’s just another load of wash.

I do like to keep my bathroom rags separate from my other cleaning cloths, and the easiest way to do that is to differentiate them by color, material or simple tags (like fabric ribbon) sewn to the corners.


  • Keep dirty kitchen and bathroom rags in separate containers in the laundry room
  • Wash bathroom and kitchen rags separately on a hot water or sanitize cycle
  • To disinfect without bleach, add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle
  • If your cloths are greasy, soak them with baking soda and then run a rinse cycle with vinegar
  • Dry on high heat, and don’t use fabric softener sheets (obviously!)
  • Hang rags outside in the sun; the UV rays will further disinfect and remove stains

Tips and tricks for reusable paper towels

The best tip I can give you for successfully using rags instead of paper towels is to keep the rags handy.  Store your bathroom cleaning cloths in a basket in the bathroom, and keep kitchen cloths in a bin right under the kitchen sink.  You could even keep a small basket right on your kitchen counter to encourage you to use them.


  • Keep about 12-24 (or more!) cleaning cloths on hand
  • If you’re frying foods, drain them on a rack over newspapers or a baking sheet instead of blotting them
  • Keep a bin full of old rags specifically for messes that you want to throw away instead of throwing into the washing machine (think dog diarrhea or other nastiness along those lines)
  • Use newspaper to wash your windows – it won’t leave streaks!

And that is it!  Really!  Using reusable paper towels isn’t hard at all — mostly it’s just a matter of being prepared and readjusting your frame of mind.

Do you use paper towel alternatives? Leave me a note in the comments and tell me what you use, and any cleaning tips or questions you have !


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Shared on these great websites: Oakhill Homestead and Simple Life Mom


  • The EcoFeminist

    October 12, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    Great post. I’ve not used paper towels for 10+ years and no longer even comprehend how I used to! Dish towels and rags from old t-shirts (stuff with holes that can’t go to Goodwill), bedsheets, and dying bath towels are all fair game – not just for cleaning but also DIY projects like staining wood, etc. And cloth napkins instead of paper of course as well! (PS – I love how Blue Scorcher Bakery has a “garbage” can for the cloth napkins for customers to put them in so they can launder them… Can’t believe more places don’t do that!)

    1. lacey

      October 12, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Thanks! I agree about the Blue Scorcher – it makes so much sense and pleased me to no end the first time I went there! I don’t know why I personally didn’t make the switch years ago – we used cloth napkins and rags for so many other things and I was even cloth diapering and wiping at the time! I guess it just gets ingrained in you. Now, what to switch next? Toilet paper? Um … maaaaaybe. Maybe not 😛

  • theincrementalhomesteader

    October 15, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Nice post! We gave up paper towels, and paper napkins 6 years ago. Haven’t looked back. Cut up some old towels and bought loads of washrags at Goodwill for next to nothing! Every few days I wash all the rags, towels and napkins. When I go to my Dad’s and use paper towel, I feel so conscious of each piece I take, it seems so odd now to use a brand new piece and then toss it in the trash!

    1. lacey

      October 16, 2018 at 4:48 pm

      Good for you! I feel the same way whenever I go to friends and families homes. It’s also weird to think about how precious paper used to be, and now it’s one of our most thrown-away commodities 🙁

  • thiscrazymaze

    October 16, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    I LOVE this article!
    We ditched paper towels a while ago, and it was definitely an adjustment. Now, we use dish towels as our napkins, and cut up t-shirts, socks with holes, and reusable baby wipes for cleaning. It has been great and it really is not hard at all!
    The biggest thing I struggled with was not using paper towels to spread the oil in my cast iron pans after cleaning them… Now, I just use my hands!

    1. lacey

      October 16, 2018 at 10:19 pm

      Oh, how smart! I never considered just using my hands! Thank you so much for the tip!

      1. thiscrazymaze

        October 17, 2018 at 2:08 am

        You’re welcome!

  • Hannah

    October 16, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    These are great tips for cutting out paper towel use. I try to use as little as possible but haven’t been able to cut them out completely yet.

    1. lacey

      October 16, 2018 at 10:47 pm

      Thank you for commenting! I was a little afraid to do it when we first started, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make the switch 🙂

  • Katy Willis

    October 17, 2018 at 10:41 am

    This is a great article. We use old tee shirts instead of paper towels and have done for a while and use a vinegar solution as a disinfectant. Great laundry advice! Thanks

    1. lacey

      October 17, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      I love vinegar as a disinfectant and de-greaser! Thank you for commenting!

  • Spring Lake Homestead

    October 19, 2018 at 11:42 am

    We don’t have newspaper, and I always seem to get fibers on the windows if I use any other cloth for drying them when washing… any recommended type of towel/material??

    1. lacey

      October 19, 2018 at 3:31 pm

      Hmmm … I’ll have to look into that. I’ll do some experimenting and let you know!

      1. Spring Lake Homestead

        October 19, 2018 at 4:13 pm

        Thanks! It’s the only reason I buy paper towel, really. I don’t wash my windows often, because as soon as I do, I kid you not, the children get dirty hands all over them. Every. Time. So I let them be dirty until I can’t stand it anymore. I love my little kids, but it will be nice to not have toddlers in the house someday!

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