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:
WE STOPPED USING PAPER TOWELS!
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?
HERE ARE A FEW MORE REASONS:
- 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.
MY FAVORITE ALTERNATIVES:
- 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.
WHAT ABOUT MICROFIBER?
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.
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.
OTHER HELPFUL TIPS:
- 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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