Throw In The Towel

by Katy on November 25, 2008 · 19 comments



I just made a major commitment to a green and frugal life.

I didn’t save a whale, nor did I sew my own underwear.

I got out my trusty screwdriver, and took down the paper towel rack.

That’s right, fellow Non-Consumers. I am truly, officially 100% done with paper towels.

I had written about how I stopped using paper towels earlier this year, but had held off from taking down the rack until I was sure the change had taken. 

Not only are paper towels an unnecessary expense, but the environmental effects of using virgin pulp for a one-use item is just plain wrong. Even when paper towels are made from recycled paper, the process of removing the inks produces a toxic sludge that  has its own issues.

The answer is not to buy environmentally responsible paper towels, the answer is to stop buying them at all!

I took an old scrappy towel and tore it into pieces. Yes — you read that right. I didn’t measure out the squares, I didn’t hem the edges. I simply cut snips, which I then tore from. I keep a stack of these paper towel substitutes in my broom closet, and use them either dry or wet for everything I used to need a paper towel for. 

I keep a plastic ventilated wastebasket in the kitchen for the laundry of dish towels and napkins already.

Not complicated.

No money expended.

And they work so much better than any paper towel ever did.

So if you’re looking for ways to cut expenses, while living the green life — stop using paper towels!

Now, about those paper napkins . . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs Green November 26, 2008 at 12:54 am

Oh, very good and one that brings my guilt rising to the surface – this is something I battle with. I know I SHOULD stop using it, but it’s just so darned convenient.
Maybe I should do a trial like you have told us about to see how I get on.
Thanks for the kick in the right direction 🙂


Magdalena November 26, 2008 at 4:59 am

I stopped using paper towels a while ago, since they are costly, bleachy, and take up a whole lot of room. Then the dogs got sick, and couldn’t keep up with the demand for rags. So the paper towels came back in, and stayed, with intermittent hiatus. I’m ready to give them up again, as we are now settled into the house and I’ve already cut up an old sheet for dog clean-up. For the horrible messes you don’t want to rinse out, either just throw the whole rag away or use sheets of newspaper for the grossest part and then finish with the cotton rags. Old sheets, towels and t-shirts are best, although the knit materials tend to roll at the edges. Some synthetic materials aren’t very absorbent; save wool scraps for the rag rug. Old linen dresses and shirs (real linen, from flax) get turned into other garments first, then napkins (hemstitch on the sewing machine, don’t be fancy) and then finally into the best dustcloths. Finally, real linen (no blends) is the best thing for french-polishing when refinishing furniture.


Magdalena November 26, 2008 at 5:01 am

After reading my post, I thought it sounds like our dogs are sick all the time. They are actually healthy and housebroken, but with three in a small house, there’s something every week. Yes, it is good economy to keep the pets healthy, too!


Jinger November 26, 2008 at 5:52 am

I do buy paper towels…maybe one roll every 2 or 3 months. I buy the kind that is perforated to tear the sheets in 2 pieces and only use them to soak up grease from cooking for disposal. Other than that, I use sponges or cloth rags for cleaning or wiping.

I never buy paper napkins, but use some lovely cloth napkins I found on sale at Anthropologie.


Helloheather November 26, 2008 at 6:08 am

Hello! I found your blog recently from the “100 Blogs that will inspire you to be a better person” list. You are an inspiration! (You inspired me to not buy a new pyrex dish just yesterday! )

We are a family who uses cloth napkins. We generally use them for a day, then just throw them in the laundry basket unless they’re really greasy. If they’re particularly foody or greasy, they get carried downstairs to the basement laundry pile. I never feel like they are a problem to store while waiting to be laundered.

However, I used to use thin washcloths (wet) for cleaning my two-year-old’s face and hands after meals. But I stopped using them, PRECISELY because I couldn’t figure out a good place to store them while waiting to launder them. They are guaranteed to be foody and/or greasy, and wet. I ended up with foody, greasy, wet washcloths draped all over everything until they dried, when I felt I could throw them in the laundry. That wasn’t satisfactory, so I slowly switched over to using paper towels for the cleanup.

But that’s not satisfactory, either!

So, about your ventilated waste basket? That sounds like the ideal solution. How big is yours? Where do you keep it? How often do you empty it? Do you often have wet rags to throw in there?

Thanks for any advice. I really appreciate it.


Heidi November 26, 2008 at 7:02 am

This is something I know I should tackle. I could, for starters, get my family switched over to cloth napkins for meals, and then gradually cut back on paper towel use. One good thing I did, however, was kick the Clorox Wipes habit long ago. They sure were convenient for cleaning bathroom surfaces, but so expensive! And so much extra waste. I bought a cheap pack of a dozen washcloths and I use those for cleaning. Now, to “green” my cleaning supplies…


sandy November 26, 2008 at 7:48 am

I do have a roll of paper towels on my counter, but I use rags (especially old dishrags and washcloths) for most of my cleaning. A roll will last me at least a year.

I once complained, to no one in particular, that the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom at work spit out too much paper for me. A woman who had just finished washing her hands stepped up to the dispenser pushed the button twice (taking more than twice as much paper as I thought necessary), then turned to me and said, “I like to have dry hands.”


Linda November 26, 2008 at 9:11 am

I like the idea of giving up paper towels, but…I have always been concerned how to deal with messes from the pets (cats & dogs). I do like Magdalenas idea of using old newspaper, hadn’t thought of that. While I’m not ready to jump in, I am going to give serious thought to going paperless the first of the year. For now I’ll see how few I can use each week, it may end up being easier than I think!


Emily November 26, 2008 at 9:19 am

I am looking at my almost empty roll of paper towels, wondering if I can make it last through Thanksgiving meal prep! I do use cloth napkins, though. I think the key to cloth napkins (with 2 young and messy children in the house!) is to have LOTS of napkins. I almost never run out and I can just throw them in with the regular wash.

I am inspired to cut back on paper towels now. Thank you!


GLM November 26, 2008 at 11:06 am

I have a 6 pack of paper towels in my house that are 3 months old now. I rarely use them, and do like using cloth better.

I think that you can gently transition yourself from one to the other over a period of time. And no one’s saying that you can’t have a roll stashed away – just that it’s probably cheaper for you to not keep buying them.

Being “environmentally conscious” became so much easier for me, when I decided to call it “cheap” instead! 🙂


LeAnna November 26, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I can say with confidence that I’ve never bought paper towels. I darn near thought about switching to cloth for TP, and figured that was about two steps too far (although I do cloth diapers for my wee one, so it would all get washed together…)

As for napkins, I’ve never really been a napkin user. Call me gross, or maybe I just don’t make much of a mess, but I’ve never really used them. Odd, I know…

But for cleaning up all those little spills and stuff, I found an old sheet with some holes in it and just cut it into pieces about 6″ x 6″. They work great, rolled edges and all, and I just let them drape on the edge of the laundry basket while they’re drying out before I flip them in there a day later or whatever. They’re also our diaper wipes.


Dawn November 26, 2008 at 1:30 pm

What got us to use cloth napkins was all the bbq-ing we were doing, those cloth napkins came in handy during the summer and got us in a good habit.. I took the left over paper ones to work.


CanadianKate November 26, 2008 at 8:13 pm

Napkins – check (and washed only weekly because we use napkin rings and aren’t messy.)

Rag in kitchen for counters – check

Rags for dusting and cleaning windows – check

Paper towels for draining bacon and homemade fries and lining the microwave – suggestions for a work around, please.


thenonconsumeradvocate November 26, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Canadian Kate,

For draining bacon and fries, I would recommend using kraft paper bags. That’s what we always used when I was growing up.

For the microwave — I’m not sure. Why are you lining it?

-Katy Wolk-Stanley


CanadianKate November 28, 2008 at 10:34 am

My MIL always put a piece of paper towel in the microwave to catch all the crumbs (she’d just put bread in to defrost without a plate to save the dish.) It also absorbs some of the splatters, making cleanup a cinch each week.

As for the kraft paper bags for soaking up fat, where do get them? We use cloth bags for groceries. Aside from the occasional one that held mushrooms from the grocery store, we just don’t have any that come into the house. Obviously, if I’m buying new, I may as well buy the paper towels since I only use 2 – 3 rolls a year.


thenonconsumeradvocate December 3, 2008 at 11:38 am

I always use a plate in the microwave. Always. I defrost chicken in there, and all kinds of lovely bacteria and such call it home.

I need paper bags to soak up fat very infrequently, as bacon is only bought occasionally in my home. I have enough paper bags in my broom closet to last me a very long time since it’s a three time per year occasion.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


thenonconsumeradvocate December 3, 2008 at 11:43 am


My “vented” wastbasket is simply a small round plastic garbage can from the The Dollar Tree store. (bought pre-Compact) It’s maybe 18″ tall and 12″ across at the top.

If the rag I’m tossing in is particularly wet, I drape it over the side to dry. But since I’m doing laundry most every day, mildew is really not an issue.

It’s a simple solution.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Derek December 3, 2008 at 3:37 pm

I’m honestly not trying to rain on your parade, but would like to pose an honest question: in a desert climate (like the one where I live), would it really be environmentally friendly to give up paper towels and increase my water use (washing the towels)?

Also, I tend to cook in cast iron. I clean the pots and pans by adding oil and wiping it in with a paper towel. If I try using rags instead, won’t that significantly shorten the lifespan of the rags?


ToilingAnt December 5, 2008 at 8:24 am

I use paper towels for two things only: greasing bread pans with shortening, and draining fried foods (bacon, etc.). This comes to about two or three paper towels a week.

A while back my in-laws were visiting our apartment and my very-non-non-consumer FIL washed his hands at the kitchen sink. He stood there with his hands dripping as he looked around searchingly; I reached just behind/next to him and grabbed the clean dishtowel off the oven handle. When I handed it to him, he said something like “this is why y’all need a house, so I can get you a paper towel holder”.

Right. I should buy a house that I don’t need nor want and can’t afford simply so I can conveniently make more trash by using paper towels to soak up clean water off my hands? I was so dumbfounded that I couldn’t even think of a respectful response.


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