Paper Towel Alternatives

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The following is a guest post from Amy of Amy Loves It! Amy is also an expert on saving money in a small town.

Living Without Paper Towels

It has been almost five months since paper towels have graced our home, and I can honestly say I do not miss them! I remember putting our last roll in the kitchen and telling my husband to, “enjoy these, because when they are gone, they’re gone!” I simply stopped buying paper towels because I could not justify spending the money on future trash.

Now, this may sound crazy to you (and my husband did think I was crazy!), but let me tell you it is possible to live without paper towels. In fact, the transition has been easier than I thought it would be. My husband did miss the ease of snagging a paper towel, but he soon did not mind just grabbing a regular towel instead. It has now become an automatic response for both of us.

Our family uses towels for everything: spills, cleaning, wiping up grease, dirt and messes. I have 3 sets of towels or rags, with each set having a specific job.

  • My main set of towels sits in the window sill, ready to be used to dry dishes.
  • The second set lives in a drawer beside my stove. These towels are for wiping greasy pans and cleaning up spills.
  • The third set is under my kitchen sink, to be used for cleaning or for those messes that are really bad. These are rags that I do not mind parting with, if necessary.

I keep the main and second set towels clean by rinsing them out (if needed) before washing. I will rinse the cleaning towels before washing, unless they are too yucky. In that instance, they go in the trash. I do not mind having to toss a few old rags; for our family, it is much better than throwing away tons of paper towels. And those rags are old, stained towels or tee shirts that would have been unusable anyway. They have found a second life as rags.

So, what is the real difference? In my opinion, there is really no difference. I have to wash towels a few times a week anyway, and throwing a few extra in has not made an impact on my laundry duties.

The BIG difference is not buying a wasteful product, and not spending money on an unnecessary item.

Why not try it for yourself? Commit to using only reusable towels for ONE week. It really is not as hard as it might sound, and it is a GREAT way to start a green and frugal life!

Have you tried living without paper towels? Did you survive? Why or why not?

Amy’s life is explained in three words: happy, hectic, and blessed.  She writes at Amy Loves It, where you can find everything from frugal living tips to ministry to ways to show your husband love. You can also find her on Twitter @AmyLNorton.

For more frugal ways, visit Life As Mom.


  1. says

    I’ve lived without paper towels for over two years. I use composable sponges that I clean in the dishwasher for counter spills. I keep a stash of rags for really messy jobs.

  2. thisisbeth says

    I have paper towels in my kitchen. However, I’m thankful there’s no date on them, because the last time I bought paper towels was probably over two years ago (and I don’t buy them in bulk). Towels are so much more convenient–and cheaper–to use. And they don’t disintegrate when the mess is sticky.

  3. says

    I was just thinking about how wasteful the paper towels are today. I’m also thinking about getting rid of paper napkins. I have a lot of both right now in my stock pile but perhaps now is a good time to start collecting cloth items to replace the paper.
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Better Food For Less Cash =-.

  4. says

    A couple summers ago we stopped using paper-towels for DH’s breakfast sandwiches (egg sandwich wrapped in a paper-towel so he can eat on the go). I took a bunch of his old t-shirts, cut them into the appropriate size, and viola, a nice stack of “paper towels!” We use them for messes, dusting, cleaning (washing the floor, etc), and it’s great! We rarely use paper towels anymore.

    • Jo Riddle says

      This may sound crazy, but I use disposable diapers in my fridge for liners in the meat drawer. They are very clean, and super absorbent if anything decides to leak! One diaper last a long time.

      • says

        Lori, I did that, to, for awhile. Definitely a good idea!

        @Jo, that is a very unique idea. I had not thought about it (although, it doesn’t sound crazy!). It certainly makes sense… meat can be really leaky.

        Thanks for your comments, ladies!
        .-= Amy @ Amy Loves It!´s last blog ..Mega Swagbucks Friday! =-.

  5. says

    We don’t use paper towels either, They just never make it into the grocery budget and I never think about them. I have found that although we live rather easily without them, it drives our family and guests crazy when they come to visit. Our parents actually feel the need to run to Sams and buy them in bulk for us when they come to visit :)
    .-= Angela ´s last blog ..House Beautiful =-.

  6. says

    I love this… my wife and I have lived w/o paper towels for over a year now, and looking back we can’t believe we ever used them, they’re such a waste of money & resources.

    We bought a 25 pack of microfiber towels way back when and use them in place of the paper. We already do loads of towels in the wash and these towels are so small they do not require any additional loads.

    We also use cloth napkins and love those two!

    .-= Matt Jabs´s last blog ..Our Financial Goals for 2010 =-.

  7. Kristina says

    I have been pondering this for quite a while now. I think your post pushed me over the edge.
    I think I will have to hide the paper towels so my family can’t find them. Hmmmm
    .-= Kristina´s last blog ..Note to the Guys =-.

  8. Carrie says

    i mainly use wash cloths for my cleaning. i have one roll of paper towels in an out of the way kitchen cupboard for a few particular uses like cooking bacon in the microwave and cleaning up cat messes and i’ve been on the same roll for almost 2 years now

  9. Cupcakemommie (Jessica) says

    We use very few paper towels. I find that it’s easier and you get things cleaner if you use a towel. We also keep many baby wash clothes to clean up the kids. Much better for them!

  10. says

    I have been trying to get DH to stop with the paper towels for a long time. he has cut back a bunch now! In his house paper towels were used for everything.

    I am curious though, to those of you that don’t have them in your house, what do you use for bacon and greasy jobs where you need the grease to soak into the item to get it off your food?

    • says

      Hi Melissa!

      I use my towels that are set aside for grease to drain my bacon, hamburger meat, etc. The towels work well for me in draining the bacon, as I make sure to “pat dry” it. Instead of just letting it drain, patting the bacon gets it good and dry.

      Thanks for your question! Hope that helps :)
      .-= Amy @ Amy Loves It!´s last blog ..Mega Swagbucks Friday! =-.

      • says

        what are those cloths made of? I tried using a terry towel to do it with at one point and it stuck to the bacon. maybe I need ones made in cheese cloth or something. is that what you use?

  11. Athena says

    I was practically raised without paper towels, I guess I should thank my mom for that. We always kept a roll out for things like checking oil levels (cars and lawn mowers) but otherwise it sat there unused.

    You can even go further and make your own like these Ruffled Crochet Dishcloths. They make awesome gifts!
    .-= Athena´s last blog ..I’m Hungary… =-.

  12. says

    I’m with Matt Jabs – I LOVE those microfibers! You can also get rid of many cleaners when you use them. I just posted on them last week, in fact, if you don’t mind me sharing my how-to:

    Thanks for sharing – I’m almost embarrassed that I still have any paper towel in my house!
    :) Katie
    .-= Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship´s last blog ..Mary and Martha Moment: Why We Teach our Children to be Like Children =-.

  13. Jo Riddle says

    I too have gone paper towel-less. I bought 40 linen towels at IKEA (50 cents each), yea I spent $20 dollars but now have years worth of cleaning towels. I also keep a diaper pail with water and borax powder to throw them in to soak until laundry day. Just like I used to do with cloth diapers!

  14. says

    I’ve stopped using paper towels as frequently. I probably go through one roll every 2-3 months, which is something I can handle. I now use old kitchen towels for most things that I used paper towels for. It’s great because I’m saving money (paper towels are so expensive!) and saving the planet.
    .-= me in millions´s last blog ..New Blog! =-.

  15. says

    we havent completely eliminated our use of paper towels yet, but we continue to reduce it. 1 roll will now last 3 weeks or more vs. just a few days like it used to. Hopefully, we can continue reducing the use.

    Paper plates were easy to cut out.

    I really need to gravitate towards using hankies instead of Kleenex.

  16. Mudder says

    Your grandmother always refused to buy paper towels when I was growing up. At the time I thought she was strange, but of course it really does make sense. She was ahead of her time, I think, because although she probably was doing it to save money, she also used to say that it was a waste of resources to use a paper towel and throw it away. She didn’t use sponges, either.

  17. Katrina Foulkes-Taylor says

    I too gave up paper towels and use old newspapers to drain meat after cooking or old paper from our office and I use hand towels either full or cut in half for all my other cleaning jobs now.

  18. says

    Wow, this struck a chord with others I see! ;) I currently use paper towels on occasion. But I think you’ve inspired me to do away with them altogether. I used to buy paper plates, but haven’t bought those in forever either and it’s fine! I started washing lightly used baby wipes (as in pee only) and I actually use those for really gross clean up jobs on the floor. I don’t feel bad throwing them away because I feel I’ve already gotten a couple uses out of them. Thanks for the post.

  19. says

    This is one of my goals for the new year; but I’ve been putting it off because – how embarassing – I want to make a bunch of neat-looking rags by serging up a bunch of squares, and I can’t figure out how to thread my serger. What an excuse! I love the other ideas; we do the “wait a day before putting in a new roll” and truthfully, it will be my DH who will have the hardest time with bidding adeiu to paper. Maybe I should do the math for him….but seriously, I’m going to look for a pretty basket in my stash and fill it up, set it on the windowsill and follow Amy’s example – one for regular spills, one for gross jobs and one for inbetween. Thank you for the motivation!

  20. says

    Great for you; we’ve been without the use of papertowels for- good Lord- probably 7 years now. We just couldn’t see spending the money on stuff that is so easily waisted.
    .-= barbarabaker´s last blog ..I’m all for the Holidays, but now that it’s over- OMG! =-.

  21. says

    Usually when I go without paper towels I end up running out of towels. There are so many messes with four children. It seems like everytime I don’t have a paper towel there are more spills, accidents, overflowing something or nothers. I think an occasional towel fast (LOL) works for us. Maybe I should buy some more cheap towels and see how that works. Hmmm?
    .-= Petula´s last blog ..In the name of beauty =-.

    • Teresa says

      It’s the same way at my house, Theresa! My hubby will never go that “green” I don’t think. :) But, he’s so wonderful. He lets me have my foibles, I must let him have his . . .

  22. Amanda says

    We stopped using paper towels over a year ago now at my house and I bet it’s saved us a lot of money and we haven’t even missed them! We use hand towels and regular towels that we wash after using them. It’s better for the environment and better for your budget! Plus if you go out at a fast food restaurant you can always grab a couple extra paper towels from them and keep them at home if you need them for something specific.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Weekly Finals: Kroger Shopping Trip 01/02/2010 =-.

  23. Mrs. Dawson says

    We did away with paper towels this spring, and I can’t imagine ever going back. I also love our cloth napkins, and I occasionally debate about switching to cloth “hankies”. My husband grew up sing them and is game for switching, but I’m still a little hesitant. Our family and friends think we’re a little nutty – I love to remind them that people got along for thousands of years without paper towels, and no one seems to have died from the lack. Our parents grew up without them, but seem to have forgotten that – my mother-in-law went out and bought a giant economy pack of paper towels because she thought we must surely want them and just couldn’t afford them. :-) They sit unused in an extra storage closet, and I’ll probably give them away soon. She eventually got on board and recently gave me all her cloth napkins.

  24. Joyce says

    I like paper towels. I have to take the laundry down the steps to the basement and back up the steps when I am finished. As long as I can buy paper towels for 55 cents a roll, I will use them. I believe I come out just as cheap this way. If I use the towels and rags like some of you do, then I would have to buy more laundry soap, use more water, you have to fold them up and put them away. I have already given up cable tv and soda pop.

    • Jo Riddle says

      Hey, it’s what works for each person. We all make trade offs that are most important for fitting into our lives, you love your paper towels…stick with them!

  25. says

    We recently switched to cloth napkins and doing away with paper towels is our next step. I haven’t stopped purchasing them yet, but we are moving away from using them as often.

    I think we have two rolls left. Maybe I won’t purchase anymore…I have tons of rags that could be put to good use.

    Thanks for the nudge.

  26. says

    We made the switch to using cloth napkins in July of ’09 and I don’t think we will ever go back. I am going to try the towel thing for a few months and let you know how it goes. Heading out to the store and getting some extra towels.

  27. Irene says

    I hate buying paper towels. Today I purchased 5 microfiber towels from the dollar store. I will use these instead. Thanks for the post.

  28. Chrissy MacCEO says

    I love this post. We stopped using paper napkins last year, and it’s been a wonderful change–something small that we can easily do for the environment. I also bought a set of microfiber towels that I’ve been using to help me slowly make the switch off paper towels. Thanks for your suggestions.

    Also, what are you finding works best for windows?? The microfiber ones streak!

  29. Stacy says

    We use rags for most things and paper towels mostly only for cat messes (I just can’t handle the thought of washing those). I bought a few huge packs of cheap wash cloths at wal mart and we use those. I have white ones for kitchen use and green ones for cleaning bathrooms and such. I just throw them in with the regular laundry and that works fine.
    I quit when I realized we were going through a roll of paper towel every day or two. Now we go through one every few months.

  30. Rachel says

    Okay, I will have to try this! My mom has two sets of kitchen towels in her kitchen: dark and white. White is for drying dishes, dark is for drying hands. I guess I could adapt both and get seperate colors (or patterns) and have one color for dishes, one color for drying hands and using for napkins, and one color for grease, cleaning, etc. Thanks for helping us think of the environment!

    • says

      Allison, I would say one of those plastic microwave covers, but I’m not sure what is IN those.

      I normally place a small washcloth over the top. It works for me :)
      .-= Amy @ Amy Loves It!´s last blog ..Nielson Home Scan Panel now accepting new applicants =-.

  31. Shannon says

    We only use(d) them for draining bacon, but now that I see you just use your “grease” towels, that’s what we’ll be doing too! NO MORE Paper Towels for us!!

    We have been using cloth napkins for some time and I”m still waiting for DH’s family to get used to that and not worry about messing up my “nice” stuff.

  32. says

    too funny that i stumbled upon this. just tonight i gave up the use of paper towels in our home. i now have some color coded towels for dishes and others for floors, bathrooms, etc.

    i got bored over christmas and decided to start my own blog about frugal living so i can teach others as i learn….

  33. Kim says

    Hi. I am HUGE paper towel user, HUGE! On average we go through about a roll of the larger Bounty size a day. I would love to wean myself and my family off them. I cant imagine the huge pile of waste we are leaving the world with all that we use! Any tips for shopping for Microfiber Cloths? What sizes? Etc? Thanks!

  34. Ashley says

    Ok, what about wiping down kitchen counters? They say that germs and bacteria grow in wet sponges and rags that are left out. So, I’ve always used paper towels to wipe down counters so as not to be adding more germs to the area. Would I wash every rag after every use? Seems like I’d have a ton of laundry! Please advise…I really do want to kick the paper towel habit!

  35. Sarah Peck says

    I find that cleaning with paper towels is better then using hand towels. I have tried, using cut up hand towels; but for cleaning , it just doesn’t work. We use the hand towels for our napkins at meal times and such, but I really did not like having to change my hand towel over and over again when I cleaned.

  36. heather says

    I love this idea. Times are hard on everyone so why not try and save as much as you can. I am already making my own diapers for my 7 month old and sanitary pads for my self. My BIG issue with another cloth product is we don’t have a washign machine. I hand wash all of my babys diapers before I go to bed at night. And through out the week i will wash about 3 loads of clothes also in the kitchen sink. We can’t afford laundry mat at $4 a load right now, and there is no hook up for a washign machine even if we were given one. So I make due. I know I am blessed to have what we do have. I save towles and blankets for the laundry mat once a month. I dont have a clothes line and i live on the 2nd floor with no balcony. and we are rentign so no holes in the wall to hang inside. Right now I have been hanging clothes on hangers to dry where ever i can find a place and diapers get hung over the side of her play pen to dry. Im up for suggestions on the laundry mess. You can email me if anyone has an idea. Im still goign to try a week with out paper towls thogh! Thanks-Heather

  37. Sharon says

    Great post!!! I hate how many paper towels we go through. I just discussed switching to towels with DH and he told me that’s what his family did growing up! But he said they had one rag and hand washed it and it was pretty much always dirty. Well, that grosses me out, so I think I’ll have towels for different uses and I LOVE the idea of color coding them. If you wash your towels in the washing machine, do you put bleach in or how do you get them clean? And do they not make the other towels/laundry gross?

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