As we (and others) slowly start to make changes at home to limit single use items, there are a few places to start. These sustainable kitchen swaps provide a list of where people can start. For us, the easiest step was to learn how to stop using paper towels!
At this point, we really don’t use paper towels at all. In fact, I don’t think we’ve bought a new roll since we moved to Sacramento three years ago! While I’ve occasionally reached for the few remaining in our cabinet, we’re largely free of them.
How to Stop Using Paper Towels
It didn’t all start out as an effort to cut back waste and single-use anything though. I think it started when we got cloth napkins.
Every meal we enjoy at home, we have the linens to wipe our hands rather than paper towels. And then I just had rags for cleaning, so that wasn’t a use for us either.
The only things we were using paper towels for included some microwaving (wetting them first to put over bowls) – and obviously back when we used to have a microwave – and to drain any fat on the rare occasion we were pan frying something.
The second need took some practice and patience. Most of the time when I need to drain something, I use a wire rack. It isn’t perfect and this is still when we occasionally reach for a paper towel or extra paper napkin. But now we’re down to basically no paper towel use.
Whatever level of paper towel use you are at, just work toward using less (or fewer in this case)! You’ll gradually wean your way away from so much use.
Why Are Paper Towels Bad?
I know in theory we all understand that paper towels use trees and therefore we should have less waste, but there’s a little more to it than that.
A few fascinating stats…
- To make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are used and 20,000 gallons of water are polluted.
- In the U.S. we currently use more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year and that number is growing steadily.
- As many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels that are discarded every day.
Besides just the use (and disposing) of paper towels… think about the plastic wrapping around each roll, the emissions caused by creating the paper towels, transporting them to warehouses, stores, and your homes.
And that’s before you think about the fact that soiled paper towels can’t be recycled, they must be placed in the trash or composted.
Paper Towel Replacements
What and how you replace each use of paper towels is totally up to you. And as with any shift in sustainable living, I encourage you to start with the easy switch and then get to the harder ones.
Drying Your Hands
Use dish towels, hand towels. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about these is they get dirty. Swap them out as often as needed.
We probably go through 3-5 kitchen towels per week (I use them quite a bit when cooking). We have a drawer of kitchen towels and rags, so there are plenty of replacements.
Cleaning Your Counters
As I mentioned above, we have kitchen rags. They have a place and I only use those to wipe and clean the counters down. I keep them separate from napkins and kitchen towels.
It’s great to use old towels for this use. And try to AVOID BUYING anymore microfiber clothes. They’re made of plastics that enter the water stream every time you wash them. We have a few and still use them, but now I am actively not buying anything microfiber.
To Hold Your Snacks/Food
I know paper towels, folded in half make great plates….but just use plates or these reusable bags (great for kids’ hands). This one is probably a great first step if you’re youre just starting off.
To Catch/Absorb Grease
This was the last thing we were using paper towels for and I couldn’t figure out a solution for a while. Unfortunately grease at such high levels isn’t easy to clean in the washing machine and greasy towels shouldn’t go in the dryer.
The best option I’ve found is to use a cooling rack. The grease will drip down through the rack and it will actually help your food stay more crispy because there isn’t steam creating on the bottom of your food.
As a Napkin
Cloth Napkins, Cloth Napkins, Cloth Napkins. Feel fancy, be more sustainable, and be more amazing. You can buy some to match your decor, get some from a family member with way too many (just ask – we all have them), or buy them second hand!
As with anything reusable, cloth towels, rags, and napkins must be washed. We have a dirty towel basket under our kitchen sink (actually a small trash can). As we need to replace them, they go into the basket and we just do a load of towels as needed.
Having places for clean and dirty towels is a very helpful way to stay organized and continue your use practice.
I will note that while we tend to wash our clothes in cold water, I do use hot water for our towels to get rid of food smells, stains, and any bacteria. You can see my go to clean home products here.
Paper Towel Alternatives
The options are indeed getting better for “reusable paper towels.” I do generally believe we don’t have to have exact replacements for paper towels, but if the end goal is less waste, then I’m all for it.
Look for ones that don’t have any chemicals and that are machine-washable. That means they’re truly reusable and should last you years and years!
So how will you stop using paper towels?
Small Home Living Tips
Want some organization tips for small home living? Check out these posts of kitchen appliance organization, how to store reusable bags, seasonal clothing storage, and small home office ideas, including mail and paperwork organization!
You’ll also want to read how we’re making our home more sustainable; how to decide what to donate in every room of your house; and how to declutter your mailbox!
Keep an eye on this constantly updated list of sustainable product reviews for every aspect of life!