Unpaper Towel DIY (They Are Reuseable!)

Lately I have been challenging myself to find spots in the house where we can eliminate waste and swap out a reusable item where we would normally do a disposable option, and I’ve decided to tackle my kitchen first! One item that most of us use a lot without even thinking about it would be paper towels! Got a spill? Paper towel. Need to dry something? Paper towel. Clean a baby’s face after dinner? Paper towel. You can really go through a lot in an average day without thinking about it. I’d been trying to use a giant rag pile under my sink more and more, and while it does help the paper towel usage, I don’t always want to dry my hands or clean off Lola with them since they can be rather stained and rough, as I tend to use them for the dirtier kitchen jobs. That’s where a roll of “unpaper” towels come in! The first time I saw a roll of these I thought it was the most genius thing I had ever seen. Reusable paper towels are basically mini cloth towels that attach together (I used the snap method on mine) so you can still have them in a roll on your counter and keep them accessible. But when you are done, you wash and reuse them instead of throwing them away. It’s less waste in your trash can and you’ll save money buying paper towels in the long run, too! I’ll show you how I made mine and then give you a “cheat” to make a set faster at the end …

Supplies:
-2 yards of cotton terrycloth fabric
-2 yards of cotton flannel
straight pins
-sewing machine
mesh canvas sheet
snaps and snap setter
rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler

Let’s get started! Wash your fabric pieces in hot water so that any shrinking will occur before you sew and dry them. Place your two fabrics on top of each other on top of your cutting mat and smooth out both layers so there are no wrinkles. You are going to cut 12″ x 12″ squares and it’s really helpful if you have a template that you can use to cut each one so you don’t have to measure out each square every time. I happened to have a smaller cutting mat that was the perfect size to use as my template, but you could also cut a piece of cardboard to be your template instead. Use your template and ruler to cut through both layers of fabric with your rotary cutter. Continue to move the fabric sections onto the cutting mat, smoothing the layers each time, and cutting with your template until you have 12 squares of two-layered fabric.

Use your straight pins to pin each set of squares together.

Sew around your squares with a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving a 3″ opening so you can turn your fabric through the hole when you are done. Clip the corners of your square with scissors and then turn your fabric through the hole. You can press your seams flat by ironing each square if you like, but I found they flattened very well just by smoothing them with my hands, so I skipped that step.

Once they are all turned right sides out, make sure your 3″ openings are folded in and even with the rest of the towel edge and sew all the way around each square again with a 1/4″ seam allowance this time. (This will close your opening for you and help keep the towels lying flat.)

Once you have all your towels ready (yay!), get out your snaps and snap setter. Snaps have a stud side and a socket side (the stud part sticks out and the socket part goes in), so you’ll want to arrange all your towels with the flannel side up and set two socket side snaps facing downwards on the right side of the square and two stud snaps facing up on the left side of the square. I cut a piece of mesh canvas the height of my towel and marked two squares (the same height and depth from the edge) with a marker so I could just line that up with the edges and mark where to place the two snaps so I didn’t have to measure every time. Repeat by setting four snaps in this same manner on each towel.

To make your unpaper towel roll, there are a few different methods out there, but this is the one I used. Cut a piece of canvas 6 1/2″ wide and as tall as your towels (should be about 11″ tall). Attach stud and socket snaps (three on each side) with one set facing down and the others facing up as you see in the first photo above so that your grid will overlap about 3/4″ on each end when you snap it into a roll. It can be helpful to use clips of some sort to help keep your roll rolled up while you are marking the spots for your snap locations. Once your end snaps are attached, you’ll want to attach two stud snaps that face outward when the roll is snapped together in the middle of your canvas the same distance apart as the snaps on your towels. (You can use your grid template from the last step for this measurement, too.)

NOTE: If your plastic canvas is too thick, your snaps won’t be very strong and may snap when you go to unsnap them from each other. If that happens, try a lighter weight canvas and that should solve the problem. You can also attach two snaps the right distance onto a cardboard roll leftover from a regular paper towel, so that’s always an option, too!

Once your snaps are all set, you can snap your roll together and start assembling your unpaper towel roll until all your towels are added!

Not a bad way to keep towels right on your counter within reach, right?! To do the “cheat” version of this DIY, you can just buy towels like these to start with instead of making your own, and then finish out the steps to connect the towels and make a holder. I keep dirty rags and towels under my sink in something like this until I have a load of laundry that I can throw them in with. I usually wash rags on hot, but if you worry that may continue to shrink the fabric you chose, then try warm and see if that does the job just fine. Once your towels are clean and dry, you can snap them back together and start over again!

There are different thoughts on the paper vs. fabric towel debate as to which uses more energy since you have to wash the towels, but I definitely use my fabric towels and rags for several jobs per towel as I can shake them out or give them a quick rinse and use all over again (I always found that harder to do efficiently with paper towels when I would try). Also, it’s a good idea to wash your towels and rags in with other items that use the same water temperature so you always have a full load and are making the most use of your washing cycle too (especially if you don’t have an energy efficient washer) and you can use the power of the sun or a drying rack to dry your towels and save some energy there as well.

You can also make a double batch of towels so that you always have one clean roll while the other one is waiting to be washed. There are also lots of fun patterns and colors of fabric that you can use for your towels, but I did white thinking then I could bleach them as needed or lay them in the sun to help with staining if that bothers me. Your unpaper towels will probably fit onto your current towel holder just fine, but it can be handy to have a holder like this to keep the towels from unrolling very far since they are heavier than the paper version. I’ve only been using my new roll few weeks, but I love it so far! xo. Laura

Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • I read today that a cotton shopping bag has to be used something like 131 times to compensate for the same quantity of plastic bags, because of the influence that the production of the plastic bag has on the environment. Which makes me wonder how environmentally friendly are these really, in comparison to paper towels, especially that not only they take their toll to be produced, but also all the washing – the energy, the washing detergents, released to to the water. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but the info about the bags I got from an environmentally conscious person who was actually worried about the plastic bags, but felt the need to share the info anyway.

    • Actually, according to the Quebec study, cotton bags need to be used 700 times, and woven polypropylene needs to be used 73 times, to counter the effect on the environment of producing a single use plastic bag. BUT, the cotton bags will disintegrate in the environment, the plastic, so far, will not for a thousand years.

      What they need to do is work on light sensitive or biodegradable plastics, and save cotton for necessary items.

    • You could consider using hemp fabric (preferably organic, if invironmental impact is important, as in this case) as an alternative to cotton. I don’t know about the invironmental impact of linen, but I do know that it performs very well as kitchen cloths (I have a few), and I’d assume that hemp performs in pretty much the same way, since they are very similar structurally.
      Organic hemp is pricy, but it might be worth looking in to 🙂

    • Hi!
      Yes, I know there are lots of thoughts on this out there for sure and debate over which is best depending on how much you use, etc. I definitely use my fabric rags for several jobs per rag as I can shake them out or give them a quick rinse and use all over again which is harder to do efficiently with thin paper towels. Also, it’s a good idea to wash your rags in with other items that use the same water temperature so you always have a full load and are making the most use of your washing cycle too (especially if you don’t have an energy efficient washer)

      Laura 🙂

      • Hi, Laura, why did you use two types of fabric? The terry is a very absorbent material by itself. Plus, i have a hard time understanding your written instructions do you have a you tube channel? Im new here as of right this minute. Thx

    • If your using Terry cloth from clothing or left over from other project etc. Then then point about energy efficiency would be mute.

    • If you use your fabric bag a couple of times a weeks though (which I easily do) that’s only around a year of use! I have bags that I’ve had for years! 😉

    • Years ago I wanted to switch to paper plates and plastic cups in the summer so I wouldn’t be running my dishwasher so much. My brilliant, math-minded husband did a little mental calculating and said it was actually more cost efficient to use the dishwasher to clean our plates and glasses than it was to buy and use and throw away paper & plastic. I do recycle all single-use plastic that’s allowed at my recycling center as well as cardboard, magazines, old books, newspapers, aluminum & steel cans, glass bottles, and also plastic grocery bags.

  • Thanks for giving us a thorough DIY and a “cheat” method! I’ll probably make the latter until I have the time and sewing skills to make it the full former way. I think the plastic canvas as the roll is so clever! You really think outside the lines. I admire how resourceful you are for crafting.

  • I’ve been going without paper towels for about a year and a half.And I love it:)
    I use color coded rags for different cleaning jobs.I also have a “sensitizing” bucket where I collect my Used rags.I wash them on the highest heat setting on sensitizing cycle in my washing machine.Offcorse it helps that our house is on well water and we have solar panels and solar water heater on the roof+ we live in the Sunshine state.
    I also make my own washing machine detergent and isnsted of using beach I use white vinegar to disinfect.
    We love to be a paper towel free home!

  • Love the idea of the unpaper towe roll!!!You are so creative.I’m fascinated with your blog and lovely ideas!

  • Just out of curiosity – I’m thinking about doing the cheat method as my sewing skills are lacking. Do you know how many towels you could get on a role and fit the role into the holder? I’d like to make at least two or three roles to have backups while the others are in the wash. Thanks!

  • This is awesome! I’m trying to reduce our household waste by using eco-bags when I go to the supermarket and saying no to plastic bags when I buy just a few items. This is something that we can also start doing at home. Thanks for the idea!

  • I would think that everything is better than a plastic bag, looks a great idea anyway…but cotton is not very eco-friendly…(needs lots of water) and usually produced in mono culture form that is not very good neither..

  • This is such a genius idea, I just love it! Unfortunately I wish I had the sewing skills to actually do it haha. You should totally make these and sell them through Etsy, I would buy!

  • I so want to thank you for this Absolutely Wonderful repurposing idea!!! I have leftover terry from making baby hooded bath towels, flannel from making baby accessories like burp clothes, etc, snaps from making diaper and leftover plastic canvas from various projects. This idea is genius for the otherwise “extra” leftovers! Wool might be another fiber to try. I know some moms made their diaper out of old wool sweaters, as it wicks the moisture away from the skin. Not sure how it would absorb the liquid, but just a thought. Keep these great ideas going ladies, that knock the idea because of statistics probably don’t have leftovers like some of us others. Cudos to you!

  • Great tutorial. The use of plastic canvas as the center tube is a new interesting idea. Thank you for taking the time to share!

  • I think this is an interesting idea but I have a couple of comments. As clever as it sounds to have a roll of cloth towels, it being a pain in the neck to have to snap all those snaps each tie you wash your towels. It would seem to be much easier to just keep a nice basket (that can be decorate once) of towels to be used exclusively for paper towel replacements. Remember that if your towels are white they will eventually get dingy and stained and you will want to replace them. Home depot sells a really nice terry towel for a great price. I use them all the time https://www.homedepot.com/p/HDX-Terry-Towels-36-Pack-7-636/203299416. Now the environment – every time we use something paper we are effecting the lumber industry and the number of trees that are being cut down. Consider how many less trees there were in California and Washington state that burned last fall and haw many fewer the lumber industry has to pick from. And lastly think about how much time you would be spending doing this rather than spending time with you kids or husband or taking a bubble bath. I apologize of I have stepped on anyone’s toes

  • I have been doing this idea for years. Thank you for putting your tutorial on line for others to follow. Great job! In regards to our environment and whether green choices help or hinder us. Each of us share in protecting our planet. Someone will always be affected in a positive manner while others are impacted in a negative manner. I made my choices by looking at all of the positive impacts that green choices have assisted us in our stewardship. Making my rolls took me about an hour per roll. I made 4 rolls. One afternoon I sat down and completed them all. So for my 4 hours worth of work, I am living my convictions with all of my green choices, spending time with my family, having a nightly bubble bath, and over the course of the year we have saved so much money that we almost paid for our family vacation on a Disney Cruise to Alaska. Some may not agree with my choices and that is fine. The people that enter my home on a daily basis are the ones I give thought to when they voice their opinions and ideas. Set your convictions and live them. Thank you again for your great post.

  • I didn’t have time to read all of the comments so hope I am not repeating another person if they, too, have my idea. I have a stack of new, unused white washcloths and, after reading the project here, I am going to take them and start rolling them interlocking them one after the next to form a roll. They, too, can be peeled off one at a time and thrown in the regular wash, no extra detergent or special wash needed. Thanks for this idea which sparked my own!

    • I’m sold on the idea of Susan’s washcloth roll. EASY & “Eco-nomical”! Thanks, Susan!!!

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