One of my goals this year is to take small steps to create a greener household. Some of my goals will help to improve our air quality and reduce exposure to the harmful ingredients in our daily lives. Some are more focused on the environment and changing wasteful habits. Many are both!
I am a big believer that you don’t have to change everything at once! I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by how “bad” their lifestyle is (whether it’s the foods we eat, the products we use, the amount exercise we don’t get, etc.) and instead of making small changes, they just don’t make any.
I’ve been guilty of this so many times in my life. For this reason, I now choose to focus on small steps in all the things I am seeking to improve in my life.
In January, we challenged ourselves to give up paper towels, which we were super reliant on. I started to notice that we really freaked out when we were out of or low on paper towels. It was as if we thought we couldn’t clean up if we didn’t have them—which is actually really funny.
The first step we took was ordering microfiber cloths. I got three of these 50 packs. I got more than we needed because I didn’t want us to run out if we were behind on laundry (which happens when you have a toddler—haha).
I was trying to eliminate ANY possible excuse for us to give up and go back to buying paper towels.
I figured out a place we could store them in our kitchen pantry so it is always easy to grab a fresh one. And once I had it set up, I stopped buying paper towels and we ran out soon after that.
The transition was a bit awkward at first, but only because we were breaking old habits. When we wanted to reach for a paper towel, we reached for a reusable cloth instead.
We pretty much always have one sitting on our kitchen counter because wiping down the counter, our table and Nova’s high chair happen all day, every day.
The basic wiping down was easy. We just use a little warm water most of the time. I didn’t mean to stop using cleaning sprays, but I just kind of didn’t need them as much all of a sudden.
OK, let’s talk about the challenging things. Messy jobs. There is a reason people get addicted to paper towels. They are really convenient.
A challenge I noticed when we switched to reusable cloths is that when you clean up something messy like coffee grounds or wipe up a kids’ mess where they spilled a bunch of food, you have to go to the trash can and clean the food off the cloth before you’d throw it in the laundry basket.
This only happens for me a few times a day, but those are the only moments I have missed paper towels.
I didn’t feel like our cloths changed the amount of laundry we do in a noticeable way. It’s not annoying and when they come out of the laundry, we just throw them back into our storage spot, and we don’t even fold them. So overall the routine is very low maintenance.
After almost two months of using cloths, we now feel totally adapted to them. It was so easy! We will totally use this system for the rest of our lives.
It’s so crazy when you think about how much money we will save in a lifetime of not buying paper towels. And it’s even more exciting that we’ve found a small way to reduce the waste that our home is creating. It’s just one small step, but it becomes more significant over time.
I definitely consider this challenge a success! I’m so glad we took the leap. It’s been way easier than we both thought it would be. If you’re interested, I recommend just purchasing some reusable cloths and jumping in.
If your partner needs some convincing, some quick math on the money you can save in just one to two years should help a little. But really, once you try it I feel like it really is so easy that you’ll never go back.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you give up paper towels? Have you found any easy ways to reduce the waste in your home? I’m not sure what challenge I am going to try next, so I’m open to ideas. xx – Elsie
I tried using cloth but it gets super torn out and gross. I used this cotton cloth and it lasted a month.
How do you remove stains (coffee, fruit juice, mildew, etc.) from cotton cloth wipes and flannel? Microfiber touch grosses me up and evokes goosebumps…
Great post, thanks. The Turkish peshtemal hand towel can also be considered. It’s thin, absorbent and fast drying. It can be washed easily even by hand.
Super helpful, thanks!
Thanks for sharing this article. Very well explained.
love this post! i’ve been trying to reduce my waste and paper towels are definitely a struggle. i love the fellow cat parents who’ve commented about cat puke – i like the idea of keeping an emergency roll on hand, but still working toward reducing how much paper towel we throw away. i’m definitely feeling inspired to get some cloths and give it a try!
You don’t even have to buy new cloths. I made a bunch out of old worn bed linen. Super soft to use as napkins as well. For cleaning I cut up our old kitchen towels that had holes in them. I like that they’re easy to tell apart this way. And that it cost me nothing to make them. Great for my wallet and the environment! 🙂
i’ve used primarly cloth napkins and rags in my household for years, with a couple of exceptions. if i fry bacon in a skillet, i drain it on brown paper bags. if i cook in microwave, i have to use paper towels. haven’t found a suitable replacement. the only other issue is my elderly father, who uses paper towels and paper plates exclusively. he won’t use a cloth napkin or small plate when he’s at my house and walks around eating snacks out of his hands and leaving a trail of crumbs like a toddler.
Great post! I gave up paper towels a few years ago. Instead of buying microfiber cloths (which many other commenters have pointed out are not so great for the environment either) might I suggest using rags you probably already have in your home? Old tea towels or hand towels that are stained or very worn are excellent for cleaning up small messes in your kitchen, as are cut up old cotton t-shirts.
I also have two kids under 3, and we use cloth napkins, which are very useful for wiping messy faces and hands. With regards to laundry, we just hang wet things to dry on a drying rack until we have enough for a load, and toss everything in. I don’t sweat mixing rags with the laundry unless we’re cleaning up something really gross, which is not the norm.
I’ve also recently been using “sponges” made of walnut shells (bought them at the grocery store) for washing dishes, which last forever and are compostable.
My spouse points out how many papertowels I go through. I’ve been looking for a way to get through and not use so many. I really don’t want to use them at all anymore. I’m willing to try this out because I do through a lot of them. Next would be giving up on Clorox wipes.
Great idea and decision you made !! I was thinking about doing such a thing,so,after your post I’ll give it a try ????
Here is an article if you’re interested in learning more. It would be great if a beautiful mess could help spread the word. This is so imprtant and something we can all do something about making only small changes, which feels so good! https://www.google.ca/amp/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.4017502
First off, I commend your efforts! I don’t want to be a downer, but a growing body of research is underway on the ubiquity of microplastics in the ocean and a major source is household laundering of polyester fabrics. Each time you wash those microfibre cloths they shed hundreds of thousands of plastic fibres into the ocean and municipal water treatment doesn’t filter them out. May i suggest organic cotton flannel as a better alternative? Still super absorbant and you will better achieve your goal of a greener household.
Thanks for the inspiration Elsie. After I saw your story in i stagram I did exactly the same. But since then I have bought the paper towels again. As many other people mentioned the reason are our cats that often throw up. I know we could still do it with the reusable cloth but cant bring myself to do it.
Another reason is cooking. For example when I amke fish i like to dry it with a paper towel. With the microfibre o es I find that some little gair usually sticks to them so dont want to use them. Would really be interested how you deal with those situations, cooking and dog messes? Thanks xx
i replied above but i’ll restate in case you missed it. drain fried foods on brown paper bags. scrape up cat puke with stiff postcards (junk mail) then wipe up residue with a cloth and spray bottle of diluted murphy’s oil soap.
Love your comment about using stiff cardboard from junk mail to clean up cat puke. You can also use cardboard to scrape cooled bacon or sausage fat out of the frying pan.
cat puke… toilet paper. That’s what I’ve had to use at a pinch and it does the job. We’ve always got toilet paper.
My trouble is convincing my husband to stop using paper towels. He insists we have at least one roll so he can wipe out any residual fat or oil from a frying pan. I try not to use much oil and there’s generally nothing to pour (if there is we pour it into a container of some sort that’s destined for the trash anyway) but even then, there’s always a residual amount in the pan and he insists on wiping as clean as possible before washing and it has to be paper towel.
LOVE that you are writing about a greener lifestyle and for sure are inspiring so many people. If anyone changes a small habit like not buying paper towels, it will be so much all together. Love it!
While it’s a great idea to get rid of paper towels, I do have to agree with a lot of the comments here. I was pretty bummed when I saw you recommending microfibre towels. You can reach so many people with this wonderful blog and I think it’s amazing how you’ve been promoting greener options for everyday living, but please reconsider using microfibre. Recycled cotton (such as old towels) works just as well. Another recommendation is the “Guppy Friend”. It’s a laundry bag that stops microfibres from getting into the water (I’m not affiliated with them, just think it’s a great product). I try to avoid buying new stuff containing microfibre and use the Guppy Friend for the stuff I already own.
Micro fiber is made of plastic so it is not easy to find good solutions this day and age if you want to live more conscious. One thing is to not produce so much trash but another is to think about what kind of trash we produce.
And plastic is the worse I believe.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s we had very little plastic in our homes. Then all of a sudden the plastic mania exploded. I try to take back the old ways of storing and try to avoid plastic as best I can and especially the micro plastics that is invisible to the eye but polutes our oceans.
Luckily more and more alternatives are poppig up.
Have you seen these! To replace plastic wrap or plastic baggies!
we use also microfibers for the kitchen. For dishwashing, there are also tawashis instead of sponge. I haven’t tried yet as I am using microfibers and brush.
obviously it goes with natural cleaning products, such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon, homemade dish cleaner.
to clean I also use simply Dr Bronner’s soap with water.
for bathroom: reusable microfiber pads to remove makeup, personnally I use only soap I am using mineral make up, but oil + floral water works well too for heavier make up.
I am also making my nourishing cream with shea butter and oil and/or beeswax.
for kids: when I had to use lotions for my kids, I made lotion with floral water, and a hint of soap. For big diaper issues, I used homemade liniment.
it really helped to reduce plastic waste as well!
I love this trick. We only have one dish cloth that we use all the time but it gets smelly and we have to bleach it weekly. Have more and washing them might be a better option.