Clean Living: How We Gave Up Paper Towels

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

Credits//Author and Photography: Elsie Larson. Photos edited with A Color Story and A Design Kit apps.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • We’ve been paper towel free for years, it’s been wonderful! Next I’m hoping to ditch the napkins. But I’m thinking just go the same route, buy a bunch of cloth napkins and learn to use them instead.

  • It’s great to see more and more people who try to make their everyday life “greener”!

    For wiping kitchen counters I’ve always used cloths, but not for many other things…
    Regarding the type of fabric of the cloths, I was wondering if microfiber is actually a good choice. I definitely don’t want to shame anybody here, but I have doubts on the sustainability of this kind of fabric – wouldn’t parts of the cloths end up as microplastic in the water?

  • Yay! I just love microfibers for cleaning cloths and cloth napkins at the dinner table. One time my in laws came to town and we had one roll of paper towels in the house and they used the whole thing in one day! I didn’t even realize how paper free our lives were until that moment. I’m so excited you are becoming more green! So good for your health!

  • I just made my friend “unpaper towels” for Christmas!! You should see the tutorials for that… they’re cute and easy. I’d love to see how ABM would do it!

  • Is using paper towels so common in the US? I live in the Netherlands and about everyone I know uses microfiber cloths for cleaning. We have a bunch of them and a separate laundry bin for them in our laundry room for when they need to be washed.

    Paper towels are available in our country but sometimes I wonder who still buys them, since in almost every household there’s a cloth on the kitchen counter, haha!

    But I am very interested in going green too, so I will definitely follow your upcoming posts with anticipation. 🙂

  • We gave up paper towels years ago! You can buy 100% organic cotton or bamboo and it’s just as good as microfiber. I actually don’t like the feeling of microfiber! We use cloth napkins as well and just add to the regular wash. I don’t thin it makes me have to do an extra load.

    For bacon, you can put them on a rack and let it drip onto a plate. There is usually an alternative!! Love this eco friendly post!

  • In the bathroom after we wash our hands we use paper towels I understand most people hang a towel and everyone use it but I personally can’t use a towel for my hands someone else did it doesn’t feel clean I can’t imagine using a different hand towel for every time I wash my hands for that I will keep paper towel around in the bathroom

  • my husband is a real nightmare with paper towels, he doesn’t want to use something else. I teached my daughter to use fabric tissues, she’s ok with that but he keeps giving her paper tissues !!! I think i’m gonna STOP buying paper towels, for good, and he’ll deal with it right ? I love your solution of not folding, it’s even easier ! thanks Elsie

  • Great suggestion and I initially loved the idea but the comment section made me a bit sceptical. I will definitely think about it, though! x

  • What a great step to make, imagine if everyone reading this started using microfibre cloths, we would be taking a big step forwards! I for one am definitely going to reevaluate my use of them and can’t wait to grab a few cloths to give this a go. Thanks for always inspiring us to do that bit more for our world.

    Holly from The Art of Being Holly xo

  • We haven’t used paper towels for years and I don’t miss them at all. Initially I cut up a couple of old towels and overlocked the edges to make a stack of cloths (it is definitely important to have plenty of cloths, so there are not excuses). As those have got thin I have replaced them with other homemade cloths, recently I cut up a polo-shirt that was too big for my husband and it had perfect fabric for cloths! I generally just rinse them out and then throw them in the laundry when they get dirty. Just wanted to put that out there if anyone is thinking the microfibre cloths would be expensive, you can just make your own and try it out.

  • We kind of accidentally quit using paper towels when we did up our kitchen in 2015 and I decided the paper towel holder didn’t go with our new kitchen haha. Meant to get a new one, but instead I kinda forgot about it. My mom and sister are always shocked when they come to my kitchen and can’t find a paper towel, but seriously, we haven’t missed them haha.

  • First I have to tell you that my Mother’s name was Elsie Larson. She lived to be almost 99. I didn’t grow up with paper towels, but I have heavily relied on them until about 4 years ago. Now, I still use them occasionally, but I mostly use washable dish rags, cotton towels & cloths, and rags. I live in the desert where water is a premium so I save up a load to wash all at once. I use baking soda, white vinegar or soapy water for a lot of clean up jobs. It is much better that chemical spray cleaners for your health. Thanks you for your hints for a greener environment!

  • 1. If you aren’t ready to give up paper towels check out who gives a crap – they sell paper towels too and use bamboo or recycled paper. They also wrap each TP with a think paper. I bought them just in case and don’t keep them in a conveinient place so I have to go out of my way to get one.

    2. I also cut up old T-shirt’s that probably wouldn’t sell at the thrift store (have holes or a stain)

    3. I recently made my first batch of natural Clorox wipes. Love them. I use an XL mason jar and put in the mixture! Found the recipe on Pinterest.

  • I’m so glad to hear you say you haven’t found an increase in your laundry. I live in Beijing and only have a tiny washer and no dryer so I’ve held back on a few things that I know would be more environmentally friendly (like giving up paper towels and using cloth diapers) because I was worried about the amount of laundry I would be doing all day, every day, and not enough space to hang everything to dry.

  • So stoked to see all the people commenting on this blog post! Yay for everyone who has tried this or thinking of trying it. I went paper towel free 5 years ago and have not looked back since! And now we are a ziploc baggie, aluminum foil, and Saran Wrap free household as well! My suggestion to all of you keeping an “emergency” or pantry roll of paper towel: ditch it! It will force you to come up with creative solutions and there is always a way around it. If people could live without paper towels for so many years there is no reason we need them now. I do have to say my stomach dropped when I read Elsie bought 150 MICROFIBER cloths! Please, switch to 100% cotton as soon as you can!! It will make you feel better about it touching your hands and mouth, touching your food, and the surfaces you prep food on. Plus, as Janelle mentioned it is very bad for our water supply! I do really appreciate you sharing this Elsie! Your green posts are super inspiring!

  • Such a fan of this idea. I’ve actually been thinking of this transition for awhile so thanks for the info- I think it’s inspired me to try and make this change in my household.

  • That is great that you have given up paper towels. We do use cut up old towels quite often, but I think if I made them easier to access (like you did), we would use them even more.
    Something i really focused on in the last year is always using my own shopping bags. I now keep them in the trunk so it’s easier to remember.
    Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Great suggestions here! Another thing we’ve given up is clingfilm/gladwrap. I know that might sound crazy, but it really is one of those things which you don’t really need, but once you have it you use it for everything. We use beeswax wrappers for most things, glass storage containers (IKEAs are “soup in the backpack”-proof!) and keep a few ziplock bags in the drawer for things like dough or custard where you’d normally use clingfilm, and beeswax wraps won’t do the same job! We reuse the ziplock bags too, and only have about 5 in the house!

    I find that a lot of disposable products gets used a lot when you have them, but are barely missed if you stop buying them!

  • I just gave up plastic baggies this month for reusable ones and I couldn’t be happier.

  • Thank you for sharing your tips, Elsie! I definitely need to make this transition.

  • Do you even use them to sanitize after handling raw meat?? (Not sure if you’re a vegetarian but that’s my main concern with switching)

  • Please reconsider microfiber cloths – the tiny fibers enter the water system when you wash them and contribute to plastic pollution. Or you could put them in something like this when you wash (I have no affiliation):

    As an added bonus, you could hang the guppy bag in the pantry or under the sink and throw the dirty cloths directly in it until wash day.

    We use skoy cloths and really love them. They last forever, and we throw them directly in the dishwasher or zap them in the microwave, so no need to put them in the wash.

  • I pretty much exclusively use fabric cloths. I do have paper towels in the kitchen for things I think are particularly full of bacteria, like cleaning up raw egg or things where rinsing out the cloth would take a bonkers amount of time (and waste water and soap … an example would be wiping up oil). I maybe go through 4 rolls of paper towels a year?

  • Have you given up plastic/paper when shopping? If not, I’m happy to help with that. For free! 🙂

    (we have a chapter in Nashville too!)

  • Elsie,
    You showed us where the clean ones go, but where do you put the dirty ones? Straight in washing machine? I like to do a load of dish cloths and rags only- and would rather not mix them in with our other laundry…but while I wait for them to pile up, I don’t know what to do with the dirty ones! My laundry is in the basement and I don’t want to trudge down there every time I’m finished with a dish towel. I put a small basket in one of my drawers in kitchen, next to the clean ones, and I’m hoping this will work…Any tips? Thanks!

    • This is my question too, where do you keep the dirty cloths? Do they drip while you get them to a laundry bin? Do you keep them in your regular clothes laundry bin or separate like with bath towels? Or do a totally separate load of laundry for just these cloths? Thanks! I really like this topic!

  • I switched last year. Bought 3 – 50 ct packs of all cotton shop rags from Amazon in different colors – one for napkins, one for kitchen rags, and one for nasty messes/household cleaning. The nasty ones get washed by themselves with bleach. All the rest go into wash with my normal counter dish towels with an extra bit of dish soap on top of the normal detergent to break up the oil. We only use vinegar on the counters unless something gross happens, so I don’t worry about them washing together or sitting for a bit until we do a wash. Works great, paper-addicted husband had stuck with it and the rags were insanely cheap but still look surprisingly nice, just sort of homey. I bought the napkins in blue so I could re-dye them with laundry blueing solution if they got too gross. We still have paper napkins and towels for when guests are around or cleaning up things that would be super gross or smelly if they sat until the rag bin was full (raw meat, etc), but we only had to resupply once and that was mostly because we used the paper towels in remodel projects. I even use the napkins for wrapping food. They’re sort of linty, but since I know it’s just cotton, it doesn’t bother me if there’s some lint on my fruit or roll I dropped into my purse. And, when the rags are no longer usable, they can go in my municipal compost, which takes natural fiber cloth along with food and garden waste. (No pets though, which I think would change my mind. But we have littles around all the time and cleaning up after them has been no problem.)

  • Thanks for sharing your tips! We used to use paper towels for every meal as a napkin, but have since switched to cotton wash cloths. I just keep a little basket of them next to where we eat and it makes it easier to grab as needed. My question is…what’s a good alternative for cleaning the more germy areas like the toilet?? I’m a slight germaphobe and still keep a roll of paper towels in the bathroom to disinfect the toilet. I can’t imagine using a reusable cloth for the toilet that may end up being used as a napkin haha!

  • I have also made the transition to cloth towels for cleaning.
    also, using an ABM tutorial :), I have sewn my own dinner napkins, which has been a blast since I have a fabric fetish but never want to commit to big sewing projects.
    so between the napkins and cleaning cloths, there has been much less paper waste in the home.
    I love these types of posts! thanks for sharing

  • YES! I hate paper towels and haven’t bought them in ages. I have 3 kids, so we are a messy situation for sure, but I’ve found I don’t miss them like I thought I would.

  • To all those kitty owners and parents with chucky uppy kids, I always keep a stash of “vom cloths” which are old sheets, pillow cases, towels etc chopped up – one in kitchen and one in linen closet. I have a bag in the attic and bring down new supplies whenever required. Nasty spills get cleaned with the small (barely used) stash and depending on the material it either gets binned or out in the compost bin. I don’t see the emergency roll as a crime but I also dont see it as necessary as there is always some linen you chuck because it’s not good enough for a second home so why not reuse it? Thanks for highlighting this issue guys!

  • We’ve been wanting to get off of the paper towel band wagon for ages! We just need to do it!


  • I find I use a ton more paper towels now that I have a toddler – especially cleaning her up after eating. Do you use these on Nova to wipe her hands and mouth or just a towel?

  • I’ve given up paper towels for most messes (I use those Ikea Krama washcloths, the ones with the coloured tabs) for most messes, but like other commenters there are some very gross thing I still use them for, like pet messes (not even puke, mostly… other end stuff haha. We have a very old dog with a sensitive stomach and he tries to be good but is not always successful in using his puppy pad). I recently took down the paper towel holder in the kitchen & put them in the pantry to discourage their overuse; my husband STILL reaches for paper towels when one of the kids asks for a napkin and we switched to cloth napkins literally years ago!

  • We have a lil dustpan and brush that we use for counters only and it makes a big difference to sweep off the counters then wipe them down. Could be a solution to your coffee grounds problem.

    • What a good idea!!! And I’ve seen some really cute ones out there and wondered why the heck you’d want such a small dustpan and brush… 🙂

  • Well, since I buy my paper towels at Sam’s club (they last MONTHS) I’m unlikely to give them up, but I’m intrigued by reusable sandwich bags…and I do cloth diapers already. I pick my battles! That being said, I know y’all are all about local but I would love to see something like “best organic products at Costco/Sam’s Club/etc” because they’re adding more all the time and it’s so cost-effective for my family.

  • I’ve been using microfibers too! Making the switch is hard and we still ise some paper towels. I want to but more, but have one burning question: where do you put your used cloths? In a seperate basket until all 200 are used up?!

  • Six of one, half dozen of the other…
    Micro fiber cloths are not biodegradable. You think you’re doing good with one choice and at the same time you’re not. Their concern for me is that they are made from non renewable material and they’re contributing to micro plastic pollution creating the ‘plastic soup” in our beautiful oceans. I used cotton cloth diapers for both my kids 24 years ago. They make the best cleaning cloths, you use them the same as you would the micro cloths and the plus is they biodegrade. I’ve had the same ones for years. You can find them online.

  • Yay ! Great news ! I personally gave up more than two years ago, I loved and never bought paper towels only microfiber cloths. And that was it. But also I was not super “addicted” so it was easy for me 🙂

  • This is something I’ve been considering for a while now. What is holding me back the most is how my guy prefers to dry his hands on paper towels after washing to eliminate germs that may linger on a cloth towel. This doesn’t get to me at all…but I think convincing him may be a challenge…any tips for my germaphobe?!

  • This is something I was thinking about yesterday when we were grocery shopping and I tossed two more paper towel rolls into my cart. Really quickly I did the mental math–If I spend $2 every week on paper towels that’s $104 a year for something that I just throw away and don’t feel good about. This post couldn’t have come at a better time.

  • We have been trying to give up paper towels using the same method and it was working really well, until we got behind in laundry. My goal is to get some more clothes, designate them by color for different areas, and have places to store them. I think that will be the final push for completely letting go of paper towels.

  • I recently started purchasing products from a Norwegian company called Norwex that makes cleaning supplies woven with silver, which is a natural antibacterial agent. Bacteria cannot live in the presence of silver, so you just wet the super fine microfiber cloth, which has much smaller fibers than normal clothes so it picks up and locks in more, and then you just wipe the surface, rinse the cloth, and then hang it up to dry. Twenty four hours later it’ll smell just as clean as when you first used it. And the crazy thing is that you can do that for a WEEK OR TWO before you need to wash it. The window cloth vs paper towels is miraculous as you can see in this video: The products are pricey but that last for three years or so before you need to replace them.

  • I love this idea! I also love those pull out pantry drawers – I have a similar tiny nook in my bathroom. Did you DIY those? Do you have a post?

    • She included the link to amazon where she purchased them in a pack of 50 🙂

    • Yes- I will be blogging about the pantry redo soon. It has helped SO MUCH to get more use out of our space. 🙂

  • I absolutely love that you do that! I am currently thinking about giving up cotton pads for make-up removal and sew some reusable pads that you can wash. Maybe now I’ll give up paper towels as well, this really inspired me!

  • We don’t use paper towels. We just use a sponge or washcloth to wipe things down, normal towels to dry them, and (really hideous, but whatever) cloth napkins. They work fine for the vast majority of messes, and can usually be rinsed and hung up to dry in between at least a couple of uses. If it helps, I used to work for a cleaning company, and I promise my house isn’t gross.

    That being said, I live in a relatively hippie area of the country, and in an effort to reduce waste, our garbage is only picked up once every two weeks (and it’s a REALLY small trash can, too). This encourages us to think twice before throwing things out. Also, most paper towels can be composted–and where I live, they’re required to be–so if you’re really attached to them, maybe try writing to your city utilities and requesting a compost program?

  • I love this idea. I never even thought about switching out paper towels for microfiber clothes, but I am going to give this a try! Thanks!

  • As far as cleaning up animal messes… I just use toilet paper and flush it ????????‍♀️

  • I was literally just talking to my husband about this on Saturday. I’ve been thinking about it for a while for basically the exact reason. I also feel like it is absolutely ridiculous that when we are running out of paper towels, we both freak out. So silly! Just went ahead and ordered those cloths. Thanks for the push!

  • I have separate rags that I use kitchen, bathroom or for the really nasty stuff so I don’t end up using the same thing to wipe kitchen surfaces and clean up vomit. I have pets and a particularly barfy kid so this helps me mentally. The gross stuff gets rinsed in a utility sink before heading into the washing machine. It’s a good system for me ????

  • Such a great action to give up paper towels. I actually did years ago already in my household. I’d love to see more offices make the eco-friendly choice like us! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Super suggestion Elsie! We have been trying to go green at home and this is a super easy way to go. I have already started by using old ratty facecloths as cleaning cloths and linen napkins at the dinner table so just a few more changes to go. One worry tho, why is your cat throwing up? if it’s hairballs, ask your local pet supply for some malt product in a squeezable tube as we had a long-haired cat once and used that and it worked perfectly on them 🙂

    • Cats throw up a lot. Sometimes they just eat to fast. Who knows? They’re cats!

  • Microfiber cloths might be a lot worse than paper.

    • I came back to this blog post after reading it when it was first posted because I really want to cut down on our paper towel use… then, like you I also looked into microfiber clothes and found similar links you shared. Thanks for keeping our minds open. I hope an addendum is written for this post to provide other options that get us away from our obsession with plastics.

      I will be opting to try and find a cotton alternative, still not perfect… but the lessor of these evils.

      • Totally agree! I will try to edit it soon. I have learned a lot since I wrote this too! Always a work in progress.

        • Thanks, Elsie! Looking forward to hearing about the tips you’ve learned during the process!

    • EXACTLY! That was going to be my comment. Microfiber cloths ARE worse than paper towels.
      The best is to get “flour sack” towels (Walmart sells them) which are able to be used for anything!

    • I was just about to comment about maybe when you eventually have to replace these, swich to bamboo or another natural material. In the meantime, use a washbag when you wash them so the microplastics in the microfiber won’t get into the water.

      Great swich overall though!

      • Great that someone else commented on this. Microplastic pollution is such an important thing many people don’t know about. I use crocheted cloths made of a yarn mix of cotton and bambu, and that’s great. You can wash them in warmer temperature as well so you kill the germs.

  • I like the idea of giving up paper towels but doesn’t the added laundry use more water which is a more scarce resource? Paper towels are at least biodegradable in a landfill. Just a thought!

    • Most stuff you’d think would break down in the trash won’t (or takes a LONG time) due to it being sealed in plastic without exposure to good bacteria, sunlight, and oxygen. If you’ve ever tried to compost on your own, you know it takes work to make sure you have the right mix of items in proportion to each other for your compost to really get going. While microfibers aren’t a great alternative, I think in general thinking about reducing waste, especially something as easy/quickly consumed as paper towels, is good for everyone to think about!

      Here are a few resources if you’re interested in learning more:

    • We honestly don’t notice a difference in our laundry… definitely not an increase in loads. A lot of the time we are able to use the cloths for days before they go into the laundry bin (just wiping stuff down) so you don’t always have to wash them with every use.


    • This question comes up a lot when discussing reusable vs disposables but the answer is ALWAYS no, the extra water used to wash the reusable is not more than the water (not to mention other resources) used to make the disposable. There are so many resources required to make all of our consumer goods, and each process requires water and energy. I have paper towels in my house, we’re all trying to do our best and no ones perfect, just thought I’d share this since it gets asked a lot. ????

    • No, it is not the same. If you use paper towels you need new ones to be produced constantly and that is so much wasteful than one load of laundry per week. Plus, in landfills the waste is not in good conditions for correct degradation and it generates lot of harmful gases.

      • Thanks for pointing that out! I always thought the extra washing used more water but appreciate being shown differently/ corrected!!

    • I’ve never really used a lot of paper towels, so I’m not sure what’s a normal amount for people to go through. Having said that, I would still be surprised if switching to dish towels caused you to do more laundry. You’re just adding like what, five or six small towels to each load? It makes no difference.

      Remember that these are much stronger than paper towels. A mess that would take several paper towels will take only one cloth towel to clean.

    • It takes a lot of water (and fossil fuels) to make paper towels, and fossil fuels to package and transport them. It’s always better for the environment to wash something than to dispose of it.

  • I’m a big proponent of using less paper towels, but there are things that they are useful for that cloths won’t do – like bacon drippings or wrapping a frozen bun to microwave it. Those are occasional uses, but I haven’t found anything that would take their place in those instances.

    That being said, for those who are super reliant on them, I would definitely say get rid of them all together to break the habit!

    Oh, and I do have a cat, and I go back and forth honestly between using paper towels or a cloth. My husband always wants to use paper towels for the throw-up but I hate being wasteful. It’s getting washed anyway! If the cat threw up on your bedsheets you (probably) wouldn’t throw them out!

    • My grandma used to drain her bacon on top of the pancakes, mmmmm…. 🙂 Or you could use toast. also, mmmm.

  • We use paper towels a lot in our house – and not for cleaning up particularly. It’s usually to transport tea bags from the kettle to the bin bizarrely, which thinking about it now, is pretty bloody wasteful. I’ve genuinely never giving it two thoughts before, but after reading your post, it’s definitely something we can change quite easily, and save money doing so.

    Emma |

    • Emma, if you put a saucer next to the kettle, you could put your teabags on that and transport to the bin from there. Less mess (no dripping through, like you could have with paper towels), and definitely more eco friendly!

    • I keep a little Mason jar next to my kettle for Teabags throughout the day, the end of the night I pop them all in the compost bin ????

    • Yeah- I have the same issue with our espresso maker, but now that I’m used to it I don’t mind doing the same clean up with the cloths instead. 🙂

  • The only thing I’m worried about cleaning up with reusable cloths instead of paper towels is cat puke. Any other cat owners here who use the cloths for everything, even the tidying up of cat hurl?

    • You can use the cloths for most everything else, but for really nasty messes, paper towels are best. I have pets and paper towels are a must for certain accidents.

    • I use dish rags to clean up cat puke. I actually prefer it to paper towel because I feel like the grossness doesn’t seep through as much on to my fingers. I rinse out the cloth and then wash them on the hottest temperature. If I’m not washing laundry that day, I just hang them to dry out til laundry day. We’ve got designated cat puke rags!

    • YES. No one that I’ve seen who has given up paper towels has a cat. We stopped buying paper towels and went with cloths but the first time the cat puked after we did that I really didn’t know what to do. We ended up using toilet paper which is so expensive. Yet we still haven’t bought paper towels because I’m a terrible human who steals it from our apartment building bathroom to clean up cat puke since it’s a daily thing. So I’d say just keep a roll only for that, I know it will be tempting to use for other things but just don’t do it. Haha Or just use the cloths and wash them!

    • I was thinking the same thing!! That’s the only reason I’d be hesitant to use them.

    • I am in the same boat! I’m thinking that if I have reusable rags that are just for cleaning, I won’t mind using those for cat puke. Maybe? It’s the last thing that really grosses me out.

    • OMG! You read my mind! I think I’d have to keep paper towels for that reason.

    • Haha gross!

      Yeah- I don’t think it’s bad to have some paper towels for emergencies or whatever. It’s still worth doing even if you want a back up plan. 🙂


    • Hi! We have the same issue but with the bathroom, not cat puke. I don’t want to use the cloths I use to clean the toilet to clean the counters etc, so we use blue for the toilet only. I keep them in the closet with the bathroom cleaners and never put them in the kitchen with the other cloths we use. I know it’s weird becasue duh, I clean them everytime I use them, and in hot water, but it still gives me piece of mind!

      • Haha not weird! One of my friends colour coded her sponges and said this, “Green for clean, blue for poo!” (Poo meaning only used for the toilet.)

        • Seriously y’all, don’t compromise just because something is icky. BUY OR USE YOUR RUBBER KITCHEN GLOVES!

          When I use a towel to it’s ‘end of life’, there’s plenty of life left in it! If I use a towel to clean up something potentially infectious, like dog feces/vomit/urine/whatever else, it gets relegated to the bin for auto maintenance, oils, outside use, etc.. After so long, I have a bin of towels for the car, the dog, the wood shop, the garage, etc…

          I’ve been paper towel-free for 15 yrs now. I use barmop towels mainly, I don’t find the microfiber very absorbent, I keep a stack of 20 or so neatly folded under my prep table at all times. I have not purchased a roll of paper towels since 2005 and I’m proud of that. F’real, the hardest part is converting your visitors who insist on paper towels for everything under the sun.

          • I’m super interested in switching to cotton. But no one has been willing to answer my question about grease. We don’t eat fried foods, but we do use butter and have meats that leave behind grease. We have always used paper towels or cheap napkins because we cannot allow grease down our sink to the pipes (we are on a farmstead) or into our washer! So how do you get the grease out of the towels before you wash them? Thank you so much! Sandra

      • Hi! Yes, Bri, we have the same issue with not wanting to cross-contaminate once we use a rag for cleaning the toilet or the bathroom period. So, I clean the toilet with a Handiwipe I have used as my daily cleaning rag for the tub. We have drastically cut back on the number of paper towel we use and therefore, purchase. However, I don’t know if we will ever fully give up paper towel. So far, my husband is not in favor of the idea.

    • No, I use cloth for everything but. I have two elderly cats who are pukers, and I use paper towels for that. Any “bodily fluids” I think paper towels are acceptable! I also have 6 yo twins and paper was used for unspeakable messes for them, too! But everyday stuff, cloth all the way.

      I would say that if you do clean up germy stuff with cloth, make sure to wash on hot and/or bleach regularly.

    • We have designated barf cloths. Works very well! (The *ahem* barf bits go into our green cart/compost.)

    • I worked hard to get down to one roll of paper towels a month, and that one was reserved for “dog messes.” If it’s touched puke, I never went to see it again. I’ve slacked lately and use more paper towels than that but this has inspired me to get back to me one-roll-a-month goal.

      • I too mostly used reusable but we keep a stock of emergency paper towels for times where its just really dirty like poop or throw up or blood.
        I think it has its place in the home and not going extreme 100% helps me keep my sanity and makes me more mindful of waste but also not paranoid

    • Same but with dogs! We use mainly someform of rag for everything but accidents from our senior citizen dog and cleaning the glass on outdoor furniture because it is super ICK.

    • I hear you as that is not fun to clean up. I don’t have any paper towels in my house so I just use toilet paper for those messes and then flush it, if I didn’t get too big of a wad of toilet paper, or toss it in the trash.

    • Use toilet paper for that purpose. It’s what I do. I have never used paper towels in my adult life.

    • Haha, that’s exactly what my first thought was. We only use paper towels for two things: cat puke and chilli rellenos, to drain the oil.

    • I use newspaper or old cloths for the pukey things. Most of my cloths are made from cut up old clothes or tea towels so if its particularly yucky the whole thing can go in the bin or the compost.

    • And what about toilets and other things that should be heavily sanitized?

    • The main reason we keep a roll of papertowels under the sink! But out of sight so we don’t use for everyday cleanups/napkins.

    • To answer about cleaning up cat puke (or other really gross things)…I’ve been paper towel free for years. we keep an additional pile of throwaway rags in our garage for the gross stuff. We cut old t-shirts and towels that are too stained, ripped, full of holes etc to donate into smaller rag sized pieces. Then we just throw them away after one use.

    • My husband and son wear out a lot of socks. I save the bad ones above the dryer and use them to clean the gross stuff then throw them away.

      • That’s a great idea. I love an old sock for cleaning things like grease spills or things where the paper towel just cant handle it load

    • I use microfiber cloths to clean up cat puke because I feel like I can scrub the carpet much more thoroughly with them than with a paper towel.

      I would just keep one roll of paper towels on hand for soaking up or wiping out grease from the pan when cooking fatty meats.

    • LOL! I use my reusables for cat puke! I just dump the blob into the trash or rinse down the drain. I usually hang my dirty rags on the edge of a hamper to dry THEN push them into the hamper. So they aren’t balled up wet in there getting stinky. Then I wash them with my regular clothing wash.

    • We just recently switched and yesterday our dog puked on our rug and it was actually easier to clean with microfiber towels Elsie suggested from amazon.

    • Yes! I LOVE Norwex microfiber cloths and won’t use any other kind. They are “different” and use them for everything, pet stuff included. I just use water with them, and once you get the chunks out of the way, the cloth and some water really is magic. Sometimes we use diluted vinegar as well for pee. Paper towels don’t even soak much up compared to a quality cloth! Good luck ????

    • We don’t use any paper towels in our home, and we have two puke-y cats. To clean up those grosser messes, we also keep a stack of rags cut from things like old t-shirts or towels. These aren’t as nice as our regular cleaning cloths, so if there’s a particularly nasty job we can just toss them once they’ve been destroyed.

    • i use stiff advert postcards, ie, junk mail, to scrape up cat puke and dump into the garbage; then wipe with a cloth and my handy spray bottle of diluted murphy’s oil soap.

    • I tried cheap cotton for dog puke, they just put holes in them. Cat and dog puke is way more acidic that even human puke, so paper towels is actually the cheapest, greenest option. A rag can be fused many times, but if it turns into a blob of strings, it’s a total waste of good cotton.

    • Use newspaper for the bulk of it. Then use from a pile of dedicated “disaster” cloths which, even though they’re washed, are not used for other things.

    • A handy tool that every cat owner should have is one of those kitchen scrapers that are intended to be used to transfer cut items from a cutting board to wherever. Mine is about 5 inches wide, stainless steel and has a thick roll of steel on the one end that is kind of like a handle. We use that to literally scrape up any cat “bleh”…if you can get the solids picked up with this, then using a cloth towel to clean any leftover liquid, if any isn’t bad at all.

  • My husband and I recently gave up paper towels, and we love it! We got a lot of cute dish towels for our wedding and we’re glad to be using them more. We used to use paper towels for napkins every meal, but I’m loving using cute cloth napkins – and saving money!

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