Reusable paper towels are the new wipe—here are some we like
A more sustainable way to clean spills.
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With buzzwords like “ethical alternatives” and “zero-waste swaps” cropping up in the home and cleaning space, it can feel like you’re doing Mother Earth wrong by trying to keep your home neat and tidy.
If starting a sustainable journey feels overwhelming, just know that it really is as easy as taking one first step—don’t let the jargon trip you up. In fact, it’s easiest to start in the kitchen, because it’s where you cook, gather, and more than likely where you throw things away.
Paper towels are common in practically all kitchens, but they aren’t essential. And some of them aren't great for the environment, either.
For starters, paper towels often come wrapped in plastic, some even individually wrapped in a second plastic liner. Secondly, most paper towels are made from virgin paper, which means they are made at the expense of trees, forests, and woodlands and are thrown away after a single use! Companies also use chlorine bleaching to make the towels extra white, a process that uses unnecessary amounts of water and pollutes waterways with chemicals toxic to humans and fish.
Lastly, even the toughest paper towels only last a use or two before they end up in the trash and eventually a landfill.
If you’re looking to make a more sustainable choice in your home, put the Bounty back on its shelf and try reusable paper towels that work just as well and aren’t as wasteful. Here are some options. …
Bamboo paper towels
If I didn’t already know that Cloud Paper’s paper towels are made from bamboo, then I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from more conventional options.
These bamboo paper towels come tightly rolled like popular grocery store brands, but they don’t have any “fluff”—what makes brand-name towels look thicker and more absorbent.
Cloud Paper towels are flexible, absorbent, and withstand multiple uses. They can also be composted after use—except if they’ve come into contact with toxic chemicals (like bleach) or bodily fluids (which can be a biohazard).
Cloud Paper packaging and towel tubes can be composted or recycled as well, meaning there’s zero waste.
Another popular paper towel swap is a Swedish dishcloth. This rectangular fabric sponge is stiff when dry and flexible when wet, so you can use them to clean dishes, wipe counters, scrub the stovetop, wipe up messes, and more.
The upbeat designs and patterns on the Swedish dishcloths from Oona Goods bring a pop of color to your kitchen and a whole lot of functionality. They’re easy to wash, and you can even toss them in the dishwasher to clean them.
According to Oona Goods, each 4-pack of dishcloths can replace up to 60 rolls of paper towels. You can also compost them at the end of their lifecycle, which is about 3 to 4 months with regular use.
Likewise, I love the machine-washable Swedish dishcloths from Papaya, too. According to Papaya, a single cloth replaces 17 rolls of paper towels.
I tend to wet the anti-bacterial and compostable reusable paper towels to make them a bit more flexible. However, they’re incredibly absorbent—up to 20 times their weight—perfect for drying dishes or cleaning up a spill. They also have a small hole in the corner so you can hang them up to dry.
Food 52’s Five Two Compostable Sponge Cloths are a third brand of Swedish dishcloths that perform well—and, if you haven’t guessed, Swedish dishcloths are really trendy right now.
Made from plant fibers and printed with water-based ink, these Five Two cloths are versatile and long-lasting, plus they don’t collect lint or leave streaks, and you can use them over 300 times before disposing of them in your compost bin.
- Get the Dots and Spots 4-pack from Oona Goods for $18
- Get the Ladies Who Lunch Reusable Paper Towels 6-pack from Papaya for $54
- Get Five Two Compostable Sponge Cloths 10-pack from Food52 for $29
Linen is a sustainable fabric and has a soft, crinkly texture that dries quickly, since the threads in linen have a bit more space between them than tighter-woven fabrics.
We love the linen tea towels from The Homebodies, which are great to keep in the kitchen for drying dishes or soaking up spills on the counter. The Homebodies linen towels are made of 100% European flax linen.
Linen napkins are also a great swap because you can tuck them in your purse or backpack to use on the go. I have a few that I keep with reusables in my tote bag in case I order take-out or need to clean up a spill while I’m out. The napkins are smaller than standard dish towels, but you can still use them in the kitchen to clean and dry.
- Get the Linen Tea Towel from The Homebodies for $11
- Get the Italian Washed Linen Napkins, Set of 4 from Williams Sonoma for $49.95
I like to keep a few microfiber cloths on hand for specific cleaning needs, like dusting tech screens and drying fragile glasses and vases. You can use microfiber cloths both wet and dry and wash them with your laundry.
Be sure to air dry them, otherwise they will collect all the lint and hair from clothing in the dryer, dulling their softness.
Get the Mr. Siga Microfiber Cleaning Cloths from Amazon for $11.99
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.