When it’s time to clean up a mess around the house, the right paper towel goes a long way. But with an entire aisle of choices in every store, which paper towel offers the best cleaning ability for the money?
After days spent researching and testing all of the best paper towels on the market, our favorite product is the original Bounty Select-A-Size 2-Ply(available at Amazon) paper towel because of its ease of use, soft texture, great value, and unparalleled cleaning ability. However, there were many excellent products we found in our testing.
These are the best paper towels we tested ranked, in order:
Bounty Select-A-Size 2-Ply
Brawny Pick-A-Size 2-Ply
Kirkland Signature Create-A-Size 2-Ply from Costco
Viva Strong & Soft Like Cloth 1-Ply
Up & Up Make-A-Size 2-Ply from Target
Bounty Essentials 2-Ply
365 Everyday Value 100% Recycled 2-Ply from Whole Foods
Scott Choose-A-Sheet 1-Ply
Great Value Ultra Strong 2-Ply from Walmart
Seventh Generation 100% Recycled
Food Lion Paper Towels
Seventh Generation Unbleached
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
It’s the name synonymous with the paper towel—for good reason. Bounty’s plain old “quicker picker upper” completely outperformed the competition by a good margin in both objective and subjective tests.
In our single-wipe test, Bounty came the closest to leaving no smudge behind, with only a trace amount of ketchup left on the counter. It also tied Viva for the best dusting of any dry paper towel we tested.
As a dry paper towel, Bounty felt the strongest and thickest, despite only being the fifth heaviest (in grams) among the paper towels we tested. Once we submerged the towel, it held its strength and withstood rigorous underwater scrubbing. After we let it dry a bit, we used it on the cast iron and carpet, on which it left small amounts of residue, but very little compared to most of the other products on our list.
On the subjective side, this towel doesn’t necessarily feel like anything special or unique, but it will tear perfectly nearly every time and continually gets the job done. At the end of the day, we can’t think of much else to ask from a paper towel.
Bounty’s value line has a different feel than the ordinary Bounty Towels, but still performed on par with the competition. While it didn’t scoop up as much ketchup as some of the others, it held its own in dusting and proved to be a useful and enduring dry towel. When submerged, it did lose a bit of its strength, but it still managed to scrub the cast-iron and carpet without tearing too many holes in itself.
All in all, these towels are steady and affordable. They don’t compare to our top pick, but for a value choice that’s available all over the nation, we can’t think of a better towel.
After selecting 12 products from a range of national chain retailers, as well as one local option to stand in for regional stores, we put each towel through its paces in practical, around-the-house tests that would best reflect the average consumer’s use of the product.
Our first trial was a simple wiping test. We put a teaspoon of ketchup on a common kitchen countertop and tried to clean the mess with one swipe of a paper towel. We documented any smudging or smearing, while also taking into account each product’s ease of use. We also swiped each dry towel over a dusty surface to find their cleaning ability without the aid of water or spray.
Next, we tested the strength of each paper towel in both a dry and wet state. Using a coarse cast-iron pan, we rubbed each paper towel in both a dry and wet state against the rough surface with equal pressure to test the durability of each towel. After that, we re-used previously submerged paper towels to scrub both the cast-iron pan and a coarse carpet to determine if the product would leave any pieces behind.
To hone in specifically on absorption, we used a highly sensitive scale to weigh each sheet of dry paper towel. We then submerged each towel in water and placed it on the scale without wringing it out to determine how much water each sheet held onto. To ensure comparative numbers amongst different sized sheets, we divided the weight of the wet paper towels by the weight of the dry ones to figure out the absorption by weight.
Last but certainly not least, we paid attention to the smaller, subjective details that make certain paper towels more enjoyable to use than others. This includes ease of tearing (because everyone loathes that piece at the bottom after an uneven tear), texture and softness, and overall ease of use. Our top picks were both effective in cleaning and often enjoyable to use.
Other Paper Towels We Tested
Brawny was a fierce contender for our top spot, following only Bounty in water absorption and our overall scoring metrics. Brawny has a comparable feel to Bounty—which means it would feel right at home in any kitchen for just about every use. The only area Brawny struggled in was how it held together after dunking. Other than that, this product is every bit as good as our number one pick and you shouldn’t hesitate throwing it in your shopping cart.
Costco is all about bulk, which can convince people to avoid buying Costco’s store-brand products. Afterall, you don’t want a bulk order of something that doesn’t hold up to the name brand competition.
We’re pleased to say that Kirkland Signature’s towels were astonishingly close to our number one pick. So close, in fact, that we would recommend Costco shoppers to buy these instead of Bounty. In feel and texture, they were almost identical to Bounty. Truthfully, the only spot Kirkland fell behind Bounty was in retaining strength after being dunked in water.
These towels are hands-down the best store brand option on the market.
Viva’s product was certainly the softest and most comfortable product we tested. It felt more akin to a shop cloth than a paper towel, which gave it a unique experience compared to the rest. Although this product is single-ply (only one of two single-ply options on this list) it did a surprisingly good job at holding together during tough scrubbing jobs. It fell apart more easily when dunked in water, but for those who prioritize comfort and touch in a paper towel, Viva’s Strong and Soft towels are a perfect fit.
Target’s Up & Up paper towels were shockingly strong and absorbent, considering they are an “affordable” store brand option. As a dry paper towel, we were surprised at how much they could withstand when it came to household cleaning. When soaking wet, they performed less impressively, but still better than more expensive products like Seventh Generation. For reusing as a scrubber, it held together with the best of them and earned high marks in our objective testing. All in all, if you’re a Target shopper, we highly recommend you save a little bit of coin and toss these in your cart.
While Whole Foods sells recycled paper towels from Seventh Generation (which we will cover below), the company’s store brand option performed much better in our tests. In our wiping tests, these recycled towels held their own against our top pick. After submersion, they also performed well compared to the competition. However, after drying, they left a lot of residue on both the cast-iron and the carpet and tore almost immediately.
For recycled paper, especially when used either dry or in the sink, we couldn’t find a better choice than Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Recycled Paper Towels.
Other than Viva, Scott’s Choose-A-Sheet was the only single-ply option on our list, and it absorbed surprisingly well despite its lower volume. This paper towel is a soft, yet strong dry paper towel, but loses nearly all of its fortitude when dunked in water. For any tough kitchen jobs that require water, we can’t recommend Scott. But for those seeking an affordable, soft, and durable dry paper towel for meals, dusting, or general use, this roll is a great choice.
For the most part, Walmart’s Great Value brand, holds up to the competition. These towels were made to be compared to our number one pick, Bounty, and while they didn’t hit that mark, they’re a solid and affordable paper towel option for Walmart shoppers. In our one-wipe test, they were comparable with our top pick, but fell apart when we used them on the cast-iron skillet, leaving white residue all over. However, up until that point, the Great Value paper towels were a viable contender and are a great option for any Walmart shopper looking to save a buck or two.
Seventh Generation Paper Towels, 100% Recycled Paper
Seventh Generation is certainly pushing its green status much more than its effectiveness as a product, but this product was decently made, especially for a completely recycled product. While it didn’t hold up to the much cheaper Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value recycled paper, it fared well in our objective testing. The greatest downfall with this roll of paper towels is in how it feels. Although it’s a double-ply roll, it feels thinner than the single-ply towels we reviewed and isn’t soft to the touch. Still, for those who like the Seventh Generation brand, these paper towels won’t give you any real problems—they’re just not as solid as much of the competition.
Sparkle was simply nothing special. Aside from being ho-hum in all of our objective testing, the paper had an irritating feel. It also took some effort to tear a clean piece without leaving a corner at the bottom. Altogether, it’s not awful, but there are so many better options on the market with competitive prices.
While our local grocery pick may not fully represent every local grocery’s paper towels, Food Lion’s paper towels simply couldn’t hold up to the competition and didn’t impress in any category. They were rough to the touch and only became weaker when wet. Spring for the Bounty Essentials, or any of our other store-specific picks if you’re looking to save money on paper towels.
Seventh Generation Unbleached Paper Towels
For whatever reason, the unbleached version of the Seventh Generation’s 100% recycled paper performed much worse in our test than its bleached counterpart. This product was coarse, weak, and not great at performing basic clean-ups. If you’re looking for a recycled paper towel, the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value 100% recycled towels was a better and more affordable option.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.