Paper towels are one of those household products that pretty much need to be on hand at all times. And when it’s time to clean up a mess around the house, the right high-quality paper towel goes a long way. But with an entire aisle of paper towel brands in every store, which paper towel offers the best cleaning ability for the money?
After researching and testing the best paper towels on the market, our favorite paper towel is the Kirkland Signature Premium Create-a-Size(available at Amazon) because of its ease of use, soft texture, 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:
Viva Signature Cloth Choose-A-Sheet
Brawny Flex Tear a Square
Seventh Generation Unbleached
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The Kirkland Paper Towels aced all of our tests. The towel had no problem sopping up tomato sauce on the counter or removing the dust from under my radiator. I was especially impressed with the dust wipe, as the particles clung to the paper towel and didn’t just get moved around on the floor. When I soaked the towel in water and rubbed it rigorously on the carpet, it held together and didn’t tear. Not only are these towels impressively strong, they’re also soft to the touch. A good hard pull is required to rip one of them, and it was reusable after being wet and then dried.
Presto!, which is Amazon’s paper products brand, really impressed us. It was surprising that such a new product could hold its own next to powerhouse leading towel brands like Bounty. It wiped away nearly all of the tomato sauce on the counter and, when it was rubbed across a carpet, it only tore a tiny bit. It’s not the softest towel in the world, but it’s thick and sturdy.
I’m Georgia Kral, a journalist and mother of two young kids. As you might imagine, messes are pretty constant in my house! While I tend to use dish towels more than paper towels because of my dedication to creating less waste, there are certain jobs that paper towels are best for, so I always have rolls on hand. We all do. For this reason, I tend to be stingy when I use paper towels, so this testing was especially important to me on a personal level. I want paper towels that won’t fall apart, which would necessitate the use of another towel.
Kevin Oliver was the original tester and writer of this buying guide. He tested and reviewed all sorts of products for sites like Reviewed, BGR, Freshome, and TechRadar.
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 tomato sauce 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.
Next, we swiped each dry towel over a dusty surface to find their cleaning ability without the aid of water or spray.
We also tested the strength of each paper towel in both a dry and wet state. Using just one piece of paper, we attempted to pull it in half while dry and while wet. Next, we rubbed each wet paper towel against the rough surface of a floor rug to test the durability of each towel.
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, softness, and overall ease of use.
What You Should Know About Paper Towels
While it may seem like all paper towels are the same, that’s actually not the case. There are a few considerations for the consumer that will help determine what to buy.
The first factor to consider is the sticker price, which incorporates the actual dollar amount but also the question of reusability. In our testing we wet the towels and then allowed them to dry and then used them again. This helped us determine which towels were strong and absorbent and the most durable.
Thickness & Absorbency
The thickness of each paper towel must also be considered. How sturdy the towel feels in your hand is important, but thickness plays a role in absorbency, which of course is one of the most important criteria when it comes to paper towels. But it’s not always the case that the thickest towel cleans up the biggest mess or stays the strongest when soaked through. In our testing, the thinnest towel was the Viva, but that towel proved to be quite durable when wet.
Other Paper Towels We Tested
The “quicker picker upper” brand—yep, Bounty—is one of the best known paper towel brands and for good reason. In the tomato sauce single-wipe test, Bounty left only a trace amount of sauce left on the counter, just like the Kirkland towel. Where it lost points was in the dust wipe; while some of the dust did cling to the paper towel, an equal amount was left behind.
As a dry paper towel, the Bounty felt very strong and thick. Once we wet the towel, it held its strength and performed very well in the rough carpet rubbing test with just a bit of tearing. On the subjective side, this towel doesn’t necessarily feel like anything special or unique and it isn’t soft to the touch, but each sheet tears easily from the roll.
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 a good option for most people and you shouldn’t hesitate throwing it in your shopping cart.
The Bounty Essentials are thinner and softer than the Select-a-Size towels we tested. However, this translates into a towel that can’t really compete. The towels pulled apart easily during the carpet rubbing test. And, while it wiped up most of the tomato sauce, it pushed around as much dust as it picked up and tore when rubbed across the carpet.
The Viva paper towel is thin and soft. There’s no texture woven into this towel, which makes the experience of using it quite different than the others. When holding the towel, it feels thin and closer to a thick piece of toilet paper than a sturdy paper towel. But while it feels nice and soft while using, it didn’t perform well during the wiping test. The Viva wiped up some but not all of the tomato sauce and it wasn’t able to pick up most of the dust under my radiator. Interestingly, despite the lack of thickness, it didn’t tear at all after being submerged in water and rubbed across a rough carpet.
While Whole Foods sells recycled paper towels from Seventh Generation, 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.
Like Bounty, Brawny is another household brand. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its reputation. These textured towels are fairly rough to the touch. They also weren't able to wipe up the same amount of sauce or dust as its competitors. As for durability, it’s on the weaker side. After being submerged in water and dragged across a rough carpet, the towel pulled apart fairly easily.
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.
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.
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