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Reusable Paper Towels: A Gimmick Or A Sustainable Choice?

Reusable paper towels are becoming more and more mainstream as people believe them to be a sustainable alternative. But is it true? Let’s find out!

Most of us understand that households use way too much paper. And while switching to digital magazines and newspapers is a good start, there is one area that most people are surprised when they realize how much paper it involves. 

All those convenient regular paper towels in your kitchen are probably the one area where your home uses the majority of the paper. And it can be completely unnecessary. 

My own family has made many other sustainable swaps in the last few years, but switching to reusable paper towels has probably made one of the bigger impacts. 

Let me show you what they are about.

What Are Reusable Paper Towels?

Your regular paper towels are the ones you reach for any time you spill something in the kitchen or dining room. For families with a few kids, that's going to happen several times a day. 

Now, imagine that each sheet of paper towel could mop up more than one spill. You would more than half your environmental impact on the number of trees. Now imagine you could clean up dozens of spills, and you start to get the concept of how important reusable paper towels might be. 

Typically, they are made from highly sustainable and plastic-free to minimize the ecological impact they have. That means that there is far less damage to nature and the climate by making them.

And then there's the added benefit of them being a lot more sustainable when it eventually comes to replacing them. 

The ones I like the most are all made from organic materials that I can then simply cut up and add to my compost. It's a far more environmentally friendly option, and you won't believe how many times you can reuse them. 

There are some other benefits to reusable kitchen towels, like the fact that they are a lot tougher than paper products. 

Let's take a closer look. 

Three Types of Reusable Paper Towels

Having tried out many different reusable paper towels, these are the ones that I find work the best and have the most benefit on the environment. 

From the raw material perspective, we can divide the reusable paper towels into 3 categories —

  • Bamboo & Cotton
  • Cellulose Sponges
  • Microfiber Towels

Bamboo & Cotton

The main reason I like bamboo paper towels is that bamboo is an incredibly sustainable and fast-growing plant. With the right harvesting techniques, it can take as little as 3 to 4 months for the plant to grow back. 

And the fibers from bamboo plants are much tougher than regular paper, making them an ideal option for reusable paper towels. 

I simply use each one for about a week to 10 days while just rinsing it out with dish soap. 

Another option is a sustainable cotton paper towel which I have found also goes into the washing machine. This helps to remove grease stains, allowing you to use the paper towel for a lot longer. 

Cellulose Sponges

These typically combine plant cellulose and cotton, and I have found that these reusable paper towels work best for any liquid spills. For some reason, they just seem to be incredibly absorbent, almost like placing a bath towel on the spill. 

What's great is that most of them are also dishwasher safe, so you can simply place it on the dish rack, and it'll come out perfectly clean. 

Microfiber Towels

I always have a few microfiber reusable paper towels for general cleaning purposes. Because they tend to lift dirt, grease, and grimy stuff from all types of surfaces, they generally help with all cleanup efforts. 

Now, you do have to take a careful look that they only contain eco-friendly materials, as some of the ones I have found also contain plastic. I also don't think they are generally dishwasher safe, but they will come out of a washing machine just fine. 

Benefits of Reusable Paper Towels: Are They Worth It? 

There are four main reasons why you should consider switching to reusable paper towels

1 - Significant Cost Savings

Here's a simple experiment you should do. Keep track of how many rolls of regular paper towels you would use in a month. Then multiply that by the average cost of them to see how much you spend every month. Then multiply that by 12 for your annual costs. 

Firstly, you'll probably be quite surprised how much those numbers add up. Secondly, that first-year budget will buy you plenty of reusable paper towels that will last for a lot longer than a year. 

2 - Eco-Friendly

The type of reusable paper towels that I listed above all require fewer raw materials when you work out their eco-impact over a year. And when you choose them wisely for the ideal material like bamboo, then the overall impact on the environment is even smaller again.

Just be careful to always lookout for a Green Seal or Mother Nature approval label. Some of the products I looked at contained a lot of plastic which then makes them more difficult to dispose of because they would be classed as mixed materials and also not suitable for composting.  

reusable paper towels benefits

3 - More Absorbent

For me personally, this one is the major added bonus over traditional paper towels. I'll get to my recommended products shortly, but what you will find is that a reusable paper towel will absorb a lot more liquid. 

It's almost like they are a sponge, and it just means that spills in living and dining areas are so much easier to deal with. 

4 - Ideal For All Cleaning Jobs

Most people will usually grab kitchen towels to deal with liquid spills around the kitchen and dining room. You probably won't use them for other cleaning jobs around the house, though. 

That's because they tend to tear and cause more mess than you'd expect. 

With the reusable paper towels that I've tried out, you can use them for all kinds of cleaning jobs. Whether that's bathrooms, floors, or even a leather sofa, there's just a better range of things that you can use them for. 

Things to Consider While Buying

Here are four things you need to keep in mind when making a decision on the paper towels you want to buy. 

How Sustainable Are They?

For me, this should be the most important question to look into. A sustainable alternative should be plastic-free, and the raw materials should be some form of sustainably grown plant. You'd be surprised how many materials that leaves open. 

One way to check this is to look at the packaging information to see if the paper towels were made using the Global Organic Textile Standard. This is an internationally accepted standard that is a good indicator. 

Some great materials to look for are bamboo, hemp, and sustainable cotton. 

How Absorbent Are They?

My experience with tree-free paper towels has been that the vast majority of them will absorb a lot more liquid than your standard paper towels. I found this was particularly the case with cellulose paper towels and sponges. 

They just seem to soak up any kind of liquid with ease, and it doesn't seem to drip out much either. 

How Durable Are They?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of reusable paper towels out there that won't last for more than a couple of uses. It's still better than the standard paper ones, but you don't get to maximize the eco-benefits. 

One thing I have noticed is that those paper towels that say they are machine washable tend to be the most durable, and you can often get dozens of uses out of them. 

How Expensive Are They?

Yes, reusable paper towels will cost quite a bit more than regular ones. But once you see how long they can last, you'll quickly see that it actually pays you to switch to them. 

But it's still a good idea to make a comparison on a per paper towel cost basis so that you get a better idea of value for money with these products. 

How to Wash Reusable Paper Towels?

The first thing I would say is that you should always check the instructions on the packaging. Some of them you can put in the dishwasher, others in the washing machine. And then there are some that will just disintegrate if you don't wash them by hand. 

Dishwasher

My experience has been that a reusable paper towel that I can place in the dishwasher is often the most durable. Because of the heat generated in a dishwasher, they also tend to be the cleanest when they come out again. 

What I have learned the hard way is that you need to carefully place it in the upper rack. On the bottom one, the water pressure can push it up, and it might get tangled up in the rotating nozzles. 

How to Wash Reusable Paper Towels

Washing Machine

Most sustainable alternatives will also be fine to put in the washing machine. I usually do this with bamboo ones that I throw in with other towels. 

Because I tend to wash on a cooler cycle, I sometimes soak the paper towels with a bit of disinfectant first, just to avoid any buildup of bacteria. 

Handwash

This isn't the most eco-friendly way, as you could end up using quite a bit of unnecessary hot water. What you can do, though, is wash the reusable paper towels in hot water you're filling to clean your pots and dishes. 

They are generally not that dirty, and it's a good way to avoid using up more hot water than you need to. It's also a good idea to spray them with a bit of citric acid to kill off any germs. 

Air Drying

And finally, I would put them in the dryer, as they can start to fall apart. I usually air dry my ones by simply laying them flat on the kitchen counter. 

Alternatively, you could hang dry them with your washing for maximum eco-friendly benefits. 

10 Best Reusable Paper Towels You Should Consider

1 - Wholesale Swedish Dishcloths

These eco-friendly dishcloths are made from biodegradable cellulose material, and the reason I recommend these the most is that I haven't been able to find any that are more absorbent. Each one will easily clean up half a glass of water or more. 

According to the company, you can reuse each one over 100 times, making them the equivalent of 15 rolls of paper towels. 

Beyond being great reusable paper towel alternatives, these cellulose cloths also work great for all types of cleaning jobs. Whether it's glass, wood, tiles, or steel, they are excellent for all surfaces. 

I've also found that they are odor resistant, so you don't have to wash them every day. And because they are machine washable, you can just put them in with your regular load of towels. 

The final thing to mention is that once they aren't usable anymore, I cut them up and put them on the compost, where they fully disintegrate. 

2 - Marley's Monsters Reusable UNpaper Towel Roll

These reusable towels are made from cotton and are the perfect size at 12 by 10 inches. 

They also come on a convenient roll with 24 of them rolled up together, so it really is like using paper towels from a roll. 

What I can't tell you is how long they last because I haven't had to throw any of them out yet. The cotton is tough, and as long as you take care of them properly, they can easily last for years. 

What I tend to do is rinse them out at the end of the day and then put them in with a load of washing.

Unlike the cellulose ones above, the cotton ones don't seem to be odor resistant. 

I also like that they come in a wide range of different color options, with many of them in fun designs to brighten up your kitchen. 

3 - Mioeco Nature-Friendly Paper Towels Organic Cotton

These are marketed as hand towels, but I actually find that they work much better as regular kitchen towels. 

Made from organic cotton based on the Global Organic Textile Standard, these towels have a very low environmental footprint. 

They are also machine washable, and I've lost count of how many times I've washed mine. They come out perfectly fine and ready to use each time. 

What I also like about them is that if you have a busy family home with young kids, then you can save quite a lot of money by buying multiple packs of them.

Especially if you have young babies, these soft towels work great to keep faces and tables clean. 

And when they do come to an end of usefulness, you can cut them up and throw them in with your compost. 

4 - Lola Products Wowables Reusable & Biodegradable Paper Towel

These reusable paper towels make quite a big promise by claiming that one roll of 30 sheets will replace 260 rolls of paper towels. And from my own experience, I would say that's quite a possible statement. 

Imagine how much money that could save you every year with such a small and practical investment. 

They are extremely absorbent and a lot tougher than any kind of paper towel. That means you can simply rinse them out under a tab and reuse them over and over again. 

I also like that the size makes them compatible with many types of floor mops, so you could use them for a lot more than just wiping up spilled drinks. 

The company also says that they don't use any harmful bleaching chemicals or ink. They do come in different color options, but apparently, they only use natural dyes that aren't harmful to the environment. 

5 - Azrra Bamboo Reusable Paper Towels 

These reusable towels are made from bamboo fibers that are woven into a strong fabric material. And while they come on a roll that allows you to tear off sheets as you need them, you'll quickly find that they don't deteriorate. 

You can wring them out and not tear them to shreds. The company claims that each sheet has the lasting power of three paper towel rolls.

That's a lot of cleaning up you can get from bamboo kitchen towels. 

What I would suggest when cleaning them is to either soak them in some water with dish soap or put them in the washing machine with a delicate wash. Most other types of washes might damage them. 

Then just let them dry flat on a kitchen counter or hang them up somewhere to air dry. 

6 - Natissy Reusable Paper Towels

This is another product that uses organic cotton to make very absorbent reusable paper towels. 

They are a zero-waste alternative with all the materials sourced from sustainable cotton crops. 

I particularly like the patterns on these ones and the fact that they come with a towel roll holder. That makes storing them so much easier than most other products that just end up in a large bundled mess in a drawer. 

The design styles also make them suitable as table napkins for dinner parties or just to avoid a lot of mess with young kids. And because of the tough cotton fibers, they will go through a regular wash cycle and then dry in no time when you take them out. 

You could even put them through a hot wash cycle if you had to use them to clean up raw food waste that could otherwise harbor bacteria. 

7 - Earthly Co. Reusable Paper Towels 

These reusable paper towels seem to be considerably larger than most others, with a size of 13 by 10 inches. That also means that they will soak up a lot more liquid, and because of the nice designs, you can even use them as cloth napkins. 

Once you wash and dry them, they also easily roll back up into a neat bundle so that they don't end up causing a huge mess in a kitchen drawer. 

The soft fabric also makes them ideal for cleaning all types of surfaces, including stainless steel, without causing scratches or marks.

They will quickly become your go-to cleaning tool for more than just your kitchen and dining room. 

The only thing I would be careful about is the type of wash you put them in. The color and pattern designs might fade in a hot wash, so it might be a better idea to wash them with delicates. 

8 - EcoFullness Bamboo Paper Towels

The great thing with this double reusable paper towel pack is that every part of it has been designed as eco-friendly. That includes the packaging and the fully biodegradable towels. 

The pack comes with a total of 40 sheets that are super absorbent, and the company claims that they keep their average customers going for a year. That's a great investment compared to regular kitchen towels that will easily cost you hundreds of dollars. 

The makers have also ensured that they made them paraben and cruelty-free to minimize the impact on nature and humans. 

Apparently, you can machine wash each sheet up to 200 times, which would explain why they are one of the most popular bamboo kitchen towels available.

Most user comments have said that they just keep going without breaking down. 

9 - ZeroWastely Paperless Paper Towels 

Here is another cleverly designed product where every part of the packaging is recyclable or compostable. 

The pack comes with 24 reusable dish towels that you can use for all sorts of cleaning jobs around your home. 

They are super absorbent and made from very soft cotton, so you can even use these kitchen towels on stainless steel without worrying about scratching it. 

You also get a great range of nice colors, and the size makes them ideal to use as napkins too.

The individual sheets can be placed on top of each other to then roll up and put on a regular holder to keep them tidy. 

And when they do get to a stage where they are past their usable life, you can simply cut them up and put them on the compost. 

10 - FEBU Swedish Dishcloths for Kitchen

The final reusable paper towels I would recommend are another cellulose sponge type with incredibly absorbent material. 

If you have young kids that tend to spill drinks on a regular basis, then these will save you a lot of hassle. 

They also come in a lot of different and fun designs so that you can match them up with your kitchen decor.

From an ecological perspective, these dish towels are fully biodegradable, and all the packaging materials are recyclable or compostable. 

And you can easily clean them in hot water or by washing them with regular towels. They don't even tend to hold on to bad odors, so it's not like you need to wash them every single day. 

Finally, they hang dry incredibly fast, meaning that they are ready to use when you need them. 

Final Thoughts

Switching to reusable towels has probably been one of the most significant changes my household has made. You only need to count the number of paper towel rolls you go through for a week to understand how much of a waste they really are. 

And because reusable kitchen towels are so much better at cleaning up, you'll find that you won't even miss the paper-based ones. 

I personally have both the cellulose and cotton ones as they are great for different jobs around the home. You simply won't believe how much cellulose ones can absorb. 

Try them out for yourself and make a big difference in the environment. 


Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen's passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.

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