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I grew up in a household that didn’t use many disposable products. My parents taught me to be frugal and environmentally-friendly. Anytime I find myself frequently buying a disposable product, I try to find a way to reduce or eliminate it. Paper towels are no exception.
I buy 1-2 rolls of paper towels per year. I’ve had friends ask how that’s possible, so I thought I’d write about how I do it. Here’s how I make one roll of paper towels last a year:
I use dishcloths to wash dishes. The microfiber type work the best for me because they scrub well and dry quickly (without getting stinky). I just ordered myself some of these to replace some of my older ones. I’ll come back to update you on how I like them! Update 4/12/17: I love these dish cloths! The scrubber side is great for cleaning tough pans.
Washing Counters and Tables
Does anyone else wonder how kids can make such a mess of the table when all they ate was an apple? I shouldn’t talk, though, since my place at the table is often the one with the most crumbs! Anyway, I use my dishcloths to wipe down counters and tables. I think they clean much better than a paper towel anyway. When the cloth is dirty, I just toss it in the laundry.
Drying Dishes, Hands, Or Surfaces
For drying dishes, hands, counters, or tables, I use kitchen towels. The dishcloths I use are not absorbent, so things need to be dried with a towel. I have some dish towels like these.
I have a big basket full of rags to clean bathrooms and other household surfaces. Most of the rags are old t-shirts that have been cut into squares. The basket also includes some prefold cloth diapers that are retired burpcloths. If you have multiple people in your household, you probably have plenty of free rag supplies available.
Wiping Up Spills On the Floor
Depending on how gross the spill is, I’ll wipe it up with either a kitchen towel or a rag. Either way, it goes straight to the laundry. Often, kitchen towels are used first for hands or dishes and last for the floor before getting washed.
Cleaning Windows & Mirrors
I use the old t-shirt rags for this purpose. They work best if they have not been washed with any fabric softener. I’m fine with my t-shirt rags, but some folks swear by cloths like these for this purpose.
It’s spring now and I’m sure there’s an insect invasion coming soon. We tend to get ladybugs, stinkbugs, and giant spiders here. I admit that this is an area where I don’t use something reusable. When I need to squash a bug (or 10), I use a paper napkin, piece of toilet paper, or a tissue. A paper towel seems like overkill for this. (Get it? Overkill?)
Cleaning Up Bodily Fluids
If you’re a parent and/or a pet owner, spilled bodily fluids a fact of life. And if you have a boy, they’re probably also dinner table conversation! For cleaning up the really gross stuff, I use a rag for the final time. The rags were free to us anyway, so I don’t worry about tossing them in the trash when things hit the fan if you know what I mean…
Wiping Kids’ Faces & Hands
I don’t know about your kids, but mine make a mess of themselves when they eat. I’ve heard that some kids get neater as they get older, but I think mine will still be walking around with jelly on their faces when they’re 25 years old. So how do I clean them up? When they were babies and toddlers, I kept a stack of baby washcloths like these in the kitchen. As they got older, I got a pack of thick cotton dishcloths to replace the little baby washcloths. The “face cloths” are only used for hands and faces. I keep them separate from the ones I used for cleaning.
Keeping Vegetables Fresh
I’ve tried various hacks involving paper towels to keep vegetables fresh. I don’t have that problem anymore since I got these awesome reusable produce containers. Now even my lettuce can last for weeks in the fridge. No disposable supplies needed!
Things That I *DO* Use Paper Towels For:
There are just a couple of things that I haven’t figured out how to effectively avoid using paper towels for:
- Draining cooked bacon. I have trouble imagining a better way to do this. If anyone has a suggestion, I am open to it!
- Warming tortillas in the microwave. I always use a damp paper towel to wrap around the tortilla to keep it moist. Maybe I should try another method of warming tortillas? I’m sure the microwave is not the authentic TexMex method!
- Guests helping in the kitchen. It’s funny that I often use the most paper towels when I have guests around who offer to help in the kitchen. If they want to help, I’m certainly not going to complain about using a few paper towels!
- Craft projects. Sometimes paper towels are the best tool for a craft project, especially those involving paints.
Summary: My Full Cleaning Arsenal
It might sound like I have a lot of different things to avoid paper towels, but it’s probably all things you already have. I use:
- Dishcloths: Washing dishes, wiping tables, and any other kitchen cleaning.
- Kitchen towels: Drying hands, dishes, tables, and sometimes floors.
- “Face cloths”: Separate cloths for washing kids hands and faces. These could be repurposed washcloths that you already have.
- Rags: Cleaning bathrooms, household tasks, and cleaning the gross stuff.
How about you? Do you use paper towels? What jobs are they best for?