Replacing Paper Towels Experiment – Update

| January 15, 2008

Some time ago, I tried a kitchen experiment by replacing paper towels with cloth towels. Here’s an update.

Not only have I saved money by not having to purchase paper towels, I’ve found that the cloth towels come in handy with things like washing dishes, cleaning windows, polishing furniture and…get this, washing the kitchen floor. The beauty is that all you have to do is throw it in the washing machine and it’s ready for the next use. The homemade laundry detergent is working wonders on these towels.

My entire family is now 100 percent on board. Although we still have store-bought sponges, I find that we’ve been using them less and less. The sponges tend to get gross and gucky (yes, I did say gucky). My 11 year old gets totally grossed out by a gucky sponge and will only use her index finger and thumb to pick it up while the rest of her fingers make a futile attempt to disengage themselves from her hand.

When the cloth towels get gucky, they are tossed into a basket for washing. Right before they get really gucky, I use them to wipe down the floor at the end of the day. It serves two purposes

  1. I get exercise by washing the floor by hand (or foot, depending on which muscle group is the group to be exercised for the day), and
  2. My kitchen floor remains clean because a nightly wiping down gets rid of the daily juice spills and other treats left on the floor.

This little experiment worked better than I thought. My sponges have been relegated to really ugly jobs like cleaning the bathroom. Approximately 95 to 98 percent of my kitchen is cleaned with washable cloth towels. I look at it as a win for the environment, a win for my pocketbook and a win for my household (win-win-win).

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Category: Cleaning, Kitchen, Recycling, Saving Money

About the Author ()

Felicia is a bit of a tree hugger and likes to share ways to lighten the toxic burden on the environment.

Comments (7)

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  1. Liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets may be the culprit – both can leave a residue on fabric that repels water. If you use either, you should also wash your dryer filter screen regularly with hot water and soap to keep the dryer running efficiently.

    As for floor cleaning, I was recently advised by a flooring professional to use microfiber rather than terrycloth or a sponge on my laminate as it actually lifts the dirt off the floor. Well, guess what? It’s true! But I didn’t have to buy the expensive floor-care system she was selling – I just bought some microfiber cloths on sale for a buck and they work great. And they’re also great for a lot of other cleaning jobs and most impressively, plain water is often all I need:)

    • Felicia says:

      Wow, thanks Crystal. Microfiber for floors. I’ll give it a shot.

      As far as my kitchen towels, I’ve stopped using softener on them. I only use them to clean up messes so I don’t really care if they’re soft. Nice tip on washing the dryer lint screen.

  2. MEadow says:

    Cloth will start to repel due to detergent buildup. This is true for cloth diapers, so I assume it is the same for towels. Try washing in hot water with no detergent and look for bubbles. Rinse until the bubbles are gone. You can also try boiling for a few minutes to get out the detergent. You can also use a squirt of blue dawn dish soap and rinse, rinse, rinse. These should save the towels from the landfill.

  3. David says:

    I replaced my paper towels a few years back and have gotten along fine except for one detail: even though I always wash them in low-additive detergent (Charlie’s Soap), they still seem to be losing their absorbency over time. I’m not sure if it’s because I use them to clean greasy things and the detergent’s not degreasing well enough or what, but some have reached the point where water rolls off of them rather than sinking in. I’ve tried vinegar-in-the-bleach-dispenser runs, but that doesn’t seem to help.

    Have you had the same problem, or does your Fels Naptha cure all woes?

    • Felicia says:

      David, I’ve run into the same problem.

      My towels get a true workout so I find that I periodically have to replace them.

  4. Marlene says:

    Though we’ve moved away from using paper napkins and paper towels, I have yet to get rid of the “gucky” sponge. Even though I know that it’s a harbour for bacteria and other unfriendlies, I haven’t found a better alternative for scrubbing my kitchen dishes, pots and pans (I don’t have a functioning dishwasher). I also can’t get myself to using dish cloths for dishwashing…..however, I may try it out soon since you’ve found that it worked for you. Thanks.