Project Update: Trials of Living Without Paper Towels

by Landis Carey on May 12, 2011

It’s been nine weeks since I ran out of paper towels and decided not to replaced them. It’s been hard, I’ll admit, especially when the weather warmed the cat began shedding and, ahem, throwing up hairballs. Lovely, absolutely lovely. Another really excellent experience was when the plumber snaked the drain in the master bath. He asked for paper towels to help with the process, and I was slightly heartbroken when I had to hand over two cleaning towels. But we survived, both the bar towels I use for cleaning and me.

What did I do about the hairball issue? Well, I grabbed a tissue, or was it toilet paper, sopped up the mess and promptly sanitized the floor with Shaklee Basic G.

The easier side of the experiment has been swapping paper napkins for fabric ones. They’re so much prettier and more fun for setting the table.

But the main (and yuckiest!) dilemma, which is actually why I’m sharing this update, is finding the motivation to clean our giant cast iron pan (aka “the man pan”) after frying bacon. It’s not that we fry bacon all the time or even once a week, so the idea of cleaning the man pan with a spatula then a sponge and finally with my hand, just isn’t appealing. Perhaps I haven’t perfected my technique.

I almost ran to the store yesterday after the man pan sat for four days filled with bacon grease. Yes, this actually happened.  And I know, it’s terrible, but this is a time when paper towels solve a problem nothing else does, right? I survived, I didn’t break my vow. I sat back and thought to myself: I can do this, just clean the pan. It wasn’t pleasant and made me never want to fry bacon again.

I know it’s completely irrational to think I’m making any positive effects on the environment by not wiping bacon grease out of the man pan with a paper towel. At this point it’s about principle. I’ve gone nine weeks without and I’d like to continue. I’m forming new habits and being forced to creatively find new solutions. Not having paper towels on the counter cuts down on clutter; it’s a fun experiment and I vow to continue.

My mom is in town visiting—she’s going to kill me for saying this—but she’s addicted to paper towels and has been for years. It will be interesting to see how she adopts the new kitchen routine of rotating bar mop towels while she’s here. It’s my secret ambition to get her to try out the experiment with me!

Who else is in?

Related Post — Reader Question: Why Cloth Trumps Paper

(Images: Landis Carey)

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica May 12, 2011 at 10:42 am

I can totally relate!!!! Cooking grease is one of the things that paper towels are almost indispensable for!!! Anytime I pan-fry something, that’s my go-to since I can’t pour grease down our septic drain. If you come up with a solution, let me know.


Landis Carey May 13, 2011 at 7:23 am

Yes, ma’am! I think with Hayden’s comment below we might be onto something. I promise to report back!


Laura May 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

We stopped using paper towels a couple of years ago. I have a multitude of microfibre clothes that I wash…and wash. Luckily we don’t have pets.


Landis Carey May 12, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Laura, what do you use to wipe bacon fat from a fry pan? Just curious…this is seriously the biggest hurdle I’ve come to while living without.


Bridgette May 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I totally hear you on the bacon grease.

We actually cook our bacon on a baking sheet in the oven, and the hot grease immediately goes into a jar (which amazingly our recycling center takes for biodiesel!) BUT, we still use paper towels to set the bacon on after they’re cooked.

I also use still paper towels to wipe the oil around in the cast iron pan after it’s been cleaned. I used to use towels, but a couple times a greasy towel got mixed in with clothes and ruined them, so I went back to the paper towel. Still guilty on those fronts.


Landis Carey May 13, 2011 at 7:21 am

Oh, brilliant, I wonder if we can recycle the grease, too. I hear that about the laundry. I haven’t yet experienced it, but I’m sure something similar will happen at some point.

Checked out Ette Studios and I’m really loving the design! I feel as though I’ve visited there before, but the site looks different now, yes?


hayden May 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

awesome! we use cloth napkins and keep the paper kind around for things like dog puke, spills, etc. probably only go through one roll every two to three months or so… and we definitely use them to clean the ‘man pans’ – love that term, btw- but one thing that may help is draining the grease before it solidifies again. we keep a grease jar under the sink. other people i know use used steel cans and put a plastic bag around them and keep them in the freezer. If you like to feed the birds, you can use this old meat grease to make suet in the winter. going back to the man pan, if you use salt (like mortons), it will help soak up the leftover grease and clean the pan. its really all the cast iron needs to clean it and then it cuts down on the number of times you have to re-season it too. if we make something with sauce in it we use water and a sponge afterwards but never soap. good luck!


Landis Carey May 13, 2011 at 7:14 am

That’s right, I completely forgot about cleaning the man pan with salt, Haden. Thank you! Between using a spatula to pour out the fat and a scratch pad and salt, we should be set. I’ll report back!


pixie May 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I gave up paper towels about two years ago but since I’m single, in a tiny apartment and have no pets, it’s fairly easy for me. Although, I do have to admit to using a wad of toilet paper to “catch” any scary bugs that vinture indoors on those rare occassions.


Diane May 16, 2011 at 9:31 am

My mom used to have a grease tin always sitting on the stove, away from the heat. Whenever she would fry bacon, she would then pour it into the tin, before it cooled and had time to solidify. I’m assuming that’s the part you don’t like.
Use a spatula to scrape the grease out. Then when it comes time to clean it, your cleaning pad and water should be all that you need.


alli May 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I just found your lovely blog through Exquisite Banana – great post! I haven’t gone completely off the paper towels but try my best to use them sparingly (such as cat spills!). One day I’d like to take the “vow” though : )


Landis Carey May 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Welcome, Alli! Opting not to use paper towels has gotten even harder in recent weeks — not sure if it’s because the cat is shedding a ton or because I’m making more messes in the kitchen, but it seems like every other day I instinctually reach for one. Luckily, I’ve found some good replacements for these tough situations! Will definitely check out Hooray Design, have a great weekend!


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