How I Forgot We Are Living Without Paper Towels

by Landis Carey on July 27, 2011

Swinging Arm Towel Bar

It’s been four and a half months since we ran out of paper towels and I decided not to replace them. At first it was difficult as I reached for one every time I was in the kitchen, but just a few days ago I realized I hadn’t even thought of them, much less needed one. Have I established a new routine?

I know I’m not saving the environment by opting not to use paper towels but if I can establish a routine in our house, one where cloth trumps paper, that inspires a reader or two, then it might very well be worth it.

Another side of this new routine I’m loving is that it makes me feel slightly…defiant. Giant companies tell me I need super-sturdy paper towels for those rare moments where some red liquid is spilled in the kitchen, but really most people just end up using them to dry their hands or wipe down the counter. Am I right about this?

I know some of you are thinking…well, I have kids and they make a terrible mess, how could you understand that? You’re right, I don’t understand your daily routines but I do know generations of parents and children livd happily without paper towels, so why not give it a try?

You’re also wondering if I use the same towel for everything, right? No, I don’t. When I grab a fresh towel it’s used only for drying dishes or hands just after washing. Once that towel gets pretty soaked, which it does when you’re cleaning-up after a meal, it becomes the surface-wiping (table and counter only) towel. It’s already wet, so it’s perfect for that job. Then a new towel is pulled out for drying dishes and hands. And if there’s something on the floor that needs wiping, the surface-wiping towel then becomes the floor towel and it promptly goes into the laundry after the mess is gone.

A few tips to get your started.

  • Purchase a dozen or so bar mop towels or even these Ikea towels that are supposedly pretty good. I plan on picking a few up for testing, so I’ll keep you posted on that.
  • Remove your paper towels from your counter along with the holder. Look at that, more counter space!
  • Decide your system: will you rotate towels or keep certain ones for specific functions? How will you keep them separated?
  • Make a plan for how you will deal with yucky messes from your cat or dog. Will you keep paper towels around just for those purposes? That sound like a fair compromise to get you started.
  • How will you dry your towels between uses? Maybe a nifty multi-armed towel bar like above? Though this is almost $100, I’m sure there a better option!
New to the idea of ditching your paper products? Here are a few posts to get you started:

Have you made the switch or are trying to? Suggestions for other readers? Please share!

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Meaghin July 27, 2011 at 9:11 am

These are great tips. We also try to use paper towels as minimally as possible–going through about 2 rolls a month, ideally. I keep separate tea towels for show/presentation and I don’t wipe up messes with those. The towels that rotate in and out are now quite dirty looking (though clean!). Do you recommend sticking with pure white towels (or another pure color) so you you can either bleach them when they become too dirty (or if it’s a pure color, the stains are less evident).

I’d love to hear what you do!


Landis Carey July 27, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Such great questions, Meaghin!! Thank you for chiming in and asking. Thoroughly answering these questions might require an entire post, so I’ll make this into a Reader Question blog on Friday, how does that sound? :) I’ll link over to Cheery Observations, too. And I’m dying for that Peach and Ricotta Crostini recipe you blogged last week!


Meaghin July 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Sounds perfect–looking forward to it! :)


CarmenDiana August 3, 2011 at 2:33 am

My dear friend

I never used paper towels, nore did my Mom or my Grandmother so I am on the third generation already :)
I wanted to add to your article that the cloth towels do not necessarilly need to be bought. One can make them out of old bed-linen. Just cut them in big pieces and make them hems with the sewing machine. As they are washed and re-washed and over-washed I do not worry about hygiene.


Jaime August 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

love that towel bar! might have to splurge . . . think it would be so unexpected and pretty in my kitchen or dining room with table runners on it :)


Landis Carey August 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

What a good idea, Jaime! I love the thought of it in a dining room. I’m still dying to meet up, by the way. I drove by your house 3 times last Thursday and kept thinking…I’ve got to email her. Let’s get together when September rolls in :)


Jeni August 31, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Can’t remember the last time I bought paper towels. My mom bought me some when I moved into my new house recently and they have only gotten some play when I have to pick up dead bugs! Otherwise, I have a big collection of vintage kitchen towels in linen and cotton that I use for everything. The really beaten up towels do the dirty work and my pretty favorites do the gentler job of drying my clean hands. I’ll usually choose two in the same color family to use, but different patterns. There are two hooks just above my sink so I can keep the top hook for cleaner work and the bottom for spills and other pick ups.


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