Kicking The Paper Towel Habit! An Update

About 3 weeks ago I wrote about how it was one of my goals in the new year to do away with  paper towel waste in my home. Thanks to some inspiration from I decided to replace our paper towel holder (that was WAY too easy to make use of right next to the sink!) with some homemade cloths made from cut up flour sack towels. You can read the whole post HERE.

Surprisingly, the system has been working very well! Not too bad for one I sorta just made us as I went along. But with help from YOUR suggestions and comments, I have made a few tweaks that have me quite pleased with the whole project! Even the hubster and the kids are on board now (which was no easy fete!)….and I can literally count on one hand the number of paper towels I have used since this paperless quest began! Now that’s what I call “progress.”

The first tweak to the system I made was to add some hooks inside the cabinet doors under my sink where I keep the soiled towels. Now I can hang the towels that I’m done using, but not yet ready to wash, up to dry before I lump them all together. And since I live in such a DRY state…they are dry in no time…and I just toss them into the bucket.

I actually became so enamored of these little hooks (you know those 3M Command hooks that through some fancy stretch release technology voodoo are completely removable?)….I went a little hook crazy! They have hooks for EVERYTHING! (But that’s a post for another day. Soon. Promise.)

The second tweak to the “Throwing In The Paper Towel” System by Jillee (patent pending.  not really.) comes by way of a comment from Maiz C. In my initial post I said I was keeping a roll of paper towels around for those really icky messes. Well Maiz had the brilliant idea to keep a separate stash of rags (made up of retired cloth napkins, sheets, towels, t-shirts, etc) for wiping up those occasional messes that you want to throw into the trash instead of the laundry.

Here are a couple of examples of when the “rag bag” would come in handy:

When I cook chicken I almost always pat it dry first so whatever oil and/or seasonings I’m using will stick to the chicken better.  I really didn’t relish the idea of doing that with cloth and then holding on to it til I could wash it. ick. Here I’m getting rid of the extra moisture with the help of a couple pieces of a ratty old t-shirt.

And then there’s the times when I have just dirtied a pan but want to use that SAME pan to make something else without having to wash and dry it. The old kill two recipes with one pan trick!  Holding on to that cloth after using it to wipe out all that grease and gunk…no thank you.

This particular rag I used happened to be a part of an old sock with holes in it and no match!
Nothing to be missed there!  Into the trash it goes!

And the last small change I made was swapping out the quite large basket of towels I keep on the kitchen counter for this smaller, more manageable sized one. I found I really didn’t need that many out at one time and it was taking up too much of my precious counter space! Besides, this other basket works perfectly for corralling my produce.  :-)  Win-Win.

After making these small tweaks to my paperless kitchen system…I hardly even notice the paper towels are gone! True story. Try it and see for yourself. :-)


I haven’t personally tried this yet….but thought it was such a smart idea I wanted to share it here in my “update”. It’s a comment left from Kelly about how she made her own “roll” of cloth towels! So smart!

Kelly said…
I too found your blog through Pinterest and love it! I recently decided to make my own laundry detergent, body wash, hand soap, and shaving gel. With such success, I started looking for other ways to trim/stretch my budget and make my home a litter greener at the same time. I was so excited to see this blog entry and I knew I wanted to try it right away! I used WalMart’s free online ordering and in-store pick up to get the 2 packs of flour sack towels last night. I brought them home and decided to cut each sheet into 6ths, similar to the size of regular paper towels. I also did this in hopes that I could wrap them around each other and continue to use my vertical paper towel holder that is currently on the counter. It worked! I layered one upon the other, overlapping by about 3-4 inches, rolled them up and then placed another 1/6 on top of the one before. Each ‘roll’ will hold about 24 1/6 towels as they are not long enough to make the distance around the ‘roll’ as it grows larger. They really do pull out like a regular paper towel roll! I took the remainder 1/6s and rolled them up into ‘rolls’ and have them stored for later use too. And, now I don’t have to spend the money to buy a basket or take up more counter space (I have such little to begin with!) I also used an old lingerie mesh laundry bag, attached by two removable sticky hooks, inside the cabinet below the sink to collect dirty towels to wash later. Thanks for getting me jump started!
January 11, 2012 6:50 AM


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  1. Chris, Jack of All Trades Crafter says

    My household is mostly paperless, babies in cloth diapers, use washrags for wipes. But for the kitchen I've found that the regular kitchen sponge and kitchen towels do the trick. Nice job with the flour sacks! That's a great idea I've never thought of. Thanks!

  2. Sophstar's Mama says

    Awesome! I never really used many paper towels in the kitchen, but I recently went with paper-less towels for my bathroom in an infection control effort – I keep a basked of little towels made out of birdseye cotton on the back of the toilet (counter would be better but I don't have one), and use one to dry my hands after I wash them. Then I drop the dirty towel into a toilet paper roll holder! I love my new system as well :)

    • tara g says

      if you don’t have a counter you could buy/make a solid wood shelf and attach it to the wall above the toilet, gives you some lovely counter space for your towels and any other stuff.

  3. Jill Nystul says

    And here I thought going paper towel-less was such a cutting edge idea! lol. I am super impressed by everyone's ideas. If it weren't for all of the comments I could not have figured out a "system" that works for us.

    Jennifer…you pose a very good question! I live in a town which doesn't offer a municipal recycling program…and to participate in the privately-owned one has been cost prohibitive in the past…but I also realize that's no excuse. It's something I definitely want to get involved with. But I freely admit I am a "work in progress". Thanks for the "food for thought" though!

  4. candyn says

    I saw your original post and loved the idea, and when I went shopping a few days later they had flour sack towels on sale. Seemed too 'meant to be' to not dive right in. I cut them up and it took me a few days to sew the edges (perfectionist, guilty). My husband thought I was a bit crazy but was ready to participate after I broke down how much we were spending each month on paper towels. I also cut some a bit smaller that we will use for cloth napkins for meals.

    This has been working so well, that not only do we not miss the paper towels/napkins, but we are finding we prefer the cloth. The convenience of having them ready on the counter makes the transition painless.

    I'm so glad to have found your blog! Thanks for all the great ideas!

  5. Anonymous says

    I did this years ago. I have drawer in my kitchen near the sink that has about 30 white washcloths in it. I also use white cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Since they're white, I throw them in whatever load of laundry is waiting. If they get stained, I bleach them. I still have paper towels for certain things, but only use about one roll every two months. I bought the washcloths and napkins at Sams club for about $10 they sell those big packs of Bounty towels for like $25!

    Love the ideas for the old socks and tshirts…I never would have thought of that! Your site is great and I can't wait to explore it more.

  6. Jill Nystul says

    candyn…I agree! We don't miss the paper towels at all either! I MUCH prefer the feeling of wiping my hands or face with cloth.

    Anony…the old socks and t-shirts idea from Maiz was genius! When I think of JUST the socks that we end up throwing because they don't have a match or because of holes…those alone will clean up a LOT of messes!

  7. Anonymous says

    I am so addicted to your blogs and am so ready to try the paperless kitchen we have already thrown out the paper plates to using real ones, i have started makin my own laundry suds and cleaning products, getting ready to try out your dishwasher detergent…. thanks for all the advice.


  8. Holly C. says

    Love love love this site! As an up-and-coming house wife (house maid? ha ha!), I've really enjoyed trying all these ideas. Modern women still have it in them to be thrifty and resourceful. Awesome. Thanks, Jill!

  9. Jill Nystul says

    You're welcome Holly C! I agree 100%! Modern women (and men) not only are thrifty and resourceful but they are smart enough to realize they don't have to pay ridiculously high prices for stuff they can make BETTER at home. :-) Can I get a Hallelujah!? lol

  10. Catherine's not necessarily crafty says

    My Mother in Law has been keeping us all supplied with knitted cotton dishcloths that work wonderfully both as scrubbers and wipers. Look online for knitting and crochet patters (there are about a zillion of 'em. She's retired, likes to knit and this keeps her off the streets :)

  11. Anonymous says

    I too have used cloths, towels and rags all of my life. We didn't go out and buy any special cloths, we used our old worn clothes or old thin towels and cut them up. Paper towel was not even bought. What surprises me is the bucket of rags that you are throwing out! Rags can be bleached and cleaned and they are just fine. When it becomes really bad and doesn't look good you can use that rag for the garage or for the car (changing your oil etc.) It seems to me that you are making the rags/cloths throw-away just like the paper products. I believe going green is not just getting rid of a lot of paper products in the house but also using a lot of what we have and not just throwing that away too. I agree with "crazywoman's" comment that this is new to the young women as you grew up in a throw away world. I am glad to see that there are young gals who are willing to see it differently. Thanks for opening their eyes to a different way of thinking!

  12. Dana says

    Jillee I personally would LOVE to know where you got the two little basket type containers where you have your towels and produce stored in, in that last picture! I love the country kitchen look, its my kitchens style as well.

  13. Kelli says

    I am a self proclaimed paper towel lover & thought I would give this a try. I purchased my flour sacks weeks ago & just got around to cutting them up this week. I think it was Tuesday that I finally got them all ready in their very own little basket & I LOVE IT!! I really haven’t even used that many of them! I think PT’s were just so easy to grab & toss that I used them without even thinking. I am still going to use PT’s to clean up my bathroom’s since I have a 3 boys in the house with very bad aim :-/ Thank you for the inspiration to do this!

  14. says

    We have not gone completely paper free, but have been using cloth napkins for years. I picked up seconds at a tablecloth outlet for about .10 each. We also use rags made out of towels which have developed holes. I just cut them up and my youngest son loves to zigzag around the edge leftover thread.

  15. Celia Webb says

    I am still working on getting our household paper-free. I have tried cloth napkins many times but got discouraged when I had to buy so many to keep from having to wash them every other day. That’s when I had a “One Good Thing” moment at the dollar store! Washcloths! So I bought a 18 pack of plain white washcloths for $3. I fold out enough for each meal and place in napkin holder and then I put a basket (more like bucket) in the laundry room for collection. There are 5 of us so 18 last about 3 days, but after I buy another pack I should only have to wash them once a week! :)

  16. Moira says

    I’m intrigued. How well do the cloths work for greasy messes? I’m forever wiping the stove top after one of the guys cooks (bless em for cooking for themselves!), and have found that the washcloths and towels get grimy. They still feel yucky even after washing with good homemade detergent with a vinegar rinse. Thoughts or suggestions?

  17. Shana Z. says

    My boyfriend works for a paint store and they had these plastic containers that the razor blades come in that have worked great for keeping my used towels in until washing(with only my home made detergent and bleach,sometimes with a separate wash in vinegar, thanks for trhe tip about not using softener on towels!).

    It reminds me of an old candy jar without the lid on the front. It has a hexagon shape so it lays flat on the counter, and I have my pack of diy ‘clorox wipes’ on top!

    I got some white towels from Target, similar to a washcloth in size but rougher, and a pack of six was only a few bucks. I think I bought 3 packs. I fold them in quarters and put them in a cloth lined square basket from the Dollar Tree and they look good as well as saving me money!

    I have found that having all my cleaning products out (and adorable) makes me think of cleaning more! My ‘window’ sill has mason jars of baking soda, borax etc, and my sink has 2 jar dispensers for home made dish soap and hand soap. Thanks for all the great ideas, my kitchen has never been cleaner or cuter.

  18. Susan says

    They now offer People Towels! A nice decorative addition to green living. They have cute little sayings on them like; Bee sweet, bring your own towel, with bees and a beehive on it.! They also serve as wash cloths and are about that size. I found mine on E-bay and I’ve seen them on Amazon also. I still have my napkins which I will use down to the last thread just because I hate waste! It’s nice to see so many people interested in giving up the paper towel. Kudos to all of you!

  19. Deanna Ammons says

    I absolutely love your blog and am using quite a few of your ideas. I can’t wait to make me some paperless paper towels. We had already quit using the conventional bathroom hand towels, after we were trying to cut down on germ spreading while caring for our terminal father. I needed something quick and on hand, so I found some old receiving blankets, left over from my grandson, cut them into 8ths, sewed the cut edges, and placed them beside every sink. Threw the used ones in laundry. Now our towels were one time use!! The Hospice nurses loved the idea, and it helped greatly when so many people were visiting our father. Can’t wait to try this idea!! Thank you!!!


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