Throwing In The {Paper} Towel . . . Again.

Back in January of this year I wrote about how in 2012 I was going to attempt to break the paper towel habit…and believe it or not…here we are 6 months later and I’m still doing it! I had no idea I would like this system so much….but it really has worked out well for us…so I thought it might be time for an update.

I KNOW it’s time for an update of my towels.

When I first started this journey, I decided cut up flour sack towels would be a great paper towel alternative for us. And I was RIGHT!

I LOVE using these things. They’re soft, they’re absorbent…they wash up well and dry quickly.

The one thing I wish I had done, but didn’t, is finish the edges. At the time I figured the time and effort it would take to do so wasn’t worth it….but I have since changed my tune on that one.

Here is my current batch of alternative paper towels…still clean…still very much usable…but I’ve finally HAD it with the frayed edges.

Every time I wash and dry them (I wash them all at the same time without any other items so I can use my Miracle Laundry Whitening Formula on them)…they come out in one big knotted mess that takes me way too much time to unravel. (This pile probably took me 20 to 30 minutes to untangle and fold!)

A couple of weeks ago I finally got fed-up enough to go out and buy a new batch of flour sack towels.

One towel (of the 5) ended up going into my DIY First Aid Kit as a “sling”, but the rest of them got cut up into fourths using my handy dandy rotary cutter! I just love that little thing. I can’t believe I didn’t buy one LONG ago.

All I did was fold each flour sack towel into fourths (this is MUCH easier if your iron them first) and then cut off the two sides with folded edges. After these quick cuts I had 16 beautiful cloths ready and waiting for finishing.  And waiting….and waiting….

For over a week my nicely cut pile of cloths sat next to my sewing machine. I kept procrastinating because frankly sewing a zigzag edge on all those cloths is a lot of boring sewing. But then today it hit me!  Each cut cloth only had to be sewed on TWO of the sides….because the OTHER two were already finished!  DUH!

So tonight I FINALLY tackled the pile and finished it in under an hour (while watching the Oklahoma City Thunder come back to beat the San Antonio Spurs in a fairly dramatic fashion!)

Moral of the story:  don’t procrastinate like me. lol. If I’d started the sewing portion of this project right away….I would have discovered this “revelation” a lot sooner!

paper towel alternative

paper towel alternative

And here is my new batch of alternative paper towels all ready for use…and more importantly ready to be washed and dried without fear of major knottage! I am inordinately excited about this. :-)

To read more about my paper towel journey you can click on either of these past posts:

Throwing In The {Paper} Towels

Kicking The Paper Towel Habit



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  1. laurie says

    I really love your site and the time you take to fine and test things. I have gone to almost no paper towels (one cheap roll a month) and I really like it. For people who don’t have a machine or don’t sew they could always use the iron on hem tape. Just make sure what you buy is washable. No excuses to not be paperless.

    • Michelle says


      Being from Canada it is sooo frustrating to see a great idea and not be able to follow through with it because we can’t get the said product but you can get them at our Walmarts too!!…..they are with the tea towels and dish cloths and they are even labelled Flour Sack Towels……Yeah for WalMart!!

      • Kimmer says

        Great to know Walmart has the flour sack towels. I too am from Canada (Sask – which is all about wheat and flour) and maybe once have seen actual flour in flour sack material (calico?) at the Co-op. My grandma used to make pillowcases, tea towels, aprons, table cloths, little curtains for my childhood “china” cabinet with it. This stuff lasted for decades. Maybe as consumers we should start demanding again, unless it’s a safety (mice/mould) thing. Likely a cost thing. Who knows?

    • says

      Not ignorant at all Tina. I should have been more specific about where I purchased them. Michelle is right…Walmart! I think they always carry them.
      I’ve also seen “premade” cloth napkins/towels made out of similar material on

  2. says

    Oi Jillee! I am Brazilian, and love you ideas and blog! I tryed some of your recipes, like Grated Homemade Laundry Soap (I use Coconut grated soap), Homemade Body Wash (with Dove) and now I’ll try your Simple Moisturizing Lotion. I loved all these.
    I have a million of this “towels paper”, because I prefer work with real fabric for all kind of cleaning. Yours are great! Tks for share your effort.

  3. says

    We kicked the paper towel habit many years ago and LOVE it! I started when my babies were smaller and using cloth diapers. I am not a sewing machine person though so most of our “towels” are simply old towels that have been cut into manageable squares. I also stock up on cloth napkins from thrift stores, cheap and easy!

  4. Alisha says

    Jillee, I did this, and my husband is thrilled with saving the extra money. The problem is he doesn’t see these as to dry his hands, he wants to use them as napkins, the way to wash the counter tops, etc. Training him for new tricks is always fun! LOL Have a blessed day and thanks for all the great money saving ideas!

    • Ayshela says

      *giggle* well, whatever he’s using them for, he’s USING them, eh? so much better than having him kicking and fighting about it. very cool that he’s on board with it!

  5. Robin-Taine says

    My mom always cut up old towels and tshirts for cleaning and I have followed suit. While we occassionally purchase paper towels/napkins (usually for kids birthday parties), we rarely have them in the house otherwise. It’s amazing how much life an old towel/tshirt still has in it. It isn’t anymore work to launder them (I usually toss them into the one hot, bleachy load I do a week), and if one is really icky, I don’t feel too bad about eventually throwing it out. Even if you need to purchase some cloth (and those bar towels from WalMart work great!), this is one of those easy ways to go a little greener.

    I think it’s so easy to just use what’s convenient or what we’re in the habit of doing. Thanks for a great website that at least gives us some options/food for thought about some our everyday choices.

  6. Rachelle says

    I did these when you first posted about them. I have a serger, so I serged the seams. They still fray a little after a round through the washer/dryer, but not so bad that they tangle together.

  7. Mary Malone says

    Another great post. We already use cloth napkins. And I have a bag of cut up old towels and shirts under the sink for any messy accidents that sometimes occur. These are single use- throw away. But I am going to try this new “paper towel” trick. I love to sew and quilt. Mindless sewing is fun for me so thanks for another great tip!

  8. Belle says

    Love the idea, just wondering if you would use these to clean up real big messes. I have 2 toddlers and a dog that are sometimes unsure of where they need to do there pee pees! Do you keep a roll of paper towels handy for special messes?

    • Georgann G says

      I have three dogs and have used old t-shirts as rags for years. Two rags—one I step on for the wet mess, another for the spray carpet cleaner. The top of my dryer is where I stash dirty rags, waiting for a full load. The old towels I use to cover the car seats when the dogs travel, or wipe up muddy paws before they sprint into the house go in the same load of wash. Also, the rags I use for cleaning are done in the same load. I use Jillee’s No Grate Laundry Soap and it takes care of it all. It’s a rare occasion that I use a rag and toss it (vomit does it for me). They usually disintegrate first.

  9. Becky says

    I went paperless in my kitchen several months ago and am loving it! I took the time to finish the edges of my towels at the start and I’m soooo glad I did :-) They still frayed a bit the first couple of washes but I just took the time right from the dryer to trim off all the frayed bits. Now they don’t fray anymore and they’re holding up great!

  10. Pyper says

    This idea not only saves money and time (buying paper towels and searching for coupons to use on them) but also landfill space, as well as the environment itself. And I LOVE white in my kitchen. It makes things look and feel so clean. Thanks, Jillee!

  11. Martha says

    I too went paperless this year. I realized I had a ton of cloth kitchen towels that I wasn’t really using. Now I use them all the time. I also uncovered a whole pile of cloth napkins tucked away in my linen closet that I pulled out for meal times. For cleaning and dish clothes, a random old flannel sheet works great after being cut up. No one minds the missing paper products.

  12. says

    I love this idea and I’m considering it for my home. I’m wondering if you can use them in the microwave. We use paper towels to wrap our frozen burritos, breakfast burritos, manapua, pizza pockets, etc, (all homemade) when reheating in the microwave. Can these flour-sack towels be used in that way?

  13. Jennica says

    I love reading your posts in the morning…however…today was like rubbing salt on a wound when you had to bring up OKC. I’m a die hard Spurs fan! And I’m still recovering from last night, haha. Either way, I still love your wonderful ideas, and get so excited to see what you’re going to post next! So thank you!

    • says

      awwww….I’m sorry Jennica! lol. Didn’t mean to start your day off with that bitter reminder. I wasn’t really rooting for one team or the other….but it was a pretty amazing game! I hope you will come back! ;-)

  14. Alice says

    I have used old t-shirts for years as rags. No cost and now sew. The all cotton ones are best. When they are not usable anymore they just find their way to the compost bin. Of course any cloth thing that has out lived its use can be used in some way. Even an long sock can be slipped on hand and dust away. It allows you to grab things and do both sides at once. Even on a foot you can mop up some dust or small spills.

  15. Jackie says

    I love the uniformity of the all white fl0ur sack cloths, but for lower cost, I got remnants from the fabric department for very cheap. I cut them into squares with pinking shears and used a thin line of “liquid stitch” around the edges to hopefully prevent fraying. Now we have a basket full of colorful cloths (that won’t show stains as badly either). Thanks for the wonderful ideas (use a lot of your ideas and I’m loving every one of them!!!!)

  16. says

    Do you still keep a roll of paper towels just in case, such as for cooking? I’ve tried to do without paper towels before but then I need to drain bacon or something and I just keep using the roll and then another roll and another roll. I know I can do without paper towels for home cleaning but not in the kitchen, it’s too hard!

    • Robin-Taine says

      Hi! I keep a couple of “rags” specifically for jobs like draining bacon. They will wash out just fine in a hot/bleachy load (I usually do one a week anyways), though they will be somewhat stained. If they start to feel as though they don’t want to wash clean, then I’ll throw them out or save them for something even ickier, and then throw. You don’t *need* paper in the kitchen! From a mom with 5 kids!!

    • Amy K says

      You can also use brown paper grocery bags for draining bacon, cooling cookies, etc. I realize that, in an attempt to go paperless many of us don’t USE paper grocery bags, but it’s a nice ‘disposable’ alternative.

      After you unload your groceries, cut the bags into manageable sheets, recycle the other bits, and DONE.

  17. linda clark says

    thanks for this solution for using paper towels. i use them very sparingly, and this idea allows me to be rid of them entirely. here’s a thought i had when i saw the raveling raw edges: I have a fabric cutter that leaves a pinked edge. i think that would eliminate the unraveling tangle. i’m anxious to create myself some–and a set will make a great gift!

  18. Jayne McGinnis says

    Absolutely love the website.just discovered it via pinterest and I am hooked.
    Can you tell me what flour sacks are?
    Not sure what the equivalent is in the UK
    Keep on with the tips

    • Mary Brien says

      Jayne, I lived in England for nearly 40 years, left 5 years ago. Flour sacks are simply 100% cotton cloth large sized tea towels (glass cloths) If you can find some all cotton sheets or old glass cloths they would work well. Check the charity shops or jumble sales.

  19. Christi says

    I went paper towel less a couple of months ago and love it. I do still use paper napkins, which are much cheaper than paper towels for toast and such for my daycare kids. And papertowels to make baby wipes. But otherwisw no more papertowels :)

  20. Kristi says

    I haven’t read all the comment so sorry if this is a repeat question. I love using cloth instead of paper towels but I have no idea how to replace the paper towels I use for when I make bacon and when I wipe down my cast iron pans with grease as well. This wouldn’t be a big deal but when paper towels are around everyone else grabs for them instead of the cloth. Any ideas what to use for those?

    • says

      I had the same dilemma Kristi until someone suggested using literal “RAGS” for that stuff. For example…the old batch of alternative paper towels I am now retiring…will go into my RAG bucket for just these sorts of things. I call them my “rags of last resort” and they are there for ONE-TIME USE ONLY messes. :-)
      Hope this helps!

  21. MPMom says

    When my youngest was just starting solids, I discovered reusable paper towels made from birds eye cloth by a seller LoveForEarth on etsy. (I’m not a seamstress and have no access to a sewing machine) Oh my – they’re so wonderful! They’re soft, wash well, can be bleached, etc. We still use them – almost 4 years later now. I bought some for my Mom, too and she loves them. She uses them as dinner napkins.

  22. says

    i have not used hopsacking, but i routinely cut up old clothing to use instead of paper towels. i cut up some of those ’70″s colorful cotton pants that my kids had worn. they are used to clean up the bathroom – for everything except inside the toilet. i store them in a container under the bathroom sink. dirties go into the hamper with other dirty things. i use very few paper towels. to dry my hair after shampooing, i use two different cloth towels then pat with real paper towels. i use those paper towels all week for my hair (daily shampoo) then use them to clean up the dirtiest part of the bathroom. they have served their purpose well. i only use hot water for the grossest of laundry jobs. otherwise, cold gets all our clothes clean – and a bit of bleach will disinfect most loads of laundry.

  23. Vivi says

    I love your blog, Jilee, it’s full of inspiring ideas. But I have one question. I’ve realised that plenty of us-american bloggers write about not using paper in the kitchen (as you do today). I’ve never used paper in the kitchen, nor has my mother. It’s always either rags or cloths. What do you use paper for?? Wiping? drying?

  24. deniseinark says

    You probably know this, but since there may be some here with no sewing skills whatsoever, I thought I’d throw it in: you can sew this if you’ve never sat at a machine in your life. Simply set the machine for wide zig zag, put the edge under the presser foot, and start sewing the raw edge. When you get to the end, stop for just a second, grab another towel, and continue feeding it through the machine. Once you’ve done the last one, they will come out connected by the thread. Cut them apart, and repeat for the other side. You could finish a mountain of them in 5 minutes this way. Pinking would probably work, but without the pinking blade for the Olfa cutter, it would be VERY hard on this arthritic hand.

  25. Margaret says

    I have been taught since I was a child to use and reuse whatever you can,by my mother -and before her, by my grandmother. Granny lived in he country, a selfsupporting life with little money, I think Igot a lot of her values.
    I cut all old underwear, T-shirts and towels (cotton or linen) “squarish” and store in a bin. Those VERY dirty I can throw away, but the rest are washed, used and washed again.
    Btw: When I fry bacon, I use paper to dry it _ butI use the morning paper! It is cheap and clean – think of “Fish and chips”in GB!

  26. DisneyMom72 says

    This is a great idea, but I use the 18-pack Mainstay Utility Cloths in white from Walmart instead (the link I’ve included is for the 9-pack but my store has them in 18). At $4 a pack for 18, they are 22 cents each (the flour sak is 25 cents each). They are essentially thin wash clothes so they are already cut into squares with finished edges. :)

    You can find them in or around the flour sak aisle.

  27. says

    Thanks for the update! I made the decision back in April to throw in the paper towels but I wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen, until I stumbled upon your original post. I went right out and purchased two packs of flour sack clothes, cut them up, and washed them. To my surprise, I ended up with 40 tangled towels. It was a mess! I took one look at it and almost “threw in the towel” but I refused to give up! My daughter sat with me for over an hour unraveling towels. The next day, I cut the frayed edges, ironed them, and stitched the unfinished edges. I wanted a little more than 40 napkins for my family of 6 so I ordered a batch from Love For Earth on Etsy. I couldn’t bring myself to sew another napkin! I am happy to say that I now have my system in place and we’re paper towels free. That is of course, if my daughter hasn’t stashed a roll away in her room. Some habits are a little harder to break for others. Thanks for helping us kick the habit!

  28. Marissa says

    I have a similar question to the people who asked about the bacon issue…. I’ve been putting off giving up paper towels for a few months. Love the idea, HATE the commitment because we have 7 people in the house and the idea of running around being the paper towel police has me pre-frazzled… (my husband and father in law being the biggest culprits, it’s hard to scold adult males)…. that being said, I have another terror that has me even more frustrated. Our two year old dachshund who REFUSES to potty train. He scared pees, happy pees, mad pees, just plain pees! We do have potty pads, which he frequently misses (I SWEAR ON PURPOSE!) and we go through paper towels by the boat load. The *one time use* pile would get very pricey. Any thoughts on how we could go without paper towels for that? Would keeping paper towels for that be cheating? I just don’t know what to do lol (side note… he’s sitting on my lap now blocking the screen licking my face… I think he knows I’m complaining about him!) Thanks for any input!

    • says

      haha….I love that word “pre-frazzled”! :-) I swear I get pre-frazzled by so many things…why do we DO that? lol.

      Anyway….in a word…..NO…..using paper towels to clean up potty training accidents is NOT cheating! At least not in my book. No. 1 son and his wife are trying to potty train my grand puppy Milo…so I know of what you speak. It’s frustrating…and yucky!

      That being said, I bet if you thought about it….you could think of LOTS of stuff you could cut up to use for your “one time use” pile. Socks, old t-shirts, old sheets, old bedding, old pillows/pillowcases, old towels….etc. I personally have a cupboard full of clothes I have yet to take to the donation drop off center that I could cut up and would be stocked for LIFE, I think.

      So don’t feel guilty about the occasional emergency paper towel use. I keep a roll on hand for that…just not where any of the MALES in this house can find it. ;-)

  29. says

    Thank you for this post. (This series of posts?)
    I know that I will never go completely paperless, but small steps are still steps, right?
    I just made (and blogged about, giving you credit, of course) my own un-paper towels. I found cheap, unattractive dishcloths that I cut in half, sewing up the raw edge so they don’t fray and end up in one huge knot, and tossed under the sink. they only got placed there today, so we will see how it goes.
    Thank you for teaching me about this. It had never crossed my mind before.

  30. April says

    I only found this blog a couple of days ago and I swear I have been glued to it! I am kicking myself in the butt because some of this never occurred to me. Not long ago I threw away a whole trash bag of my hubby’s old t-shirts and some sheets because I couldn’t get stains out of them. Not only could I have possibly gotten the stains out with some of these methods I didn’t know to try, I could have at the very least cut them up for rags. Geez….

  31. Sarah says

    I saw your original post about this and bought some muslin cheap at Joann’s. That was back in January. Aside form the ones that hit the floor and my dogs ate before I could get them, I still have a lot. I cut mine in to 12in x 12 in squares. I didn’t finish the ends and they have yet to unravel. Other than crinkling up, they don’t knot up in the wash and are still soft, and absorbent. My husband loves them! As has everyone we told/showed.

  32. says

    I went out and bought some flour sacks when I read your first post, and it’s been about 3 or 4 months since we started doing this too! We LOVE it! They are so handy. We haven’t bought a paper towel since, though my husband wasn’t sure we wouldn’t need to. But he’s sold. I personally don’t mind the fraying, since then I don’t feel bad about getting them icky. Maybe when I have to replace them, I’ll think about finishing the edges. My husband doesn’t like using paper towels for cleaning the bathroom either (I used a bunch in the bathroom… mostly because I think bathrooms are so gross!) so my next thing is to save up for some really really good microfiber cleaning cloths for him to use in the bathroom, and introduce him to your post about how to clean the bathroom like a pro (his work still leaves something to be desired, but he cleans it and I don’t have to, so I don’t complain too much).

    Anyways, that was a bit of a ramble, but I love your blog and your good ideas, and I’m totally going to implement more sometime soon! Thanks so much for being brave enough to experiment with so many things!

  33. G. says

    I have not used paper towels, or paper napkins for 37yrs. Really. In fact, I have not purchased any paper products, save TP, computer/writing paper, and after holiday wrapping paper used year round (although when the kids were growing up we used comics from the Sunday papers), for the past 20+ years. Today, all of our six children and their spouses use cloth napkins, but only my daughters’ families use utility cloths. Paper towel indoctrination is hard to overcome. I re-cycle my terrycloth. Bath towels are serged when the sides fray (as well as other terry items) to and upon occasion, patched. I may make dishtowels from them. Mostly, I make face/wash cloths or utility cloths. recyled wash clothes are “labled” (with the word “kitchen” so as not to confuse their use,) and put into the box under the kitchen sink. I have purchased a bundle of thin colored ( a bonus to hide the stains) face cloths to use as utility cloths from WM, a bargain! Beat up utility cloths are put into the “Dad Rag” box in the garage. I make dish cloths from new large striped bath towels. Using the serger, I am able to make four nice dish towels usually for 1.25 each (sadly, I used to make them for 1.00 each) . “Dish towels” are used for drying dishes, hot plates, pot holders, draped over a hot covered dish on the table to keep hot, and a towel to place glassware on as they are washed. As an aside, I also make pillow cases from flat sheets.

  34. D says

    save time with finishing and BEFORE you cut, sew two parallel zig zig lines across the long and short centres of the cloth, then rotary cut between the lines. Small amount of fraying, but much less time spent at machine.

  35. Bridget says

    I spent a LONG time on your website the other night and was super-inspired! I went to Walmart the next day to find some supplies to make a bunch of your recipes/projects and I happened upon the flour sack towels. Like you, I was not excited about sewing up the edges but as I was cutting them up, I suddenly thought, “What about pinking the edges!” So, I found my pinking shears and cut them up that way! I will have to let you know how they hold up after washing them a few times. I SO love your site and have put your ideas to many uses with many more still to come. Thank you!!

  36. Victoria says

    I love this idea – especially because the summer colors flour sack towels at our walmart are on clearance right now for 50 cents for a 4 pack! I bought Can’t beat 3 cents a piece for great cute kitchen rags! Thanks


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