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11 Easy Ways To Make Your Paper Towels Last Forever

fewer paper towels

During the course my day-to-day cleaning, I rely mainly on reusable options like microfiber cloths and my own homemade cleaning solutions. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder to me that both reusable and disposable items have important roles to play when it come to cleaning.

For instance, it’s smart to use paper towels, disposable gloves, and other disposable supplies when cleaning up after someone who’s sick and possibly contagious. Paper towels can also come in handy for soaking up liquids that could contain harmful bacteria, like the juice from a package of raw chicken.

But we don’t have to choose between more sustainable reusable cleaning cloths and disposable paper towels. There’s a way to use both responsibly, and it’s simply a matter of using paper towels strategically.

Today’s blog post will help you do just that. These 11 tips make it easy to use paper towels only when you need them most, so that ultimately you’re using fewer paper towels and making each roll of last a lot longer!

11 Easy Ways To Use Fewer Paper Towels

paper towels

1. Store Them Out Of Sight

If you store your paper towels out on your countertop, you might be tempted to use them more often than strictly necessary simply because they’re available. If you suspect that’s the case, try storing your roll of paper towels in a closed cupboard instead. Keeping them out of sight can make a surprisingly big difference in helping you use fewer paper towels overall.

paper towels

2. Swap Them Out

As for that empty spot on your countertop where your paper towel holder used to sit, fill it with a small basket of microfiber cleaning cloths. Once those are the most convenient option, you’ll start using them more often.

paper towels

3. Use Cloth Napkins

Using cloth napkins not only saves paper, but it also makes every meal feel like a special occasion! Next time you set the table for dinner, break out your stack of cloth napkins instead of reaching for paper napkins or paper towels.

And don’t worry about food stains—cloth napkins are harder to stain than you’d think. Just toss them in the wash after dinner and they’ll come out good as new.

paper towels

4. Save Your Takeout Napkins

In the event that you do find yourself in need of paper napkins someday, save the ones that come with your food when you order takeout. Tuck them away in a drawer somewhere to build up a stash you can dip into when you need them.

paper towels

5. Do The “Shake And Fold”

When using paper towels to dry your hands, you only need one according to this TEDx talk by Joe Smith, a waste activist from Oregon. He recommends using the “shake and fold” method, which involves shaking the excess water off of your hands, then folding one paper towel in half and using it to wipe off the remaining moisture.

A single layer of paper towel isn’t particularly absorbent, but by shaking off the excess water first and then doubling the thickness of the paper towel, you can achieve perfectly dry hands with just one sheet.

paper towels

6. Use A Color Code

When switching from paper towels to reusable cleaning cloths, many people struggle with the idea that they’ll be using the same towels to clean the toilet as they will to clean the kitchen (even with the knowledge that the towels will be washed between uses).

Color coding your cleaning cloths is an easy way to avoid this problem. Pick of set of cleaning cloths that includes a variety of colors, then decide which color you want to assign to a specific area or task.

Related: This Is How You Should Clean Microfiber Cloths And Towels

paper towels

7. Drain Oil, Don’t Absorb It

Do you typically use paper towels to absorb excess oil when cooking bacon or frying chicken? You can save those paper towels by allowing the oil to drain off of your food instead of absorbing it.

All you need is a sheet pan and a cooling rack. Set the rack on the sheet pan, then set your food on the rack so the oil can drain off onto the pan. It’s an easy switch to make, and it’s arguably an even more effective way to get rid of excess oil on your food!

paper towels

8. Save Your Butter Wrappers

Instead of using a paper towel to grease a baking pan, use butter wrappers instead. The butter that clings to the wrappers is perfect for greasing pans, and it’s a great way to use something you would normally throw away.

So next time you unwrap a stick of butter, place the wrapper in a ziplock bag in your freezer. That way, you’ll always have a few on hand to use for greasing baking pans.

paper towels

9. Use Baking Soda

If you normally use paper towels to wipe up oily messes, try using baking soda instead. Sprinkle baking soda over the spill, let it sit for a few minutes to absorb the oil, then wipe both the oil and baking soda up with a wet cloth.

paper towels

10. Carry A Handkerchief

Carrying a cloth napkin or handkerchief with you can really come in handy when you need to wipe your mouth while eating, or to brush dirt off your hands. As long as you don’t share it with anyone, it’s a perfectly sanitary way to save some paper!

If you got a sticky sauce on your face while eating lunch, you can even pour a bit of water on the cloth to help cut through the stickiness.

paper towels

11. Use Only What You Need

And finally, my last tip for using fewer paper towels is to use only what you need. Even the smallest section of those select-a-size paper towels may end up being larger than you need!

So if you need just a couple of inches of paper towel for a particular task, just rip off a couple of inches! Try this for a couple of weeks, and you’ll amazed at how much longer your paper towel rolls last.

Do you have a tip or trick that helps you use fewer paper towels?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Bright Ideas

  • At our house we have certain cleaning cloths for kitchen and bathroom like in the picture. I always care packs of Kleenex with me.Mainly because of allergies and the embarrassment of not having any on me because of attacks. I think using a handkerchief would unfortunately spread more germs. For stuff like nose blowing I just prefer the disposable. It’s just more sanitary to me. I always use sanitizer after I blot my nose area.

  • I also, since we all have hand sanitizer with us, put some on tissue/napkin, etc. to take off sticky messes. No spreading germs from mouth to fingers to ?????

  • We’ve always used empty cans – like peanut or the lined cardboard ones for draining grease when cooking ground beef. I wouldn’t want to use reasonable rags for areas like the toilet or nearby floor. I had to buy some disinfectant wipes. The one master bathroom is parents and dealing with some of the things with older folks just works better with the disinfectant wipes.

  • I gather a few of the free newspapers. When I cook bacon or have grease, place a couple take out napkins on top of newspaper (not glossy or slick), place your bacon on top (newspaper soaks up oi)l. I cook with bacon grease so I save most of it out of the pan. Save a soup can or two pour grease from other cooking into a can add a torn piece of newspaper inside can. Can dispose of it when cool. DO NOT POUR ANY GREASE down your drain( I live in country with septic tank) also run cold water before you pour boiling water down your drain, boiling water may cause joints to expand causing leaking.

  • Bamboo paper towels are better if you MUST use paper, as they’re made from sustainable virgin plant fiber. Since many people toss grocery receipts in with paper to be recycled, all recycled paper products (paper towels, napkins, kleenex, toilet paper; even parchment paper, cardboard, greeting cards, printing paper, etc) are contaminated with BPA. So sad!
    I have the bamboo towels by my sinks during this time of the pandemic. I buy the rolls with perforated half sheets, and then cut the roll in half. The sheet size is small, but if you shake the water off your hands, it’s adequate. Also, the cut roll (1/4 sheet) can be sufficient for many kitchen wipe-ups, and you can always use two if needed. My daughters, now in their 40’s, remember me doing this when they were children. I put the bamboo towels in my worm bin or regular compost bin.

  • We are very frugal when using paper towels.1 Roll lasts us for months. I keep a nice napkin holder I got at goodwill on counter. I take 4 sheets of small sixed sheets, cut in half, put fold side up in my napkin holder, sometimes cut into smaller pieces.Just grab from napkin holder.Paper towels not messy I dry and reuse for floor messes. My norwex towels no longer absorbent. Any suggestions? I used their special cleaner and hot water, don’t use dryer sheets. Bummer expensive.

  • Great ideas! A related paper towel saver I like is to use old newspapers to soak up a spill on the floor before using a mop or old rag to finish the job.

  • Love all these tips! They’re so helpful. Especially the ones where consumer items are reused and/or repurposed. I’m encouraged to see so many Americans becoming more conscious consumers. That said, we should really be discouraging people from continuing to purchase and use “paper” towels. The primary reason is that they (as well as facial tissue, toilet “paper,” baby wipes, dryer sheets, and many other “paper” products) are often not made out of paper, but in fact made out of a woven polyester, which is another name for plastic. Plastic is one of the worst causes of environmental pollution. Another reason is that paper products which are made from paper contribute to the deforestation of Rainforests all over the world as well as forest lands within the USA. And lastly, the idea behind paper products is that they are disposable. Nothing on this planet should be thought of as disposable. This planet in its entirety is not disposable. I would encourage consumers to opt for products which are designed and manufactured to be reused, ideally, infinite times. I have seen cloth “unpaper” towels on the market, there’s also cloth dish towels, kitchen towels, even painters cloths that come in packs for cheap. If you sew at home, you have fabric scraps that can be used instead. And if you absolutely must use a paper product, then repurpose those coupon mailers (junk mail), or opt for items made from bamboo. Bamboo is the most sustainable wood on the planet. It can grow anywhere. It’s growth does not encroach on Rainforests or forest lands. It is carbon neutral, low maintenance; and does not need any pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer to grow and thrive. Any of these other options are better for the planet.

  • I save “gently used” paper towels and disposable sanitizing wipes to clean up counter spills and other messes. One 18-roll pack of Kirkland towels lasts us a year or more. Old tee shirts are a good source for ready-to-use, reusable cleaning wet-wipes, stored in a re-purposed large plastic jar or tub.

  • When I was a child, we had rag bags, no paper towels. One bag was for washable rags and the other was for throw away rags.

    My mother had four children to raise on her own and very little money. To this day, I am amazed on how she managed. She worked full time, we ate well, had clean clothes, clean house, etc.

    Funny story, she was given one roll of paper towels. She was the only one allowed to use them. She told us that we didn’t know how to use them, meaning we would waste them. That roll lasted a very long time,

    I will dry slightly used paper towels and store in an empty cube tissue box on my counter. If I put the box out of sight, they won’t get used as often. Out of sight, out of mind.

  • The only thing I have an issue with is dealing with “FOG” (fat, oil and grease). This isn’t not something you want to go down your drain. For that reason, I stick to paper towels or similar to put as much FOG as possible in the trash.

    • Another way to handle unwanted fat and grease is to pour it into an empty can and keep it in the freezer. Then you can re-use it for other purposes such as greasing pans, or if it’s bacon grease, use it in cooking for added flavor. I’m going on 80 and my mother and grandmother did this, in the days when fats weren’t necessarily a no-no. There are probably enough uses for leftover oils to make another blog.

  • My mother never had Paper towels in our house or sponges. We used dishtowels, dishrags and rags. There were plenty of them and they were washed almost daily. I still find paper towels to be a luxury. I have hated relying on them for the Covid crisis but am willing to spend the money until we are okay again. Then its back to cloth.

  • Hang a kitchen towel near the sink. Dry clean hands on towel instead of paper towels. My kids were taught: dirty hands – paper towel; clean hands – kitchen towel.

  • I bought a roll of bamboo (paper substitute) towels that are washable/dryable and reusable. Fabulous. Have only used three since I bought the roll and these three are still in use. I don’t use them on the floor; countertop/sink only.

  • I use to clean for a very frugal gal and she use to rinse off her paper towels and drape them over the kitchen faucet and when dry she would put them in a plastic bag and store them under her kitchen sink so when she needed to wipe something from the floor she had a paper towel to use. I wish I would have paid attention to the brand name she used.

  • I have a question about cleaning with microfiber rather than paper towels. I struggle with the microfiber not being absorbent enough and just sort of pushes around the dust and cleaner. It doesn’t seem to wipe it up, off the surface. Do you have any tips for that?

    • Ensure you have a good quality microfiber cloth! I have many that do just that–push stuff around, and I use them as “rags”. Not a spokesperson or salesperson for, however Norwex has a great product and Amazon carries similar product. Be prepared to spend a bit more but you will be happier and some of my “better” cloths have been with me for years. Only thing to remember is wash them all separate from any lint type cloth or clothing–like towels!

      • e-cloths are similar to Norwex. I have been using them for years and really like them.

    • I couldn’t figure out why my microfiber cloths weren’t working well anyome. then I discovered that my husband was putting dryer sheets in the dryer with every load. Once the cloths were washed and dried without fabric softener, they worked well again to dust and clean.

  • I started adding a hand towel in the kitchen for washing hands there. Since I’m the only one who washes hands in the kitchen, I’m the only one using it. I change it daily as needed and sometimes more often. Everyone else uses the bath room for hand washing. It was amazing how often I washed my hands while cooking.

  • I read your tips every morning. You have so many great ideas! Thank you for taking the time to research, test and share your money and time-saving, environmentally-safe ideas.

  • I still like using paper towels to drain grease from frying bacon….I don’t like to wash the baking sheet and rack. I lay out several layers of newspaper with one layer of paper towel over the paper. I can then throw this mess in the compost pile. I’m more concerned about adding to our nation’s landfill situation than the cost of paper towels. Also, I keep a hand drying towel hanging on the dishwasher for hands. My kitchen has black accents so I use a black towel and it does show stains.

  • Next you’ll be writing how to use microfiber towels or cloth napkins to wipe your bum. Paper towels are the best solution to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria while cleaning. They’re not that expensive either.

    • I totally agree with you but the problem we are having here is trying to find paper towels in the stores. First it was toilet paper and now paper towels. It’s just totally crazy.

  • This takes a bit of work ahead, but it saves tons of paper towels. My DH takes a full roll and cuts it into 3 pieces with his band saw. He then takes scissors and trims off the little bits that stick out and that is not much. I have a toilet tissue holder mounted under the cabinet in the kitchen and the RV. I put a 1/3 roll onto the TT holder and use them. It is amazing how many times you can use that more narrow piece and not a whole sheet. I also took stiff pieces of foam and cut circles the size of the end of the roll and punched a whole in them to put on before the towels and then one on the end so the roll will stay in the middle of the TT Holder. I use the TT holder that sticks under the cabinet and one end is completely open so it is easy to mount and to change the roll.

  • I use the select-a-size ones, mostly for hand drying. But I don’t throw them away. All the ones used to dry hands are saved in a plastic bag, so when I need a paper towel to wipe up a spill on the floor or water around the dog’s dish, they’re handy and there (after all, they were used to dry off CLEAN hands, so how dirty can they be?)

    • I save the ones I dry my hands on too. I use them to wipe up water around the sink or other spills I don’t want to use a regular towel for. Nice to get a second use out of them!

      • Thank you girls…I have been doing this for a long time…Paper towels are like every thing else. moderation…I also buy (whenever I can) the towels that are perforated half sheet size..No need for full sheet most of the time..Friend who came by (before covid19 thought I was gross to hang the barely used towel to wipe up spills from floor etc. of course I always throw the soiled floor wipe ups away…Also Instead of giving, or throwing away old robes towels etc whenever I have my coffee on porch I take my scissors and cut up these items for rags, swiffer replacement pads and anything else…Amazing what you can do with little or nothing,,,HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY TO ALL and GOD BLESS AMERICA….LAND THAT I LOVE!!!

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