This past week I embarked on a challenge to eliminate my use of paper towels, paper/plastic cups & bags. The paper and plastic cup part was pretty easy for me. I just made sure to think ahead before running to the grocery store, and kept a few extra bags in my car for last minute shopping. I made my coffee at home most days and brought my own to go cup when getting coffee out.
The larger challenge was reducing paper towel use, so that's what I'm focusing on here. The biggest use I have for paper towels is for everyday cleaning around the kitchen, so I devised 5 easy ways to replace paper towels with reusable ones.
1. Stock up on Rags & Kitchen Towels
This might seem like a no brainer, but if you're gonna ditch disposable paper towels, you need something else on hand to use, and plenty of them. I recommend getting 10-12 smaller dish cloths (these are my favorite and they have a variety of colors) and a pack or two of bar mops. I use dish clothes to wipe off counters and wipe off my hands while cooking, and bar mops for drying dishes, drying clean hands, and drying off clean counters. When I started this challenge I didn't have to purchase any additional towels, but dinner napkins may be my next purchase for hosting and general use.
2. Designate A Rag For Floor Messes
One use I always had for paper towels was if there was any amount of a mess on the floor. I never wanted to get out a fresh towel just for that mess, and no one wants to dry their hands or clean a dish with a towel that's wiped gunk off the floor. I attached a command strip to the back of the cabinet door under our sink and hung an old dish cloth there for the week, specifically for this purpose. I didn't end up having many floor messes, but it came in handy a few times and then was hung back up to dry for the next use. Just remember to change it out weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
3. Wipe Off Messy Counters with Soap & Water First
My go to method for cleaning up after dinner used to be to spray down the kitchen counters with counter stop spray and then go to town with wads of paper towels. Instead, get a dish cloth nice and soapy with warm water, wipe down all your surfaces, dry off with a kitchen towel and then rinse and hang your kitchen cloth to dry. This gets your countertops nice and clean and is a sturdier way to get off any pieces of caked on food remains—real cloth scrubs much better than paper towels. If you want to disinfect or treat your counters after, spray away and then wipe off with a fresh towel. Since you've gotten off all the dirty bits before this part, the towel you use to rub in your spray can be used a few times before washing.
4. Keep a bin under the sink for dirty towels
You're going to produce more laundry this way than you would otherwise, but it pales in comparison to how many paper towels you would go through for the same amount of clean ups. I got a bin from Target that fits under the sink to throw dirty towels so I didn't have to run towels to the hamper in our room. Any bin will do. Just make sure there are holes in the sides so that the towels can air out a little to prevent them from getting moldy.
5. Cut Up An Old Shirt For Greasy Stains
We all have a ratty T shirt or two that could be put to better use than collecting mothballs in the back of our closet. For any job that you don't want to put a kitchen rag to, pull out a swatch of old T shirt. I keep a stack of these together in our linen closet for any job that's a little too dirty for kitchen towels. It may seem simple.
6. What To Do When Using Paper Towels Is Unavoidable
The biggest challenge I had over the week was reaching for paper towels in public bathrooms that don't provide an alternative way to dry your hands. In these situations I shook my hands off for a few seconds, and deliberately only used one towel for the job. I also went to a restaurant that only provided disposable napkins, so I became more aware of the paper products I was using and only used one or two.
My Take Away
There will always be a roll of paper towels in our kitchen, but I'm going to stay away from them being my primary way of cleaning. Let's be real, there are some jobs that truly call for the use of a paper towel: patting down bacon or pizza grease, seasoning cast iron, cleaning up those little human/pet messes that are inevitable or patting off raw meat.
But this challenge has called attention to all of the times I use paper towels and toss them that I really didn't have to. I'm hoping that continuing this practice over the next few weeks will make my default to be to reach for a reusable towel, instead of a disposable one.