Restoring the Lost Petal

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Transitioning To Life Without Paper Towels

living without paper towels


When I became more budget conscience using paper towels seemed to be a waste yet I never gave much thought to ridding ourselves of them.  Then, I read a post similar to this one about family cloth and it intrigued me.  I don’t think my family is ready for family cloth just yet but living without paper towels, that was doable.

Why Switch to Cloth

Paper towels are expensive.  With a toddler and a mama who was always in the kitchen our family went through enormous amounts of consumables for clean up.  Living without paper towels for us was an expense reduction to the tune of approximately $464.00 a year.  

That was reason enough for me.

There are a few added benefits that really didn’t sway my decision to eliminate paper towels but they are valid none the less.

First is the environmentally friendly benefit.  Less trees consumed and less waste in landfills makes living without paper towels an eco-friendly idea.

Softer. What child likes to have their face wiped anyway let alone with a rough paper towel.  Might not benefit you but your kids might thank you.

Making a Cost Free Switch

You can make the transition to cloth without any cost. Our cloth “towel” stash is made up of old t-shirts but any of the following would work:

  • old T-shirts
  • old dish towels
  • cloth diapers
  • bath towels
  • wash cloths

I cut the shirts in various sizes but some I cut too small.  They seemed okay when I was cutting but once I started using them I realized how small they really were.  Don’t cut too small!  If you use old bath towels you will need to sew the edges to stop fraying depending on the material.

living without paper towels

Don’t worry about perfection in shape or the condition of the cloth. Obviously you don’t want holey cloth but these are for cleaning and stains don’t matter much.

Next I found an old plastic basket that had junk it in, ditched the junk and made a home for the basket under the kitchen sink for clean towels.  I found a second basket to place in the laundry room for used and soiled towels.  I’d like to have this one under the sink but so far I can’t make that work out with the other things I have under there.

Our switch also included using cloth napkins in place of disposable ones. This was an easy switch as well. Before the fire, I checked out the clearance bins at stores like Boscov’s, JC Penny and Kohl’s for discounted or odd-ball cloth napkins and grabbed ones that coordinated with my kitchen decor. If you chose to buy new, it’s still a much more cost effective way to clean your face at the table.

You can buy this pack of 12 napkins with free shipping and if you’re a family of 2.5 they the cloth napkins will pay for themselves in 6 months. And considering most families aren’t running around with half a person and most toddlers are not natural napkins conservers, this switch is well worth it!

living without paper towels

But What About Extra Laundry…and Guests

Toddlers make extra laundry, using cloth towels is nothin’!

But seriously.  I don’t do anything special with laundry. I wash my basket of soiled cloth rags when I wash cloth napkins or clean up towels, about once a week.

I used to keep paper napkins around for guests but I don’t anymore. I have napkins that much my place mats now and so when we set the table it looks quiet inviting with the napkins.

Would you consider life without paper towels?


The Gathering Spot

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  1. I have been doing this forever! I keep a couple rolls for really gross tasks I.e. cat vomit and cleaning the toilet. And for when we get sick. I love t-shirts for washing windows! I keep all my cleaning cloths separate, I throw them in the washer first with hot on small and let them soak for a half hour to disinfect then fill the rest of the way with other towels and wash as usual.

  2. I would love to do this, but cook with Cast Iron so I use paper towels to dry, season… clean.. that’s the only thing I use them for except to make my own wet wipes.. 🙂 anyone use cloth with their cast iron?

    • Yes with a regular cloth it works fine, even to season! Save your seasoning cloth as it won’t be dirty just oily. Place it in a bag or bowl for later use. Once it gets bad then you can wash it.

    • You can use cloth but you’ll want to reserve an old rag that you either toss afterward (maybe keep a few stained/really old t-shirts just for this) or keep a separate bin for cast cloth and was them separately so you don’t ruin other laundry….even “good” cloth rags.

    • Keep in mind that oily rags can spontaneously combust, so should be stored in a sealed jar, where oxygen can’t get in. Be safe! You could also wash the oily rag immediately with plenty of dish soap, or simply use paper for the cast iron and use rags for everything else.

  3. I am working on going without ZIPLOC type storage bags…that’s a hard one! Kids lunches, leftovers, etc. Suggestions?

    • Pre-fire I had a hefty selection of recycled plastic containers I’d gathered from various places. I realize plastic isn’t ideal for heating in but I would use small containers for pretzels, cheeses, crackers, etc and I’ve started buying glass containers for hot foods. Pampered Chef has nice glass containers and Pyrex makes a nice set that has some smaller containers.

      Personally, I like containers better than baggies now that I started using them because if you’re traveling you don’t end up with a baggie of cracker crumbs mid-way through the trip! 🙂

      We still keep baggies on hands and when possible I will reuse them. For example, if they do have crackers in them I rise them out, drape them over something to dry and use them again. Of course this is not a good idea if they had raw meat in them.

    • Many items will do well wrapped in cloth for a short time (from prep time to eating time) without losing quality. I use a cloth napkin and secure it with a rubber band. I also use canning jars a lot because they don’t break easily, but this might not be appropriate for all kids. Bento boxes are pretty cool and come in stainless steel.

  4. I grew up without paper towels. Mom made plenty of cloth napkins, and if there’s a spill, you just use the dish cloth hanging in the sink, unless the spill is on the floor. The dish towels and clean dish cloths have a drawer in the kitchen. In the back room (by the laundry, actually, but easy to access), there’s a bin with varying sizes of “rags,” for using in dirty situations: there are one or two full sized bath towels that are no good for the bathroom anymore (stains or rips), some hand towel sized ones, nice and thick for cleaning up spills, and plenty of T-shirt rags. These are what get used on the floors. Everyone knows which towels are for which uses. Paper towels are in the kitchen, but mostly used for things like putting on the bacon plate to soak up grease, and they are not kept in as handy a place as the sink wash cloth. 😛

  5. It’s funny but at work we ran out of paper towels and you would think it was the end of the world. I bought some cleaning cloths and people were up in arms. So silly. I grew up with using old shirts as cleaning rags so this is nothing to me.


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