• Carla Ramsdell

Wait … do you really need that PAPER towel? Try UN-PAPER towels & napkins!

Next time you reach to rip off a paper towel from the roll, pause to consider if there may be a better material for this purpose. Ok, let’s face it, for really yucky jobs, paper towels are wonderful – just wipe and toss! But, 95% of what we do with a paper towel was relatively “low-yuck” like wiping a counter, wrapping a bagel on the way out the door, or sopping up spilled juice. For these tasks, fabric “un-paper towels” that can be washed over and over again are an excellent choice.

But really – are paper towels really a big deal? Don’t tossed paper towels decompose quickly without leaching environmental toxins? Well, yes, it isn’t the END life of a paper towel that is environmentally concerning, it’s the BEGINNING.

Unlike plastic whose main environmental impact occurs AFTER we use it, paper product’s main environmental impact occurs BEFORE we purchase them. Look at a paper towel and marvel in the fact that it began as …. well, a tree! It doesn’t look like a tree. It doesn’t feel like a tree. And in order to take a tree and convert it into a paper towel takes significant energy and chemical processing. Then they are wrapped in plastic and shipped around the nation to be used once. The less we use, the better.




Enter – the Un-paper towel…

Un-paper towel are simply squares of fabric intended to replace single-use paper towels most of the time. You can make them in a matter of minutes - just cut some 100% cotton fabric into whatever size seems best for the job (I have found ~12in X 12in is good) and you’re done. There are lots of great fabric options from purchased fabric to t-shirt material to oxford shirts that have come to the end of their useful shirt-life.

Sure, if you sew and want to finish off the edges all fancy-like, go for it. But I find that you can simply cut them and call it done. After about 4 times through the laundry the unfinished, cut edges stop fraying and you’re all set. You may dislike this idea the first couple washes as they fray a lot in the beginning, but trust me … just snip off these loose strings … this will stop. My first batch has been around for about 6 years now and is still going strong!

And, this COVID-19 time of limited single-use paper products seems like the perfect time to cut a stack for your repeated use. You’ll be starting a new habit that will last for years.

I recommend two stacks to replace paper towels:

· Plain-colored fabric (dark colors are good at hiding stains) for cleaning jobs

· Patterned fabric for non-cleaning, food jobs like bagel-wrapping, or tossing in lunch boxes.



Un Paper Napkins

But don’t stop there – what about all those paper napkins? If we all take out a fresh paper napkin for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, the resources really add up! Consider keeping a stash of everyday cloth napkins around to reduce the need to purchase new paper napkins. We have several sets of napkins in a different color for each member of the family so they can stick around for a few days before washing and everyone knows whose are whose. You can also use the same napkin for every member of the family and keep them stored in napkin rings between meals to help identify whose napkins is whose.



At the end of the week, we may have 5 or 10 extra napkins in our washer, which does not impact the number of laundry loads in our house at all.

Have fun with this - there’s lots of great fabric out there!

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