How I Make a Roll of Paper Towels Last All Year

Woman washing produce
Photo by Lucky Business / Shutterstock.com

It takes me forever to use up a roll of paper towels, it seems.

It’s not that I’m particularly neat. It’s that I see no reason to use paper towels when I have plenty of rags.

Sure, paper towels are convenient. But they’re expensive too. Why use and toss wads of paper when I can use a piece of cloth, launder it and use it again?

And if you’re just draining salad greens or wiping up spilled water, you don’t even need to wash the cloth — just hang it up to dry.

Call that eco-friendly if you like. I prefer to think of it as common sense.

Maybe you do too. But you’d be surprised how many folks don’t clean their mirrors with vinegar and water and squares cut from old flannel sheets. Or who dry lettuce on paper towels rather than worn-out dish towels. Or who actually buy sacks of “shop rags.”

I have a theory: The reason so many clothes end up in thrift stores is that not enough people have rag collections.

Old diapers, trashed T-shirts

My cleaning-cloth collection includes old washcloths, bits of terry cloth towels and pieces of worn-to-death blouses, T-shirts and flannel pajamas.

The rags are battle-ready when I need to wipe up spills or wash my stovetop.

For quite a while, my cleaning rags of choice were old cloth diapers. Believe it or not, most were “slightly irregular” and therefore cost only $2.99 per dozen. (I couldn’t make that up.)

Don’t use cloth diapers? I bet you have at least one of the following:

  • Old sheets: Flannel ones in particular are soft and absorbent.
  • Trashed T-shirts: But only the ones too holey even to wear while gardening or painting.
  • Shirts or blouses: Long-sleeved cotton or flannel shirts worn out at the elbows, or whose cuffs are irreparably frayed, can be cut up. Save their buttons for future repair jobs, though.
  • Worn-out bath towels: Their job is to be absorbent, so these are great for cleaning or for draining freshly washed grapes.
  • Old pajamas: We all know how cozy a pair of often-washed flannel PJs can feel. But when they’re too threadbare to keep out the draft, scissor ’em up.

What if you’re more of a rayon-and-silk kind of person? Or you don’t wear T-shirts? Or you don’t expect your sheets to wear out for years? Round up some rags at:

  • Thrift stores: I once bought a big bag of towels and washcloths for $3.99.
  • Rummage and yard sales: These are where marathon T-shirts go to die. I’ve also seen bath towels for as little as a quarter each.
  • The “free” box at yard sales: I’ve seen old towels, washcloths and T-shirts there.

Green twice over

It’s not that I’ll never use a paper towel again. They’re great for jobs such as cooling off greasy bacon. But it seems wasteful to use a paper towel every time I spill something.

I also don’t want to use one every time I eat something.

I’ve been in homes where paper towels were used instead of napkins. That use-and-toss habit just makes me wince. I’ll stick with a regular plate and one of the cloth napkins that were six for a quarter at a rummage sale.

Not only am I saving money by not buying paper towels and paper napkins, but I’m also being green twice over: by not adding more than my share of paper to the landfill, and by giving worn-out fabric one more use before discarding it.

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