6 Product Swaps That Help Me Avoid Trips to the Store

a woman prepares a meal at home
Photo by Olesia Bilkei / Shutterstock.com

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” has been an Earth-friendly motto for years, but it’s perhaps never been more pertinent.

With stay-at-home orders prevalent and shopping trips limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, using less and reusing what we have is good for the planet and for our health.

Even if you can find products such as paper towels in your local store, there’s likely a purchase limit. Just heading out to a physical store these days is a challenge.

Following are some single-use products that I have replaced with a reusable option that will last through the lockdown days and beyond.

Plastic wrap

Replace with: Bowl covers

Like many people, I’m baking a lot of homemade bread thanks to the shutdown.

Many recipes instruct the baker to cover dough left to rise with plastic wrap. But plastic wrap is a single-use product, it rips unevenly and doesn’t hold tight to my bowl or loaf pan.

I’m delighted to have found reusable bowl covers, which also keep leftovers fresh if your storage bowl didn’t come with a lid. They come in plastic or cloth, both washable, with an elastic rim that holds them tightly to the bowl.

Don’t want to spend money? You can use a plastic shower cap and just hand-wash it to use again.

Dryer sheets

Replace with: Wool dryer balls

Do you use dryer sheets or fabric softener as part of your laundry routine? If so, you know they must be replaced frequently. Switch to reusable wool dryer balls to save yourself the restocking hassle and cost.

Simply toss these soft wool balls, each about the size of a tennis ball, into your dryer with a load of wet clothes and let them do their work. They can be used hundreds of times.

There are online instructions for making your own, but I’m not that crafty and dryer balls are inexpensive, so I bought mine. They’re for sale in numerous online stores, including Amazon. And, if static cling is your main reason for using purchased dryer sheets, aluminum foil balls are a DIY solution to static in the dryer.

Paper towels

Replace with: Rags or “unpaper” towels

I’ve probably used way more paper towels than I’ve needed to in the past. With a child who spills things and pets who sometimes have accidents, it’s only natural to grab for a sheet or two when needed.

Paper towels were sold out in my local stores for weeks as folks stocked up during the lockdown, and although they’re back now, I’m trying to really limit my use. My top choice is the simplest and cheapest: white cloth rags that I use for general cleaning and store in an old laundry hamper for easy access.

But there’s also something called unpaper towels — washable, reusable cloth towels. They often have neat, bold prints. And some sellers offer them connected together in a roll that fits your regular paper-towel holder.

Scouring pads

Replace with: Chainmail scrubber

I love my cast-iron skillet. Nothing’s better for buttermilk biscuits, jalapeno cornbread or pan-seared pork chops. But cleaning it can be work. It needs hand-washing and occasional seasoning with oil.

Rather than buy disposable scouring pads, my new favorite tool is something that looks and sounds like it should be in the castle of a medieval knight.

A chainmail scrubber is a simple piece of stainless steel formed into interlinking rings–some have an ergonomic silicone core, others are all chainmail. Use a chainmail scrubber to lift hardened food residue right off.

Plastic bread bags

Replace with: Linen bread bags

With my bread-making in full gear, I need to store extra loaves on the rare occasion when my family doesn’t devour them hot from the oven.

Plastic bags are what many stores use. But I love the look and feel of linen bread bags. They seem to keep the bread fresh as long or longer than plastic, and they are reusable. There are plenty of online options, or if you’re handy with a sewing machine, many websites show how to make your own.

Single-use plastic straws

Replace with: Silicone, metal or other reusable straws

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, single-use plastic straws were in the doghouse with many shoppers.

At home, we’ve tried silicone, metal and washable plastic straws. We investigated paper options, but they seemed to dissolve too quickly in a drink. Our favorite so far is a bendy, reusable, dishwasher-safe silicone option, like these. We get a variety of colors, so each family member can claim a favorite.

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