31 Days to Green Clean: Using Cloth Instead of Paper – Part 1

31 Days to Green Clean

Now that we’ve gotten started with some basic homemade cleaners you can use for cleaning all around your home, I want to take the next two days to cover another very important aspect of green cleaning: using cloth instead of paper towels.

While it’s definitely important to make the switch from toxic, chemical-filled cleaning products, to safe, natural, non-toxic and homemade cleaners, if you’re using paper towels or other disposable cleaning items to clean, you’re still not being as eco-friendly as you could be.

Using cloth instead of paper to clean your home

One of the main questions/objections I get about this topic is the environmental impact of using cloth instead of paper and having to wash and dry the cloth between every use, and isn’t it just better to use a little paper towel and then throw it away?

With everything that goes into the production of a paper towel – harvesting the wood and turning it into paper, including bleaching it (which is one of the worst things for the environment), then packaging it and shipping it, driving to the store to buy it and bring it home, where you use it one time and then throw it in the garbage, which then has to be collected and transported to the landfill – the reality is that the paper has a much larger negative impact on the environment than cloth.

A cloth rag only has to go through that production process one time and then you can reuse it hundreds of times (or more), instead of having to repeat that production process over and over and over, every time you use a paper towel.

If you’ve been a die-hard paper towel user though, it may be hard to think about making the switch to cloth wipes and rags for cleaning. Making a successful switch from paper to cloth involves finding a system that works for you and your family, and creating the habit of reaching for, using, and washing your cloth, instead of reaching for a paper towel and tossing it in the garbage.

One simple step you can take to begin to make the transition from paper to cloth, if you’re not ready to ditch the paper completely yet, is to move your paper towels to somewhere really inconvenient, where you can’t just easily grab one and use it without thinking. This could be to the back of the cabinet underneath your sink, to a shelf in your linen closet, or down to your basement.

Then, put your cloth in a convenient and easy to reach location; a kitchen drawer, or a pretty basket or container on the counter. Now, when you would normally grab for a paper towel to clean up a spill, wipe the counter, or dry your hands, reach for your cloth instead. And, once you see how much better cloth works than paper towels, you will have even more motivation to make a habit of using cloth for all of the cleaning around your home.

Have you made the switch to cloth instead of paper for cleaning your home? If not, what is holding you back?

Go here to read all the posts in the 31 Days to Green Clean series.

Top Photo Credit: storebukkebruse/Flickr

Linked to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.


If you’d like to learn more about living green and living frugally I’d love to have you as a Live Renewed reader! You can subscribe, either by email or in a reader, to get the latest posts, ideas and inspiration for living frugally green. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!


  1. says

    We use cloth everything instead of paper. And it works a lot better for us. We can’t have the paper in the house though, if it is available (even hidden) my husband grabs it. No matter what it is. Now, I would like to have paper towels available for serious messes, but instead I cut up old t-shirts for those messes and then throw them away. Not as good as re-using, but since these t-shirts are always on their last leg, it makes me feel better about it :-)

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      There have been a few times where I’ve wished I had paper towels in the house for really gross messes, but it’s so few and far between that I can’ really justify buying paper towels just for those times!

  2. Calliope says

    We use cloths for almost everything. Haven’t figured out the toilet paper and the nose involved paper yet…too gross.
    Other than that we have different kind of cloths:
    The “nice” ones for dinner parties.
    The plain white ones for every day meals and spills (cut from tshirts). We keep those on the kitchen counter for easy reach.
    The kitchen towels for drying plates etc.
    The microfiber ones for housework.
    The various ones for dirty dirty housework like toilets etc ( cut from old towels, clothes, anything really)
    The fleece ones for baby bottoms, instead of wipes (cut from old blankets)
    It wasn’t difficult at all for my husband to follow along. And my friends have learned by now that there are no paper towels in here…they seemed so surprised for a few months though!

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      We use flannel receiving blankets cut up into squares for hankies. They come out perfectly clean in the wash! Sometimes I also just have my kiddos grab some toilet paper for their nose – it’s the only paper we have in the house!

  3. Darlene says

    My question is what do you use to drain fried foods on? I can use cloth for any kitchen use,but has anyone used cloth to soak up greasy foods? I can’t bear to use newspaper the way the ink comes off so easy.Grosses me out. Has anyone used cloth and is it hard to launder?
    I know some would say to not fry for health reasons,but I don’t fry often and I am not willing to give it up. Any help?

    • says

      We use a rag to drain our morning bacon on every day. As long as the rag isn’t super saturated, and you’re only washing rags together (so grease spots don’t matter), I don’t see why you couldn’t launder them like any other soiled towel – at least, we do it!

      • Darlene says

        I do wash rags and rugs together,so it won’t be a big deal.I am going to cut up some old clothes and use them for draining grease only.Thanks!!

        • Rebecca says

          We’ve gone entirely cloth a couple of months ago…I use paper bags for draining bacon and other fried foods. I find myself saving all sorts of paper bags now…including little ones from when I’ve indulged in a fast food treat. I just rip them open and place the food on the inside.

    • Liz NJ says

      Save all those restaurant throw-away napkins. You can’t avoid them. Put one over several layers of newspaper, you can’t avoid that either.

    • Nancy says

      My mom always used an old soup can for any kind of grease. She’d pour the hot grease into the can and put it in the back of the refridgerator and just hang onto it until the can was close to full, then put it in the garbage. No, you don’t want to recycle that can, but if the idea is good: let the grease cool and you could wipe it up with a cloth.
      Also, to me, using a paper towel to dry my hands at home has never seemed the “normal” thing to do. Too wasteful. I just can’t see spending the money on that many towels. I have them for really icky messes, but many of my guests go right for the paper towels over the clean, attractive hand towels that are within reach.

  4. PK says

    What’s holding me back??? => The NASTINESS I clean-up going into my laundry!! Juice/wine spills = STAIN. Milk = sour/stink. Chicken/fish/meat juices = stinky & scary. Grease = no way. Bathroom cleanup…
    And with just 2 of us…HOW LONG would it take (and how MANY cloths) to be able to do a separate dirty-rag load of laundry? And where do you keep it in the meantime?! Seriously!
    I’m fanatical about being a good steward (recycle, reuse, reduce) and having healthy food/healthy home…but I don’t know how to do this part!

    • says

      We keep ours in a mesh bag so that they get air circulation and don’t get stinky. We have children, so we go through enough for a load every three days. If you have a small load/low water setting on your washer, you don’t have to have a full load. It’s just difficult to get your mind around running the wash for a handful of rags. I’m over that since I also use cloth diapers and menstrual pads.

    • calliope says

      The trick is to keep them where you’d need them. On the counter, in the laundry space, under the sink, in the bathroom…you got the idea. I don’t do separate loads for the rugs! I think this is a waste of energy and sort of defies their purpose. Since most of my cloths can be washed w the whites I put them in there. They really don’t take that much space! The very dirty ones tend to gather either in the kitchen or in the bathroom so I keep a very small bowl w water, soda, borax and dishwash liquid under the sink where they soak until the next load.

    • Rebecca says

      We have a coat hook board (from the thrift store) hanging in the pantry fro the wet rags and napkins. I use those rags for cleaning and rinse them out and let them air dry until I accumulate enough for a wash. If its something really gross, I use rags that I cut from old worn out clothes and sheets. One use rags for the gross messes.

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      Hi PK, Thanks for being honest! I totally agree with others that starting small is definitely the way to go. You may find that it’s really not as nasty/dirty as you think it will be. If something is really messy, I usually rinse my rag out before washing, so most of the nastiness goes down the drain. You gotten some other great advice here too!
      But, I also have to kind of chuckle (not in a mean way), but if you ever have kids you will see how dirty and nasty they are, and what are you supposed to do, throw their clothes away? :)
      Please let us know if you have any other questions as you get started in switching to cloth!

    • Reba says

      You might be surprised how many cloth rags/towels you go through. My husband and I use a lot of cloth and I do a load of rage every week!!

  5. Nikki says

    One thing that I’ve found to be helpful is sticking a small laundry basket on top of my dryer. I always hang my used kitchen washcloths/towels over the side so that they dry (instead of getting all nasty and musty at the bottom of the laundry basket). Then, when I’m doing a load of laundry I try to toss in what I can.

    Try starting small…drying produce with cloths instead of paper towels, wiping up basic water spills, etc. and save the paper towels for meat/grease.

    • PK says

      THANK YOU, Nikki and Anjanette!
      Practical advice…and starting small is a great idea. I also will have to wait on taking bigger steps as we don’t have our own washer. There are coin machines in our apt complex…so to pay $2.75 for every wash load…I want it full!

  6. Bethany says

    My roommate and I have always been wary of paper towels because they seem so wasteful. We use cloth rags for as much as possible–we even cut up all those extra oversize tshirts that seem to accumulate from volunteer events into extra rags. However, we have made the choice to keep a roll of paper towels around the house for those times when we have a messy kitchen spill to clean up, and assuage our guilt over the trees by throwing the paper towels into our compost pile. It’s still not ideal, but at least we remove the landfill from the equation. Also, we buy recycled paper towels as much as possible.

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      I agree, if you are going to buy paper towels, and I do on occasion as well, it’s important to make sure that they are made out of recycled fibers instead of virgin paper!

  7. Melinda J. says

    I made the switch over 6 months ago. I do still have paper towels for the greasiest messes or if I want to pick up something like a bug to throw it away. I do have to tell an “oops” story that happened today though. I do laundry once a week. Unless it’s stained or stinky, we rewear our outer clothes. So, we don’t have as much laundry. So, I didn’t rinse some towels from a week ago and just let them sit in the washer until I was ready to do a load. I washed them today with a load and went to put it out on the line, and oops, there was mold! Not on everything, but I just need to be careful to rinse things or do laundry a little more often. I have it soaking in baking soda and vinegar and will rewash it again tomorrow with the next load. Are there any other tips from readers on keeping the clothes less stained? Thanks!

    • Emily @ Live Renewed says

      Yeah, I would hang your cloths out to dry if you’re not going to be able to wash them right away. I’ve gotten some mold on mine before too, but not if I let them dry out first.

  8. Rene S says

    I’ve been using all cloth (for cleaning and napkins) for a few years now and love it! I take worn towels and serge them into squares (so they don’t shred in the wash), and then use them as rags. I make handkerchiefs from old cloth tablecloths too.

  9. says

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a great article… but what can I say… I put
    things off a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *