As part of the Change Challenge series, I want to tell you a little bit about how I do things on a day to day basis at our house. Not that I think how I do things is the best or only way to do things. I have just been getting lots of questions lately from friends and family about how I do some of the things that I do.
So, I figured many of you would have similar types of questions. Sometimes the thought of changing habits, or doing something new, like not buying paper towels, can be overwhelming we don’t even know where to start. Or we can’t even imagine what it looks like to not use paper towels around our homes on a daily basis.
Since we’re tackling changing our cleaning this month, I’ll start with how I handle cleaning cloths around my house.
My mom was just telling me the other day about how my grandpa used to rinse out his paper towels, hang them to dry, and reuse them, so I guess it’s just kind of in my genes! But I’ve taken it a step further by not buying paper towels at all!
If you’d like to quit using paper towels around your home to save money and reduce waste, the secret is to move your paper towels to somewhere inaccessible!
Yes, that’s right, somewhere inaccessible. The idea is this: move your paper towels to somewhere where you don’t see them and they aren’t easy to grab. At the same time move your cloth wipes and rags to somewhere super easy to access. Then you will be less likely to automatically reach for your disposable paper towels, and more likely to reach for your reusable cloths!
Pretty soon, using your cloths and rags will be such a habit that you’ll find you don’t even need to buy paper towels any more!
How I Did It
When I first decided to cut back on using paper towels, I moved my paper towels from the kitchen counter next to the sink, to a shelf in the laundry room, which was just off the kitchen. And then I moved my kitchen cloth, that I wanted to start using more regularly, to an accessible drawer in the kitchen.
For more ideas about the kinds of cloths and rags I use around my house, check out this post. By using these different types of cloths, I haven’t bought paper towels in over 6 months!
I bought a package when we first moved into our house for the original cleaning that we would do, and haven’t bought another package since then. I also don’t buy paper napkins or tissues. The only paper product that we use in our home is toilet paper.
Recently, I had a friend tell me that she doesn’t like to clean her kitchen with a rag because usually it’s been sitting on her counter or sink for a few days and she thinks it’s gross (which it probably is), so she uses paper towels.
Basically, I use several fresh, clean rags every day around my house. I grab a clean washcloth to wipe K’s face after breakfast every day, and if it’s not too dirty, I rinse it out to reuse it for after lunch. I use a clean dishcloth every day for washing dishes, and a clean washcloth for wiping the counters and table.
I don’t reuse cloths that have been sitting around for longer than a day. I have lots of all of the different kinds of cloths that I use, so I never run out before I’ve done a load of laundry. I think that’s one of the most important things – if you always have a cloth on hand, you won’t be tempted to reach for a paper towel.
We also only use cloth napkins, even when we have company. Our home group for our church comes over every Tuesday night for dinner, and I only offer cloth napkins. I’m washing a load of rags every week anyway, it’s really not a big deal to add 8-10 more cloth napkins to the load.
Every night I gather up the used, dirty rags, usually there’s a small pile on the kitchen floor by the door to the basement, and I throw them down the stairs into a mesh hanging laundry bag. In the mesh bag they are able to air out and not get smelly or moldy.
I would say I wash rags at least once a week, sometimes twice. I have bleached my rags in the past, but am trying not to use bleach anymore, so I wash my rags in hot water on the heavy duty cycle with detergent and Oxyclean and an extra rinse.
I do have some rags I could use and then throw away for really gross stuff, like if our dog throws-up. They’re usually Jer’s old t-shirts that I have cut into rags and I’ll use one of those to clean up a yucky mess and then just throw it away.
Also, it’s important to figure out a system that works for you for storing your clean cloths. I have almost a whole drawer and part of a cupboard in my kitchen dedicated to kitchen cloths. I have a whole shelf in my hall closet for cleaning rags. And I live in a small house with limited storage space – I have made room for what is important to me.
Using cloth instead of paper towel has really just become so second nature to me around our home. I don’t miss paper towels at all. It did take a little getting used to at first, but there has not been a time in at least the last 4 months that I’ve thought, “I wish I had a paper towel for this.”
For me, I see no reason to throw away a paper that was only used one time when I can easily wash and reuse rags over, and over, and over again. Not buying paper towels will save you money and save the earth at the same time. Using rags and cloths around your home instead of paper towels is definitely frugally green!
What do you think about using rags and cloths in place of paper towels? Is it something you do, or could see yourself doing? What steps can you take toward going paper towel-less this month?
Thanks for this post. The only thing I can think of that I use a paper towel for that I cannot use a rag for is direct food prep (patting meat dry, getting the water out of frozen veggies, etc) Do you use a cloth napkin for this (concerned about lint)? I guess that since you only use a rag once, you don’t have to worry about contaminates. Any suggestions?
I guess I do things differently in the kitchen, or maybe I’m just lazy, but I don’t pat meat dry or get water out of frozen veggies, so I don’t have to use either paper or cloth for those things. I guess I have patted a whole chicken dry a few times after rinsing it, but then I just use a thin cotton cloth, like a tea towel I think they’re called, and wash it right away. I’ve never had a problem with lint. For veggies, I just use a colander.
The only things I’ve come across that I’ve really wanted a paper towel for are cooking and draining bacon or sausage, which I’ve found that a brown paper bag cut open works really well for, and times when my dog gets sick or has an accident in the house. Then I usually find an old rag that I don’t really need anymore and just throw it all away!
Thanks for your question!
Hi. I know this is an old post, but I wanted to make a suggestion in case someone else comes across this. I use cheesecloth for getting water out of frozen veggies, like spinach, that don’t drain well in a colander. After I’m done, I wash it with dish soap and hang it outside, and it last quite a while. I think it works better than paper towels, because it doesn’t rip.
If you use your dishwasher to wash dishes on an every day or every other day basis you can just lay the rags in the top rack and wash them that way. I’ve found this to be really helpful. Then I don’t have to have very many rags either.
Lori H says
I have been trying to go paper towel-less for some time. This was a helpful post!
Jason Anderson says
I buy bundles of rags (terry cloth) towels from Sam’s and use them for almost everything. They are big enough to use as a wash rag, great for napkins, awsome for washing the car and work great for cleaning the house and when the kids spill something the napkins is big enough to clean it up. I keep the rags (towels) in white and not so white stacks so i know what to use for sanitary stuff and what to use for “whatever”. I use old socks for dusting, which have built in ringlets that collect the dust. And like Emily I use the oldest and worst rags for the worst messes.
Just stumbled upon your blog looking for more natural laundry solutions. I actually already do this technique because I have cringed at the price of paper products so often that I just decided it was a ridiculous purchase. I do much the same process as you too only I think I need to adopt your rules for how long they are left hanging around. That’s so simple and much more sanitary to clear them all out everyday! Great post.
Emily @ Live Renewed says
Thanks so much for stopping by! It does seem ridiculous to pay money for something that just gets thrown right away, doesn’t it! We had to buy wrapping paper for our church this past weekend and my husband commented how stupid it is to pick out paper that is just going to get torn off and wadded up in the garbage – and it’s expensive too!
Oh my goodness, that’s so true. Almost bought some today… sort of trying to get in the holiday spirit, but I think I still have some from 3 years ago to use up. More often than not though we reuse gift bags or give cash anyways.
Zoe @ecothrifty says
I totally agree and wrote a blog post on this listing a few alternatives to wrapping paper – http://ecothriftyliving.blogspot.com/2011/11/gift-wrapping.html
Kiana Sandidge says
Thanks-a-mundo for the blog.Thanks Again. Fantastic.
Dalton Lowrance says
I think this is a real great article.Thanks Again. Fantastic.
Savanna Goodner says
Really informative blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.
I really like this and want to give it a try.
The only thing I absolutely love paper towels for is regreasing my cast iron pans. If you aren’t familiar with cast iron, after each use, you regrease the pan with a little oil. I suppose I could have a pile of t-shirt rags to do this with, though I am concerned about that oil in my washing machine.
Thanks for sharing!
Zoe @ecothrifty says
I also currently use kitchen roll for greasing pans/mopping up the excess oil I have poured in. However I am going to invest in a spray bottle for the oil to make sure I don’t put too much in (not an oil spray as they add junk to it) and if I need to use fingers / hands to spread it around. I’m hoping it will save me money on oil too!
I cook with cast (usually purchased from thrift shops or garage sales) and I’ve found I rarely have to put oil in the pan as long as I’ve seasoned it properly (bacon grease or lard or tallow rather than vegetable based oils). I don’t wash it with soap (just hot water and a tough scrubber) then completely dry it using the stove burner. The last time I had to oil one of my skillets was after my then teenage daughter made scrambled eggs and left the pan to soak.
However…when I do have to take the time to season a new pan or reseason an ‘oops’ I use paper bags that’ve been ripped into handy sizes then wadded and unwadded several times to make them absorbent.
Emily @ Live Renewed says
Thanks for sharing your experience Katie! I wish I could find good quality cast iron pans at thrift stores or garage sales!
Zoe @ecothrifty says
I am quite far down the paperless cleaning route in my household now. It really isn’t a problem to throw a few cloths in the wash each week. The only thing is I still have tissues and kitchen roll because we bought a whole load of them in bulk. I have found though that if the kitchen roll isn’t there I find an alternative, so I can going to see if I can live without it for a bit, which I’m sure I can. It is very satisfying to do something quite simple and save money and be kinder to the environment at the same time!
I put all of the paper towels and paper napkins (usually bought when the spouse shopped) in the garage. He never missed them as he was rarely in the kitchen or willing to clean house. I now use them for checking automotive fluids and for cleaning up after my aged dog. When they’re gone I’ll switch over to cloth and simply cut smaller rags then dispose of them – I, too, don’t want oil in my washer.
Emily @ Live Renewed says
That’s a great idea too Katie, thanks for sharing!
Bernadette Cooper says
I’ve been making steady progress toward going paperless. Cloth napkins, tissues, mama cloth, and even in the bathroom for 2 out of 3. I have a variety of towels & rags in the kitchen for various tasks. I keep a small bucket of vinegar nearby for the microfiber cloths, to help release gunk from the fibers, & they are washed separate from other rags to keep them absorbent.
For the greasy stuff, I’ve started lining a large cookie sheet with part of my Sunday newspaper, then placing my cooling rack on top of the paper. Not only does this save the mess, fried foods stay more crispy!
Do you think that the cloths get clean enough just washing them on hot with oxyclean, especially if they’ve contacted something like raw chicken like you mentioned in the comments? I hate paper towels and bleach, and don’t really buy them, but I also don’t want to worry about germs. I figure if my dishcloths seem to stink when wet, how clean can they be, you know? We only use cloths for one day, they get hung to dry and then are washed on hot. They are only used to clean counters/table and dishes since I put any raw meat dishes into the dishwasher. I tend to wash my napkins and placemats separately so they don’t get stinky.
I have a front loader and have trouble with diapers being stinky sometimes so I wonder about the rest of my laundry too. I haven’t tried Oxyclean for my dishcloths/towels yet. I wonder about adding TTO to the wash cycle.
I have found using white vinegar in the first water fill as well as in the final rinse (instead of laundry softener) gets the sink out, helps to whiten and also helps with static. I use homemade laundry soap with it as well. Towels are clean. If you like your towels to have a smell (i.e. Flowery and such) add essential oil to a dry towel and throw it in with your load. I put essential oils on my wool drier balls. Right now, towels and sheets are the only things i use my drier for, but hope to do away with using it for them in the summer. I don’t have enough hanging room right now.
I was wondering more about sanitizing I guess, since “they” always say you are supposed to use bleach to sanitize anything that is in contact with raw meat juices (like cutting boards, etc.). Easy to do with hard surfaces, but I’m not confident about fabrics. Then again, I guess butchers do laundry too! I would assume they’d use bleach though.
This was a very helpful post. I have just begun to really cut out paper. We will still use toilet paper, but we haven’t used tissue, paper towels, or napkins in 2 months. I’m just trying to figure out what types of cloth work best and how many. I tend to do laundry every day anyway, with a 2 year old potty training, but I am trying to do it a little less often. Any suggestions on what types and how many?
Switching to cloth was the best decision I ever made – hope more people do as well.