Paper towels are one of the most popular materials for cleaning; we rely on them to wipe off tables and countertops, clean up spills, and more. Unfortunately, they create a lot of waste: according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in 2017 alone, paper towels created over 254 million tons of trash worldwide. It should be no surprise, then, that reusable paper towels have become more popular in recent years.
This article will cover what reusable paper towels are, what you should be looking for when shopping around, and my top picks for each category.
If you’re interested in learning other ways to live more eco-friendly / zero-waste, check out more articles here:
What Exactly Are Eco Friendly Reusable Paper Towels?
Reusable paper towels are one of the best ways to clean everyday messes without creating waste. Rather than using disposable paper towels to wipe, soak, sit in the garbage and ultimately end up rotting in a landfill, reusable paper towels are reusable sheets made of sturdier materials that are just as absorbent but can be washed and used more than once.
How do reusable paper towels work? Some are built to be washed indefinitely, while others are built to be used a few times and then composted. Different products take different approaches to sustainability, but each has its own merits. I’ll cover a few of these categories and my picks below.
Are reusable paper towels better for the environment?
Are reusable paper towels worth it? There are definitely benefits to using reusable towels instead of paper towels. They’re excellent for those who want to keep a clean space but don’t want to deal with the excess garbage generated by using traditional paper towels.
If you care for Mother Earth, you’ll enjoy reusable paper towels because:
- Many use recycled paper or other renewable sources rather than chopping down trees
- Many can be can dissolved and/or composted, benefiting the environment (or your garden!) after use
- They don’t go through the environmentally unfriendly bleaching process
Most importantly, all reusable paper towels last longer than standard disposable paper towels and significantly reduce the waste our households produce.
If these factors have interested you in reusable paper towels, you might be ready to make the switch. Next, we’ll look at a few different categories of towels and which brands we’ve found the most reliable among all offered on the market.
Types of Reusable Paper Towels
There are plenty of reusable paper towel brands on the market. With so many to choose from, how are you supposed to pick the best reusable paper towels for your life? Let’s discuss some of my favorite picks.
1. Microfiber Reusable Wipes
Microfiber wipes are an excellent option for multiple-use reusable paper towels because they are much sturdier than a standard disposable paper towel. The microfiber material is quite absorbent and will actually absorb messes rather than push them around. The material is usually durable enough to survive five to ten wash cycles, so these are a great middle-ground for anybody who wants to reduce their footprint but doesn’t plan to compost.
When looking for reusable microfiber rags, there are a two main points you’ll want to consider:
- The GSM (Grams per Square Meter)
- The price per rag, of course
The GSM is used as a benchmark for quality in microfiber products. The higher the number, the more dense the material. Usually, you’ll want to look for at least 200 GSM for a reusable paper towel product. Once you start getting into 300 GSM, you’re looking at much denser materials, making them more absorbent and durable.
One thing to consider is that although higher GSM products will last longer, you may not actually want to use that cloth for its entire lifetime, depending on what you’re using it to clean and how well you clean. After a while, all reusable paper towels collect enough stains that we’ll get the urge to replace them.
In my experience, the sweet spot seems to be 200 GSM for products you’ll be using for most spills, such as foods, liquids, etc.. in the kitchen. For “cleaner” jobs, such as cleaning up water, drying your hands, wiping down pans, etc… I’d recommend a 300-350GSM product.
Recommended 200 GSM: Microfiber Rags in a Box (50 count)
My pick for 200 GSM is a simple staple. It’s hard to beat the value of 50 rags for $20. These are washable up to 10 times, so one pack should last at least a month or two. That makes the cost comparable to standard disposable paper towels, but these significantly reduce the amount of waste we contribute to landfills. These were my pick of choice before I began composting!
Recommended 300 GSM: Microfiber Detailing Towels (10 count)
Coming in on the more expensive end, The Rag Company’s 300 GSM microfiber towels go for $15 for ten towels. These are much denser than the option above, so if you are careful about using these only on the “cleaner” spills, these could theoretically last you for years.
I recommend buying these in addition to one of the more inexpensive options listed on this page, using these for the cleaner spills and your other choice for the dirty spills. This way, the environmental savings are much more significant than either product on its own.
2. Bamboo Reusable Paper Towels
These are my personal favorites; unlike microfiber, these paper towels are entirely biodegradable and compostable! Even if you don’t do your own composting, these will eventually degrade in a landfill. Each sheet can be reused up to 100 (!!) times, and one roll of bamboo paper can last up to 6 months, depending on your usage. Did I mention one roll goes for less than $10?
When looking for bamboo reusable paper towels, I strongly recommend finding a brand that is 100% organic and doesn’t bleach its towels or otherwise negatively impact the environment during production. This is especially important if you plan to compost your towels because we don’t want our plants to absorb any toxic chemicals.
Recommended: EcoLifestyle Bamboo Paper Towels
Eco Lifestyle Reusable Paper Towels are cruelty-free, 100% organic reusable paper towels made from strengthened bamboo fibers. At only $7 for 20 sheets and 80-100 washes per sheet, you should expect a roll to last a minimum of two months.
This is what I’m currently using, and my compost is producing happy, healthy plants!
3. Cotton Rolls
If you’re looking for something sturdy, look no further than cloth rolls. These are fully machine washable, insanely absorbent (up to 22x their weight in liquid!), and can last years. Generally made of cellulose and cotton, these almost feel like quilted dish rags but have the benefit of being fully biodegradable, compostable, and free of harmful chemicals.
Recommended: Lola Products Wowables Reusable Paper Towels
These high-quality reusable paper towels come in a large roll (30 sheets) for $20. However, these numbers may be deceiving if you’re unaware that one sheet can be reused up to 120 times and is more absorbent than most disposable paper towel brands. One roll could last up to a year, depending on your usage!
Lola Products Wowable Reusable Paper Towels are:
- The size of a standard paper towel
- Dyed with natural ink
I love that these come in various colors and have such a sturdy feel to them. I still have a pack of these floating around (for a few years, in fact), but I tend to prefer hand-washing my paper towels, so I stick to the lighter bamboo towels. However, if you’re already running loads of laundry or dishes, this may be the perfect option for you.
Runner Up: If You Care Reusable Paper Towels
“If You Care” (cute!) reusable paper towels are relatively inexpensive at $9 for a pack of 12. I’ve used these in the past, and they get the job done, but I’ve moved on to Lola’s above because they just feel sturdier in my hand and seem to have superior absorption and tactile strength.
I’ve added this to the list as a runner-up option because they are affordable, and the brand is known for its dedication to improving our environmental impact. If you’re not using these towels for hard messes, I’d consider grabbing these just to help the cause.
4. Artisanal and Hand-crafted Options
Do you have a soft spot for artisanal and hand-crafted goods? If so, there are a few sources of reusable paper towels out there that you can just tell are crafted with love. Biodegradability and compostability will vary based on the manufacturer, but one thing that remains constant is the love and care that go into hand-crafting these towels.
By purchasing hand-crafted reusable paper towels, you’re supporting local businesses; in particular, you’re supporting the eco-friendly community! Only good can come from funding the businesses that align with our personal values.
Recommended: Marley’s Monsters Unpaper Towels
Marley’s Monsters Unpaper Towels are just as effective as they are colorful! This family-owned brand hand-makes its items in Oregon and is committed to creating compostable, bio-degradable products. They last much longer than most brands, and they actually do get more absorbent after a few washes as advertised.
Marley’s Monsters Unpaper Towels are:
- Shipped on a roll, and continue to cling to the roll after washing
- Trimmed and enclosed on the edge to prevent fraying
- Designed to accent a colorful kitchen
- Made with love!
They’re designed for the chic kitchen.
They’re on the pricier end at $65 for a pack of 24. I’d consider buying these as gifts for your like-minded friends and family! In fact, that’s how I got my set.
Runner Up: Paper(less) Towels
Paper(less) Towels are made from 100% cotton flannel, eliminating the risk of microplastics invading water sources when you wash them. They’re hand-crafted and mainly similar to the Unpaper towels above but run a bit cheaper for a set at $30 for 10. They aren’t quite as colorful, which is a negative for me, but it might be a positive for you!
In conclusion, there’s a plethora of options when it comes to reusable paper towels. Depending on the room and/or cleanup job, I’d recommend purchasing a few different sets in order to most effectively offset your footprint:
- Bamboo towels for the everyday food spills and other messes you don’t want living on your sturdier towels for months or years
- High-density (300+ GSM) microfiber towels for the kitchen; washing hands, drying pots and pans, and cleaning up lighter spills like water and juice (not milk!)
- Luxury Swedish cotton cloth towels for rooms outside the kitchen, where messes are more likely to be lighter. Water and anything that doesn’t stain are excellent targets for these. Avoid milk, wine, coffee, etc…
- Lastly, consider artisanal hand-crafted towels as a replacement for microfiber towels if you’d like to support local businesses and give your room more of a chic look. They also make a great present!