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How We Became a Paper Towel Free Home

In this article, I will take you through the steps of how my family and I created a paper towel-free home! But first, I will say that the key to becoming more zero-waste in the long-term is to take things step by step and to not jump too fast into anything. You are far more likely to inherit the habits if you don’t get overwhelmed by them first. 

I’ll start by giving some backstory and say that going paper towel-free wasn’t an overnight occurrence -  it takes time to establish discipline and commit to a practice that is to be used in your daily life. 

For my family, it took a few years to get here… But don’t be alarmed! This does NOT have to be your story and could take you two weeks versus our two years! This all depends on your current situation in life and how much time and energy you can commit to it.

In our first years of making the switch, we started out by creating a habit to use only rags and towels for cleaning dirty jobs (like pet and toddler accidents, car oils, etc.) and spills in and around the house. For this we recycled old towels and tore up old shirts for the rags. This also meant that we needed to create a spot to organize these towels since we didn’t want the nasty laundry getting mixed with our baby's clothes! We had two receptacles: one for the dirty rags and towels, and one for the cleaned rags ready to be used. 

Also at this time, we started exclusively using kitchen towels for all of our daily kitchen cleaning. We typically had two kitchen/tea towels out for use in the kitchen: one for hand and dish drying, and one for wiping the counters. 

Although I would consider this to be doing two steps at a time, since we were cleaning the kitchen towels with our rags and “dirty spills” towels in the same load of laundry, we felt that it was easy to adapt simultaneously. After we became comfortable with this process and sorted out some of the kinks, we moved on to next steps. 

Next, we got more reinforcements! After we had been doing well with mitigating our paper towel usage for general home cleaning jobs, we decided to try a couple more paper towel alternative products to help send us over the finish line. We then invested in Swedish dishcloths and pre-rolled unpaper towels. And let me tell you, they were indeed an investment that has saved us money! We bought a set of three Swedish dishcloths and a pre-rolled set of unpaper towels that included 36 paperless towel sheets. 

We kept one Swedish dishcloth near the sink for dishes, one on the counter, and typically one was in the wash and kept our unpaper towel roll in the kitchen for cleaning the counters and our hands. We found that both were very helpful and in much different ways compared to the old rags, towels and kitchen/tea towels we had been using. 

The Swedish dishcloths were able to dry much more quickly and could be used at one time for longer because it could be rung out. Moreover, we were also able to use it for longer because it would not smell after use and would dry quickly before the next cleanup. 

The unpaper towel roll has definitely been a family favorite of our due to its convenience and close resemblance to paper towels. Just like paper towels, we kept them rolled on our paper towel holder and the size of the cloth towel was very similar to the size of a perforated paper towel sheet. And due to it being made of cotton fabric, it could dry more than a regular paper towel and could also be dried out after use! Additionally, this alternative was more easily adopted by guests who were not used to paper towel-free homes.

Lastly, we had to fully commit! Our last step of commitment was to make this a "social norm" in our household by only offering our paper towel alternatives to guests when we hosted. Funnily enough, this was our largest hurdle in our process in fear of making our guests uncomfortable or for them judging us. For this, we just had to commit internally and not let fear come between our morals and what we felt was right and true to ourselves… in other words, we “warned” our friends when we knew were not particularly accustomed to our lifestyle. And if I’m being honest, who’s to say that we might not buy a single paper towel roll in the future if we really want a guest to be utmost comfortable if that’s what it takes!


To conclude, the process of becoming paper towel free is going to look differently for everyone. Most importantly, take it at your own pace and remember, becoming zero-waste about the journey and is not the end goal.  



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