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What Did We Do Before Paper Towels?

by Shelly Kneupper Tucker on February 20, 2010©

I’m thinking that before paper towels we did a LOT of laundry, but I’m about to find out for sure. I’ve decided that I’m going to take another step toward “green.” I’m going paperless in my kitchen. I’m determined to save the environment and save money.

I told you I am going green!

I know that most of y’all think that’s crazy, but I’ve considered this for a long time. It galls me to tears to buy bulk paper towels and rip off the huge plastic sheet that encased them to throw away. Often, I have to take the plastic that surrounds each individual roll and throw that away, too. That’s a trash can full of unnecessary packaging. Doesn’t that strike y’all as wasteful? It does me.

I examined how I use paper towels when I have them readily available. Heck, I can go through a roll of them a day:

  • If I wash my hands in the kitchen, I’ll grab a paper towel to dry them … even though the dadgum dishcloth is hanging right there!
  • I spill spaghetti sauce on the stove, and do I use the dishrag to wipe it up? No. I reach for a wad of paper towels.
  • One of the five cats barfs on the floor. What do I do? I take several sheets of paper towels to get the icky stuff up. Then, I get a cloth rag to wash scrub the spot on the carpet. Not only have I wasted paper, but I still have a cloth to wash.

Last week, I read an article at BlogHer about money saving green habits. It fed me a link to a post about creating a paperless kitchen at Simple Mom. The author, Maya Bisineer, made the process seem simple enough (she didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, but she gave me hope). She had to factor in small children. I don’t have any of those around here, so it would be easier for me. I only have to train Mr. Tucker. The idea began to float around in my mind.

Then I went to BigLots! Do you have one of those near you? They sell overstock and closeout merchandise. Most of the time, their inventory looks like cheap junk to me, but I found washcloths … lots of them! Washcloths? Yep. They are about the size of a paper towel and they are absorbent. They were a perfect replacement for the paper towels.

There were some that matched my kitchen, so I snatched them up, along with some new dish towels and some static cleaning cloths (for the cat vomit). None of it broke the budget. I figure that if I can’t stick with the green program, I’ll still use the cloths.

Thankfully, Mr. Tucker is on bored board with the idea. He’s a little skeptical, but he’s willing to give it a whirl. He did make me promise (Scout’s honor) that we would NOT go paperless in the bathroom … and that I wouldn’t start wearing little floral handkerchiefs tucked in my bosom (like my Grandmother did) so I could wipe my nose.

I swear, Honey. We are only going paperless in the kitchen!

So tell me, have you tried this paperless approach? Do you have any other suggestions for re-using, recycling, or going green? Who knows what hare-brained idea you can get me to try next to save the world?

{ 21 comments }

ellen February 20, 2010 at 9:41 am

Good Move! I think you’ll find it easier than you anticipated. We seldom use paper towels or paper napkins even when camping, having made the move about ten years ago in an orgy of cheapness. If you have a washing machine it’s really not even inconvenient. I usually just throw them into the washer every night, or as they get cruddy, whichever happens first. When I have a load I turn it on. I have two stacks of dish towels – one is the beautiful/presentable that are on display, and then there’s a stack of holey/ugly that stay in the drawer until there’s a mess to clean up. Too holey for that use – off to the rag bag as polishing rags, etc that I would rather throw away than mess up the washer cleaning.
.-= ellen´s last blog ..The Compulsories are Completed =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 22, 2010 at 4:58 am

Amazing! You give me hope that this can really be done. Now that I don’t have paper towels readily available it is odd that I haven’t had a need for them. You even go paperless while camping? I bow to you, for I am not worthy :wink:

jenny b harris February 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I love your idea of using cheapo washcloths. I bought a dozen “unpaper towels” from an etsy shop and use those less than I’d hoped. They turned out to be less absorbent than most jobs require, so washcloths would be a much better way to go. I also have lots of dish towels from Ikea that I keep in rotation for hand and dish drying. I have found that having lots of them keeps them from getting too grungy before they start getting torn up and rag-bag worthy.
.-= jenny b harris´s last blog ..Unhappy news =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 22, 2010 at 5:02 am

I was too cheap to go to Ikea. It’s not that their wares are all that expensive, it’s that I’m in a shopper’s paradise! I’d come home with half the store (or at least as much as would fit in my car). The only worry I have with trying all of this is that I might not wash things quickly enough. You know how fast mildew will start if you let damp rags sit. Seems you can almost never get the smell out after that. Maybe I need to get y’all to send me a reminder: “Shelly, do a load of laundry!”
Were your “unpaper towels” cotton? I have some knitted washcloths don’t don’t seem absorbent, and I don’t know what was used to make them.

Jeni Hill Ertmer February 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm

We do use paper towels here along with terry dish towels and terry dishwash rags as well as crocheted wash rags too. (Don’t like to use the term “Rags” there but what the heck else are they called? They aren’t wash cloths cause those are for bathing. Ok, my theory there. LOL)
Anyway, I will occasionally use paper towels to mop up a spill on the counter or table but in general, for wiping up the counter, the table, cleaning around the burners on the stove, I use the dish cloth (rag). It has more texture to it, cleans better and if it won’t get the grub stuff off the stove or counter, bring out the scratchy back sponge!

But for cleaning up after a dog, 3 cats and two small children -let me have my paper towels for that. They also make for a good fill-in too -a little rougher but hold a heck of a lot more -in place of kleenex when you have a really yucky head cold/sinus infection. Kleenex -one little wipe and they are done but one piece of paper toweling can be reused for a good long while for that problem.

That plus the washer and dryer (during the winter) get enough of a work-out normally, water bill doesn’t need any increases either. I think it might be a toss-up if you use just the cloth in place of paper all the time which is actually more cost effective then.

Maybe at a later time when the children are less messy, fewer pet accidents (probably a dream for that to happen though) it may warrant trying this idea then.
.-= Jeni Hill Ertmer´s last blog ..Beautiful Day! =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 22, 2010 at 5:04 am

I can understand your reluctance, Jeni, but you might try putting some cloth towels out and putting the paper towels in the pantry. I’m already finding less need to use them.
As for using that paper towel for a “snot rag,” I can only say “Ick!” I couldn’t do that, it seems unsanitary. Isn’t that a bit like keeping a rag full of germs right with you?

Susie February 21, 2010 at 1:03 pm

You know…I’ve never really been one to use paper towels. My parents didn’t for whatever reason, so it was never a habit for me. We use toilet paper to clean up the icky cat vomit, and sponges or bar towels for nearly everything else.

I’m so green…. lol
.-= Susie´s last blog ..A Day At The Park =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 22, 2010 at 5:06 am

Your already green then! Good for you! Now, I’ll see if I can do it. We’ve had a couple of cat barf incidents since I started this (who am I kidding — it’s a daily occurrence). I have some rags specifically for that purpose, and it wasn’t too bad at all.

Anne February 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm

It’s a very smart move! Two things happened in my life a year ago. First, I happened to pick up that “Mason-Dixon Knitting” book by the two knitting friends. They devote an entire chapter to the glories of the humble “warsh rag.”

The other thing was very sad. We became aware that my Aged Mum, who had dementia, was dying. She had been a spinner, handweaver, knitter, and general thread bender of some note. In order to keep her company, I began knitting those “warsh rags” in a rainbow of crayon colors in “peaches and creme” cotton yarn. I would take them along and work while I sat with my Mom, and she often perked right up and showed an interest. She liked to look at and hold on to the ones I’d finished, and she liked to put her hands on mine as I knit. It gave us a means of conversing through those last days, even though I was doing all the talking.

She passed away on March first last year, and I sort of knit my way through that first stage of numbness. So I have a lot of warsh rags to show for it. I have two types: The Persuader is a bit fancy, knit in a pattern called “ball band” and very good for dishes. The Enforcer is crocheted in a double layer and is good for power scrubbing. I wash them in cold water–they do fade a bit, but they still look pretty good.

I like using the “Peaches and Creme” yarn because the mill that makes it is the last cotton mill in the United States. I like knowing that I’m helping the people in Pisgah, NC hang on to their jobs. They oblige by having a website loaded with all kinds of patterns for wash rags, hand towels, hot pads, pot holders, baby clothes, and other amenities of daily life. If you’ve seen this brand of yarn in the Big Marts and haven’t liked it, it’s worth going to their Website–the colors available are much more beautiful, and I think the quality is better.

Anyway, so much for making your own warsh rags. I make my own pot holders, too–but that is another story. :)
.-= Anne´s last blog ..Featured Blog: “Spot-On Weather from a Team You can Trust” =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 22, 2010 at 5:16 am

“Warsh rag” :lol: I’m gonna tell you a secret: I call them that, too … but not in public. Don’t tell my sister that, because I make fun of her Texas accent, and always call it a “waaaahsh rag” in her presence. I’ve not seen the book you mention, but I must look for it.
I’m so sorry about your Momma. But, didn’t you find a wonderful way to connect with her? That’s such a lovely anecdote it brought tears to my eyes.

cindee February 23, 2010 at 11:05 am

I try really I do(-: I went to paper towels in the bathroom for hand washing cuz I thought it was more sanitary, but who knows. The kitchen paper towels we use more like a napkin or for draining bacon on(-: I use cloths for wiping and cleaning(-:
.-= cindee´s last blog ..Ghost Sighting? =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm

I’m already seeing that I will miss paper towels for draining bacon or for putting on top of food when I microwave it, but I’m trying to do without it on both counts. As for sanitary? I don’t know, but I figure if I change the towels frequently it’s OK, since there are no little kids running around catching the germs (and spreading them).

Jennymcb February 23, 2010 at 7:41 pm

If my compost bin was bigger, I would think of putting the paper in the bin, like I do with my coffee filters.
I have kitchen dish towels that my mom and great aunt had crocheted an edging which I keep on my stove, those are my hand drying towels. You can make it work!!
(I am glad that I read the above comment about the Peaches and cream yarn, off to check out that website)
.-= Jennymcb´s last blog ..Bumpy square =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Composting the paper towels would work, but all that packaging is still annoying. Oh! I’d never be able to use the hand towels that my grandmother put edging on. They just hang and looks pretty (she would roll in her grave to think I don’t actually use them). Good luck finding the Peaches and cream!

Anne February 23, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Here is the link to the factory website. They have several quantities available at ridiculous prices. The patterns are there as well–the one I use is called the “ball band” pattern. The link:

http://www.elmore-pisgah.com/
.-= Anne´s last blog ..Featured Blog: “Spot-On Weather from a Team You can Trust” =-.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker February 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Thanks, Anne. I’ll send that on to Jenny! She wants that peaches and cream.

Anita February 28, 2010 at 9:39 am

I’ve done the same. Mostly using towels now instead of paper. I also have a ten month old baby and have been using cloth diapers. That’s right–cloth. So while my friends sit back in amazement that this is even possible, I’ve saved myself tons of money and the landfills multiple bags of unnecessary trash.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker March 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Cloth diapers? You are a much better woman than I am. The landfills will forever be filled with plastic encased poop that my children manufactured :-)
The paperless kitchen, however, is going quite well … much better than I expected.

Elisa June 29, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I do keep a roll of paper towel in my kitchen. I mainly use to wipe off grease off a pan or to absorb grease after frying different meats or fish. Otherwise, I rely on waffled dish towels. They are very absorbent.

Shelly Kneupper Tucker July 1, 2010 at 9:50 am

Waffled dish towels ARE nice. I visited your site, but couldn’t comment, because I don’t use openID. The ones you made are gorgeous, though!

Elisa July 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Thank you for your reply and comment.

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