Our home is a paper towel-free zone (well, almost).
When our first child was born, it became apparent that if we didn’t find a reusable substitute for paper towels, we were going to kill a LOT of trees just trying to maintain a pretty low bar of cleanliness, especially in the kitchen. In a given day — no, in a given 1-hour time slot — I would wipe fingers faces floor table appliances trying, desperately trying, to keep them from being sticky, grimy, slimy, oozy, and just plain messy. Our trash was filling with paper towels at an incredible rate, and the storage space they require (because rolls of them are bulky) was ridiculous.
Lucky for me, I have a Costco habit. On a weekly shopping trip I happened down the bedding aisle and found a bundle of 24 white wash cloths for $12. I bought it, skipped the bulk paper towel bundle in the next aisle, and happily trotted home. We haven’t looked back.
We keep the clean wash cloths in the kitchen, where they’re most frequently used. They are down low, so if the kids make a mess they can quickly get themselves a wash cloth and clean it up. What do we use them for? Here are some of the ways:
- Wiping up spills
- Drying fruits and vegetables
- Drying dishes
- Impromptu napkins when our nicer cloth ones are all dirty
- Wiping off the table after meals
- Cleaning dog slobber off the floor, cabinets and chairs
- Wiping down cabinetry, appliances, etc.
- Serving as an ice-pack wrap for bumps and bruises
- Emergency first aid for kitchen mishaps involving knives
- Cleaning out the fridge (using soap and water)
I don’t use them for heavy cleaning or anything involving chemicals other than dish or hand soap, because these are used in the kitchen, and I never trust the washing machine to get strong cleaners out of linens. Hey, I gotta have some standards.
There are plenty of other towels and cleaning cloths out there that people might choose to use, such as chamois-type cloths and microfiber cloths, but I really like these plain white wash cloths for the following reasons:
- They’re cheap.
- They’re durable. We’ve had this batch of 24 in daily use for over five years and only two have gone to the cleaning rag pile.
- They’re easy to replace. You can find them almost everywhere.
- They’re absorbent.
- They’re a good size, big enough to get the job done but not so big that they are unwieldy. They’re easy for the kids to use, too. And since a big part of my small-space living game plan is to have the kids take care of as much as they can, this is important to me.
- Because they’re white, bleaching them is easy.
- They store compactly. Our stack of 24 takes up about the same space as a large roll of paper towels.
- They can be washed with other towelling, minimizing loads of laundry.
- Whey they’re too ragged for kitchen use, they’re easy to transfer to the cleaning rag pile.
I said at the beginning that we are almost paper-towel free. We do keep one roll of paper towels on hands for things like cleaning up cat or dog barf (ah, the joys of pets) and for wiping oil off of cooking or work surfaces. But we use them so infrequently that a roll lasts us months.
So looking for a cheap, convenient, environmentally responsible way to kick the paper towel habit? Spring for some wash cloths. You’ll be glad you did.