Our Transition to Unpaper Towels

Hey Everyone! So, 2 years ago, I was searching for my New Years Resolution. I wanted something different. I had done the workout more, drink more water, be more positive, and while those are all perfect and acceptable goals, but I was looking for something …else. I had randomly come across a reddit post about making a basket from yarn and plastic bag pieces (I tried it, it didn’t work out), and the post lead me to the ZeroWaste community, which I was fascinated by. So, I decided to try to decrease our plastic waste! We started buying meat from a meat counter that only uses paper to wrap, remembering my reusable bags for groceries, reusing packing materials. I use veggie scraps to make stocks, you can read all about that in my blog post here, I compost the rest of my kitchen food waste. Before I toss something in the garbage can, I try to be mindful about ways to reuse, or not use in the first place. We had been talking about transitioning away from paper towels for a while now, and I finally had enough. Funds are tight, we are currently out of paper towel, and our amazon delivery is scheduled for later this month, it’s time. (And, if none of this DIY stuff is your style, there’s a ton of these “unpaper towels” on Etsy!)

We often used washable towels for napkins at meals, but about half the time, we used paper towels. I can also destroy an entire roll of paper towels on a good day of cleaning. So, first thing, we did a trial run for 2 weeks. I could still have my amazon delivery if it was a flop, but I wanted to at least try. My biggest concern was that I didn’t want to do one more thing that added work to my day. I have a million things going on, so, this needs to make sense and basically, I need it to be easy to stick with. I’m proud to say, 3+ weeks later, I still haven’t touched my backup paper towel roll! YESSSS. Here’s how we did it!

Trial run- I took an old yellow towel. and cut it up into 9×9 ish squares and serged the ends so they didn’t fray. I rolled them up and tossed them in a random basket on the counter where our paper towel typically sat. Day 1, I found myself looking for the paper towel quite a bit, but after that, it was really no big deal, I used these towels in every way I would normally use a papertowel. And, the random basket, I actually love, because after I’ve lightly used my towel, I can hang it there to be used again. (The zero waste community calls these washable towels, “unpaper towels”).

During our trial run, I did find some hiccups. 1. I don’t want to use the same towels for cleaning a toilet as I do for cleaning the table. 2. I don’t want to use either of those mentioned towels as dinner napkins. 3. bacon grease. We usually drain the grease from the pan into a jar, but we also usually lay the cooked bacon on a papertowel to soak up. And fish, I like to wash and dry fish before I add seasonings. 4. 9×9 is too small for these man hands. 5. Fabric choice wasn’t there for me. Terry cloth is great for drying and washing, but I wanted something different. 6. I needed to find a way to keep all of this separate from regular laundry. 7. If their going to be sitting on my counters, they definitely needed to be prettier than the cut up yellow towel we test ran with.

So, I ended up going with a couple super cute 100% cotton flannel fabrics, in which I cut into 12×10 rectangles. 4 of each pattern are 2 sided, and those are my dinner napkins. The rest are single ply, more cost effective for towels that are meant for cleaning! I have 2 fabrics for the kitchen. I will get 1 more fabric that will be for dirtier messes, like the bathroom, and those will be kept only in a basket in the bathroom. I spent less than $15 on 4 yards of this fabric which is plenty for our needs. It’s also far less than what I would spend on a box of bounty paper towels. I, again, serged together the sides of each towel to prevent fraying.

I also added plastic tote under the sink for dirties! Our laundry is in our basement, so we often just toss dirty laundry down the stairs, and anytime I go downstairs, I gather it all up and into the wash it goes. Its terrible, I know, but I do not separate lights and darks. ever. Towels, yes, but not lights and darks, I’m only willing to adult some of the time. Anyways, once we are getting low in the basket, into the wash they all go together, and separate from clothing. I wash them in a mild detergent and dry with wool balls and without softener. Softener seems to affect the absorbency of most fabrics, so it’s best to skip it all together. Wool balls are the bomb–way healthier, effective, and less expensive than softener.

The other cool thing about the single ply flannel is that they naturally stick together. So a lot of people, during this transition, actually roll these towels on a paper towel roll and use them just the same as they would conventional paper towels, cute right? Using single ply flannel allows these towels to roll up on itself without needing little snaps to hold them together, which, I am definitely not willing to snap 30 little towels together 2x a week. That is definitely not happening.

We still haven’t found a solution for the bacon issue, but I feel like that’s nbd, any ideas? What do you think? Maybe I can make like 2 special “food” towels!? I’m not worried about our cleaning solutions, they’re all natural, I just don’t want to ruin all these adorable towels with grease!

Think you could get rid of your paper towels? Let me know what you think in the comments below! Thanks everyone! ❤️

x, B

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