Life with a Baby . . . and No Paper Towels

Many months ago, I wrote about the baby rules I break for the planet.  One of those “rules” included mopping up baby with wads of paper towels.  I don’t think I’ve ever bought a roll of paper towels in my life.  We do have two rolls of paper towels in my house.  One roll was generously left here by the previous owners.  We moved the other roll over from our last house, where it sat in the back of a closet for at least four years.  My husband bought that roll long ago, without my consent or knowledge.  I cannot be blamed!

Aren’t trees nicer than paper towels?

Last May, Peggy from Treehugging Family issued a paper towel challenge.  She personally wanted to reduce the number of paper towels she used and asked readers to do the same.  You will see my comments on those posts, urging people to try the “hide the paper towels at the back of a musty closet” technique.

I hate to see paper towel commercials that make it seem like these tree-killing/landfill-filling products are indispensible to modern life.  The one that really gets to me shows a mother going through her house, allowing all the glorious messes of family life because she has paper towels to help clean them up.  “If you knew he’d make a mess, but let him anyway, you’re crazy,” it begins.  At the end of the commercial, she plops down on the couch with a magazine, confident that she’s cleaned everyone up with Bounty.  

Giving up paper towels when the baby comes along might be an even greater challenge than eschewing them under normal circumstances.  There’s always a mess to clean up–on the baby, on yourself, on the floor.  I got a few packages of baby washcloths as gifts, and I used those instead of paper towels.  I just threw them in the wash when I was done, and they’re so small I’m sure they didn’t add to the overall amount of laundry I did.  Of course, any old rag or washcloth will also do the trick.

Think of all the money you’ll save by giving up paper towels.  Say you normally go through a pack of six rolls a month, at $10.00 a pack.  In ten years, you’ll spend $1,200 on a completely unnecessary product!  And if that’s not motivating enough, think of the trees.  Paul on things that make you go green says, “The NRDC estimates that if every household in the United States used one less roll of paper towels, we could save 544,000 trees.”  Saving a few thousand trees seems like a much better reason to take a self-satisfied couch break! 

Never buying paper towels works for me.  For more Works for Me Wednesday ideas, check out Rocks in My Dryer.


  1. Ooo, this one really tests me. I DO have a roll of paper towel and I use quite a lot of it. Much less than I used to, but still way too much. It’s that C word again – convenience.
    You’ve made me think though, and perhaps this is the next thing to wean myself off.


  2. I’m with Mrs Green, convenience wins me over much too often. I recently bought some microfiber towels intending to use them instead of the paper towels. I do, some of the time. The next trick is convincing my husband that really we don’t need the paper towels!

  3. Hey. Thanks for the mention.

    I’m still using fewer paper towels, but they do come in handy for cleaning cat vomit! I can’t speak for the baby stuff though. And I agree — I hate those paper towel commercials. I think the commercials for disposable dishes might bother me even more though.

  4. This is a great idea. How do paper towels compare with Clorox wipes? Because the germaphobe in me will always win over the environmentally-conscious person in me when germs and bacteria are involved.

  5. Mrs. Green, Sara, and Peggy, perhaps you need to cut paper towels out cold turkey rather than weaning gradually? I find not having them around at all makes it quite easy to avoid them!

    Rachel, I am sure your Clorox wipes are going to kill 99.9% of all bacteria and germs, BUT is that really necessary? Personally I would worry more about the toxic chemicals (chlorine bleach) that the wipes were spreading around more than the germs they’d be killing. Switching from something like Clorox wipes to a rag and some water does require a whole change in your mindset about cleanliness and germs. Maybe you could consider something like a steam cleaner . . . it uses only steam and kills just as many germs as bleach.

  6. Couldn’t agree more Rebecca! I’ve used those baby washclothes until I can’t tell their original color anymore. They’re a perfect replacement for the ol’ paper towel. Kudos!

  7. Rebecca, I remember being shocked when a few years ago I was at my sister’s house and they had no paper towels. Instead there was a neat stack of shop towels in a convenient location. Imagine that. Well, it took me a few years, but I now have my own little stack of shop towels, etc. It’s a great way to use up holey towels too – just cut them into squares and use them instead of paper towels. They actually work BETTER for cleaning up messes. I also recommend keeping a bucket in the kitchen somewhere to throw the soiled ones. My skeptic father insisted that I would just end up doing more laundry and the overall environmental impact would be a wash, but I don’t think I do more laundry. Those little towels don’t take up much space in the washer and I just throw them in with bath towels and things. I haven’t bought paper towels in about a year and I haven’t missed them.

  8. I recently switched to using wash cloths I bought at Target for my kitchen cleaning and mop ups after my boys- they were 2.99 for ten of them and they are easy to wash, so I do not miss paper towels…

  9. We are on our second month w/o paper towels and paper napkins. Now, I keep a cloth towel, with snaps, on my old fashioned paper towel holder. We have repurposed some thrifted, linen dresses and shirts and flannel nightgowns into cloth napkins. It has been a little bit of stretching for the hubby – but, he will come around, especially since it saves us $ and the environment.

  10. When my husband and I got married 5 years ago, we decided paper towels were something that we would do without. Since we were both full-time students, the savings really helped us, although the environmental benefits of forgoing disposables was our main motivation. We keep a basket of clean, folded rags (cut-up bath towels and old dish towels past their prime). Honestly, I never miss having the paper towels I grew up using. Having a 4-month old baby has not changed our resolve. How wonderful to raise a child who doesn’t think everything should be disposable!

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