Recycled Paper Towels: Another Gut-wrenching Decision

Another product I’ve been reconsidering—alongside wipes warmers and diaper sprayers—are recycled paper towels. If you are a faithful reader of the Green Baby Guide, you know how my proudest claim to greenness is that I’ve never bought paper towels in my life. However . . . I’m beginning to make room for some changes.

Would recycled paper towels improve my life at all? Could they possibly be better than washable rags sometimes, especially if I promised to compost them?


  1. Interesting question- I am beginning to make the switch from paper towels, which we rarely use anyways, to all washable rags. Something to think about is what you will be using the paper towels for and is that something you want in your compost? For instance, I always used paper towels to wash mirrors and glass but I don’t want commercial window washing fluid in my compost (I’m also currently making a switch to non-toxic, homemade cleaners!).

    Now I’m curious- why are you considering changing?

  2. Jana, I use vinegar and newspapers to clean windows and mirrors. I have written a few posts about that! I’m mainly thinking of the times I’ve had to use rags to clean up something gross–like the time my daughter threw up all over the place. I had a lot of washcloths and rags, but then I needed to rinse them with a lot of water and do laundry right away. I suppose if I’d used paper towels in that situation, I would not want them in the compost–but I wouldn’t have had to use so much water or run a half-empty load of laundry.

    I haven’t fully thought out this idea . . . but I was just wondering if having some recycled paper towels around, using them sparingly and composting them afterward, might be a somewhat “green” decision. So far I have not actually done anything about it!

  3. Touch question! All I can tell you is that I recently started using paper towels… and so far I have no regrets. I came to the decision because I didn’t want to use commercial baby wipes, and the amount of laundry created by using wash clothes instead didn’t seem like a good alternative. While i don’t compost the baby poop wipes I know that the solution is natural and the paper towels are biodegradable so I don’t feel so guilty. I stretch the paper towels much further by cutting each rolling into thirds so that helps to ease my green conscience as well!

  4. It might be worth considering how much water and energy goes in to the production of the paper towels. So they’re not as ‘green’ as you might think, despite being recycled. The amount of water and energy you would use to do the odd small load of laundry in your washer is probably much less than the amount used to produce the paper towels. Add to that the fact that they come packaged in plastic and I think it’s pretty clear that washable rags are a much better choice.

  5. I think that since you are so cognizant of what you use and how you dispose of it that if you did buy some recycled paper towels, you probably wouldn’t use them very often anyway. We buy them, but we use them very rarely. I only use them in situations as described above (cleaning up really gross stuff and not having time or not having enough towels to do a whole load of laundry). My guess is that you would probably still use rags MOST of the time and only use paper towels on these rare occasions. They really can be nice to have around if you have kids or pets (and all of the unexpected messes that come along with them!).

  6. We are like Granola girl. I have a roll of recycled paper towels in the house for when the cat throws up or things of that nature. But for the most part we use rags. The paper towel is recycled, and only $0.99 (I use Marcal) and I only buy one every few months.

  7. Paper towels Do. Not. Work as well as real towels, flour sacks, etc. We have about 50 inexpensive tea towels from IKEA – they were $.49 each (last time I was in IKEA they were up to $.79 each) They last longer if you don’t bleach them. We also have a dozen of so flour sacks that are great for bigger messes.

    We have a roll of pwper towels under our sink and use Scott Naturals, but 1 roll lasts for months. We use them ONLY for:

    Dead bug body removal
    pet cleanup (when we had an incontinent dog)
    anything so unsanitary that I would feel I needed to bleach the towels
    Cleaning mirrors and windows (but only sometimes)

    The only thing I find paper towels work better for performance wise is windows and mirrors, and if they aren’t good paper towels it isn’t worth it.

    I wouldn’t buy them. If you have made it this far…well, if I had never in my life purchased a roll of paper towels, I would be anxious to keep that record!

  8. I don’t use paper towels anymore and I have no desire to start again. I do keep some in the house for the hubby or anything just SUPER gross. But I don’t really use them.

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