How I broke up with paper towels

On my journey to being a bit greener,  and because I am a psycho researcher,  I do a lot of reading about the ways to be more eco-friendly.  I am totally down with using vinegar and water to clean (although TB hates the smell of vinegar).  We recycle as much as possible and our compost is overflowing (more on that soon).  I was so open to all of the the things I read about.  But there was one I just couldn’t get on board with.  It was too hard.  Too scary.

Let’s just start by saying I love paper towels.

Even though I was ignoring all articles referring to them I started to notice how the garbage can was just full of them.  With the composting and recycling we don’t create a lot of garbage so it made it seem that all I threw away was paper towels.  I started to feel guilty about all those trees I was cutting down just to wipe up a few drops of spilled something and then be tossed away.  They come straight from trees, not recycled paper.  I couldn’t reuse them.  I couldn’t recycle them.

The problem was if I stopped buying paper towels then what would I use?  My sleeve?  We all have visions of someone’s house that has that nasty, smelly dish rag on the sink that is a microbial wonderland.  It’s gross and a lot of the reason people love paper towels.   So how do I give them up while keeping things clean and sanitary?

The solution is you have to have the infrastructure at the ready.  You will still spill things and will need to clean them up.  In order not to have to use the same yucky rag over and over, have a lot of cloths.  I didn’t have enough extra shirts etc. to cut up and make lots of rags so I invested in some things from the store.

First off, by invested I mean I spent about $10-15 on 2 packs of these from Target.  They are a good size to wipe up messes and not be unwieldy.   They are cotton and totally washable.  I put them in a basket I already had that I could never figure out how to use.

Second, we would need dish towels to dry the clean dishes.  Luckily TB came with a ton of these when he moved in.  Not because he really liked dry dishes but rather to clean up spills from the drunk people at his old built in bar.  (I still miss that apartment).  Here are some at Target.

Third, we would need napkins for when we are eating.  There are lots of options here.  If you sew, grab some cotton fabric, cut squares and hem.  If you don’t you can find lots in different price ranges.  But remember this is for everyday eating, not a fancy dinner party.  I was at Marshall’s after Christmas when everything is really cheap.  I bought some dark green napkins with a red trim for nothing and they don’t look Christmas-y.

So here is a pic of an assortment of my linen collection: (from left to right) dish towels, 3 different colors of napkins and white dish rags

So now that we have enough linens to not run out, what do we do with them when they are dirty?  I finally found a use for this basket that we leave in the kitchen for the dirty ones.

The next question you may ask is

“Doesn’t this create more laundry?  Because I hate laundry.”

Well not really.  We have to pass the dirty rag basket on the way to the washing machine.  If we are taking a load of whites to be washed we grab the white cloths out of the basket and thrown them in.  If we wash the dark colors, we grab the green napkins etc.  I guess technically we are adding more laundry but we are already doing the load of laundry so it doesn’t take much more effort.

I know what I have said above is crazy scary to most of us.  It is possible, and once you have the stuff on hand, not that hard.  And I do keep an “emergency” roll of paper towels in the basement, mostly in case there is a puppy accident or some other mess that I couldn’t imagine washing and reusing the cloth after.  It in the basement, unused now for quite awhile.  If I can do it, you can do it.

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