Although we still haven’t entirely ditched our paper towel habit, frugal living plus diaper laundry plus the desire to reduce waste have pushed us to greater thrift when it comes to using anything disposable, including paper towels.
In our first years together in our first apartment, Matt and I used paper towels often. We used them to wipe up spills and messes, for cleaning, and to wipe our hands while we were eating (usually at our coffee table in front of our TV), and to cover our leftovers while reheating in the microwave. We went through paper towels at a steady rate.
A few years later, I bought some heavy duty terry towels to mop up spills and use for cleaning. I remember being motivated to actually spend some money getting these after reading Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook which basically listed lots of supplies that were necessary for properly maintaining a home. Unfortunately, no amount of towels actually made me want to clean my apartment, but these towels worked great for wiping spills, cleaning tables and counters, and other household cleaning chores. They stood up to many washes and about 6 years later, I’ve only retired a few of them. To make washing easier, we set up a little trashcan under the sink where we would toss the dirty towels before we would wash them in the next load of white laundry. Meanwhile, we still used paper towels for cleaning up after our cats (hairballs), covering food in the microwave, and wiping our hands while eating sloppy food or when we had company and I forgot to clean the cat hair off our “fancy” napkins.
When my first born, Pete began eating solids we used baby washcloths to wipe him up. We tried to let him feed himself as much as possible while doing completely unofficial baby led weaning so he was messy. A wet washcloth worked great at wiping off everything from oatmeal to mushroom soup to hummus from hair, hands, face and the rest of his body and clothes. Two years and another baby boy later, we are still using washcloths after meals, although lately Pete wants to wipe himself without help. The washcloths go along with the bibs and terry towels into the same trash can under the sink to be washed. Since we wash our cloth diapers every 2-3 days in both a cold and hot wash, it makes sense to wash them with cloth diapers since they require only a bit more water.
Lately I realized that my hands were always dirty and gross from sharing food with a 1-year-old but at the same time not wanting to use paper towels. I dug through our linen closet to get out some napkins that we received as a wedding gift but rarely used. I rearranged some kitchen cabinet space and set up a spot for the napkins and we started using them at every meal. I quickly realized that these napkins were not working out for several reasons. They took up a lot of space in our under-the-sink trashcan, they took up a lot of space in our laundry, and they were starting to look stained from all of the heavy use.
Finally, I decided that everyone in the family needed to use washcloths at meals. It was a revelation that seems so obvious. I only wish I had come to it years ago. Washcloths take up a lot less space than big, bulky napkins. They can be used dry like a napkin or be wetted to wipe down babies or tables and they don’t get stained like napkins. They are also very soft and comfortable against skin which is important to me in the winter months when my hands get very dry and sensitive.
This switch to napkins happened because I did not want to wipe my hands with a grubby little baby washcloth that had already been washed 300 times, so I decided to invest a small amount of our budget on purchasing some matching washcloths. Target had a pack of 8 gray washcloths for $3.50, so I bought two packs to start with and so far, so good. The real test will be to see how they stand up to frequent washing.
Now, I won’t need to use paper towels even when we have company because I can use the washcloths or napkins which are very handy in my kitchen cabinet. I already stopped using paper towels in the microwave, preferring to use the oven or stove when possible or covering the food with a dish or lid. I opened a new roll of paper towels last week, and I’m excited to see how long the roll lasts.
Do you have any good substitutes for paper towels?