Should You Use a Paper Towel Or Cloth Towel For That Mess?

In the quest to live a more environmentally-friendly life, there are a few questions that consistentlycome up for eco-minded folks.

One of these conundrums is the question of whether you should reach for a paper towel or a dish towel when presented with a spill or other small mess. Like so many of these arguments, the answer is, “it depends.”

On the surface, the answer to this question might seem simple.After all, paper towel waste is a big problem for Americans. “Here inthe U.S. we currently use more than 13 billion pounds ofpaper towelseach year and that number is growing steadily,” according to The Paperless Project. “This equals more than 3,000 tons ofpaper towel wastein the U.S. alone.”

Holy paper waste, Batman! Since cloth towels can be reused for years, it may seem like they’re the obvious green choice, but wait just one second…

Related Reading: 7 Best Eco-Alternatives to Throw-Away Paper Towels

Reusing textiles requires washing, and washing requires water (and in most cases electricity). Water is increasingly becoming a precious resource in post climate-change world(just ask California), and not everyone gets their electricity from clean sources like solar, wind or geothermal power. Depending on the age/efficiency of your washing machine, each load could sendaround 20 gallons of water down the drain, not to mentionthe energy used to dry it (unless you’re using a clothesline). There’s also the chance that cloth towels can harbor or even spread bacteria if not properly maintained. Yuck!

So what’s an earth-loving humanto do?

The answer is to employ a hybrid approach that reduces your paper towel consumption as much as possible (if every household in the U.S. used just one fewer70-sheet roll of paper towels,it would save 544,000 trees each year), and to use recycled paper towels when the situation calls for a disposable cleaning solution (every ton of recycled paper saves an estimated 7,000 gallons of water).

When To UseCloth Towels

cloth towels

1. Drying hands after washing
2. Drying clean dishes
3. Wiping crumbs/dust off surfaces
4. Soaking up water-only spills
5. Polishing furniture
6. Cleaning up after a meal/using as a napkin

When To Use Recycled Paper Towels

using paper towels

1. Spills that could spread germs/disease (think: raw egg, or liquid from raw meat)
2. Soaking upgrease from bacon/fried foods
3. Cleaning germy surfaces (think: toilet, diaper changing table, or litter box)
4. Cleaning toxic items (think: paintbrushes, glue spills, etc)

What do you think?Do you hate paper towels or do you think they have their place? Tell us in the comments!

Related Reading: 9 Paper Products You Should Give Up For Good

Images via Thinkstock

62 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill29 days ago

I always use paper towels to clean up pet messes!

SEND
H M
H M2 months ago

Yes, you should use cloth or paper for that mess, Beth. Stop making the writers have to scrub up after you in the Care2 break room.

SEND
Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!

SEND
Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thanks

SEND
Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thanks

SEND
Jim V
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for sharing.

SEND
Jim V
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for sharing.

SEND
Angela K
Angela K2 months ago

noted

SEND
Amanda M
Amanda M2 months ago

I use cloth towels in the kitchen, but for soaking up grease from bacon or fried stuff or cleaning up cat barf, NOTHING beats paper towels! Ever go to throw a load of towels in the wash and grab one towel by the smear of cat or kid barf? Can I be the first to say, "EEWWW?"

SEND
Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!!

SEND