Unpaper Towels: Reusable Alternatives for Paper Towels

I’ve achieved a paper-towel free home for going on 10 months now, using something the internet has dubbed “unpaper towels.” In this post, I’m going to give you some tips for how to do it, and examples of sticky, wet and dirty messes where I successfully found reusable alternatives for paper towels. Seeing as it is Waste Reduction Week here in Canada, this seemed like a perfect time for this post too.

It’s Possible to “Throw In the Paper Towel” and Go Reusable!

I’ve already written about the usefulness of cloth wipes, so going paper towel free was the natural next step. But before blogging about it, I wanted to make sure I could really sustain a paper towel free lifestyle, which is why I waited nearly a year to write this post!

reusable alternatives for paper towels - pin it

But doesn’t everyone need paper towels in their home?

Do paper towels feel like a “must-buy” on your shopping list? Does it annoy you how they seem to be going up in price all the time, but those darn squares (now rectangles) keep getting smaller and smaller? It annoyed me too, which is why I decided to stick up my nose at consumerism, “throw in the towel,” and switch to all cloth options, all the while reducing my waste and saving what’s turned out to be more than a few dollalrs!

It wasn’t easy though. I decided to switch over right as we moved into our new home. It had been sitting empty for about seven months and never got a thorough clean to begin with, and some nooks and crannies were NASTY. I found I needed to “retrain” myself to not always reach for the roll – because with so many everyday spills and cleaning jobs it was my default.

A good first step…

The first step I took to change my habits was to buy something called “un-paper towels” that would mimic my typical roll hanging in my kitchen. A friend connected me with Nora from J & K Custom Creations, a WAHM in Ontario, Canada. She made me custom fabric 11×8 towels that snap together (just like snappies on a cloth diaper). The best part is, it’s very easy for me to roll it up around my paper towel dispenser, as pictured! I’ve been using these regularly since December 2016, and they are still holding up really well. (Please note I paid regular price for these prior to starting a blog. This is not an affiliated or sponsored review.)


reusable alternatives for paper towels - J & K Custom Creations fabric towel roll

They really work well and I love how customizable they are. They are cute as napkins, and do a great job for wiping dirty faces, cleaning windows or soaking up spills. And I love that I could pick my favourite patterns and colours – up to three different patterns in fact! I even find the backside of the snaps are good for getting hardened gunk off of countertops and other surfaces. Side note, she also makes cloth menstrual pads, cloth diapers, children’s clothing, sports bras and more! Check out her Facebook group.

reusable alternatives for paper towels - J & K Custom Creations snapped together unpaper towels

5 More Cloth Options

Now, the farther I delved into freeing myself of the tyranny of paper towels (yes, I feel that strongly about it!) I realized I needed some heavy duty options too. Here are some additional cloth options for wiping up greasy, sticky, wet messes.

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T-shirt Rags

My husband burns through t-shirts like no one’s business. It is easy to tear them up with no sewing required. I like the thin t-shirts for getting into nook and crannies like around faucets. They work as baby bum wipes in a pinch too!

Holey Socks

Don’t throw those out! Put a holey sock on your hand and it makes a great dust cloth, or makes scrubbing a tough stain that much easier.

Cloth Diaper Prefolds

No name brand paper towel can match the absorbing power of a prefold! My kids have outgrown my Bummis prefolds but I’ve held onto them to use around the house. And they hold up really well in the wash too. They are easy to find second hand, or you can buy them online through a retailer such as Lagoon Baby Inc, or even through Amazon.ca.

Skoy Cloths

These innovative cloths are are washable, flexible, and absorb 15x their weight! They are made with renewable materials and last for the equivalent of 15 rolls of paper towel! You can find them for a good price on Amazon. At about $13 -$15 for a three pack, that’s a really great deal (how much money would 45 rolls of paper towel cost you?) They are my “go to” for bathroom cleaning duty, as well as wiping down tables, high chairs and more. A heads up, these guys will shrink a bit the first time they go through a hot wash, but it doesn’t affect their usability.

What You Already Have

Cloths, old tea towels, old hand towels, etc – you really probably have enough of these lying around that you could start reducing your reliance on paper towels even without spending money on special items.


I will admit, for me this wasn’t as big of a concern because I already cloth diaper. I just wash the really dirty ones in with my cloth diapers, and everything comes out clean. In general though, what you’ll want to do is a heavy duty, hot wash, with a high performance detergent. If you find a smell remains, try adding ½ cup of Borax to your wash. I usually do a load with my diapers once every 2 – 3 days. It’s that simple. Also, for me the key to maintain a paper towel free home is having LOTS of options – so that while you are doing laundry, you aren’t running short and regretting your latest eco-friendly adventure.

Really though? You haven’t missed paper towels for anything??

At first I did, but not anymore. Forcing myself to find another option was key. If you really want to do this, you have to STOP buying paper towels so you are forced to reach for alternatives. Here are some examples of bad or extra greasy messes:

That time my daughter had her own physics experiment and learned that a gallon of milk does NOT fit in a shot glass:

reusable alternatives for paper towels - giant milk spill

I used big towels and prefolds to clean up this scary mess! Then I used a steam mop to wipe up sticky residue. With smaller more every day spills, a cloth option is really simple. Just make sure to rinse it out and ring it well – otherwise your laundry room will smell like sour milk after a day!

When I had to clean out the terrifying cold room in our new house:

Really, this cold room was like a horror show. There were clumps of hair inside the door, and reddish streaks that looked scarily similar to blood on the inside of the door. And then there was the fact that there was a lock on the door – put in place to keep something IN. I actually started with a roll of paper towels left there by the previous owners but gave up because it just wasn’t cutting through the grease. I ended up using HOT water, gloves and thick older tea towels, all the while repeating an inner mantra of “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know.”

Bacon grease:

My husband was convinced we would still need paper towel for this. But I found an old handkerchief worked just as well, and it came out clean from the wash!

Gross corners in the bathroom or other “super germy” places:

Again, the key is a good detergent. If cloth diapers can come out clean, so can these. You can always do a cold bleach soak  to kill germs on your towels and cloths too.

Mold or other “scary” toxic messes:

Well first off, please use gloves and practice precautionary measures! In this case, I take my oldest rags and throw them out if I really feel it isn’t something I cannot (or shouldn’t) wash out. Same goes if I’m just too grossed out by whatever it is to bother with laundering it.

So, do you think you’ll give it a shot? Or have you already found some alternatives to paper towel that work for you? Let me know in the comments!

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