A Paperless Kitchen



A few weeks ago as I was picking up a few things from the grocery store, I caught myself cringing as I reached for the paper towels yet AGAIN! Buying them was something I got into the habit of doing without really thinking of it, but an 8 pack of Bounty can really add up time after time!

That’s when I had my lightbulb moment…I was going to stop buying paper towels altogether! It was such a freeing decision and it was one of those moments when I wondered why I hadn’t done it way sooner!

So, since a few weeks ago, I’ve been slowly accumulating my dishrag collection. I still catch myself reaching for the (empty) paper towel holder every so often, but other than that, the adjustment to a paperless kitchen has been pretty seamless!

In case you’re thinking of making the switch, Simple Mom did a great blog post on how she did it! She offers great suggestions especially for those of you with children!

So far, I’ve organized my supply of cloth into these three categories:

  • cleaning cloths- for counters and cleaning up messes
  • drying towels- for hands and dishes
  • cloth napkins- for meals

I hope this helps those of you who are thinking of going paperless!

For those of you that already have a paperless kitchen, do you have any helpful tips to make the transition?

Or do you have a favorite brand/type of cloth?!

Happy Monday!

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About Jill Powers

Jill Powers

29 Responses to A Paperless Kitchen

  1. Like you, we went paperless in our kitchen several years ago. We don’t buy paper plates, paper napkins or paper towels. It’s funny how that lightbulb moment hits and you wonder why you didn’t think of it long ago! Good for the wallet, good for the environment. A win/win. Thanks for posting this.

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas


  2. Thank you for such a simple and good reminder! I just bought a pack of paper towels, but when I run out I will try to remember this. My only thing I really like to use paper towels for is if there is uncooked meat mess on the counter, but I guess it’s just as easy to use a regular towel and wash it right away, right? 🙂

  3. Pegi M Ficken says:

    I’m not TOTALLY paperless. No paper napkins. Real ones are not difficult, and napkin rings help. Old diapers are magnificent. Old t-shirts used to work well, but now there’s too much polyester. I just had a revelation the other day! I did not have to have another baby to get more diapers (which is good because my youngest child is 25!) I could go out and buy NEW diapers! Gerber flat-fold all-cotton diapers were 12 for $13.98.
    Some things, however… Dog vomit gets wiped up with paper towels. Come to think of it, people vomit would also, but I don’t have that problem. Tractor parts or car parts are placed on paper towels. Hands coated with axle grease are wiped with paper towels before being washed.
    I’m all for paperless–and greasy paper towels are great for starting a fire in my wood cookstove, but I’m not going to be ridiculous about it.
    I probably go through 4 rolls a year.

  4. Susan says:

    Congratulations! I know many find going paper towel free to be a bit traumatic. Our house has been paper towel free for about 15 years. I have a huge stack of clean-up cloths and my sponges rotate downward… Sink to floor over time.

    I do wish I could encourage to try this.

  5. We stopped using most paper years ago. We use old washcloths and hand towels for general cleaning, and old bath towels for bathing the dogs. We use cloth napkins and placemats. When the kids were young they each had a special napkin ring so they wouldn’t get mixed up and could be used for a few days. Pier One is a good source for those. We also give guests a different color napkin than the rest of have that week, so there is no confusion.
    I think terry cloth cleans better than paper towels, making housework easier, but I do like to have a no-lint cloth for windows and mirrors.

    • Erin Pavlica says:

      Hi Cheri!

      Different coloured napkin rings = brilliant!!!

      I am going to look for some at the thrift store the next time I go! ; )

      Cheers, ERin

    • When I had kids at home I embroidered everyone’s initials on their napkins. Now that they’re all grown I have a wealth of old t-shirts (no poly content), towels and flannel sheets – enough to last the rest of my life no matter how many dogs I have. (Dog beds are made of old comforters folded into cases I stitch from old sheets & curtains. Easy to wash!) I keep a separate supply of “extra-dirty” rags for extra-dirty jobs like the car and such.. A mesh bag hangs in the basement stairway for rags on their way to the laundry.

  6. Wendy says:

    We’ve been paperless for a while. It was easy for me, but a little harder for the hubby. We just have the three cloths you mentioned above. It was pretty easy switch. We also have one more set of rags in our laundry room for when a cat or dog coughs something up on the floor (which sometimes happens more than I’d like).

  7. Erin Pavlica says:

    I buy only 100% recycled paper towels that are bleached using a non-chlorine process. Made in the USA. I am hardcore about zero waste but do keep paper towels for the nasty clean-ups from kids and wiping grease out of my cast iron pan. I also compost them. I have used cloth napkins since day one of owning a house (13 years), and use rags for cleaning, and drying dishes and hands, of course. I also use cloth diapers. Maybe one day, I can convince my husband to give them up entirely. An 8 pack lasts us, well let’s see….roughly a year. I also only buy 100% recycled toilet paper!! ; )

  8. Carol says:

    So nice to hear you’re going paperless in the kitchen! My kitchen has been paperless for many years. (Well – truth be told, I keep a roll of brown recycled paper towels in the kitchen, but it takes close to a year to use it up. I know, because I date the inside of the roll.) I think the best thing to keep around to replace your paper towels is a stack of cloth diapers – the flat kind, not the pre-folded. Once I had them in the kitchen, I stopped reaching for paper, and also could keep my dish towels from being used for messy cleanup and getting stained. They’re wearing pretty thin after almost 15 years – I think when I replace them, I might buy a bucket of mechanics’ rags from the hardware store. They’re made from absorbent cloth, in a solid color that won’t show stains like the diapers do.

  9. Angel says:

    I haven’t bought a paper napkin for meals in 25 years or longer. We grew up using cloth linens for meals.
    I buy paper towels for an occasional mishap. Other than that I use cloth towels.

  10. Dakota-Rae says:

    Paperless is the way to go. I would add that it is especially effective to make rags out of old clothes or other materials that no longer serve their original job. Up-cycle to the max!

  11. Nina says:

    I’ve made the transition quite a while ago. The only thing I am missing are pretty cloths! I use the functional stuff for everything. I like flour sack cloths for dish drying, Small cottons for me to dry my hands while cooking, and I get a pack of 48 auto cloths (all cotton) for kids napkins and general stuff. When those get too stained (natural detergent doesn’t get the stains out very well, like tomatoes, carrots, berries, etc) for my liking, they become floor rags which get stored in a bin in the laundry room and put in a special bucket in the laundry room so they don’t get washed with regular clothes or *gasp* the kitchen towels! One question, though….my mom keeps telling me to wipe my pans out with a paper towel (or plates with extra oil) so the oil doesn’t go down the drain. After getting my kitchen sink unclogged just before New Years, I am seriously considering this. I tried to unclog it myself first and the greasy yuck is really gross! What do you do wi leftover grease? Bacon I just keep (still nice to wipe the pan out, though), meat juices I make gravy, etc. but what about roasting veggies or sautéing….what to do with that grease?

    • Pour the bacon grease into a tin can and store it in the fridge, adding to it every time you fry bacon. You can scoop out a bit for frying something if you want. When the can is full, I throw it out, but you might be able to think of other uses. The residue that is still left in the pan after you pour out what you are able to can be wiped out with a bit of newspaper (not as absorbent as paper towel, but good enough) – I find I’ve gotten good enough at draining the pan to not have to do this. I try to maintain a system of two cans – one of bacon grease (which I reuse for some sauteeing) and a can for other stuff, like chicken fat, oil from roasting veggies etc – but there are too many cooks in this kitchen to keep the system working.

  12. Amy says:

    Yay! Good job! As my drying towels get thin/stained/torn, I demote them to cleaning rags. Also think about how to make changes from other money-wasting/land-filling kitchen products: use reusable containers with lids instead of plastic wrap or aluminum foil or baggies.

  13. Mike S says:

    I don’t use a *lot* of paper towels, but I like having a few around for meat juices. But for everyday use – we use regular kitchen towels, the same that you would find in any professional kitchen. Regular white towels sometimes also called “bar mops” You can get ’em in bulk from costco.

  14. wolfie says:

    I agree with what Wendy said about the pet messes. Also, I often find cloth napkins at yard/ garage/ rummage sales, for very cheap. If they are not in perfect condition, that’s perfectly okay since we have a four year old, and man, can she soil a napkin! We have some nicer cloth napkins for when we have guests, but for everyday use we have plenty of mismatched, wrinkled and slightly stained ones that didn’t cost a lot of money.

  15. Pat Hatfield says:

    I guess the thing that has been holding me back is greasy messes and getting the cloths clean. I went to the grocery yesterday and forgot the paper towels. I was still in the store and thought about going back to get them, but decided I would survive. I guess rags don’t have to be prestine.

  16. V says:

    Daisyglitters, one of the things we do for meat mess is I cut up old holey tshirts or other cloth material that has no function and use these as “disposable” rags for things like grease and meat drippings. Also, we do still eat takeout and sometimes we forget to tell the people on the phone not to include the plastic utensils so we end up saving the napkins from the packages they send over.

  17. jfred says:

    We’ve been paperless for several yrs. Seven 6-packs of dish washcloth were bought, washed, and put into a basket by the sink…where I used to put our paper towels. I have a bucket under the sink for dirty “paperless paper towels”, cloth napkins, and dish towels. As the dish cloths have shown their use, I’ve either tossed them or turned them into rags for dirty cleaning. It works so well.

    I also make my own dish towels and cloth napkins from fun fabrics! Makes the kitchen so cheery!

  18. I have a wonderful container – wicker, edged with iron, antique – that sits on my counter. I keep all my towels and hand towels in there for household use. I have one towel that I set aside for draining bacon (I put it under a wire rack, lay bacon on the rack, it drips onto towel) and I just keep it for that – I suppose I will toss it when it starts to be too smelly – we don’t subscribe to a newspaper, so it is hard to think of anything else on which to drain bacon. I am going to have to train hubby to use cloth napkins for dinner times. To encourage us NOT to use paper towels (which I do have, I buy one roll every 3 months, so we are getting there!) I place a clean hand towel (actually an inexpensive washcloth which I buy in stacks from Wal-mart) over the roll as a reminder not to use paper towels unless absolutely necessary!
    GREAT post, thanks for the reminders and the encouragement!

  19. Julie says:

    The only thing I use paper towels for is dog messes, but when we have guests over sometimes they will use an entire roll.

  20. cyndi lewis says:

    We’ve been paperless for a while too. Though my children were scared when I first made the declaration that we were going paperless. They thought it meant toilet paper also! No worries there. I quite intend to continue purchasing that! As for paper towel, I still had to go through some withdrawals and it was a training process to learn to get a rag instead but now I don’t miss paper all that much. I use my husband and son’s old t-shirts, cut up, for cleaning rags, and I have two or three sets of embroidered dish towels for serving, drying dishes etc. and dish clothes for scrubbing. My daughters have even made a few sets of cloth napkins so we don’t have to buy napkins either. I really enjoy spending my $ on food rather then paper!

  21. I grew up without using paper towels, which my Mum thought were a supreme waste of money, since people had managed their homes without them up till then (the sixties). So it was pretty easy for me to just continue in that spirit when I left home, as I was pretty broke for a while. It’s a little harder for my hubby who did grow up using them, and as with others above; dog vomit is probably the one thing he would keep paper towel for if I let him – the consequence is that these messes mostly fall to me to clean up. I use a lot of rags, but balk at buying them – old shirts, towels, sheets, all get saved and ripped up. I have a bag under the sink of rags for dog stuff and floor messes, these go in a bucket on the porch to soak till I can deal with them. Dish cloths are mostly knitted, tea towels are bought (many are souvenirs from trips), hand towels are towels. Napkins, some bought, some home made – I have a couple of dozen family use ones, and another couple dozen of “good” ones. We have always used individually unique napkin rings, since the kids graduated from high chairs. There are a couple of rags in the bathroom cupboard with the cleaning gear there, another couple with the general house cleaning gear. Rags for paint, car repair etc usually come from the stash under the kitchen sink, and yes, these ones get thrown out or burnt. Newspaper gets used for some things, but we don’t get a paper regularly, so I tend to hoard newspaper for wrapping fruit etc in the fall. We host a few barbeques and potlucks for a large group of people, and I always say in the invitation to bring your own dishes/cutlery. Most people are really good about this, and we always have dishes for those who forget, but there are a couple of families that bring paper and plastic – so the invitations now say that if you want to do this, that’s fine, but since I don’t have garbage collection, they will have to take it home. No one seems to want to do this, funnily enough :). We make the kitchen sink available for dishwashing so people can take their dishes home clean. It also solves the problem of all the glasses looking the same! We provide a stack of cloth napkins for those who need one, but most people seem to just rinse off at the garden tap, especially those with small kids. I keep a cloth napkin in my locker at work, which I change out once a week. We use regular dishcloths and teatowels in the staff room kitchen area, and two colleagues take turns bringing them home to get laundered (I take care of the compost). I don’t even think about all this most of the time, and the good news is we’ve raised two kids who don’t either. Hopefully they’ll continue the trend.

  22. Laura says:

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  23. Tasha says:

    I just put away all paper towels and napkins last night. My family and my SIL’s family are giving it a try for a month. I made 24 rags out of 2 bath towels. I plan to use those for cleaning and spills, etc.
    By the sink I have a basket of kitchen towels for hands. And easily seen by my 8 year olds. Napkins will be the hardest. For now we are using cloth Christmas napkins (that’s all I had). Thrift stores may be a good place to look for cheap ones. I am planning to make some cloth napkins and do like jfred above and use FUN, bright fabric.
    Thanks so much for putting a bug in our ears!

  24. Dyan says:

    Same here! We haven’t had paper towels or napkins in our house for about 26 years (when our oldest child was born). Since that time we have acquired hundreds of cloth napkins and towels – literally HUNDREDS! The best source: thrift stores. They often have them bundled like 4 or 6 for a dollar or two. I’ve never been a “matchy-poo” kinda person…more on the eclectic side, so I don’t really care what’s in my linen baskets, shelves and drawers. Another plus: if a dog gets hold of one and chews on it cuz it tastes like marinara sauce I have no qualms about tossing it…. cuz it only cost a quarter!

  25. natschultz says:

    While I commend going paperless, and it probably pays off economically, I’m not sure that it is actually better for the environment.
    We use Marcal “Small Steps” 100% recycled paper towels, napkins and toilet paper. They actually use the recycled paper from NY and NJ, and so for us it both supports a local business and creates a market for all the waste New Yorkers make! We don’t have much paper waste since it either goes in the woodstove or into the garden as weed-barrier. We compost dirty towels after use (not the toilet paper 😉 We only use them for messes – not drying our hands (that is SO ANNOYING!) My brother and his fiance do use the color-coded cloth napkin system; it works if you are conscientiously not messy.
    I had considered going paperless, but when I realized how many more loads of laundry that would require, the eco-benefits soon dissipated.
    You must figure out the amount of water, electricity and laundry detergent you use to clean the cloth towels. I think it works out like using a dishwasher vs. handwashing dishes – the dishwasher uses a lot less water.