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What's your stance on kitchen towels?

I was recently at a dinner party for 15 people, including four children under 10, in a lovely home near the beach, where the kitchen (well, the entire home) is small and the main course was local lobster. My friend is an amazing, laid-back-while-detail-oriented hostess, so it went swimmingly, but I was most impressed with the lack of paper towels in her house. We used cloth for everything: to wipe down the chairs we needed from the back yard, to clean off the extra table and counter space and serving platters, and for napkins. She does have a washer and dryer in the kitchen, which makes using cloth more convenient than it would be for me (my laundry is shared with others in my triple-decker apartment house and is three floors away and uses quarters), but in my efforts to be a responsible environmentalist I am failing when it comes to paper-towel use. What do you do?

asked by BetteratHome about 2 years ago
18 answers 3683 views
added about 2 years ago

Not as good as your friend, but I use both and try and use paper towels as little as possible. So, I change (each night) two dishtowels in the kitchen that are used generally to dry hands; use a bar cloth (changed each night) for messy clean-up on counters and such; cloth napkins instead of paper; and an assortment of clean rags nearby for things like cleaning. Despite all that, there are still paper towels in the kitchen, and we go through a big roll every 10 days to two weeks.

added about 2 years ago

I haven't used paper towels for years. Start stocking up, maybe a dozen. Ikea has very reasonable all cotton dish towels -- cotton is much more absorbent than synthetics. I've also found good ones at dollar stores. SeaJambon has a wonderful rotation for the towels -- I do let them go longer than that. I think you'll find that if you just throw them into your regular laundry, they're no extra trouble.
Draining fried foods -- you can use paper bags, like my mother did.
Dirty jobs -- as the kitchen towels get ratty, I demote them, and keep them under the kitchen sink.
Some jobs where recipes call for draining on paper towels can be done without: press and drain tofu on a plate or cutting board that is wedged to a low angle at one end; salt veggies like eggplant or cucumber and set them in a sieve over sink, plate or bowl.
As you get used to this, you'll find your own style and your own limitations. For me, I rarely use paper. At the moment, I know there are paper towels here, but I can't remember where...

added about 2 years ago

I have both in my kitchen but rarely use paper towels. I would guess a roll lasts a month for us? I wash my hands a lot as I cook and I like having a kitchen towel hanging nearby to blot my hands dry. I use a sponge and very hot water for wiping countertops and table. I use a salad spinner for drying washed leafy vegetables and herbs, etc. The towels get thrown in with the regular wash. I like folding them before they go in a drawer but sometimes I am lazy and just stuff them in the drawer to be folded later (or not). IKEA does make good ones.

added about 2 years ago

I use one for drying hands and keep old washcloths for wiping down my 2 year old's hands and face after meals. The old style cloth diapers are great for counters or any other wiping. I still buy paper as my husband just can't get a handle on using cloth only. As for me, I rarely use them. They don't take up much room in a hamper or washer, so try getting a couple packs of cheap baby washcloths to start and in the beginning keep them near your paper towels. Each time you reach for paper you'll see them and can think "will cloth do the same job?" Youll get used to it!


Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

added about 2 years ago

I keep a roll of paper towels for cleaning up floor spills. For everything else I use cloth: kitchen towels and napkins. I keep a hamper in the kitchen exclusively for kitchen laundry. When it's full, it all gets washed together, so that any food stains aren't transferred to clothes or other linens. Having the hamper in the kitchen makes it easy to rotate everything often. Anything damp gets laid out to dry overnight before it goes in, so it never has a chance to mildew. That said, I live in an extremely dry climate.

added about 2 years ago

Hanging stuff to dry before tossing in the laundry IS key! I forgot that step. I mounted a small (IKEA again!) coat-peg-hook-thingie inside the under-sink door to hang wet rags on, and I also hang dry all kitchen linens before adding to the bag. I probably takes me about a week to produce a full load of kitchen linens.

Also, I would like to say in response to ATG117's concerns, that I strongly believe that if you keep a strict distinction of use policy on linens, and use thoughtful common sense to guard against cross-contamination (admittedly, if you have too many (or teenaged!) cooks in your kitchen, this could be awfully difficult), home-laundered cloth is healthier and safer than chemically, treated-and-produced industrial paper-product – and that includes the expensive brown stuff.

added about 2 years ago

I primarily use paper towels, except for dishtowels and hand towels, which I use to dry clean dishes and hands, respectively. I'm not proud of the paper towel use from an environmental perspective, but I'm a bit anal when it comes to cleanliness and germs, and I think paper towels are better at preventing some of the issues towels and sponges pose in that respect.

added about 2 years ago

One point for cloth that makes a difference to me is the aesthetic opportunity! It's a pleasure to put out napkins that brighten the table, or even to use a dish towel that has color to lift sagging energies while cleaning up from a meal.
I am now using wedding presents from the day of 'matching table cloth and napkins' gifts, and finally finding satisfaction in having such nice things.

added about 2 years ago

The only thing I use paper towels for is to completley dry the sink area after washing the dishes. I generally use one towel sheet a day. For everything else, I use cloth. I'm also obsessive compulsive when it comes to the cleanliness of my towels, so I have a HUGE supply of them and a hamper dedicated to them. If I use one once, I throw it in the hamper and wash them seperately (not with clothes). I love being able to grab a clean towel whenever I want, so when I'm cooking, i have a pile of them ready to go on the counter.

added about 2 years ago

I use only cloth napkins, and use kitchen towels to dry hands. The towels are out for about a week, as I explain below. I will use paper towels to wipe up the counter after prep + any floor spills. Luckily our city has curbside compost pickup so any paper goods with food on them can go right into the compost bin for collection. So I don't feel terribly guilty about the paper towels even though it's hardly as 'green' as using cloth for everything.

Like others who have commented, I don't have laundry on site -- sorry, but having piles of kitchen towels to do every other week or so is just more schlepping than I want to do. So that's mainly why mine are out for a week or so. The clothing and bedding is quite enough! : )

added about 2 years ago

i love having a big supply of dish towels, and I use them for most household jobs. But I do use paper towels on occasion. I am fortunate enough to have composting by my city, so I put used paper towels in the compost bin.


AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

added about 2 years ago

I have a large supply of bar mops, dish cloths, dish towels and then older, torn/worn versions of all of the foregoing (used as rags) that I run through at a fairly brisk pace. I keep a roll of paper towels which lasts me about a month; it's mostly used by other family members. I use cloth for patting dry any ingredient that needs to be dried off before cooking, and for just about every other purpose for which you'd use a paper towel. Lettuce and washed fresh herbs are gently rolled and stored in smooth bar mops. I thoroughly wash in hot soapy water in my sink all cloths once we're done using them, then lay them out over the edge of my washing machine or over the center post inside of it, to dry, before putting in the to-be-washed basket. (Or, I hang them outside where, on most days, they dry fairly quickly.) All paper towels are composted. We've used cloth napkins exclusively for all meals since my younger son was a toddler; and including sending cloth napkins in their lunch boxes, to school. Napkins are changed for washing when necessary, which means frequently for certain family members and less so for others. ;o)


While Peter no longer works for Food52 he still thinks up ways to make the website better.

added about 2 years ago

Wow. I now feel responsible for half the paper-towel use on the Eastern Seaboard.

What do you all do for draining bacon?

added about 2 years ago

I live with a vegetarian (horror! But his aversion to meat is really his only flaw, so, c'est la vie) so rarely make bacon at home, but when I do I drain it on paper grocery bags (also in short supply as I'm pretty good at bringing reusable bags when I shop).

added about 2 years ago

I'll use brown paper bags or even newspaper (soy-based ink, after all!) for draining bacon. I figure that the amount of contact time is so short newspaper must be fine. And the greasy bag or paper goes in our compost bin for collection. Mmmmm, bacon-flavored compost, anyone?

added about 2 years ago

We use bar towels, painter's "rags" (the thin white hemmed 1'x1' towels you get in the painting section of the hardware store), fancy kitchen towels and occasionally bath towels. We use cloth napkins when they are clean.
We also have paper towels because there is no way I'm cleaning up cat vomit without them.
But I do use cloth hankies so I figure it balances out.
I drain bacon on a cookie rack over a cookie sheet, no need for paper at all.