Friday, June 17, 2011

Cutting down on Paper

I grew up in a rag-centric household.  There was always always always a washcloth hanging off the kitchen sink tap, and mom would use it to wipe down counters, wash dishes, etc. I can't recall us ever having paper towels, and even napkin use seemed extravagant to me.  If I ever went to a friends' house where they used paper towels, I assumed they must be very rich.

Fast forward to my college years and a series of ads by Sparkle Paper Towels that basically said "reuseable towels are a paradise for germs.  You need to install a paper towel rack in every room of your home--including the bathroom."  The paper towels in the bathroom seemed silly to me even then because this ad was basically saying that by purchasing fancy guest towels, you were poisoning your fancy guests.  But I think I internalized it more than I realized.

For many years, I didn't have on site laundry, so I relied on paper towels because washing clothes was such a pain in the ass it happened really infrequently--and I hate doing laundry.  There were times, every now and then when I would go through a phase of frugality/greenness where I'd decide "No more paper towels for me!  It's all cloth all the time!" But, sadly, it never really lasted, probably because it occurred in conjunction with a vow to keep the house cleaner (usually lasts a week).

Now, I live in an apartment with a clothes washer in the basement, and I am taking the cloth plunge.  I cleaned out a very small garbage can that we never used, and decided to make that the rag can, and that lives right in a corner of my kitchen.  I cut up a couple free t-shirts that I never would have worn into small squares, and have been using those to wipe down the counters in my kitchen for about two months now.  When the rag can fills up, I just wash those with the rest of my towels.

It was a bit of a challenge at first to remember to go to the rag drawer instead of the paper towel spindle (which is so convenient!), but now that I'm in the habit, I barely think of it.  And now that I'm in the habit of using rags, I'm back to feeling extravagant and weird when I use a paper towel!  I'm still using paper towels as napkins (though only 1/2 sheet).  Usually I try to just eat my meal without a napkin, but sometimes, damnit, I want a napkin!

Since starting this experiment, I think I've replaced the paper towel roll once. I don't really know how much I was spending on paper towels before, but I felt like I was buying them all the time.  I currently have four and a half rolls in my house, I'll update this when they're all gone (which will hopefully be a very long time from now).

Anyone have any insight as to the best fabric to make cloth napkins from?


  1. Nothing makes me feel better than cloth napkins - since I eat lunch at my desk when I'm at work, having a cloth napkin and real utensils to use (even if I'm eating tuna from a can) is wonderful.

    I've had a bunch of different kinds of cloth napkins and the ones I like most are linen - they feel the nicest, they're kind of absorbant so you don't get that smear-y feeling, and if you hang them up right away to dry or take them out of the dryer right away and fold them, they don't get too wrinkly. Iron them if you have guests and care, otherwise fold them and hope they press themselves flat.

    Cloth rags are the best - good job switching back.

  2. Cloth rags are the way to go! I never buy paper towel and always use rags. This is something I inherited from my mother, since we never had paper towels.

  3. Ooh, good idea with the cut-up tshirts and the rag can. I use rags, but only have two that I rotate between, so they're washed infrequently enough I know they must be germy messes.