cloth napkins

How to create a paperless kitchen

Over the past year, I have had a great journey going green except for one issue. Until very recently, I struggled with my desire to have a paper-free kitchen. I wanted to rid our home of so much throwaway paper, but I wasn’t sure it was possible. How can you run a kitchen with no paper napkins or paper towels?

I understood the environmental benefits and the financial merits of not wasting this paper, but I still wasn’t sure it could be done without it being too complicated. But I have finally evolved a system that’s working great for my family.

As of today, I have been effortlessly paper-free for over a month. But before I jump into the how, I want to focus on the reasons behind why I had such a struggle  evolving this system. It seems that once I had solutions to each of these problems, I had created a rather EASY paper-free system at my home.

Here are some of my reasons why going paper-free in the kitchen was difficult.

1. “I just didn’t realize.”

Sadly,  I have used paper for so years that very often I failed to realize I was reaching out for the paper towel roll. A habit is a hard thing to break. As we get busy with work, kids and the rest of life, habits created for our convenience are even harder to break.

Solution: To create a paperless system in your kitchen, keep a LOT of cloth at your disposal.

And keep that paper roll stashed away. Today, in our home, we have enough cleaning and utility cloths to last us a whole 10 days.

2. “Where, oh where is the cloth?”

This is something I often heard from my kids and husband. If the cloth is hard to find, the family will not use it. And unless the whole family is on board, going paperless is impossible.

Solution: Be sure to make cleaning and utility cloths accessible to you, your spouse, kids, babysitter, and anyone who comes by.

In our home, we have a drawer full of cloths for kitchen use and a labeled basket with a pile for kids. You could have multiple drawers, but having very distinct places for the cloth works really well, even with my  two-year-old.

3. “I have NO idea which cloth to use for this or that.”

A few months ago, I experimented with a system with three colors of napkins — all the same kind, for various purposes in the kitchen. This system failed immediately because none of us could remember which color was for what purpose.

Solution: Create CATEGORIES — not just categories of form, but also of function. Now, we have different kinds of cloth based on what we use them for.

I’ll go into each type in a minute, but this system works well, because each category is easy to recognize and works for its intended function.

4. “The kids, the dogs… they’re way too messy.”

I really used to think that some messes created by my dogs and kids absolutely needed paper — it wouldn’t get clean otherwise.  But I really haven’t seen such a need in over a month (and in case there really is a need, there is always paper hidden away). It seems like this fear was just in my head — such exceptions are really no reason to not go paper-free.

Solution: Change your perspective. Once you start using cloth regularly, you will also start to dispose off older cleaning cloths regularly. Such messes are good opportunities to get rid of old rags. And if you have no cloth you can use, there is really no problem with using a little paper, is there?

5. “The guests need paper.”

This was yet another excuse I gave myself. The fact that guests ask for paper napkins does not mean they need paper napkins.

Solution: Take pride in what you’re trying to accomplish. When I got excited about not having used paper in over a week, my guests got excited about it as well. They wanted to now how I was doing it. They seemed much more sensitive. All I had to do was get rid of my guilt of depriving them of paper.

Organize for going paper-free

Photo by Jill Doughtie

I have an extremely simple setup in my kitchen, with just four distinct categories of cleaning and utility cloths:

1. For deep cleaning

This category is cloth used to clean dirt, sticky stuff, grease, and pretty much all kitchen dirt. I invested in ten really good industrial strength static cleaning cloths.

I think everyone serious about using cloth to deep clean should invest in them. They’re great, and I go through one cloth every two or three days in my kitchen. The cloth takes stains away on the stove, stickies out from the dinner table, and just about everything else. If there’s a mess that is both deep and wet, I will use the cloth and throw it straight into the washer. They also work wonderfully to dry dishes, clean mirrors and shine surfaces.

2. For the kids

As I put the kids’ old clothes away, I discovered a number of washcloths and burp cloths — some even unopened. I put all of these into a little basket and my girls have that basket of napkins all to themselves for anything they like. They use them at the table, to clean their messes, and even use them while they cook with me.

3. The exclusive

This is the pile of napkins for the guests. A little nicer, these are mostly put away until the guests arrive.

4. The everything else

This category consists of about 20 very generic napkins. This is the critical pile that we use for just about everything else — when in doubt, we just use these napkins. I bring one of these out everyday to use to wipe my hands in the kitchen. If there is a mess that’s too wet to waste a static cloth, we just use one of these.

I have been using this system for over a month, and it’s been working like a charm. I  have yet to find something that I absolutely need paper for. All I had needed was a flexible enough solution, a huge change in perspective and a lot of pride in my efforts.

Are you paper free in your home? I would love to hear what works for you!

top photo source

Maya is the founder of Memetales - a mobile reader and publishing platform for children's stories. Get your child reading by downloading the FREE iphone/ipod touch app with 20 Free books included!

Encouragement for living simpler, right in your inbox.

We share our stories as we simplify our lives - no guilt-trips, just love.

(no spam, promise. we hate it, too.)


  1. Hi..
    Yup.. We are paper-free at home.. Happily too! And I have pretty much the same category of cloths as you’ve described, except that I have a separate category of dishcloths to wipe the dishes dry. We don’t have a dishwasher and so I like to wipe the dishes dry after washing up. Other than that, everything is the same and yes, it is easy to go paper-free in the kitchen once you get started:-)
    Blessings and best wishes.
    .-= prerna´s last blog ..Choosing a Preschool Made Easy =-.

    • do you have a dish rack? or do you just set the rinsed dishes on a towel and then proceed to dry them?

    • It’s *never* a good idea to hand dry dishes.
      There’s a reason that the health code does not allow restaurants to do so – it creates an environment for germs to spread.
      The safest way is to use a dish rack to air dry .
      Dish towels are a horrible breeding ground for bacteria, and if you *must* use a drying towel, use a clean one every time and NEVER hang the towel to dry between sessions in order to reuse it.

    • We are almost paperless…I have a roll of paper towel in the kitchen for my husband, but the same roll has been there for more than 3 months. I encourage the girls to use a variety of rags for cleaning. We re-use dryer sheets to preclean the floors (they seem to pick up hair just as well as swiffer things do. I rinse my kitchen cloths in vinegar at the end of the day for anti-bacterial rinse. I am glad there are so many moms doing their best to groom the next generation for conservation.

  2. I’ve had a paperless kitchen for quite a while now … at least a year. The biggest hurdle to the conversion was getting my partner’s buy-in. For some this is a huge paradigm shift and you really need to get those people on board or else it just won’t work.

    My other biggest hurdle is managing the laundry. We go through 4 or 5 dish towels each day, most of which are wet. If I leave them in the laundry pile they will quickly get moldy. It’s summer here, so I just hang them on the line to dry and then bring them inside for laundering, but it’s a pain. I was toying with the idea of a diaper pail, but I just don’t have room and think that it could be an even bigger pain. Would love to hear ideas from others.

    • re: wet cloths: it isn’t pretty but works for us – we hang them over the shower door until dry (or until the next morning) then scoop them up and throw them into the laundry basket. If company is coming I get these into the laundry room and out of the bathroom. I do a load of towels/cloths every 2-3 days.

    • I grew up in a family that never used paper and we had 10 kids. We went through a lot of towels. My mom would just rinse them out in the sink and hang them on a little clothes line she rigged up next to the washer/dryer. They would dry and then she would take them down and throw them in the laundry basket to be washed the next laundry day. I’m still paperless, but with fewer kids so I don’t go through quite as many, but I still do the same thing after cleaning up a big mess.

    • i hang my wet towels, rags on clippy-hangers (for pants) somewhere so they can dry and not get stinky. and i also bleach all my rags, towels, napkins every time i wash them.

    • For wet cloths, we keep a small, mini laundry basket under the kitchen sink. All wet laundry goes in there until it’s time for that stuff to be washed. Works great…for the white bar towels we use to clean up spills, wet washcloths for the kids’ hands, wet hand towels form the bathroom or kitchen towels for dishes, etc.

    • I have a towel bar (and I recently added a few hooks) in my utility room just off the kitchen. When a towel gets wet/soiled and I’m ready for a fresh one, I just hang the wet one over the towel bar or on one of the hooks. The next a.m. they’re dry, so I can drop them into a basket nearby. I also usually do at least one load of laundry each day, so I’ll just grab those few towels and drop them in with another load. But if I get busy and let the laundry go, the towels wait for me, dry in their basket or on the rack.

      If you don’t have a utility room, you could add a couple of hooks or small towel bar anywhere you can find space and make sure your family knows this is where the “dirties” go.
      .-= The Lazy Dazy´s last blog ..A Mother’s Work is Never Done… =-.

    • Here’s one alternative for the diaper pail idea:

    • Just hang the wet ones up to dry on a rack inside your kitchen cupboard under the sink. By morning they’ll be dry enough to put in the pile.

    • wet cloths: You can install a swivel hanging rack (I found ours at Ikea) that has several thin metal arms that lay flat against the wall in the laundry room and you pull them out in staggered heights to hang wet cloths on. You want to make sure it is installed high enough or out of the way where no one will walk into one of the arms or get poked in the eye. Our is on the wall behind the washing machine.

    • Stephanie says:

      I installed a few simple screw-in hooks underneath my kitchen cabinets to hang the washclothes…they are near the sink so they are easily accessible to reuse other wise they stay overnight to dry. For the larger towels, I have hooks in the stairwell to the basement. This was the easiest place for me just because it is right around the corner in the kitchen, and on the the way to the laundry room. Just make sure to ring them out well before hanging, otherwise you will have puddles on the countertop and on the stairs.

    • I have a top-loading washer, so when I have a wet dirty towel, I can just hang it on the middle column thingamagig in the washer, so they’re 1) hidden, 2) hanging to dry, and 3) in the washer and ready for the next load!

      Not sure if there’s a good way to do this if you have a front-loader, though.

    • Mary Troutman says:

      I have a plastic round container on top of the washer. I hang any wet items over the edges to dry. By the next day they are dry and I just add them to the laundry. I have a front loader washing machine. Hope this is helpful.

  3. I’m in the process of getting paper-less for a few months now.
    And it’s taking so long because my husband is the one who has more trouble following, not my 3-year old!
    I have 2 baskets full of square cloths for all everyday things (except for the dishes) that I wash separetaly when they are enough for a load or half a load. For the dishes I have a kitchen drawer full of suitable towels that I wash with my whites or lightcolored laundry.
    I clean the windows with vinegar and newspapers. easier and a lot lot faster than anything else I’ve tried.
    But what about the toilet area?? I still use paper towels for cleaning that area. I can’t quite convince myself to wash in the same load cloths from the toilet and all the other cloths. Any suggestions?

    • We are mostly paperless when it comes to towels in our house, including using towels for cleaning the toilet area. Our solution to the gross factor is that I usually only wash towels together with socks and underware on a warm/cold cycle (the only stuff I don’t wash cold/cold) and add a small scoop of oxyclean powder to the wash. When I clean the bathroom these towels get rinsed and go directly into the wash and I do that load of laundry with all the towels and other warm wash clothes as soon as I’m done with all the “dirty” cleaning for the day. This works really well since we only clean the bathroom that well once a week and that’s about the time we have enough for a full load of towels, socks, and underware.
      .-= Eclectic Visions´s last blog ..Green(er) Living =-.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Get a set of cleaning cloths that you ONLY use for the bathroom and then cut one of the corners off of each towel so that you know they are for the bathroom. You can also use a Sharpie and write a “B” on the tags of the towels or in 1 corner or somewhere on each one. This will hold up with bleach.

      Good luck!!

  4. silverilex says:

    We have been nearly paper free for 2 or 3 years. A few years ago, I went on
    Ebay to buy some cloth napkins when I got frustrated and upset by the sheer waste of paper napkins. They would get crumpled or one speck on them, and the kids or hubby would throw them away. Problem solved by cloth napkins. I fielded a lot of joking comments of ‘how fancy’ we were trying to be from family and guests but stuck to it. I still have dinner guests afraid to use them as they are ‘too nice’. I explain that we use them daily, even in my son’s lunch box. I haven’t bought paper napkins in years! Yay!
    In the past, we used paper towels every day wiping up spills, etc. even though we had ample cloth kitchen towels. Even after making a concentrated effort to not use them, I still used the paper towels to line my small compost bucket (emptied almost every day as we eat a lot of fresh fruit and veg). One day I thought how silly it was to buy towels for that and now use our free newspapers. I use the free newspapers to soak up grease and oils in pans as well. Now days, the only thing I use paper towels for is as a top cover over newspaper to drain bacon or the rare fried food. Last year, we went through a 3 or4 rolls of paper towels (in the past, that would of been weekly!). Most of that was overnight guests using them until I explained our system and gently reminded them to use cloth. The idea of hiding the paper towels is great, that way future guests will have to ask what to use! 😉

  5. I have had cloths available to my toddler for quite a while now, I keep hers in the bottom kitchen drawer and she is happy to go and get one out whenever there is a need.

    My system is not quite as refined and organised as yours, Maya, but I am happy to say that we are virtually paper free. In fact there is an unopened packet of paper towel under the kitchen sink that has been there for months now!
    .-= Christie´s last blog ..Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Dealing with Toddler Tantrums =-.

  6. Good timing. We just started using cloth napkins this year. I’ve never been much of a paper towel user, so its just a matter of getting enough cloth napkins so that we can eliminate our dependance on them. Thank you for the tips!

  7. I enjoyed reading this post. We’ve accidentally become almost paper-free. My husband is a grad student and I realized quickly how expensive and unnecessary paper napkins and paper towels really are. We routinely cut up any towels (into 1 ft. squares or so) that are ragged and put them in a bin for regular household cleaning or big spills. I just hang them on the side of the hamper to dry. I also bought flannel (each child got to choose 1 yd. of their favorite pattern), cut it into squares and use that as tissues. They are so much softer than the paper version. I still need to make some cloth napkins–thanks for the inspiration!

    • LOVE the flannel idea!

      • Jessica K says:

        We use flannel for tissues too. In fact my toddler cries whenever someone tries to wipe his nose with a paper tissue. He never makes a peep when I use flannel. I also picked out my own pattern for my “tissues” and I am making a cloth wrapper for the clean ones with a pocket for the used ones to carry in my purse like the to-go Kleenex packs. They are so handy that I am trying to figure out a flannel alternative.

        • Jessica, do you have a pattern you worked out for the “wrapper and pocket?”

          • Sorry, I haven’t yet. At the moment, I use a mini-wet/dry bag from planetwise and keep the clean hankies in the front and I can put the used ones in the wet bag part. I still want to figure out the pattern though. I have some sewing to do this coming week so maybe I will fiddle around with it. I’ll post back if I do.

  8. We have been paper free for many years. We received cloth napkins as a wedding gift in 2000 and i was hooked. My system is similar. I have dish cloths for washing dishes and cleaning up counter/floor spills. I have a stack of dish towels for drying dishes and hands. I have about 20+ cloth napkins that get used for everything from wiping dirty little toddler faces and hands to wiping adult hands and I have used them to clean up spills too. I look for the cloth napkins on clearance racks and my current stash is not pretty to look at, so I do have a nice set for ‘company’.
    .-= Kristia@Family Balance Sheet´s last blog ..How To Roast A Chicken =-.

  9. We do have one roll of paper towels in our kitchen, but they rarely get used. We make it our aim to use cloth as much as possible and teach our three children to do the same…

    Great ideas here, thanks!

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..STEADY DAYS – 3 Reasons Why I Hope You’ll Love It =-.

  10. Great post! I too have been paperless in my kitchen for about a year and I love it… wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so used to it that I feel weird when I go to other people’s houses and use napkins and paper towels and throw them away. I have a quick question– can you share the brand and/or where you purchased your heavy-duty clean up cloths?

    • Yes! Tell us more about the deep cleaning cloths!

      • Yes, I want to hear more about these cloths too!

        • Carrie, Jenee , Cara –

          I live in the US and got my heavy duty cloth at Costco ( like Sams Club or Walmart). They cost $10 for a bunch of 10 cleaning cloth. They work much better than a few I bought at the dollar store – and I mean much much better.
          They might have these in hardware stores too – perhaps not as pretty in color and or prints.
          .-= Maya´s last blog ..Reflecting on life =-.

  11. What a great post! I went paper-free last year, much to the chagrin of my paper towel addicted husband. He still moans a bit but has gone along with it….I did get him a roll of Brawny for a Christmas present. As I write this he says to tell you he really misses his paper towels but deep down he knows it’s the right thing to do.

    We use nice cloth napkins each night, kept in a separate basket in the pantry. The kids like going in and finding one they like each night.

    I do have the moldy problem, as I live in a townhome and the w/d are one floor up from the kitchen. I have a basket under the sink where I toss the used cloths and then when it gets stinky under there I take the basket up and wash everything. Not the best solution. I guess I need to get more organized about doing the wash.

    Next house will have w/d in the kitchen! What a dream!

  12. I would say our house is nearly paper free. I do have a roll of paper towels out of kids reach. I think I buy a 2-3 roll pack once or twice a year. I have to say that I also take the paper napkins from drive through and once I have a small pile stored in the car for spills I use the extra in the kitchen. (my family never uses them anyway since there is a washcloth around) I have around 2 dozen dish cloths and 2-3 dozen towels. I use the paper mainly for things like meat juices where a cloth might not get washed right away or might accidentally get used again and contaminate something. I strung a nylon cord between the cabinets on either side of my sink to have a place to dry out sodden cloths before throwing them in the laundry. I would like some cloth napkins for the table so when we have people over they don’t grab for the paper towels. Normally we don’t find it necessary to use napkins, the kids are young enough that a towel is more useful. My only frustration is the kids always grab the towel I just put out instead of one that will go in the laundry soon to clean up their spills.

  13. We’re paper free too. we have 3 stacks of cloths in the kitchen, the kids bedroom and one of cute wash cloths for the oldest to take with her lunches. Given that I don’t even use baby wipes on their bottoms (ie I use cloth wipes – not I don’t wipe at all!!!) it would seem really silly to use paper to wipe their faces!!! My kids would never even think of asking for a paper towel – I wish I could say the same for many of my friends and relatives!!
    .-= Kirsty-Abu Dhabi´s last blog ..2010.. here we come | Abu Dhabi Family Photographer =-.

  14. Thanks so much for this. This blog has been such a “crunchy” inspiration to me :). From going “poo” free (shampoo, in case someone missed that post), using castor/olive oil to clean my face, to trying to minimize my impact in other ways, this blog has really made it easy for me to become more “green” and live healthier. Plus, it makes it so easy that it’s hard to have an excuse not to :). Thanks so much to Maya for guest posting and to Tsh for all her hard work!
    .-=´s last blog ..Rip Van Winkle =-.

  15. Oh, and I’m going to try to slowly introduce this by going paper free in one area at a time. First, replacing paper towels with cloth for drying hands and cleaning up messes! Then for meals… that way it won’t be too much of a shock for my paper towel monster husband 🙂
    .-=´s last blog ..Rip Van Winkle =-.

    • I had better luck with my reluctant husband when I switched to cloth napkins first, then to cloth for cleaning up. I touted it as “fancy” and “more civilized” for at-home meals and take-to-work lunches.

      My last step is inspired by this post, though: hide the paper towel roll!

  16. Us too, Us too!! I went paper free after having my first baby…..I hated the idea of using so many paper towels to clean up after him as he learned to eat…so I bought a stack of washcloths and kept them on his highchair. It wasn’t long before I had some for cleaning, dishrags, and everything else. This year we started using cloth napkins.

    Our kitchen is small and I’m looking for a way to put a small hamper or something in it to start tossing the dirty cloths in. That’s my only current struggle. Right now they wind up getting tossed into the basement to wait for laundry day. It works, but it’s not ideal. I’m interested in hearing what others do.

  17. Thank you so much for the inspiration! We have been paper napkin free for a whole year. I have yet to get rid of the paper towels, but you have given me a lot of encouragement in that direction. I like the idea of being “green”, but I have to admit that the first motive for me was $savings$. (“green” is a nice side-effect) 🙂 Thanks again for the wonderul post.

  18. Great post, Maya! I love your thoughts on tackling this by categories…and I agree with your suggestion on keep LOTS of cloth available to succeed. We have been wavering on cloth free for about 6 months now and the biggest issue by far is that we run out all too often (does that say anything about the frequency of laundry that gets done around here?!??!).
    Thanks for this reminder and motivation!
    .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..10 Secrets of a Health Coach =-.

  19. I would love to know what you bought for deep cleaning. I have been thinking about going paperless for some time now but now sure I’d be able to get DH on board. If I can get some good deep cleaning cloths, I think he might buy into it. I have the storage space in the litchen, I have the old wash cloths and burp cloths for the kids, and I have some regular old dish towels for hands and drying dishes…but deep cleaning the stove, getting sticky stuff off the counters and table, I need suggestions!
    .-= AmyM´s last blog ..Who are you? =-.

  20. I, too, use mostly cloth. It has been a gradual evolution over the past year. I do, however, use paper towels for blotting my ground beef after browning. I would love to hear your ideas on what to use instead. Thanks for the inspiration in our quest to live simply.

  21. I’m attempting a more paper free home. My trouble with the kitchen cloths is the same as a lot of others-laundry. I wash them separately on warm (dirty dipes-hot, everything else cold), but where do I keep them until I have enough to do a wash? And how to keep them from smelling and turning moldy? I have no problem with the dirty dipes because I wash at least every other day, but it seems like a waste of energy to do that with cloths when I don’t need to. I’d love to know how others handle this.

  22. I’m with Jamie – we keep a roll of paper towels, but we rarely use them. We use about a roll/month, tops, and over time it is going down.

    In addition, I splurged and bought the Method-specific microfiber cleaning cloth to go with the Method-specific stainless steel cleaner and granite cleaner. I know that I could use greener, cheaper substitutes for each, but breaking out the specialized supplies and cloths for my deep cleaning is something of a treat.

  23. we’ve had a paper free kitchen for over 5 years now!
    i love it! i have a big kitchen drawer full of kitchen rags…and the kids know right where to go if they have a spill!

    love this post!

  24. Hello! Thanks for the post. We’re almost paper free. We have basically the same system except for the nice guest towels, which is what I’m inspired to do now!

    I have a suggestion for the people who have a problem with mold. I have a tall hamper in our first floor bathroom. I hang the towels at the top of the hamper to dry before placing them inside. I go two weeks between washing and haven’t had a problem with mold.

  25. We also have been paperless for many years! I was buying one roll of paper towels and hiding them to clean my mirrors and windows, but finally found the perfect cloth to do that with- and not I don’t have to buy any! My guests have never questioned where our paper is- I have actually inspired them to try to go paperless in their homes. We have a big cloth napkin holder on the table and the rags are kept under the sink. I don’t think my son would know what to do with a paper towel. He automatically goes to the cupboard with the hand towels and napkins.!

  26. This is something that I’ve finally gotten comfortable with. Honestly, after about 6 months of being completely paper free in the kitchen (and everywhere else) it doesn’t feel like any extra effort and it just feels natural.

  27. I am inspired by all of you moms who have gone green in this area. We mostly do, but I have to say with 4 children going all green would produce even MORE laundry in my already overflowing laundry room. So my question is, are you trading the expense of paper towels & napkins with detergent costs & water bills? I truly wonder so please repsond! I would like to trow out all paper, but that is the question that nags me. Also, I have a friend who knits (& who turned me on to this blog, thanks Victoria) & she makes circular scrubbies from a rough material & even knits netting into them for extra scrubbing power. If you knit, you should try it. They work fabulously & go straight into the wsah. They also make great gifts to friends who use lots of paper!

    • Re: kids/cloth/extra expenses – our cloth napkins for meals get used throughout the day (all meals/snacks) unless there is a big spill that they get used for. I do think that with paper people tend to be quite liberal, quick to use alot and throw away. I don’t personally see any increase in cost. I wash towels anyways (and we change all hand and kitchen cloths daily) so throwing in extra rags/napkins just makes sense for our home.

    • I have been paper free for a few months and we haven’t noticed a difference in our bill. Its only a few of extra loads a week and our water/sewer bill is the same as it was last year. There is only three of us but we cloth diaper my dd who is eight months old. Diaper laundry counts for about 3 extra loads a week and we do about 2 towel and kitchen laundry loads.

  28. We’re in the process of going paper-free… we mainly use cloth, especially old washcloths for wiping little sticky faces and hands at the end of mealtimes. But I have one main question: What about draining bacon? We are a bacon-loving family, and I just can’t see using anything but paper towels for that purpose!

    I’d really appreciate any thoughts! Thanks for the great article!

    • We eat greasier meat infrequently but when we do, I’ve drained the liquid into a can and then later, for whatever remains and has solidified, I use a little scraper (I think from Pampered Chef) and scrape it into the garbage. The pan then washes up easily with soap and water. Just one idea 🙂

    • this was one of my concerns as well. we drain the bacon, then use that grease for cooking eggs or greasing a pan (adds wonderful flavor!!) my mom always used bacon grease for pan greasing – even cakes!
      but we would then put the bacon on paper towels to get the rest off.
      i have found i don’t mind the extra grease that remains on the bacon, but you could lay the bacon strips out on a cookie rack, rather than piling them on a plate. the grease would then drip below (and gathered for future cooking!)

    • Drape your cooked bacon over a wire cooling rack and most of the grease will drip right off. Hope that helps

    • Thanks for the ideas, everybody! I will have to try a rack. But does anybody else worry about the increased amount of grease that ends up getting in the pipes, whether from washing off a rack in the sink, or washing greasy cloths in the washer?

      • I drain our bacon on newspaper and then it goes into my burnable bag to get burned in our outdoor wood furnace. It heats our house in the winter and water in the summer. I know not everyone has that option, but it works for us

      • I try not to get grease on my cloths except the worn out rag ones occasionally. I do keep a stack of torn in half or quarters -paper towels for wiping out greasy cast iron skillets or some other oily mess. I like what I’ve read here about using a rubber spatula and bits of newspaper for this ( depositing in the trash can) and will try those ideas.

    • My favorite tip I discovered recently is using coffee filters for draining food items. We were going through an obscene amount of paper towels due to my husbands addiction to fake chicken products that require draining after microwaving. Now he just places one or two filters under the food and it soaks it right up.

      I know that you can pick up a pack of 200 filters for around $1US. Of course we are trying to reduce our paper usage due to frugality more than environmental reasons.

    • It’s not very green, but I save extra napkins from restaurants for greasy stuff.

  29. We’ve been 99% paperless for years now – the exception being messy dinners like fried chicken. We use cloth napkins at the table (always have done, except for picnics and BBQs) and just bought a bunch of cheap white washcloths/barcloths at Costco and Walmart. I have about 30. Use it, toss it in the plastic bin under the sink, wash the lot once a week. Every now and again I bleach them. As they wear out and start getting holey, I start a second stack of “disposable” cloths.

    I bought some microfiber cloths at Target and Costco which are great for dusting or getting up pet hair.

    I think each roll of paper towels currently lasts us over a year now.

    • Liz, I’d like to piggyback here and say ditto…that’s our system exactly!! A plastic bin under the sink and the barcloths from Costco.

      I use regular dishcloths and dish towels for cleaning the table and drying dishes.
      We also keep some of the kids’ washcloths in the kitchen for easy access during mealtimes.

      I got my microfiber cloths from the Pampered Chef (online outlet…) and one from Marshall’s, the discount store…

      Our system exactly!

  30. I am new to your site, so if I have missed this info, please excuse me. But, I have a question about a paperless kitchen? If I use all cloth, that increases the amount of water, detergent and power used to clean them. How is that more “green” than using paper products?

    • EAS- Ohio says:

      This seems to be a common concern.
      Many don’t realize how liberal they are with paper towels (myself – two years ago – included). With how easily the paper towel or napkin crumbles and shreds, even after wiping up a few tablespoons of water, why would you not throw it away?? If you were using a cloth wipe though, you realize how many little spills (ie not deadly bacteria) in a day (or a few days, if you don’t have a big family) can be wiped up with a single cloth. So, you likely will use less cloth than you think you will.
      These clothes can then just be thrown in with the laundry you are already doing… I’ve never had the thought that I’m going to do an additional load because of all these rags. And if you have a big family, you are probably already doing laundry more frequently anyway. All in all, I have not seen any hint of difference in my laundry routine from my paper towel days to now, and I think many others would say the same.
      The bigger question may be how un-green are paper towels. First there is the tree destruction (energy requirements> energy,habitat loss), the transportation to processing (need roads to get to the trees > habitat loss), energy for processing, plastic for packaging, transportation to stores, then ultimately the landfill space. Mind you this same process does occur for clothes (however, more sustainable fiber sources are often used – or better yet recycled), but only at a very small fraction of that of paper towels.
      Sorry so long winded; part of my degree was in environmental science.

  31. We’ve been paperless in the kitchen (minus soaking up hamburger grease/oil) for years. I had a pair of brand-new corduroy 100% cotton pants that were about 6 sizes to big and instead of donating them or throwing them away, I cut the legs into about 16 squares. We use those instead of paper towels. I have about a hundred dish towels and those get used for all of life’s messes. I’ve also recycled the baby washcloths (never used them on our kids, we scrub them with our hands) as dish washcloths. I would like to go through my stash and refresh it with some nice fabrics this year.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Tuesday =-.

  32. Hi everyone! Great post!
    If the weather is ok (that is most of the time here) I line dry the dirty cloths until they are dry to put in a separate small laundry basket by the washing machine. If it rains, I let them dry on the kitchen’s central heating unit. It really takes 30 minutes more or less. I also liked the idea of the nylon cord by the sink…I may just do it!

  33. We are not currently ‘paper free’ but Im inspired to make some cloth napkins and utilize our stash of rags. I will have to hide the paper towels and napkins on my kids though! Some of you mentioned where to get ‘deep cleaning’ rags… someone once told me about these ‘car detailing’ rags from Walmart that work awesome. I think you get about 8 of them for $5 – they are microfiber and work wonderfully for all household dusting and cleaning up. I started using them over a year ago and love them.

  34. @ Cynthia. This was my question, too , in the beginning.
    So after a trail and error period of 2 months, I realized that all of the napkins/kitchen cloths could get washed in my white/lightcoloured loads. I usually do weekly 1-2 white loads and 1 lighcoloured load anyway, so no extra energy was wasted there.
    The problem was with the cloths that I used for dusting and cleaning surfaces in the toilet or elsewhere. Those I had to wash separately and in a full load of course!
    So, I just made/cut many many many many extra cloths so as to never run out of clean ones. To do so frugally, think of old t-shirs, old bath-towels, old shirts, old socks…you got the idea! Just cut them into small squares and you are done.
    Another thing that helps, imo, is that I only use vinegar, soda and plain olive oil soap to clean my entire house, including the laundry. That way, even if a cloth is washed with our clothes, it really isn’t harmful at all.
    Hope I’ve helped a bit

  35. We’re paper free too, and have been for a long while.

    What has helped me to manage the wet rags and dish towels is to mount a towel bar in the laundry room where I can hang up the used ones until they are dry. When they’re dry I can put them in a little pile until I wash them together in one laundry load.

    The most significant thing is that we’re teaching our children from an early age that they don’t need paper towels. Overcoming that marketing and mindset is one of the biggest struggles for adults.
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Organizing Recipes: Kickin’ It Old School =-.

  36. We go mostly paper free. I still use a paper to wipe down the toilet because I’m just not there yet! 🙂

    I’ve only and always used cloth napkins and have never bought paper. I just recently made a stack of towels for cleaning out birdseye cloth. I had a bunch left over after making cloth diapers and they are so great to clean with. You can simply finish the edges off or use two ply by stitching around, leave a space to turn, turn inside out, and stitch again. I rarely use paper towels.
    .-= Lindsey´s last blog ..what I’m crushing on right now… =-.

  37. I’ve been wanting to do this for so long. My husband is not really on board, but maybe I’ll just try it anyway. I do have a question for those of you that do this. For napkins used with meals, do you use them once and then wash them or use them multiple times? Washing them each time seems kind of goofy, but I’m not sure I like the idea of having a used napkin laying around.

    • I use the same napkin for one day unless I am particularly messy at one meal. I keep lots available and buy ones I really like at thrift stores . I like a variety of colors&patterns so one can always tell which cloth is yours. (except on special occasions when I pull out a special set of vintage linens ones) .
      as for dish towels, I have a hook where I put a favorite dishtowel (a pretty one that I don’t want used for messes) just for drying hands .

  38. We are paper-free, and I’m so happy to be able to comment because I love your blog(s) and take to heart your daily tips and stories. 🙂 We use cut up sheets (in squares) for kleenex, thick cotton towels (bought in bulk at Costco about 10 years ago!) for hand towels in the kitchen and old baby wipes (we used cloth dipes) for cleaning up sticky messes etc. It’s worked so well for us. I just toss everything in with the normal laundry. Every now and then I’ll toss an old one, but wow it has served it’s purpose! We have a designated drawer in the kitchen and everyone uses them with no problem. We don’t actually have any paper anymore, although we do still use TP. I tried cloth wipes and it was easy, but I had a hard time with the ick factor. 🙂

  39. We have been paperless in the kitchen for two years now. One of the biggest helps for us was when I added a small trash can under the sink for the dirty napkins, towel, etc. This meant that no one had to walk them across the house several time a day. That really made us turn the corner in using no paper.

  40. @Gay
    I don’t necessarily wash them after each use. We typically all sit at the same seat at the table so if the napkin was only used for one swipe, i just leave it folded at their place setting. You can also use different napkin rings for each member and leave it there until the next meal and looks more like the table is set. My husband didn’t want to switch either at first when we first got married, but since I was the shopper I just didn’t buy the paper napkins so he didn’t have a choice 🙂
    .-= Lindsey´s last blog ..what I’m crushing on right now… =-.

  41. We’ve used cloth for many years. We have cloth napkins for meals, microfibre (as well as rags) for the bathrooms and other spills and use extra tea-towels for drying fruit/veg on, covering bread, etc. Sometimes my husband isn’t quite sure which cloth is for what but otherwise it works well. I do have a stashed-away roll of paper towel and will use it for throw-up, say, if I don’t have enough old cloths I’d want to throw away. Also, lately, I’ve been using a small piece of paper towel to butter baking dishes (I don’t use spray oils – just plain butter or coconut oil). What do others use for this?

    • I save my old butter papers and that’s how I grease my baking dishes…when I use the last of a stick I put the waxed paper wrapper in a designated baggie in the fridge…

  42. Yes! My mother-in-law still doesn’t accept that I don’t use paper towels; she even brought me a few rolls recently 🙂 The sweetest moment was when my daughter asked what they were!
    .-= Sam´s last blog drawer =-.

    • Yes, sweet. Many years ago I had to iron all my husbands jeans and flannel shirts. Then I got a really good dryer and fabrics improved so that no ironing had to be done anymore, so it was put high up in the linen closet. Then one day my second child, much later, was standing in front of an iron display at Kmart and she looked up at me and asked “We don’t have one of them, do we Mommy?” I was mortified and glanced around to see who might have heard! But it was a good thing, I SAVE energy, lol!!

  43. My family has been paper free for years; I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a roll of paper towels or box of paper napkins. I do save miscellaneous paper napkins that come our way–the extras from Starbucks or that my son brings home from a birthday party–so I just use those if there’s a mess too icky for cloth (like a melted butter explosion in the microwave–ahem!).

    Outside the home we are pretty much paper free as well. I put a cute baby-sized washcloth in my 7 year old’s lunchbox for school; it’s the perfect size for little messes and doesn’t take up much room. I keep one in my purse too, for the inevitable juice spill or even to dry our hands in a public washroom (instead of using paper towels). They are cheap, cute, last forever and are perfect for cleaning just about anything.

    Love seeing that so many people are going paper free!

  44. I also recommend car detailing towels (I bought mine at Target) for cleaning…they are much cheaper than the household cloths you find at BB&B or equivalent.

    Re: reusing napkins, our family finds there are very few meals where we seriously soil our napkins, so at the end of a meal we tie them to the back of our dining chair, down by the seat. No clutter on the table, no misplaced napkins, no shared germs. I love the little luxury cloth napkins provide, and it’s great to have one less item on my shopping list!

    For wiping up messy faces (when the kids were toddlers) and messy spills, I bought an inexpensive stack of white washcloths from Target. These live next to the dish cloths in a drawer in the kitchen. They are washed with the hot whites, again no extra loads.

    We hang wet cloths on the edge of the laundry tub. Once dry, they go in a hamper near the w/d.

  45. Hello Everyone. I am sorry to say I am not currently using cloth for anything other than drying dishes/spill cleanups, but I used the same types of tows for both. However, my boyfriend goes through about a roll of papertowls a weekend…YIKES! I would love to find a way to cut out that. But I guess my biggest question is where do I buy these napkins/towels/etc? Do you guys make your own out of old towels? Is there something specifica I should be looking for? Any help would be great. Even types of materials and such! Thanks in advance!

  46. We are paper free also… but here are the areas where I am still tempted to buy paper towels: drying meat, preventing splatters in the microwave and draining bacon after it comes out of the oven. Does anyone have any solutions/ systems for those things?

    • We just use our kids old baby wash cloths to cover up dishes in the microwave. We keep a pile in a drawer in the kitchen. I also use these for catching the fat from bacon etc.

    • There is a plastic vented cover that you put over the plate of food in the microwave and it doesn’t touch the plate. Also, coffeefilters are very cheap and great for draining grease. I pour ground meat in a colander over a plate with coffee filters on it and it is easy to wipe up and throw away when it’s cold.

  47. We haven’t really made a particular effort to be paper-free in the kitchen, but I do most of what you said above. We have a big stack of kitchen towels readily available – many of them are flour-sack towels my mom embroidered and gave us when we got married. They are stained and some are developing rips and tears in them, and last time my mom visited us I said, “I’m sorry the towels you gave us look so sad!” She said, “I’m glad – that means you’re using them!”

    We also use cloth diapers (prefolds) and the trick to using them often is to make it easy to do. We keep the backup supply of disposables in a harder-to-access area, while the cloth diapers and covers are readily available on the changing table. Still haven’t made the leap to cloth wipes, but that may be the next step.

    • Cloth wipes are the best! If you already do cloth dipes, it is so easy. Get some flannel (I couldn’t find any old sheets, so bought some cheap flannel at Jo-ann) and cut it into about 6″ squares. Serge or sew the edges. One ply works great for us. Or you can buy them pre-made at lots of places on the web. It will be cheaper if you can do it yourself if you have the equipment. I just wash mine with my dipes. We have an old hair product bottle that has a little flip-up spout on it, and I fill that with water and 2 squirts of baby soap and that works great for us. We tried a spray bottle, but found we preferred to pour. It came out faster, which is good with a wiggly one. We keep the dry wipes next to the bottle of solution on the changing table. I have bought one large package of wipes and haven’t even used them all. My baby is almost a year old. I still use the disposable when we are out, since we use disposable diapers when we go out (convenience wins sometimes), but you could take cloth wipes with you as well, if you had a little bottle of solution. I suggest having about 50 wipes, at least.

  48. We’ve been paper-free for over a year but the biggest source of contention (other than my visiting parents) is what to do with bacon? Traditionally the extra grease is mopped up with paper towels. I am using old cloth napkins to do the same thing but my husband has been a bit irritated with this system. Am curious if anyone had any better ideas or tricks.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • I’ve got a large end-roll of paper from our local newspaper that I’ve had for YEARS. It was free for the asking. Just had to send my hubby to pick it up for me (it was REALLY heavy). This paper is sort of like an off white craft paper with no ink on it at all- it’s what’s left-over when they get to a point in printing where they can’t roll it through the press, I guess. Anyway, I use this for any grease catching just as you would a paper towel after frying bacon or potatoes etc.. My kids have used it over the years to make many welcome home banners, and we’ve often used it for wrapping paper by decorating it with stickers or drawings.

      In other regards with paperless living, we’ve been doing this for at least the last 13 years. Just seemed to make sense, and I’ve always been too much of a frugal gal to waste my money on paper to be thrown away! LOL!

      Another thing I’ve done for years is pick up flannel baby blankets at yard sales (for penny’s) which I used to cut up and serge around the edges to make baby wipes. Now I don’t bother to use the serger and just cut them for various uses (my seven babies are not babies anymore). It costs so little, I never feel bad if it just gets too yucky and I decide to throw it away.

  49. I think going mostly paperless was an easier shift for me. I was half way there growing up. We always used the dichcloth for washing hands and messy faces. It never occurred to me to use a paper towel for such things. And we always had towels hanging for drying clean hands. Again never occurred to me to use a towel. I have about a dozen cloth napkins. But we don’t use them at the dinner table a lot. We share one after meals for everyone if necessary, and the dish cloth to wipe messy hands and faces. I have started using the cloth napkins for spills and wiping the counter. I like my dark colored ones best since they don’t start to look messy.
    As far as laundry I just throw them in w/ my regular wash. But I also only use one or 2 in a whole day unless there are some big messes.

    For deep cleaning I use old socks. When they get yucky I just pitch them.

    I still occasionally use paper. When My husband takes his “breakfast” in the car he wants a paper napkin. And I still use paper towels for the cat “messes”, though I am considering cutting up a bunch of old holey tshirts for throw away rags for that.

    Try to see how many times you can use a cloth before needing to wash it. You might be surprised. That should help w/ the laundry issue.

  50. Love the ideas here. Reducing our paper waste has been a goal of mine. I’ve never heard of a static cloth. What is it and where can I find them?
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Kindergarten! =-.

  51. We are mostly paper-free for cleaning and kitchen. Like you, I have categories.

    I keep one dish towel hanging near the sink. I use this for drying clean hands and for drying clean dishes. At the end of the day, I wipe the sink with it and replace it with a clean one from the drawer. I probably have 20 dish towels in the drawer. They’re not matchy matchy or anything…just the dish towels that I have had on hand.

    I keep a basket of bright-colored wash cloths on the counter. These are for wiping up messy things. Kid faces and hands, especially. I’ll grab one of those if I need to clean something sticky off the counter or the stove top, too.

    Box of rags in the closet with the cleaners. I’ve always used rags for housecleaning, instead of disposable anything. When household washcloths or towels get too grungy or ragged to appear in public anymore, they get cut up for rags.

  52. I’ve been paper free for a while now. I change the kitchen rags daily and then have a rag that is devoted strictly to the bathrooms, and NEVER the twain shall meet. I use bar cloths that I purchase at a nearby restaurant supply store, they last forever.

    My only exception is the kids lunch box, but even there I have made a modification to save paper. Instead of using 2 paper napkins (one snack, one lunch) per child each day I use a brand of paper towel that splits in two and I think I’m using much less that way.
    .-= The Countess of Nassau County´s last blog ..Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Everyone!!! =-.

  53. I grew up only using paper towels as napkins at my grandma’s house. Otherwise we always used cloth napkins. It always amazes me when people talk about relying on paper towel so much. I’ve never seen it as anything more than landfill. I have a large number of kitchen wash cloths that we use for all spills and cleaning pots in the sick. I have a large bag of rags for cleaning the bathroom and other places that require some sort of cleaning product to be put on them. Then I have the napkins we use at meal times. (One family I know colour-coded theirs for family members so each person could hold onto their napkin for the entire day or however long they could go until it was dirty enough to wash. In between they kept it wrapped up in a napkin holder so it didn’t look so dirty on the table). This is where I would like to be with our napkin use because right now the kids go through them like crazy and we are always losing track of who used what and just washing them all. But that’s the key: If in doubt, throw it in the laundry. My cloths get washed with the regular laundry almost everyday.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Mindfully Loving My Children =-.

  54. What a great post. I too have been thinking about this. I would like to go paperless in my kitchen. Where do you buy the industrial cloths at? Any particular brand that works best? Do you make your own napkins of find them on clearance? Thanks again!!

  55. We made the switch last year and love it. I do keep a roll of paper towels on hand just in case but the roll I purchased last June is still on the kitchen counter.
    Another idea is to use old t-shirts and those lonely socks for cleaning. I have a drawer where I place the cleaning rags. Turn socks inside out and they are great scrubbers.

  56. We’ve had a paperless kitchen for about a year. I cut up old towels, sheets, and clothing, store them in a bin below the kitchen sink. I only use one cloth per surface before it goes into the laundry bin, to stop the spread of germs. One thing I’ve tried is Clorox FreshCare Towels, which I received as a gift. Those work fine, but since I only use each rag once, they don’t really add a whole lot to my routine. About once per week, I run the dirty rags through the wash with bleach. I can’t imagine going back to paper!

  57. I have always had a pretty much paperless kitchen, parents and grandparents do to. I have stacks of white kitchen towels and rags, I have issues with reusing a cloth after its been used to clean up something, so I use about 20 a day. I keep a small bucket next to my trash can to put them in throughout the day. At the end of the day I put them in my ”whites” basket in the laundry room. I have a large family so there is load of whites at least every other day so they don’t get smelly or moldy by then.

  58. JacqueBoldt says:

    We also have a paper-free kitchen. Mainly because it feels good to do. I love not wasting money on paper napkins and towels (though, I do admit, that I walk through the paper napkins aisle at Target when I have an upcoming party and *sigh*. They’re so cute!…we haven’t yet created an “exclusive” category of napkins.) I love that I’m not creating a bigger garbage bill for myself or throwing all that waste into a landfill.

    We have kitchen cloths, rags, kitchen towels, and rag towels. So far, this has worked well for us.

    Love the posts! Keep ’em comin’!

  59. We’re mostly paper free too. I think towels make so much more sense! Every time my dad comes over though, he still ask, ” you dont have any paper towels? Where are the paper towels?!” No dad, here, use this rag….. 🙂 eventually he’ll catch on!
    .-= Samantha @ Mama Notes´s last blog ..Body After Baby Questions & Mini Challenges =-.

  60. Love this! I haven’t bought paper napkins in probably about a year, and haven’t missed them once. Cloth napkins just *feel* better — they’re softer and prettier. Our cloth napkins come from a stash my mom unearthed when she was moving (“Uh, I have about 50 cloth napkins that don’t match — you want them?” “YES!”), and my cleaning cloths are the old dishtowels that are too holey or grubby for drying dishes anymore. I also have some old cloth diapers for delicate jobs (like cleaning CD’s and DVD’s), and some old washcloths for better scrubbing power. I do still have a roll of paper towels on the counter, though — used mostly for wiping up chicken juice and those kinds of worrisome spills. Maybe I should move them under the sink though — I like the idea of having the cloth be the easier thing to use.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..In One Day =-.

  61. With 5 kids and a single income, we’ve been (justabout) paperless for years! We’ve saved LOTS of money.
    As of right now, I do buy a roll of paper towels every 1-2 months and HIDE it – to use if I make bacon in the microwave.
    We use old socks for “yucky-throw-that-rag-away” messes.

  62. I love my paperless kitchen. We found the transition effortless, since we were cloth diapering anyway. I find it entertaining when my guests are horrified that I use my dishtowels to clean up a mess on the floor, and use it as a teaching moment. We wash the cloth diapers and kitchen towels together, too, since its not like I’m bleaching out the washing machine between loads anyway. (Cold rinse diapers only, hot wash diapers and towels, sun dry most of the year.)

  63. When a cloth is too old to use anymore — or when it has been used to clean up something too yucky — you can usually compost it instead of throwing it away.
    .-= Jill´s last blog ..Wednesday, January 6, 2010 =-.

  64. My husband and I have been going through a paper towel tug-of-war for months now. He puts them on the grocery list and I cross them out. I refuse to buy them but he insists that they’re a necessity no matter how many rags I have hanging around. Maybe if I try your organization system I will get a little more co-operation:)

  65. We bought a lot of baby face cloths and use the solid colored ones as baby wipes and the printed ones to wipe our little guy’s face and hands after meals. We also will use dish towels for cleaning up spills and dishcloths for wiping off tables, etc.

    We tend to use paper towel for the following things:
    1. I usually put fruit on a piece to dry. Suppose I could use a tea towel for this, although I might have to invest in a few more.
    2. To clean up “icky” messes. I will try to use cloth more for these as well. E.g. Today my toddler spilled a ton of applesauce on the floor. I used paper towel to scoop it up so I could just throw it out, then wiped up the rest with a cloth. I guess I could have scooped it up with the cloth and then went to rinse it out before I wiped it up. So I will make an effort on that front, although I will probably still use paper towel for dog/cat puke.
    3. (The biggie) Cleaning the bathroom, or other things that I spray cleaning products on. I would like to use cloth more for this as well, but am not sure how to go about it. Should I invest in enough cleaning cloths that the dirty ones are kept separately? I don’t really like the idea of washing our clothes with cloths that have cleaning products on them (going more green in this area would help I suppose, but I haven’t gotten there yet). My husband says he thinks it’s icky to clean the bathroom with a cloth and then wash it with other stuff, but I think it’s no more icky than cleaning our little guy’s bum with a cloth and washing it with everything else, which we currently do (we do use a few regular baby wipes first for really messy poops though). I just can’t imagine having more than a handful of these cloths a week, so I’m not sure when/how I’d wash them.What do others do?

    • Wash them with your bathroom towels and sheets, hot water. That’s what we do. 🙂 The stuff on your towels is going to be the same as the stuff on your bathtub, right? You can even add bleach if your towels can handle it.

      BTW, my green scientist hubby has approved Comet for cleaning–he says bleach breaks down to salt and water quickly, and other than that it’s just non-scratching abrasives. That’s what I use, and I haven’t found anything else that does a better job. And it’s dirt cheap! Vinegar/water and some Murphy’s Oil Soap are also cheap, green cleaners. Though I do love my Clorox GreenWorks multipurpose cleaner for surfaces. Their dishwashing liquid is also very good.

  66. We are paper-free in my household and have cloth organized by use. I love floursack towels for “food” stuff such as draining bacon, greasing a cake or bread pan, covering a loaf of bread, etc. Then there’s the dishcloths for kitchen cleaning, washcloths for household cleaning/dusting, rags for nasty things like dog messes, and cloth napkins for the table.
    .-= Cricket´s last blog ..On the 17th Day of Winter =-.

  67. We, too, have been paper-free for over a year in our home! Whoo hoo! =-D

    So my system is – two washcloths in the kitchen at all times. The light green ones are for cleaning surfaces – and the blue ones are for cleaning the kiddos messy faces and hands. And yes, the washcloths get rotated out VERY regularly!

    Hand towels are for (der!) drying hands at the sinks…and for laying out to dry hand washed dishes on.

    Flour sack towels are for proofing breads and other dealings directly with food shtuffs.

    It’s a system that works perfect for our family! =-)

  68. We are mostly paper-free and have been even when we had infant twins and a toddler running around. Our solution? Blue towels! My father-in-law works in a hospital as a nurse anesthetist and brings home hospital blue towels all the time. The rest of us benefit. These are our go-to towels for messes, potty training accidents, burp cloths, scrub-down-the-floor, … you name it. They’ve even been napkins for a 4th of July party (they were blue–why not? they were PERFECT for ribs and BBQ food).

    Our other categories: bandanas that were tied on as bibs and have now graduated to be kid-napkins; regular ol’ cloth napkins, an assortment of baby washcloths for little people’s faces, and the usual dish towels/dish cloths. There is a napkin drawer and my 2 year olds and 4 year old help themselves whenever. There is a blue towel drawer and all kids know where it is and how to begin cleaning up any accident/mess they’ve created. They also know to put the used/dirty napkins or towels in the laundry basket–our laundry room is right off the kitchen.

    Once you go paper-free, there’s really no turning back. Paper just isn’t as absorbent–it doesn’t do the job as well.
    .-= Betsy´s last blog ..Savoring a Cup of Tea: 1 Corinthians 13 =-.

  69. Great advice. I’m a paper towel addict and I really need to take steps to wean myself off of them. Thanks for the inspiration.
    .-= Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last blog ..Chic Page Flags to Zotch Up Those Dull Documents =-.

  70. We do cloth in the kitchen, too. In response to the wet laundry problem, I have two washrags going in my sink each day: one for hands & faces, one for kitchen clean up. At the end of the night, I lay them flat over the edge of the sink. By morning, they have air dried and are ready to be thrown in the laundry. As a bonus, folding said rags and napkins is my daughters’ favorite way to “help” around the house!

  71. I am very interested in going paperless. Not only to I not like the waste and the cost, I feel it is un-natural. I like cloth! I still use paper towels, but I am weaning off of them. I think the biggest hurdle will be my husband and family. I am accumulating cloth napkins and when I feel I have enough (three daily, 21 per week times two weeks is 42 napkins at least) then I will launch CLOTH NAPKINS only at my house! I plan on hiding the paper towels and using FREE newspaper for many uses in the kitchen, learned from one commenter. I love facial tissue for blowing my nose, but I plan on searching eBay for vintage hankerchiefs and trying those instead! And a small hamper under the sink since the washer is downstairs will certainly help ( I also have one in the bath nearby, but that is quite a few steps away!) and I just love all the ideas I found here!
    .-= Cheryl Ann´s last blog ..Garden Catalogs make me Happy! =-.

  72. For years, actually. We use kitchen wash cloths, cheap car-wash microfiber cloths (big bag for $4, very absorbent), kitchen towels, and cloth napkins. Also, we cloth diaper (not exclusively, but the majority of the time). I so rarely use paper, it’s mostly only for bacon (though I usually bake it, and don’t even need it for that), and I haven’t bought paper napkins in years. When I have to use them now, they feel wimpy and horrible! I keep a drawer filled with towels and washcloths, and baskets with napkins and cleaning cloths. Also have a little floor mopper/vacuum that uses washable pads, kind of like a Swiffer. It’s called the Bissell Flip-Ease. I love it.

    Some things we do:
    *Hang our folded cloth napkin over the back of our chair if it didn’t get stained to reuse.
    *Watch clearance sales for cloth napkins. Aim for cotton, dark and patterned. (Grease stains hide better in a pattern.) Thick is better, they hold up and look nicer without ironing. I can often find them for a dollar a piece.
    *My laundry is right off my kitchen, so we keep a mesh hamper in there for kitchen cloths and they get washed every few days. Wet ones hang over the side to dry so they don’t get funky.
    *I have Norwex window cloths for glass–they don’t need any cleaner, just water! (Amazing.)
    *Bought a whole bunch of plain white ones for guests and parties. They work for any season. Big parties–jumble o’ colors! (Having a hubby who’s a professor in sustainable energy helps–no one questions it.)

    I wish more people would go paperless! Kudos for giving it a go. 🙂
    .-= La Rêveuse´s last blog ..Like what you see? =-.

  73. Thanks for this great post. I’ve been interested in going paper free — or, at least paper-reduced, in my home for some time. I’m trying hard to get my husband on board. Some of your ideas might help.
    .-= Alicia´s last blog ..Living With What You Have =-.

  74. Appreciate all the comments and sharing here. I learned so much myself! I am thrilled to see so many people be paper-free 🙂
    .-= Maya´s last blog ..Reflecting on life =-.

  75. We’ve never been officially paper free, it really depends on the day how much paper gets used. Some things I’m just not ready to do – cloth for tissues/toilet paper, and I don’t see myself ever being enthusiastic about those, but most other things I’d be happy to switch on. I do have to ask what a couple of others mentioned – what about things like bacon & fried foods that get drained on paper towels? I don’t fry often, but when I do, I get a little paper towel happy!

  76. I commend your efforts and thoughtfulness when it comes to using resources thoughtfully and reducing needless waste. However, have you considered the environmental impact of washing the cloth you use in the kitchen?

    For example, multiple studies have shown that the environmental impact of cloth diapers is similar to the impact of disposable diapers. In fact, studies have shown using cloth diapers wastes six times as much water as the comparative water usage in the manufacturing of disposable diapers. In many parts of the world, water demand already exceeds supply due to multiple factors, so it may be our most undervalued resource in the Western world.

    I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that the electricity or natural gas used to wash cloth towels is the similar or exceeds the energy used to produce equivalent usage amounts of paper towels. I would also assume that when considering water usage and electricity, the savings from choosing not to purchase paper towels is quite slim (especially if you shop thriftily).

    Lastly, paper decomposes quite quickly, so it doesn’t fill up landfills as some would lead us to believe. All this being said, it appears the environmental impact is a toss-up, so it is really depends on whether you favor the ease and simplicity of paper towels or the easing of the guilty consumer conscience. I guess I try to attain the best of both worlds by purchasing paper towels made of recycled content 🙂

    • I’m not really as educated on all these aspects as I would like to be, but I do have a few ideas:
      1) Washing. Mostly I just add these small items to loads I would have washed WITHOUT them anyway, so no additional cost there. Water or energy.
      2) Paper is made from wood. All paper uses a great amount of energy and RESOURCES that can be eliminated.
      3) I don’t know for sure, either, but I would guess that consumer produced energy is actually cleaner than that produced by manufacturing facilities?
      I really don’t think the environmental impact is a toss-up, not at all. And another important factor is that it teaches our children to be MORE conservative in using EITHER product. They simply do not want to create messes that will cause a great amount of work to clean up!
      .-= Cheryl Ann´s last blog ..How to Create a PAPERLESS Kitchen =-.

    • Amanda, that is wonderful that you do purchase paper made from recycled paper! If only more families would also be moved to make that choice – think of the trees that could be spared.

      Unfortunately, most consumers (in Western culture anyway, I suppose) prefer nice, quilt-y, gleaming white paper towels. Use of virgin fiber and bleach in creating these are also very hard on the environment. (Anyone interested can read more here:

      I don’t know how Maya launders her kitchen cloth, but many of us who use kitchen cloth are particularly mindful of laundering choices, taking care to employ planet-friendly washing routines. In our home, we only wash cloth napkins when they are truly soiled, not just if they have been left out on the table for a meal. I also many times wash our table linens in with another load of laundry that would be washed anyway.

      You do bring up great points, and for those who are uncomfortable with cloth, recycled paper products are certainly a great option!
      .-= Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog ..What We’re Reading Wednesday: Spotlight on Sandra Boynton =-.

  77. Oh my GOODNESS this is a lot of comments! I’ll have to go back and re-read them, but I wanted to tell you, Maya, I LOVE THIS!

    We have been paper-free in our kitchen for several years. Well, I do put out a roll of paper towels when my MIL comes to visit, but other than that, we are an all-cloth kitchen.

    I like your idea on having categories. I think I’ll make that my next step in this process.

    I have to agree that the EASIEST way to transition from paper to cloth is to let yourself run out of paper and then force yourself to use the cloth. Once you are good and used to it, you can buy a roll of towels here and there to stash away, but you cloth is just SO much more effective than paper when it comes to cleaning (and most things, really), it’s not nearly so tempting to go back!
    .-= Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog ..What We’re Reading Wednesday: Spotlight on Sandra Boynton =-.

  78. Actually, wood is more renewable than water. Also, when I add towels to my washer and dryer I often have to set my settings up to a larger load (more water, more electricity). But, I think encouraging children to be less messy is always a great idea!!
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Well hello there library, old friend! =-.

    • Wood is more renewable than water? We have three fourths of the entire world covered in water (I know salt water) but that translates into fresh water as long as there are forests to attract the clouds of water accumulated by the ocean. I whole heartledly agree on how precious our fresh water supply is. But I think it should be used to the best advantage in all of our energy conservation efforts. I would love to see any documentation where water stands as compared to wood, as I can’t find any. And, by the way, my towel usage is added to my current load of towels every three or four days and doesn’t increase the size of the load (washer wise) and I feel makes much better use of the energy I already use. Thus a GREAT savings, all around (energy and trees) which are even better than recycled paper towels which STILL use more energy to create!
      .-= Cheryl Ann´s last blog ..How to Create a PAPERLESS Kitchen =-.

      • Actually, here in the U.S. there is no problem with deforestation. Most of our paper products come from tree farms, which is obviously renewable. Now, this may not be true for people who reside in other countries. I know that when we lived in Kenya it was difficult because not only were paper products expensive and imported, but washing dishtowels was difficult because everything had to be done by hand- no washing machine!
        .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Well hello there library, old friend! =-.

  79. While I’ve never really planned to be paper free, the household is definitely headed that way. The kids have always preferred a wet wash cloth for wiping their noses. Now that I’m finally getting down to a FPU budget I think I’ll start using even more cloth. Hardest to convert will be the hubby.
    .-= April J´s last blog ..Milking a Pygmy Goat =-.

  80. Hi Everyone! This a great post. Reading the post and comments has given me the boost I have desperately needed. In our household ( which consist of my husband,10 month old son and myself) we go through 3-4 rolls of paper towels a week!! It is not only terrible for the planet as we all know but very hard on the pocketbook. Thank you again for this great post! 😉

  81. a great post! my husband and i have been mostly paperless in the kitchen for a few years now. i think it’s funny how many of us are turning back to the things that our grandmothers and their mothers did. it just makes so much more sense.

    one tip for wet towels is to put up a swing-arm towel bar on the side of your cabinet by the sink. like this for example: wring them out as much as possible and then drape them over the bars and they dry pretty quickly.

    the one and only use for paper towels that i still haven’t discovered a solution for is rinsing and drying chicken. anyone have a suggestion for this? maybe i should call my grandma and see what she did. =)

  82. We are mostly paperless…I actually have an old phonebook handy for when I need to scrape fat off a pan or clean food from the sink.
    I also wash my main kitchen cloths (not towels) by hanging them of the rail in the dishwasher.
    I do keep a roll of paper towels (hidden from all) for really lazy days, I do hate it when I get a whiff of a smelly dishcloth. The paper towel does go into the compost bin though.

  83. We try our best. We are not totally paper-free but we minimize the use of paper as much as possible. I will agree with a PP that when I didn’t have cloth, I tended to be more careless about paper (ie, using a sheet to wipe up water, throwing it away and getting a new one just to wipe my hands). Now we are a bit more thoughtful about what we use.

    My “system” is pretty easy–we have a tiered cart in our kitchen, with cloth napkins in one basket on one level, cloth towels on the next, and an empty basket on the bottom where the dirty ones go.

    We have a variety of cloth napkins, and now my DD (who is 2.5) owns the “chore” of picking out a cloth napkin for everyone at the table during mealtimes. It is something fun for her to do and encourages cloth napkin use by us all (can’t risk hurting DD’s feelings by not using the frog napkin she picked out for me!)

  84. We are paperless in the kitchen, but it just sort of happened. For us it was an economical decision. Right off when we married 5 years ago, I made sure we had good hardy cloth napkins for everyday use. They work great and we never have to buy paper napkins! And the ones we have don’t need to be ironed… ever! and are very absorbent.

    A couple years ago, the rest sort of happened. We were out of paper towels and so I started improvising. We have a whole bunch of teri wash clothes bought at Walmart (lots of them are ratty now and probably need to be replaced) that I use for dishes. Until that cloth is too grimy, it gets used for dishes, wiping spills, wiping down the counters and table, and whatever else. Once it gets used to clean something off the floor, it moves to the wash and a new one comes out.

    Another wash cloth (I try to pick a different color than that day’s dish cloth) is dedicated to kid clean up after meals. At 3 and 1, each of them needs a pretty thorough wipe down after each meal. This cloth then gets rinsed out and is ready for the next meal. Again when this one is grimy, it’s moved to the wash and another gets brought out.

    Our system isn’t the most organized though. I often forget which cloth is which, or let them sit in a heap instead of spread to dry, or forget to rinse out the yuck of the cottage cheese, so some days we go through a bunch of wash cloths, but overall it works great and I haven’t purchased paper towels in a couple years! We don’t even have them as back up.

    The other detail is dish towels… they are used to dry whatever needs drying, from hands to counters to dishes to draping over the rising bread dough (new towels are grabbed for jobs that require clean cloths.) And bibs. We have bibs made out of kitchen towels that are great!

  85. I think I could do this!

    Because we already use cloth napkins and dish towels, we don’t use much paper in our kitchen. The things I do use paper towels for: wiping down the counters and the appliances, cleaning the glass top of the dining room table, and wrapping moistened PTs around fresh herbs before storing in the fridge. It seems these habits wouldn’t be that hard to change.

    In fact, I already have the stainless steel cleaning cloths by method By adding in their other job-specific cloths, and buying multiples of each type, we could probably convert the rest of out paper usage to cloth fairly easily.

    Here are the different types of cleaning cloths they offer:

    window + glass microfiber cloth –

    daily granite microfiber cloth –

    stainless steel microfiber cloth –

    Silver ones are for cleaning the stainless steel surfaces
    .-= Denise Reynolds´s last blog ..Why FILE is a four-letter word =-.

  86. We have been paper-free for a little under a year. My fiance had the hardest time with it because he was a big paper towel person. We have unspoken “categories”. I have cheap rags in the hall closet for messes (pet, oily, sticky). I have my hand towels for drying dishes. I have clothe napkins for meals. These are only used for meals. I pick up good looking cloth napkins at antique stores. (I try to reuse as much as possible.) They are super cheap and better quality then the ones at the store.

  87. Thank you so much for this article. I have vowed to go paperless in my kitchen. I should say, I hoped, but was skeptical. Now, I feel empowered. I have a plan! Thank you so much! I look forward to the day I can report that I’ve been paperless in the kitchen for a month.

  88. We’ve been paper free for about a year. In the kitchen. Not the bathroom. We still have our trusty toilet paper. But other than that, we only use cloth. It really was an easy transition and so worth it.

  89. Thank you so much for writing this post!! Honestly, we went “paperless” in our kitchen due to running out of paper towels sooo dang fast all the time. Now I only use our cloth towels for everything. I throw all our “dirty” cloth towels under the sink until I need to wash them. Then, if I have really messy spills (i.e. from our kiddos), I just pull out one of those cloths to sop up the spill. I love your ideas for cloth napkins, though! I’m going to make that jump next as we’ve just not had paper napkins forever, but I should invest in some everyday cloth napkins to use instead.

    Great suggestions!! Thank you!
    .-= Quinn´s last blog ..Who’s Creating? Wednesday: Michelle Barneck =-.

  90. Elizabeth says:

    I am working on going paperfree. There are two areas that have me hanging onto paper because I am not sure how cloth will work and one area (napkins) because I need to get the money to buy cloth and we don’t use that many napkins as is. I cannot bring myself to clean a toilet with cloth, it just grosses me out and I use paper towels when I cook with oil (as in fry tortilla shells, etc.) because they get the grease and I am just not sure about washing that grease in the washer.

    But it is way cheaper! Especially when I went from disposible wipes to cloth for baby!

  91. Denise C. says:

    I went paper-free a few months ago. I would pay close to $15.99 for 8 rolls of paper towels (this was the big, thick, ultra strong one). I got tired of going through them FASTER THAN ANYTHING ELSE. YIKES. So, I refused to buy them.

    Occasionally I do miss them, like tonight I made beef tenderloin and wanted to pat my roast dry. I took an old kitchen towel and used it. Granted it got gross, but hey, it’s washable and that can be my “roast cloth.”. I have roughly 8 cloth napkins I use when company is over….(I haven’t bought napkins in YEARS!!!)

    I still need to figure out what to use for everyday cleaning. Maybe a good clean out of my kitchen towel drawer is in order!

    Great post! 😉

  92. I have the same question as Cynthia above…is it really “greener” to be doing an extra two loads of laundry a week to wash all the cloths? My family goes through probably one roll of paper towels per month. To me it seems like those extra loads of laundry would outweight the environmental cost of that roll of paper towels.
    .-= Minnesotamom´s last blog ..My Take on the Burlap Wreath =-.

    • I think it all depends on how much paper you use. We would use a LOT of paper if we went only paper route. Moreover, I use this as a teaching tool for my kids – so they can be more mindful of their influence on the environment 🙂

  93. Honestly, it’s not creating that much more laundry for us and we’re a family of 5. For us, it simply completes our load of whites we do once a week. We have a high capacity, energy efficient washer. I think with the towels number one it’s saves us money. Two, it’s not just the impact of one roll of paper towels, it’s the countless we would use in our lifetime. I can’t imagine how the cloths we have “cost” more environmentally than the 100 roll my family would go through in year.

    It makes sense for my family and works for us. We strike a balance, since I still do use paper for some things like really icky cleaning.
    .-= Lindsey´s last blog ..what I’m crushing on right now… =-.

  94. jan wilson says:

    I’m with a previous commenter, what is a static cloth? I googled it and got results for anti-static cloths. Can you provide a bit more info on what these are?

    I’m making an effort towards going paper-free by using my dish towels which I have an assortment of b/w the classic soft ones, waffled ones and then flour sack towels. They’re all stained but I don’t care too much. I pull a clean one out for hands and another one for dish drying. After a day or so I use those same ones to dust, wipe counters, clean mirrors, etc. I still use paper towels a bit but I tear them into smaller pieces. Having some extra wash clothes would probably help me eliminate the need for those small pieces of paper towels.

  95. I’ve always wanted to go with cloth; I just think it’s nicer and it definitely works better. But I’ve wondered about the tradeoff – what uses less resources – the paper towel or the washing maching/soap/water/energy? That’s a serious question – if anyone knows, email me!
    .-= Laurie´s last blog ..Wahoo! =-.

  96. I’m currently in the middle of the same process only I’m a knitter so I am knitting up a bunch of cotton washcloths and hand towels to use. I’m hoping to get around to sewing some napkins by spring as well!
    .-= Traci´s last blog ..What’s With The Title? =-.

  97. I had no idea paper was an issue in the kitchen until a friend of ours gave us paper plates as a baby gift when one of our kids was born… we never used any paper before and I think my husband would just about die if he got his dinner on a paper plate!!! Needless to say we did a lot of plate crafts!!! And as for roller paper for mopping up spills it is so expensive over here (Cape Town, South Africa) and such a luxury I wouldn’t dream of using it for mopping up – maybe for science experiments!!! It may be cheating to aim for a paperless kitchen if you never ever had a paperful kitchen… I guess that might be setting myself up to succeed!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Se7en Thoughts About Babies and Sleep… =-.

  98. My goodness, I dread to think how much paper towel you guys used to use! For once, this is something I like the idea of and, wow, I’m there already. Guess the home you grew up in has a lot to do with it. We have dishcloths, larger “dry” tea-towels (think that is a British word?) and I keep a stash of nice napkins and kids old bibs/muslins/facecloths for the other bits. I disinfect my dishcloths daily and change them as often as I can remember. New tea-towels daily and the rest go in the wash when used as wiping up pasta sauce from small people generally gives them a 2minute lifespan!

  99. Great post! We’ve been generally paper free for a few years now (except kleenex – I like the flannel idea and I just inherited some hankerchiefs I should really try), and toilet paper.

    Here is our system:

    Our kitchen is beside the laundry room so I store most of our cleaning rags (separated into big (hand towel size or bigger) and smaller in there. All are cast off clothing or ratty towels no longer good for regular use. There are also smaller amounts in each of our washrooms. Our kitchen stores hand towels, dish towels, face cloths and dish cloths.

    We use dish cloths (micro fibre from dollar store) for daily stuff around the kitchen – table, counter, dishes. At the end of the day they rest over the sink to dry and it gets replaced with a fresh one in the morning.

    We use rags for anything floor related or cleaning with cleansers (although we use earth-friendly products and vinegar). I wash the floor using larger sized rags and a dutch broom. We also use rags in the washroom on a daily basis (using the swish and swipe method from Those rags rest on the side of the garbage pail to dry, then go into the garbage pail. I sort our garbage weekly for garbage day into recycling, garbage and laundry.

    We use my husband’s old boxer shorts (cut up) for wiping bums when necessary and for the kids to wash bums during the shower. They are stored in the bathrooms as well.

    We use hand towels for general hand drying in the kitchen and bathrooms. I change them daily as I do home daycare and want to keep the germ transfer to a minimum.

    Our kids use colour coded wash cloths for their face washing (along with our kids plastic IKEA dishes, toothbrushes, towels etc – a GREAT system for using the same cup all day for instance). Now that the kids are older (5 and 7 and 19 with spec needs), we use the old baby wash cloths in the kitchen for daily use with all who are in the house. They get hung up to dry in the laundry room until dry and then wait for laundry. I have added colour coded ribbon to distinguish who’s who’s when they were younger.

    We use cloth napkins for more formal dinners but don’t seem to have a daily need yet. We do have colour coded ones again for use. We also get quite a few paper napkins from take out (even though we ask not to!) so they are on hand if necessary.

    We use dish towels to rest dishes on to dry (we prefer air dry) and then for the odd bit that doesn’t dry quickly.

    Regarding laundry, this all adds up to maybe one load a week (we also throw aprons, lunch bags and used ziplock bags (don’t put in dryer though). If it is not a full load we’ll add our bath towels.

    So far it works for us. We don’t have paper towel around and we have guests weekly – slowly they are learning what we are all about. Hope this helps someone! Thanks for the additional ideas!

    BTW – I haven’t bought any but so far the reviews are raving about flylady’s microfibre (purple) cloths.


  100. We are trying to go paper free as well. My friend actually sells a product to replace paper towels. These towels are great and she makes them herself from her home. Check out her Etsy shop (Athena Creates):

    I will not receive any compensation for promoting her. She is a stay-at-home mom and has created this great product that is very affordable and so useful. She makes plain towels or towels that she hand-dyes in beautiful colors.

Add Your Thoughts