We can find paper towels, sheets of soft and thick paper, in many of our kitchens. We use them for drying our hands, cleaning up those messy spills, and for the convenience of an easy wipe clean. However, like any other single-use product, our paper towels end up trashed after use. In a bid to reduce the environmental impact of conventional paper towels, reusable paper towels aim to ensure convenience without waste.
For an eco-friendlier kitchen choosing reusable paper towels made from sustainable materials reduces our impact on the planet. Plus, you get to use them for longer.
In this article, you’ll find various reusable paper towel options to explore. We also cover why these products are better for the environment and provide the info you need to choose the perfect reusable paper towel that works.
Below, you’ll find options to guide your switch from single-use paper towels to sustainable, reusable ones. Here are some eco-friendly paper towel alternatives perfect to wipe away spills and mess with less environmental impact.
Quick links to our reusable paper towel recommendations:
Related: For more tree-free options around the home, check out our list of the best eco-friendly toilet paper options.
Materials: Cellulose and cotton
Sustainable and ethical practices: These dishcloths come from 100% biodegradable materials. It’s a mixture of 70% cellulose and 30% cotton.
The Swedish dishcloth tops the list in the search for reusable paper towels. It even has a 77% five-star rating from over 38,000 Amazon reviewers.
Asides from the environmental creds of this dishcloth, they have many uses. These include cleaning marble, wood surfaces, tiles, and stainless steel.
This dishcloth becomes gritty when dry making it suitable for scouring. As such, you’ll find Swedish Dishcloths the perfect choice for scrubbing and drying dishes, mugs, cups, sinks, showers, and laundry tubs.
Swedish dishcloths come in a set of 10 appealing and pleasant colors. The absorbent material is easy to wash and quick to dry, helping prevent bacteria growth.
This economical dishcloth, which places approximately 17 paper towel rolls, absorbs up to 15 times its weight. The cloth's two-month plus lifespan also adds to its pros. They are top-rack dishwasher safe (And more eco-friendly if you choose zero-waste dishwasher detergents). When leaving them to air dry, simply place them on a hook for quick drying.
Material: Cotton Flannel
Sustainable and Ethical Practises: Marley Monsters is a family-owned brand. It’s certified as an environmentally conscious business and committed to commercial composting. All of this company's products come from certified organic cotton and/or 100% recycled fibers.
Marley's Monsters Unpaper towels, handmade in Eugene, Oregon, are another top product range. The production of each large roll is 100% cotton flannel-based. Each pack contains either 6 or 12 single-ply sheets measuring 12" by 10" in size.
You’ll find a super selection of colorful and distinctive prints, from bold plains to cute cacti and illustrated fruit patterns. Uniquely, this Unpaper towel becomes softer and more absorbent after every wash.
Marley's Monsters reusable Unpaper towels are rollable on the traditional paper roll holder as they cling to each other. This makes it easy to store them. Serged edges prevent fraying and aid durability for a longer lifespan of paper-free clean-ups.
Or shop direct on Marley's Monsters
Materials: Cellulose and Cotton
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: Grove Collaborative makes these European dishcloths from biodegradable cellulose and cotton.
These highly absorbent and reusable cloths made of sponge cloths are great paper towel alternatives. They come in two adorable prints: a cheerful lemon pattern and an arc pattern in blue and yellow.
Materials: Cellulose, Cotton, Mirabilite (Natural Mineral Salt)
Sustainable and Ethical Practises: The If You Care reusable towel blends cellulose, mirabilite, and non-GMO unbleached cotton for a long-lasting clean more akin to your traditional paper towel.
From afar, it looks like a traditional paper towel, but it’s not, as it is both reusable and compostable.
They’ve designed these thick and spongy towels to fit your traditional paper towel holder. Furthermore, If You Care Reusable Paper Towels are multipurpose. You can use them as household cleaners to scrub and wipe surfaces at home.
They are durable, resistant to tear and wear, and absorb liquid easily. Each 2.65" by 9.5" sheet absorbs 16 times its weight in water. You can rinse these washable paper towels and dry them flat for reuse. They come in a 12-pack of towels you can reuse for about a week and replace 18 rolls of paper towels.
Materials: Cellulose and Cotton
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: The lifespan of this reusable paper is its most incredible feature, beating the lifespan of other reusable paper towels. One sheet of Lola Wowable Reusable Paper towel, free of harmful chemicals and printed sunny yellow with natural dyes, is equivalent to 1,250 pieces of regular paper.
This biodegradable 30-sheet roll combines sponge-like absorbency and strength. Although they come from cellulose and cotton, the same material as Swedish Dishcloth, they are 86% larger and absorb 22 times their weight in water.
You’ll find them an excellent choice for multiple purposes in the kitchen and around the home, like washing dishes, wiping stains, and even sanitizing with bleach. Also, it is pet friendly and works well for cleaning pets’ claws.
Materials: Cellulose and Cotton
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: Papaya 100% compostable and all-natural reusable paper towels have top ratings for many reasons.
You’ll love the stylish prints, and you can hang them up on display with their convenient hooks, making drying a breeze. One sheet replaces 17 rolls of traditional paper. More importantly, it’s 20 times more absorbent than a regular paper towel.
Materials: Cellulose and Cotton
Sustainable and Ethical Practises: This compostable sponge cleaning cloth is made from plant fibers (cellulose) in Sweden. For excellent eco-friendly credentials, they use water-based natural ink for the understated patterned prints, perfect for both a contemporary and country kitchen look. These clothes decompose within six weeks in a home compost.
You’ll find them great for use around the home as a versatile product suitable for all sorts of cleaning, like countertops, tubs, floors, tiles, dishes, and mirrors.
Materials: Bamboo rayon
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: New York-based Full Circle, a certified BCorp, creates sustainable and thoughtfully-designed home care products. Full Circle’s reusable towels, made from 100% biodegradable, responsibly sourced bamboo fabric, are completely tree-free.
The sheets are quick to dry and fit well onto traditional paper holders. According to the company, each sheet absorbs seven times its weight, and one roll of these reusable towels replaces 30 sheets of regular paper towels.
You can wash and reuse these plant-based, sustainable, and compostable sheets over and over. Also, these towels with a simple leafy design are quick-drying, super durable, and odor free.
Materials: Organic cotton
Sustainable and Ethical Practises: The MioEco reusable organic paper towel stands out as an excellent alternative to paper towels due to its use of unbleached organic cotton and hard-working design that'll wipe up grease with a little detergent. The cotton is 100% Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified.
MioEco’s reusable organic paper towels are equivalent to 130 traditional paper rolls. It comes in a pack of 10 and 20, approximately 10" by 12" in size. The absence of bleach and dye makes it suitable for cleaning fruits, and you can also use them as napkins for meals. All this adds up to a fantastic zero-waste substitute for paper towels that absorbs easily and lasts for years.
Materials: Bamboo rayon
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: The Kitchen + Home towel, made from sustainably certified organic bamboo, is a versatile reusable paper towel. The bamboo used to make these perforated towels is grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They come in 20 sheet packs measuring 11" by 12" per sheet, replacing 60 conventional paper towels.
They are super absorbent and reusable up to 120 times before discarding.
The Kitchen + Home towels are popular because they effectively clean up various parts of the home, from the bathroom, kitchen, and living room.
Materials: Bamboo and Sugarcane
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: As the name implies, Tree Free makes its paper towel from fast-growing non-GMO grasses (bamboo and sugarcane) rather than wood, a more robust and sustainable alternative to regular paper. They’re 100% biodegradable, animal-free, and ultra-absorbent.
Sustainable and Ethical Practises: People have consistently given Cozy Simple Living 5-star ratings. This cotton paper towel gets softer with the first few washes. They have rounded edges made with an overlock stitch for durability and prevention of fraying. The product, in sets of 12, is printed with bright patterns, and you can choose from 7 different styles or go for a mixed pack. Handmade in the US, this towel is highly absorbent and washable.
Sustainable and Ethical Practices: This is another handmade reusable paper towel range. Due to the nature of production, the company can reduce its waste.
The products come from a soft, absorbent birdseye cotton layer with great absorbency power. They’re a 12 ply pack of paperless towels coming in 11" by 11". They have serged edges in multiple colors.
A reusable paper towel alternative to single-use paper products is a fabric, non-paper, and multiple-use product we can use for clean-up purposes when we need to handle spills or crumbs. Unpaper towels, washcloths, dish towels, washcloths, and rags are other names for these long-lasting towels.
They are slightly spongy when wet but feel just like paper when dry. Brands make these reusable versions from bamboo, cotton, cellulose (wood pulp), or other more sustainable materials than paper substitutes.
Compared to regular paper towels, we can benefit from using reusable towels several times once washed and dried. In addition, they are highly resilient, biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable.
If you’re not washing individual sheets by hand, many of them are machine-washable and dishwasher-safe. Simply pop them in the top rack section of your dish rack, and they’ll come out like new. Afterward, you can leave them for air drying. They can dry flat on a rack or air dry on a holder.
Reusable papers come in different forms, each with slightly different qualities. Also, they often come in attractive and eye-catching designs to suit your or your kitchen's style. Below are the types of reusable papers.
Bamboo reusable paper towels are tree-free, biodegradable, compostable, and sustainable. The bamboo plant is a sustainable paper source that many of the most eco-friendly paper producers have switched to. Also, bamboo has proven itself to be a much more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional wood products.
Furthermore, bamboo grows faster, usually under three months, than trees, which takes about 20 years. As such, it's more sustainable to grow and harvest, requiring less land and water for similar yields. Not only that, but the plant is also more biodegradable and decomposes faster than wood products. As such, waste from these bamboo products has a minimal environmental impact.
Cotton reusable paper towels come from 100% cotton flannel. Manufacturers use recyclable, deadstock, or scrap fabrics to produce them. As such, these eco-friendly cotton towels mitigate the water-intensive and fertilizer-heavy environmental impact of cotton growth and production required for virgin cotton materials.
Cellulose dishcloths, sometimes called cellulose sponge cloths, Swedish or European dishcloths, are slim sponge-like circular or rectangular sheets made from cellulose and cotton fibers. You’ll find them in either 100% cellulose or blends of 70% cellulose and 30% cotton.
They are moderately firm when dry and very flexible once wet. These dishcloths are absorbent, strong, and convenient. Also, they are biodegradable and reusable, meaning less paper towel waste with every spill.
Many paper towel brands champion using recycled paper, which indeed uses fewer raw materials. However, they are still single-use, and manufacturing typically involves bleaches to turn old paper and waste materials into shiny white or printed products.
Paper towels made from recycled materials most likely stack up better for the environment but less so than reusable ones. We’ve left these out for this list of the best reusable towels better for the environment.
Additionally, you don't have to go and spend at the zero waste store to reduce wasteful paper towels around the home. If you have clean and unsoiled scrap fabric, reuse it instead of paper towels.
Even partially soiled fabric works for spills on floors and so on; however, it may be less suitable for food preparation areas, even if they have been through the washing machine.
There are several reasons to choose reusable, sustainable paper towels over regular paper towels, including:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans use more than 27 billion disposable paper towels annually. Unlike regular paper towels that increase waste production and end up in landfills, reusable paper towels help reduce paper and cardboard waste.
Since when done with them, you can pop them on the compost pile or in the compost bin, and they biodegrade; they don't end up in landfills. You can't recycle ordinary paper towels quite so easily. Furthermore, reusability limits the number of purchases and simultaneously limits litter production, while many of them come in plastic-free packaging materials.
Traditional or regular paper towels come from wood pulp derived from trees. Research reveals that, on average, 80,000 acres of forests are torn down daily. 40% of all wood cut down goes into paper creation, and 51,000 trees in every 80,000 acres end up as paper towels. Also, this requires a large amount of water and energy to produce.
On the other hand, sustainable production of reusable paper towels uses bamboo, cellulose, and cotton. Manufacturers grow and extract these raw materials to make eco-friendly paper towels from the environment with lesser environmental degradation, which helps curb deforestation and improves sustainability.
Reusable and eco-friendly towels help reduce the negative environmental impact that traditional paper towels cause. This reduces environmental impacts like deforestation and land pollution when used paper towels end up in landfills. It also curbs air pollution, including lower carbon footprints and lesser greenhouse gas emissions. If unbeached, it makes the paper towels compostable.
Reusable paper towels help minimize the cost of purchasing disposable paper towels. Since they are reusable, they call for fewer regular purchases, thereby saving costs.
People often use standard paper towels for messy spills; they’re great for mopping up spills on floors, pet waste, and so on, and you wouldn’t want to reuse these paper towels again near food or in the kitchen.
A study exploring bacteria on both paper and cloth towels clearly concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that cloth towels harbor more bacteria than paper towels1.
As such, the downside of reusable kitchen towels is that we should avoid using them where bacteria might impact their hygiene. Simply ensuring you wash them at a high temperature often will kill off nasties that might find a home on your reusable paper towels.
Paper pollution is a striking environmental issue affecting mother earth. The problem with paper towels, like toilet paper and other single-use paper products, spans various areas. These challenges include unnecessary waste production, water use, and the consequences of deforestation.
Considering the ease and convenience that comes with the use of paper towels, it may be hard to pull away from them. Fortunately, reusable paper towels present an eco-friendly alternative.
Alternatives to paper towels help curb the havoc caused by traditional paper towels. Reusable paper towels are a sustainable alternative to their conventional counterparts. Plus, you can use them with your cleaning products. If you're wondering how to store reusable paper towels, the great part is that many of the products work with your paper towel roll holder.
Robinton, E. D., & Mood, E. W. (1968). A study of bacterial contaminants of cloth and paper towels (pdf). American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, 58(8), 1452-1459.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.