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Can't Hurt, Might Help Me Stop Crying

So I mentioned in the thredUP post that we went cold turkey on paper towels. This is a topic that I am 100% sure some other blogger wrote about years ago, and I am also sure that  -- at the time -- I rolled my eyes so hard because that's some sanctimonious hogwash. Paper towels? Really? Sorry, I live in the REAL WORLD with REAL CHILDREN; gimme that good Quicker Picker Upper action. 

But now the planet is on fire and my kids are coming home from school crying about the polar bears dying, and why isn't anyone doing anything to help the polar bears, and I admit to having had SEVERAL Amy-Poehler-in-Wine-County style breakdowns over the last couple years.




(Usually after consuming Amy-Poehler-in-Wine-Country levels of wine, but still. I CARE REALLY HARD!)

Anyway, I thought we made the switch just a couple months ago, but after combing through the photo evidence, we've actually been paper-towel-free since July, when I first spent an evening cutting up a stack of Jason's old undershirts into a satisfying stack of rags of various shapes and sizes. 


Of course I took a photo of them. It was probably the most I'd accomplished in a single sitting in weeks! Plus Jason was out at some metal/ hair band concert I had no interest in, so I sent him this photo as evidence that LOOK I ALSO KNOW HOW TO PARTY ON A FRIDAY NIGHT.

Anyway, it's actually been seven months. Milk has been spilled. Messes have been made. Nobody has died. 

I've grown the stack of cloth diapers (which are reserved for major spills) and we keep those in the cabinet. T-shirt rags are kept by sink. 


(Incidentally I cannot recommend those Japanese Tawashi brushes enough. We bought a set of three last June and have not used or purchased a regular household sponge since. We use them for everything from scrubbing pots to washing vegetables; toss 'em in the dishwasher every now and then and they come out as good as new.)

(Also, yes, that is an avocado pit next to the scrubber brush, because Jason has not given up on his dream of growing his own avocado tree from one. It never works and they always die a slow death on our kitchen counter. Considering an avocado tree would likely die an instant death if he planted it outside, I'm not sure what his endgame is here. He doesn't even like avocados that much! 21 years of marriage and that man is still full of mysteries. And avocado pits and tires.)

I bought a cute little handled basket to toss the dirty rags in, just the right size to be a decent-but-manageable laundry load on its own but not too big that I can't top off a load of regular whites. MY ONE BIG MISTAKE. I need something with a lid, because the dogs CANNOT resist the smell of dirty greasy rags that once (ooooohhhhhhh) patted down raw chicken or (mmmmmmmmmm) wiped up some cat vomit and they'll drag the rags all around the house when I'm not looking. 

But on the upside, when my children knock a glass over, they grab one of the bigger rags (or the diapers, but WE DON'T TELL THEM THAT THEY WERE ONCE THEIR ACTUAL DIAPERS) instead of unspooling dozens and dozens of paper towels. I go through one or two while cooking dinner vs. grabbing a towel and immediately tossing it out at almost every step. We have an endless supply of old/ripped/stained/shrunken t-shirts to replenish the stash when a rag gets too gross. I find cutting up new rags and folding/stacking the existing ones to be weirdly soothing and relaxing, much like I did in our cloth diapering days. 

I am not bragging or fooling myself here, by the way. Oh wow, ditching paper towels and disposable sponges? Look out, we've got an environmentally-conscious badass over here! 

I'm terribly dependent on Amazon Prime and Blue Apron and grocery delivery services and TARGET TARGET TARGET. I know that switching to reusable freezer bags and paper sandwich bags doesn't offset my gas-powered minivan packed with three children who own enough plastic bricks they could probably rebuild the polar ice caps for the polar bears.

And they would, too, if they thought it would help. Why isn't anyone doing anything to help the polar bears? And the rain forests and the hurricanes and the koala bears? Why isn't everyone doing something?

I don't have a good answer for questions like that. Lots of people are helping, I tell them. Lots of people care very much and are trying very hard. It's big and it's complicated and it's going to take a lot of people doing a lot of things. 

It's easy to just feel helpless. 

But it was easier to just stop using paper towels. 




We’re trying to do the same- but my towels are just on the counter=messy! Where did you get your aqua basket that you have near the sink?
Thanks - and yes, I’m a copycat


I did this awhile back and everyone hated it, I got tired of the complaining so I caved and bought paper towels. But you've inspired try again! As much as I can say that I never want to live near a garbage dump, without question, we would all be much more conscious about what we toss out if we had to actually live with our own garbage. Whisking it away and having it out of sight/out of mind has made us so wasteful.


I’ve been using the Swedish dishcloths instead of paper towels. Well, to cut back on my paper towel use and to eventually get rid of using them entirely. So far they are great and now I need to add in cut up rags like this as my next step.


I tried to make the switch a while ago and couldn't... I need to give it another go. Your system sounds great! And every little bit helps, right?


What do you do about dog and cat messes? (Do not tell me your dogs and/or cats never pee on the floor, I will not believe you.) Do you still use the reusable rags for those, and if so how do you wash them? I would love to use fewer paper towels (and would also love to stop using wee pads but the chihuahua pees every five seconds and neither of us are home full time.)


I have been thinking about this for a while. I use towels & washcloths for much of my kitchen needs, but the one thing I haven't been able to switch is all of the grease-cleaning. My diet has me cooking a lot of meat, and that makes the oven so greasy. Soooo greasy! Can I really just make rags extra greasy and have them wash normally (and not leave grease stains on other laundry)?

If it helps, I just put every single item you linked to into my Amazon basket. I have found with my ADHD that I *have* to decant fruits & veggies into clear bags. I just -- TODAY -- bought a bunch of frozen produce, put it into new baggies, and told myself "I have to look into reusables." Your post came at *exactly* the right time to sway me. Thanks!


You are far more noble than I, although we do try to not use too many paper towels. But you do know that paper towels can be composted, right?


We did the same about a year ago!

We did not have many old clothes (we donate or recycle old tshirts) so I had to get some flour sack towels that I use with cloth diaper inserts (microfiber) that came with some pocket diapers.

We use the microfiber inserts for all our animal and kid pee messes (and vomit!). Also for cleaning out things like the stove or microwave.

Our flour sack towels are used for smaller messes. Also to blot oil off of bacon and similar things I would have used paper towels for in the past.

We keep an old cloth diaper bag hanging on the way down to the basement. I take it and dump it out every day or two and wash everything.

For our family of 6 we are down to one bag of garbage a week. I'd like to get down lower but I think we are doing pretty well!

I also switched from plastic snack bags to bumkins snack bags. I have tried a lot of different things but these bags are the easiest for my kindergartener to get into, so we have a good assortment that I wash with the kitchen towels. We don't have access to the paper ones without paying huge shipping costs.

I feel like I am trying my best so I should feel good about it. Everything counts, no matter how small.


Ditto on the questions about washing them! We've got ten thousand little cloth napkins (terry cloth on one side: genius!) and lots of old dishtowels, but we still fall back to paper towels for the TRULY disgusting messes. We do part-time cloth diapers, so I'm theoretically up for washing gross stuff, but, like... do I spray the chunks off in the toilet, or what??

Amy Corbett Storch

So for pet messes - there have definitely been a couple rags that have met an early trash retirement. (Poppy ate cat poop from the litter box and got super sick in and outside of her crate. Did she learn her lesson about the delicious cat poop? No. No she did not.) Or I just run the rag under some hot water and toss it directly in the washer.

I really would like a small kitchen hamper with a lid and a wet bag like I used to have for diapers, but I've been too lazy to shop for one.

I also didn't mention (because BORING) that we have a two-tier system, with a stack of rags in the laundry area that are older, more stained, etc. The ones that got cooking grease stains all over them or the dogs pulled them out of the kitchen hamper and chewed holes in them. These are the ones I grab for pet messes or wiping down around toilets. (TORMUND.)

Most of the time I wash the rags as a solo load, in hot water, with some bleach and regular detergent. Sometimes I let them soak if I have time. Just like with cloth diapers, a good hot wash gets everything out and kills everything gross, so I'm not squicked about what the rag might have been used for before. I mean, they started off life as Jason's undershirts.

Dori P

Thanks for the Amazon links! I've been wanting to break our family plastic baggie habit and it's easier to follow internet stranger suggestions for products than to do my own research. Too many options make me freeze up and anxiety enters and causes me to pick nothing. I love your cute little baskets, BTW, so I second the commenter who would like to know where to buy those as well.

Also, Tormund is hilarious. I can't believe he pees in/on the toilet. That must smell so bad when he misses.

Tina C.

well done you. little changes that are manageable are big. i also live with a person with an avocado tree dream/fetish. it will never work and never has. my job is to throw away the seed when it gets moldy.

Alice Waugh

At our house, we do use paper towels (though mostly sponges for counter messes), but I don't feel guilty because I found out you can compost them, which is another thing we started doing. The thing I've had to teach the other inhabitants of the household is to RINSE THE DAMN SPONGE after you're used it to wipe something up. Nothing like a hard crusty stinky sponge to come home to!


This is genius and you have inspired me. My girl child had just started using reams of paper towels. I’m actually happy she’s at least now trying to clean up her messes, but it hurts me in my soul, so much waste! You know when you hear your own mother in your voice? Yes. Payback. :sigh:


We have an avocado tree, born from the same dreams that Jason has. His name is Jeff. My fiance wanted to grow one from a pit and low and behold, he somehow got it to work in cloudy af Pittsburgh. Jeff is now 2 years old and I am the only one who remembers to water him, so I suspect that he won't make it to maturation and avocado-growing. But hey, tell Jason it's possible. It just needs A LOT of light. And a name.


Oh my gosh. I used cloth diapers 11 years ago with my first born, and we are using them again with our new baby. I live in part of the country where it is a very, very weird thing to do.
Anyway, there is no value-free way to live in this world. We use resources no matter what, but we can pick and choose what and how much. One of the previous posters mentioned living near a garbage dump. In the town where I grew up, we used to drive by the dump regularly. I remember being awed at how wide and deep the hole was (granted, I was a little kid). Last time I went by, the former hole is now almost more like a mountain - impossibly tall. It's like somebody turned it inside out.


Our problem out in CA with the on-going drought is water restrictions+high water prices, so it makes more sense for me to buy paper towels which can be thrown out, as opposed to running additional loads of laundry which use so much water.


Oh! I forgot. You won't get a producing avocado tree from the seed. You'll need to graft onto it from a fruit-producing tree....


We did this a while ago, too, and I don't miss them at all. We do have one roll of paper towels down in our utility room which I do sometimes use for bacon grease (paper bags work just as well though). We have a mix of cloth diapers, tea towels, and microfiber cloths for various spills and drying needs.

I hadn't considered sponges, though! We do use those for spills too ... I hadn't thought about the disposable nature of those.

Do you have recs on reusable freezer bags? That's the one thing we still use ziploc for (all our snack bags are reusable).


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