Saturday, April 2, 2011

"But what about ______? I need paper towels for that."

OK, in response to my earlier Paper towels: Not necessary post, a few people have asked about two potential paper towel must-haves. I think I have an answer for both:

1. Bacon (or other greasy foods). How to cope with food items that require blotting? Or are cooked in the microwave inside paper towels?

Answer: Have a very large white cotton cloth that is for food-oil blotting only. Cook bacon
-- or fry tortillas or fries or tofu -- on the stove in a pan (natch). Then lay out your special cloth on the counter or fold on a plate, and blot the grease the same way you would with paper towels. Hand wash the cloth afterward with a degreasing soap like Dr. Bronner's. It's definitely more work, but you're no longer wasting 10 paper towels to make breakfast.

2. Disgusting messes such as a squished bug or cat barf (or worse). If you've given up paper towels, how do you clean up the occasional extremely gross thing? You would never want to use the cloth again.

Answer: Collect and store thin pieces of cardboard or subscription coupons that fall out of magazines to deal with solid messes. Slide the cardboard piece underneath slowly, then lift. Place on compost pile (if applicable) or throw out. For less solid messes, rip or cut off a piece of your oldest, yuckiest rag to clean up the gooeyness, then throw it on your compost pile (if you've got one) or throw out.

Also, a way to get yourself jump-started without paper towels is to put one of your nice cloths where the paper towels used to be. Just hang it right on the holder. I'm thinking of sewing together the ends of a couple of my best cloths so that they'll be like one of those rolling towels you sometimes see in public restrooms.

Note: I am a cold-turkey, out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, so I don't even keep paper towels in the house anymore -- I would end up using them all the time again! But I could totally see a more strong-willed person being able to have a roll or two around for oil-blotting or super-yuck stuff.


  1. Let me know what you think of these ideas!

  2. I'm not a cold turkey person at all, so I have one lone roll of [recycled, unbleached] paper towels on hand to deal with cat barf and other really gross things. I love your idea about the cardboard, but I have carpet, and somehow the cat always manages to vomit on that. Maybe I could use it to scrape off most of the mess and then finish up with just one or two paper towels.

  3. Just had to clean up a mess on tile that qualified as "very disgusting." I first headed to the kitchen to grab a paper towel .. oops! None there! Cold-turkey time! Then I saw a couple thick junk-mail envelopes and used one to scrape the mess onto the other. Finished by wiping the tile with my yuckiest cloth and super-rinsing.
    Carpet is a tough one. Especially if a mess has had time to sink in. Maybe some bunched-up newspaper (if your carpet is dark)?

  4. I know I am not a super green person compared to lots of people in the valley but I have always wondered about the green benefits of no paper towel vs. the wasting of water and over use of soaps to clean towels.

    Water is not renewable and trees are (granted it a slow renewal, but at least logging in America is fairly friendly compared to Africa and Asia).

    I have heard arguments on both sides, but neither seems more green than the other and trying to avoid messes does not work with a puppy and a 6 year old.

    I guess that is why we still use a fair amount of paper towels.

  5. It's been tough, that's for sure. I know my husband would rather still have paper towels around, especially to use as a napkin with dinner.

    My philosophy is that anyone in the first stages of trying to live more sustainably (->me<-) needs to find the things that they CAN do first, and get those to become habits (or installed). For some people that could be reusing canvas shopping bags, or composting, or installing a solar array, or reusing grey water.

    Banning paper towels is something I can wrap my mind around. I'd be doing the laundry loads anyway, and I'll line dry almost everything come May. For my situation, I DO think it is the greener solution, but it may not be for others. (My disgusting messes are few, and we don't eat bacon/super-greasy stuff ... so that helps.)

    For me, it's about changing the way I think about cleaning with disposable items. Maybe it may help me continue on the path to using other disposable items less?

    Thank you so much for visiting and leaving comments!

  6. I thought of another obvious solution for the extremely gross mess: a piece or two of toilet paper.

    Duh, right?