I’ve been trying to take small steps towards creating a substantially greener home. Step 1 for me was getting rid of all the stupid disposable everything. Mostly, I’m talking about paper towels.
Paper towels have been a tough habit for my husband and I to kick. There were a few different road blocks for us.
Road Block Number 1: Laundry
I sewed my own placemats and cloth napkins. We had a nice set of 6, which is great, if we only eat dinner 3 times a week. But I don’t do laundry often enough to rotate through them this quickly. So then we ran out, resorted to paper napkins or paper towels, and never really got into the habit. Luckily, my amazing sister-in-law knew I wanted more cloth napkins and hunted in thrift stores to get a whole bunch of them for me for Christmas. I’m not going to lie. I don’t love all of the patterns. Some of them are downright ugly. But some of them are also gorgeous. And most importantly, the sheer number helped us turn this into a real habit.
The second part of this problem was a storage issue. Storage when they’re clean, and storage when they’re dirty. When they were clean, I stored them in an overfilled bottom drawer in the kitchen that just wasn’t accessible enough. Again, Joel’s family really came through. His parents had upgraded their china cabinet, and we got their hand-me-down. This meant access to an almost unlimited supply of cloth napkins. A huge help!
But I still felt a little confused about what to do when the napkins got dirty. They didn’t fit into my tri-basket laundry system (whites, brights, and darks). I found an old hamper from when I was in college up in the attic. It fit perfectly next to the cat food bin in the laundry room. This means, I have a place where I can easily through the dirty napkins when I clear the table after dinner. And then I can wash them when I’m ready.
Road Block Number 2: No alternatives!
I’ve had friends that use a variety of different types of rags instead of paper towels, everything from cut up old t-shirts to just old towels. These didn’t work for me. They never seems absorbent enough to deal with spilled beverages. Here’s where it’s important to be smart about the alternatives.
1) Microfiber: I bought a 24 pack of microfiber cloths from amazon. These babies are amazing for cleaning. They dust without chemicals; they clean the bathroom; and my favorite purpose is to use them instead of disposable swiffer cloths. I think they’re way more effective at attracting dust, dirt, and animal hair, which is a major problem in our house.
2) ShamWow (or similar product): I bought these mega absorbent cloths. One towel can soak up more liquid than you can possibly imagine. Paper towels were always my go to when a beverage was spilled. These work as a much more effective alternative. I also keep a clean one by the sink to dry off clean dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher), and then let it dry in the dish rack to use again. If they get dirty, they’re washable as well.
3) Scrubber Cloths: I found these at big lots. They’re super thick, like a sponge and a cloth had a baby together. One side is microfiber, and the other is a scrubber. Mine look a lot like this, although I can’t recommend this brand, necessarily. I use these for dishes, wiping counters, etc. I get a new one every three days or so, which makes sure they never get smelly and gross, unlike sponges. And, of course, they’re machine washable, which makes sure they aren’t just wiping bacteria around your dishes and counters (like the paper towels try to warn you against).
Having these three alternatives, and yes, even a few random washcloths and rags around makes sure that I have exactly what I need for whatever job I need to do.
Road Block Number 3: The Friends
Joel and I stopped using paper towels almost entirely back in February. We had just purchased a new mega pack of paper towels from Costco, and we were excited to think we wouldn’t need to buy anymore for a long time. But we noticed that we were still replacing the paper towel roll quite frequently. Every time we had friends over, especially informal gatherings with snacks, people would grab paper towels instead of using all of our great cloth napkins. I would even set the cloth napkins out on the counter right alongside the snacks, and people would still reach for the paper towels. It was even worse when something would spill. I would watch in horror as they would use 5 sheets or more to clean up after an overflowing glass of soda.
And then Joel had an idea. Put the paper towels away. They’re under the sink now. And we still have them for especially gross messes (we do have three cats and a dog), but they’re completely out of sight for visitors. Instead, we filled a basket full of all of those great alternatives listed above. It’s so much prettier than a role of paper towels, too. I’m sure it’ll be a bit of an education process as friends ask where the paper towels are, but after a couple gatherings, this has been extremely successful.
It’s so much easier than I expected the whole process to be. In fact, in a lot of ways, I like it so much better than paper towels. Things get cleaner with a lot less effort. And throwing out less paper is just a added bonus! We’ve been slowly transitioning into th