Use less paper towels

I do a lot of “green” things, but I’m not a “tree-hugger” or a “save the planet” kind of a gal.  I wish I could say I was, because I think that is a pretty noble and forward-thinking kind of path.  But I’m neither noble or forward thinking… nope, most of my “green” activities come from a place of selfishness.  I do them either because it somehow benefits me or my family.  Here’s one way I am saving trees:  I very rarely use paper towels.  Why?  It all started with this:

This is Birdie Girl back in the day!

Have you ever tried to clean up something like this with paper towels?!?  Can you even imagine how many paper towels it would take?!?  Now multiply that times two children.  Now multiply that times three meal clean ups per day.  Just imagine the rolls and rolls of paper towels!!  And the worst part is, when it’s mom vs. mess (including a wiggly, uncooperative child), mom usually loses.  Or else she wins just by sheer volume of paper towels dispensed in the effort.

So I use a system of washcloths.  So easy.  So clean.  So green.

Here’s what my simple little system looks like:

Stop looking at my lunch dishes on the counter! ;)

In the right cabinet, a bin full of nice, clean, inexpensive washcloths.  (Costco sells my favorite ones – very thick and very cheap!)  In the cabinet under the sink, a little garbage can for the dirty rags.

I use these handy little guys to wipe up EVERYTHING.  I wipe kids hands & faces.  I use one to wipe off the table/counters/etc.  I use them to wash the floors.  The kids grab them if they spill their waters.  I use them to wipe down the fridge shelves, microwave,… anything you can think of.  Now that my kids aren’t babies anymore, I even slightly dampen them and give them to the kids while they eat to use as their napkin.  (So much easier for kids to use a napkin if it’s damp… try it!  Works like  a charm!)  After each one is done, I toss it in the little canister.  I probably go through about a dozen of these per day.

Each week, I toss the contents of the dirty bin into my washing machine and turn on the “sanitary” cycle.  (It’s the only cycle that uses HOT water and since it’s a HE machine, the sanitary cycle lasts for over 2 hours!  Trust me… it cleans the bananas out of those washcloths!)  A quick run through the dryer and, VOILA!, a fresh batch of washcloths to use again for the next week.

Now I will tell you that I used to FOLD each and every one of those washcloths before I put them back in the clean bin for use. How stupid was that?!?!  Why did waste my time doing that??  I have absolutely no idea.  I have since come to my senses and realized that there is no need whatsoever to fold rags.  I took a deep breath, got over it, and I’m fine with the fact that my clean bin doesn’t look all tidy and cute.  They’re rags.  They don’t need to look cute.  (Plus they’re housed INSIDE of a cabinet!)

Even my husband became so used to the ease of wiping down messy post-meal kids, that he’d wet two of these rags and pop them in a ziploc before he took the kids out to a restaurant.  He just couldn’t bear the thought of trying to wipe the mess off the kids with napkins.  That’s how big the difference in ease it was to clean off a little one!

If’ you are looking to improve your home’s green quotient, I’d highly recommend this system.  Works so smoothly.  If you are looking to improve your sanity from fighting with a squirmy kid to wipe them down after a meal, again, try this out.  It makes cleaning kids a breeze.  If you are one of those noble, forward-thinking people who never use paper towels to begin with… well, I will never be you… but this blog is all about progress, not perfection.  And I think this little system is good progress for my family.

What do you think?

~Mae

31 thoughts on “Use less paper towels

  1. I’m kicking myself here because we’ve used washcloths for years. Love the idea. But it never occurred to me to get a bin and stop folding them! Thank you for saving me some time going forward. :)

    • I know, right?! What’s wrong with us? I think we are just so used to folding whatever comes out of the dryer that we don’t even think twice to analyze if it is something that acutally *needs* to be folded or not! Glad to save you some time… you’re a busy lady so you need it! ;)

  2. Ah, yes, so you did already write about this! Sorry I missed it! Love it. I need to get more rags.

    Any thoughts on the extra laundry it creates (and the extra long cycle with hot water) vs using paper towels? I mean, I think the former is better/greener but I have tried to explain the washcloth system to a few people who argued that it’s not that green b/c it creates more laundry, which uses more water, runs your machine more/longer, etc etc. Not playing devil’s advocate here, just curious what you know/think. I have not taken the time to research.

    Keep up the good work, Mae!

  3. Great idea. Love the concept. A few questions: how do the wet or damp towels hold up sitting in the trash bin for a week or even a few days? Is there mold/Mildew growth? Smells? Bugs?

    • There’s no smell, no bugs, etc. I will say every once in a while there is one washcloth that needs to be tossed because it doesn’t “uncurl” enough in the washer to get fully cleaned. I consider it a small casualty and move on. Ha! ;)

      • Thanks for the reply! I just used a damp wash cloth for my 3 kids (5, 2, and 7 mos) after dinner and clean up was a breeze! Thanks for the idea. This one is a keeper!

    • I have had trouble with mold and mildew on my dirty damp wash clothes so now I put them in a wire basket similar to the one her clean ones are in, that way they can “breath” and that solved the mold/mildew problem.

    • I should. Honestly, I don’t out of pure laziness. But Bring Mae Flowers is all about progress, not perfection, so even if I use the drying rack “sometimes” it’s better than never. Thanks for the nudge. ;)

  4. Love, love, love this idea! Thank you for sharing, I am definitely looking forward to buying fewer paper towels in the future! And who knew you didn’t have to fold rags?! You are a genius. Pure and simple.

  5. Hey there. Found your idea on Pinterest (LOVE THAT WEBSITE!) and I wanted to see how you’ve organized them. I use bar mops – they are a little bigger than wash cloths but the concept is the same. I usually buy them 4 dozen at a time on ebay from a restaurant supply place. I love how you’ve organized them. And yes, WHY DO I FOLD THEM??? I’m using this idea for sure…

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  8. I LOVE this! But…where, oh where, do I find that wire bin you are using? I have searched high and low and can’t find anything like it.

    • I think it’s from Home Depot. It was meant to hold a garbage can within the wire part, but I just don’t use it that way.

  9. I’ve done this for years, and passed it along to my kids… It’s really the only way to go in my book! However, I’m still folding… lol… It’s the ocd… I’m working on it!

  10. I love this idea!! My kids are past the really messy stage, but I use paper towels for many misc. things and would like to cut back. I love your system to make them handy. I think the reason why I use paper towels more than cleaning rags is because they are so handy and the cleaning rags are tucked away in the hall closet.

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  12. I love it! I usually keep baby wetwipes on our kitchen table for my messy kiddos,still use less than i would if i were using paper towels.i like this a lot. My bathroom washcloths, i stopped folding them after i had kids. I store them in a clear bag (recycled from a babyshower gift that holds the “johnson&johnson” bathsets. Still looks tidy, even when not folded. I like your basket too, but I am wondering if hanging baskets (planter boxes, filing wall folder things, or magazine holders) attached to the interior of a cabinet or exterior, would make it more efficient and space saving too. All of my caninets are childlocked

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