Change The World Wednesday, paper products

This week the challenge is to reduce the amount of paper products we use in the house.  For an entire week we have been asked to banish paper towels and napkins from our lives. To learn more about this challenge read today’s post from Reduce Footprints.


This may seem like a very difficult challenge to tackle, but don’t fear there are plenty of ways to get along just fine without them.

I haven’t had paper towels or napkins in my home for many years.  I will share with you how I made that possible. Here’s a look at some of the napkins I use.


These are just a couple of the cloth napkins I have on hand.  The blue ones I received free when purchasing a gift from a local pewter company, and the two in the front are cross stitch patterns.  Everyone has a favorite fabric or design so having a wide assortment of textures works well for me.

This next one was a bread cloth I made using cross stitch. When invited to dinner I would make a loaf of bread and line a pretty basket with this cloth then wrap around the bread. It was a lovely way of presenting it to the host, but also a plastic free way of storing the bread.  It has been adopted by my grand-daughter as her favorite napkin.


Instead of keeping my silverware in the only kitchen drawer, I store among other things the napkins, right in front so they are handy and easily accessible to the little ones.


That takes care of napkins, but what about paper towels? Here is my basket of rags.


Being that my apartment is small, I only have one basket of rags any longer, which is stored under the vanity in the bathroom.

My rags came from many sources, none of them store-bought, here are just a few ways my basket grew.

  • old clothes too worn to donate or create something new out of.
  • towels so stained or having holes in them (which are great for soaking up larger spills)
  • sheets which were worn badly enough to have “developed” holes in them or so stained I was embarrassed to have them on the bed.

Don’t have a basket of rags or old sheets you can cut up? Not to worry there are plenty of other ways to build an instant rag collection.

  • If you have a local thrift store, ask them for clothes which are so soiled they won’t sell them. These items go directly into the trash.  While it’s great to pass on what we no longer need, they need to be in a condition worthy of continued use.  The thrift store would be happy to let you go through the donations they can’t use.
  • Yard sales, many people offer a bag of clothing for a small amount, such as $2.  Often times clothes weren’t inspected in proper lighting in preparing for the yard sale and once in the light of day will show obvious stains or holes.  Feel free to ask for these or offer less than what they are asking.
  • Ask family and friends if they have items they plan to toss out, you’d be surprised how many have a towel they can’t stand because it is frayed and would be glad to pass it on to you.
  • Look again at your own cabinets.  How many towels do you  have that never get used?  If you have even one or two it will be enough to get your started. Simply cut them into different sized pieces, to accomm0date different tasks.
  • Don’t limit the fabrics you are willing to clean with. Crafters/quilters will often have scraps they no longer want.

If your home is larger than mine is, most are, it is easy to stash a bag or basket in a small corner of a cabinet filled with rags, just make sure they aren’t too hard to get to or you won’t use them.

Once you make the switch you may wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.  You will no longer need to check before shopping to make sure you  have enough paper towels or napkins, it will save headaches and quite a bit of money.

Do you still use paper towels?  Have you considered switching?


42 thoughts on “Change The World Wednesday, paper products

  1. I found your link on Reduce Footprints, CTWW. Love your suggestions! I’m going to make a basket of cut up towels to use instead of paper towels this week. Thank you!
    Oh, and old baby onesies and t-shirts, cut up, make good wipes for baby instead of pricey “baby wipes”. :)


    • Hi Valerie, how has it been going for you and your family in giving up paper towels?

      When my youngest was a baby (this was 25 years ago) I was a college student and hired a sitter who came here from the Philippines, she didn’t tell me directly how horrified she was with the disposable and ready to use baby items, until I came home one day to find her holding my son over the kitchen sink and splashing water on his bottom. I stopped, began laughing and asked her what she was doing. She answered that she did like I told her to and used the baby wipes but couldn’t bring herself to leave all that soap and “who knows what” on is skin, so she was rinsing it off before diapering him. That was the first time I really questioned the products (other than formula which I refused) we use for our babies.

      Your idea of homemade wipes is a great choice, much cheaper and if my sitter was right, better for the little one’s skin.


      • It’s going great, thanks for asking! I got myself to the thrift store over the weekend and found some old hand towels for $.25 each! How’s that for cheap rags? (I cut them up) I also already had an old towel that was way to thin to use anymore as a towel, so I cut that up too. It’s funny, every time I reach my hand toward where the paper towels were, I am reminded how much waste I WAS producing! Now I grab a cloth, which then gets thrown into a load I would’ve already washed anyway!
        That’s very interesting about your sitter. I think our society could learn a few things from other cultures. :)


  2. Pingback: Change The World Wednesday, paper products | Living Simply Free |

  3. One blog leads to another, and I find myself here, just enjoying the chatter among like minded folks! Once upon a time I bought pretty paper napkins to make my Grandma happy and add a little something special to my kids lunches. But that has been a long time. (Pets and paper towels belong together) However I think it has been nearly twenty years since I have used anything but cloth napkins. (except for grandma’s of course) Had a friend once that used new washcloths as napkins to soften them up a bit before using them for the bath! My ‘towel’ drawer has a mix of dish clothes for washing and drying and cloth napkins as well. Couldn’t be a more simple thing to make if you have a sewing bend at all. My hubby has some seasonal allergies and uses cloth hankies. I have a sizable collection of cloth hankies from my grandmother and great aunts collections. Soft and well worn, they are great for tiny noses!


    • Glad to have you stop by. I have resorted to plastic bags left behind by visitors to pick up dog leavings in the field. Not sure what else to do with them as they have to be picked up.

      For so many the idea of hankies is gross to them, I’m not sure why they try to use all parts of a paper tissue before trashing it.

      I wish I had taken my grand parents hankies when they passed away, but they are easy and cheap enough to make, like you said.

      I’ve never heard of using new washcloths as napkins to soften them up before bathing with them, but it makes sense to me as I hate the feel of brand new washcloths.


  4. This is very timely for me. I all but stopped using paper towels, and am waiting for payday (tomorrow) to buy some cloth napkins. However, I have one thing left that I can’t seem to find a replacement for. And that is bacon. I like to take paper towels and blot off the grease before I eat it. I could use cloth, but the grease spots would never come out of it. I thought of designating one cloth for bacon that would get washed every time and reused until it looked disgusting. What do you think? I know you are not a meat-eater, and I don’t eat bacon often, but when I do I LOVE it, especially with a tomato, lettuce and avocado sandwich!


    • The only concern I would have using cloth for bacon grease is the build up. If you dry your clothes in a dryer I would worry about a fire (call me a worry wort) after a while. Paper bags I don’t think would be absorbent enough. My grandmother used to put her bacon in a wire strainer and rinse with hot water, (she saved her bacon grease for frying things like potatoes) and then putting the bacon back into the pan for a few minutes to reheat and evaporate any water.

      No, I don’t eat meat, but even without the bacon your sandwich sounds delicious.


      • I love veggie sammies! And avocado, I have found is a great sub for any spread. I hadn’t thought of straining it on paper bags. I do like to blot, but I would try the paper bag thing. My mom used to save the bacon grease too. Then one day our dog got into it and she got hives so bad you couldn’t recognize her. I think that was the end of our bacon grease can. I hadn’t thought of the dryer fire. Ooh! Good catch. But I always have paper bags around since I forget to bring my reusable grocery bags in ALL the time!


        • We kept our grease in the fridge and didn’t have a pet at the time, how horrible your dog got hives from them. I’m not sure about a dryer fire, but do worry about them so I have never dried anything with grease in it.

          I know the paper bags work great for french fries, love to hear how it works for bacon.


  5. Cloth napkins and rags are good for most things, but like EcoCatLady I have a lot of cats and some things just need to be disposable for clean up. I don’t use hankies now, although I grew up with them. I understand wiping your nose if you just have a little drip with a hankie, but when you have a cold and need to blow a lot out of your nose, what do you do?


  6. I rarely have use for paper towels. I bought a roll a few years ago and just finally finished it this winter. I prefer rags for cleaning. On the odd chance that I need paper, like for draining bacon, donuts or sausage, I either use a paper take-out restaurant napkin that they put in the bag, (then I get home and use my favorite regular napkin, and save the paper one), or, I drain bacon on a paper shopping bag. I will say that when I am using a really sticky adhesive, like jeweler’s cement, I do like to use a bit of a paper napkin with rubbing alcohol for the clean-up.

    But I will continue using disposable tissues and bath tissue. I just couldn’t bring myself to using (and then having to wash) reusable wipes, especially with a family and I do all the laundry. I mean, I love them, but . . .


    • I don’t like the feeling of paper tissues or napkins any more. I can see why you wouldn’t want to try using reusable wipes in place of toilet paper. I would keep a roll around for guests to use here, but am considering using wipes for myself, especially after Heidi’s suggestion of the bottle.


  7. We like cloth napkins too – I have enough of a stash of them to feed many guests (we’ve had a houseful of family for more than a week). I use only rags to clean too. I do keep a rol of paper towels just for bacon draining though. We haven’t switched to hankies, but I remember my grandparents always using them.


    • Yes, my grandparents used cloth hankies, but the only thing I remember them using paper wise for cooking were the brown paper bags to shake the french fries that they cooked in Crisco. They would scoop them out into the bag, sprinkle a bit of salt and shake until the bag absorbed the grease.

      I don’t think I could deal with a houseful of extended family for a week, I like my solitude too much. Hope all is going well for you.


  8. OK, I love, love the bread cloth idea! :-) I do enjoy cross stitch, but needed some practical ideas for projects. Cloth napkins might be it! We use dollar store washcloths for EVERYTHING right now. We’ve been off of paper towels for over 6 years now. It seems strange to use them at other people’s houses–they aren’t nearly as sturdy and absorbant as cloth.


    • I hope you do find some cross stitch patterns you enjoy, they don’t take up much space on a boat so would be easy to travel with.

      I haven’t used a store bought paper towel in so long I can’t remember what they felt like, but I had someone leave paper napkins at my home from fast food, talk about rough, cloth is so much nicer.


  9. I’m mostly paper-free… I vastly prefer cloth napkins and hankies – and in general rags do a much better job than paper towels for cleaning. But – I do keep some paper towels on hand for cleaning up cat messes – it’s nice to have something disposable especially for the um… “solids.” I’ve thought of trying to use old junk mail etc for this purpose, but will probably wait until we’re in a “normal” kitty situation. I’ve been burning through quite a few paper towels lately since my sick kitty has been having GI troubles (both ends… uck!)

    The other thing that I haven’t figured out is how to use cloth napkins for really greasy stuff like buttered popcorn. There are two problems – one is that I can’t figure out how to clean the grease stains without resorting to boiling them, and the other is that even clean things around here have a fine layer of cat fur on them… and when you’ve got greasy fingers, there’s nothing worse than trying to wipe them on a napkin that is a bit furry! It doesn’t exactly help to get your fingers clean if you know what I mean!

    But I have another question. Has anybody else out there tried cloth TP? I decided that reusable wipes for number 2 was WAY too gross for me, but for number 1 I generally just give myself a quick rinse and then dry off with a dedicated little “hand” towel. It saves a remarkable amount of TP, and actually leaves me feeling much cleaner than TP with no lint left behind. I also switched to using a Diva Cup for my feminine needs. It’s SOOOO much nicer than the paper products. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s so much cleaner, and easier that I can’t see ever going back to paper.


    • I don’t blame you at all for using paper towels for the kitty messes. How is Sputnik doing btw?

      I rarely have greasy things here, but if I did I would just use one of the rags for my hands so I wouldn’t have to worry about the grease stains, but with kitty fur..I have no ideas how to prevent the transfer to your hands.

      When I made my switch to a reusable cup I hadn’t heard of the Diva cup, and bought a keeper. After hearing your story I’m glad I did as soapy water to clean is all you need as the keeper is made from gum rubber.

      Now on to your TP question. I haven’t tried it yet, but after learning you used just water and a towel I have considered it, then I would only have to have TP for number 2 and guests.


      • Well, Sputty had a bad week or so… he had some tummy troubles and stopped eating. Needles to say, I was really worried. But, I gave him subcutaneous fluids and that really seemed to perk him up. Today he’s back to his normal self eating like a pig. I am SOOOOO relieved!


      • Something that I used (especially after childbirth) is a peri care bottle for washing up right on the toilet. Any empty squirt bottle would do – the hospitals give them away here, but a dish soap bottle would work just as well. Just fil with warm water (and a squirt of gentle soap if you want) and use it right over the toilet, just like a bidet.


        • That’s a great idea! I have an old tin cup that I generally use… it does require some skill to get your aim right, but it seems to work OK for me. But I may have an old squirt bottle somewhere in one of my debris heaps. Perhaps I’ll give it a shot!


  10. I took a while to get cloth napkins in my home, cause my mother kept buying the Ikea paper ones for me (they matched my decor)! I also use rags – namely the excess curtain fabric. I do need to look into fabric hankies, cause my tissue use is obscene!


    • LOL, I never noticed the Ikea paper ones when visiting the store, now I’m going to have to see what they look like.

      I do have fabric hankies, a few were given to me and a few I bought finding them at the dollar store (no where else locally). I don’t bother with pretty ones, just use the plain white ones marketed to men.

      My grand kids prefer to use pieces of jersey knit sheets in the rag basket when they are sick as it is much softer on their sensitive noses. Maybe you could find old tee shirts or even a single sheet to cut and finish it might be cheaper than buying the hankies.


      • I’ll definately need to look into the sheet option (or hankies) as the tissue use is getting a little out of hand! I wish I knew why I was such a sneezy thing (more so than in the past years). I can only think it’s allergies :s


        • Sounds like it could be allergies. I’ve heard our bodies completely change every seven years. I’ve been waiting 25 years for mine to change back. 25 years ago, after the birth of my second baby, I developed allergies to cat dander. My first ever allergy. I have hoped that it would pass, but I seem to be more allergic as time goes on. Good luck finding out what is causing your problem and removing it.


    • Jayne, I never even thought about mentioning that I carry rags with me when I go out. I would probably use something disposable for cleaning up after cats too. Do you have everyday napkins, and then ones reserved for special occasions? I use the same ones all year round as it saved me from having to store the extras.


    • It does have a special feeling doesn’t it? The little ones have taken a few home because “we don’t have napkins like this”. I let them figuring it was a good thing for them to learn, and maybe their parents will eventually stop buying paper towels.


  11. I have used cloth napkins for years, but only recently weaned myself off paper towels! I have a bin of rags, mostly old dish cloths, tea towels, face cloths and towels. If a mess is so bad that the rag can’t be washed, I would throw it out (for example, I won’t put rags with shoe polish in the washing machine, but I can re-use the same one many times).


    • I agree, I wouldn’t put shoe polish filled rags in the washer. My rag pile gets used quite a bit. When the little one’s have a cold they run for the rag basket for jersey sheet scraps for their nose as it’s softer than paper (they have even taken some home with them rather than use tissue). Like you found, it’s not hard to find things that can fill the rag basket.


I enjoy hearing from you, please share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s