Sep 24 09
by cara
at 9:41 AM
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The Green Apple: Bye Bye Paper Towels

Lately I’ve been trying my best to take some steps toward more natural, less wasteful living.  In addition to eating less processed foods, there are many steps I’m taking around the house.  Using more natural cleaning products instead of harsh chemicals, conserving our energy usage, more recycling and less waste.

Linen Napkins2

image from Pottery Barn

One of the easiest changes for us has been switching from paper to cloth napkins for meals.  I’ve got a serious paper towel addiction, but by using cloth napkins at meal time, we’ve greatly reduced our paper towel usage.  I purchased some cute linen napkins (ours are the “Flax” color) that I enjoy looking at.  Using cloth napkins has the added bonus of making meals feel much more sophisticated too!

Linen Napkins

image from Pottery Barn

But I do have a confession:  I’m still having a hard time using these napkins for The Littlest Apple at meal time.  As with any 2 year old, I’m sure, he’s just SO MESSY, and as silly as this sounds, I don’t want my pretty cloth napkins getting dirty!  Goofy right?!  I still use wet wipes to clean The Littlest Apple after each meal, though I’m trying really hard to switch him to cloth napkins too.  I’ve also tried using a damp kitchen towel for The Littlest Apple, but I’m not sold on that method either.  The Little Apple hates the damp towel method because it always winds up too cold for him, no matter how warm the water is in the faucet.  And what do you do with your damp towel when you’re done?  Rinse and save for the next mealtime mess?  If so, where to store it in the meantime?  Maybe I need some additional towel hanging space.  I’m pretty sure I’m over thinking this!

Household cleaning: I’ve also cut back my paper towel usage for cleaning up around the house.  I use newspaper for cleaning mirrors and old tshirts for dusting.  I now wipe down my counters with cloths like these which can be run through the dishwasher or washing machine:

Cleaning Cloth

Washing and drying produce: This is an area I still use paper towels more than I’d like.  We eat lots of fruit at our house, and I am constantly washing and drying grapes, strawberries, blueberries, apples, etc.  I typically use a paper towel to dry them because I feel like the paper towels absorb more water than my cloth towels….am I just not using the right kind of towels or drying method?  I know this is another easy place I can cut back my paper towel usage.

Art and craft messes:  Yet another area where I usually reach for paper towels or wet wipes.  The Littlest Apple and I do art frequently, and he HATES having paint or marker on his hands.  It is so easy to grab a paper towel, but wouldn’t it be just as easy (and effective?) to use a cloth instead?  I’m going to focus on changing this next, at least when it is just the two of us.


Guests: Not everyone is on board with this “greener” lifestyle, and visitors to my house tend to reach for the paper towels first and frequently.  For now I’m letting it slide.  I know how awkward it can be trying to figure out which towel to use for what in a hostess’s house, and then what to do with the used towels?  For those of you making an effort to reduce your paper towel consumption, how do you deal with guests who reach for paper towels? And what would happen if I didn’t have any paper towels on hand?  As much as I’d love to just stop buying paper towels all together, I get a little freaked out just thinking about that….I’m hosting an weekly art playgroup starting next week for eight kids (two and three year olds).  Yikes!  How will I survive without my beloved paper towels?!

I know this post hasn’t provided lots of answers or advice, but I wanted to share my thoughts as I’m starting out on this journey toward less consumption and less waste.  I know using cloth napkins at meal times is drop in the bucket (especially when we’re still using disposable diapers, among other things).  It’s the celebrity equivalent of buying a Prius when you also own a Range Rover and a Porshe.  But it’s a start, and I’m eager to take the next step.

Do you use paper towels?  Wet wipes?  What steps are you taking to reduce your paper towel consumption?  I’d love to hear about any tips or products!

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  1. Judi permalink

    instead of using paper towels I use washcloths a lot. I use a bucket or bowl to hold them in the laundry room until I wash them. I use one wash cloth per activity, cleaning up our little ones messes or her hands, she hates having dirty hands also. then toss it in the bowl. I do laundry everyday so they do not sit around long in the bowl. I buy one maybe two packs of paper towels a year. For your fruits you can use a strainer sitting in your sink. then towel dry. Good luck.

  2. Josh permalink

    Not that we’re very green people… We bought a monster pack of kitchen towels from Costco that we use for cleaning the girls after meals and for general spills and messes. We just use a new towel with each meal, and toss in the washer when we’re done. We have to do laundry pretty much every day, so they don’t sit there for long. I consider the washer to be self-cleaning. 🙂 The key to making this work is having a ton of towels that you don’t mind getting dingy.

    Do you have to dry fruit at all? We never do…

    However I still use default to using paper towels as napkins… but I don’t usually use a napkin, so its not a big deal. M

  3. I use washcloths for kid cleaning. I wet it with the hottest possible water, so by the time i get to the kid it is perfectly warm. Kinda like when they pass out hot towels on a plane 😉 Plus the terry cloth texture cleans so much better than the wipes do. Then I rinse it out, or depending on the severity of the mess (read, peanut butter), I toss it in the laundry. We do so much laundry, washcloths don’t add much to it. And it just stays on the sink divider because my kids are so messy I will need it again in 20 minutes, or I will need it to wash something or other. The best place to hang it is on the oven handle, it will dry out pretty quickly there.

    We use cloth napkins too, but we have nice ones and daily ones. The daily ones get stained, and that’s okay. Or buy (or sew) patterned ones, and the stains don’t show.

    The best way to keep guests from using them is to get them off the counter top. Then they will have to ask where they are, and you can hand them a cloth instead. But on the whole, guests are guests and can do whatever they want. Some folks are germophobes and won’t be comfortable with a rag.

    My husband is addicted to paper towels, but I almost never use them. I really on use them to clean up a jelly glob off the floor. Of which there are many. When there is a liquid spill on the floor, I grab a towel or sheet waiting to be washed – the benefit of me never being caught up on laundry is that I always have something on hand for wiping up spills!

    Careful, next thing you’ll start doing what my friend Megan does: 😉

  4. Oh yeah – I lay my fruit on a towel and let it air dry. But since I buy mostly organic fruit, I am kinda lazy about washing it. That’s probably bad.

  5. I’m guilty of overusing paper towels. Especially right now, Fynn’s in the midst of learning to use the potty… so there’s LOTS of dribbles here and there! 🙂 But also for cleaning up yogurt covered babies, and storing produce (I like to put a piece of paper towel in with freshly cleaned fruits and veggies to keep them crisp… I’m sure there has to be something else I could use though!

  6. Thanks for sharing your kid-cleaning methods, everyone! Sounds like I need to get a pack of washcloths or kitchen towels just for this purpose, and keep a bucket/bowl handy for the used ones until I carry them to our laundry room upstairs at the end of the day. Normally I love having the laundry room upstairs with all the bedrooms, but this is one of those times when it is just a little inconvenient!

    Drying off fruit: definitely not a necessary step for most, but The Littlest Apple refuses to touch “wet” fruit, hence the drying. This kid is just a wee bit quirky.

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