Eco-Friendly Paper Towels: The Best Alternatives

Is there really such a thing as eco friendly paper towels? Well…yes and no. In this post, I’ll break down your options so you can find the most sustainable paper towels for your home.

Why would someone want eco friendly paper towels?

Well, paper towels are a disposable product that requires trees to be grown, harvested, processed, packaged, and shipped to reach your house.

We use them for mere moments before they typically end up in the trash can, headed for the landfill.

The production of paper towels contributes to deforestation. The packaging and transportations result in plastic waste and increased greenhouse gas emissions. All of these contribute to climate change so it’s important to switch to sustainable alternatives.

If you’re trying to live a more sustainable life, you should definitely consider eco friendly paper towels!

stack of white paper towels.
Photo Credit: Canva

The best part about eco-friendly paper towels…

Many of the products below are reusable products, meaning you buy them once and use them again and again.

Since you’re not buying case after case of paper towels anymore, you’re typically saving money while you’re at it!

Although there are some products that cost more than conventional products, many of them will save you money in the long run after a small upfront investment.

Jump ahead to see a full price comparison!

Green Your Kitchen with Eco Friendly Paper Towels

Let’s dig into some of the options out there to help you find the right one for your home.

brown paper towels to reduce waste.
Photo Credit: Canva

Disposable Eco-Friendly Paper Towels

If you’re brand new to an eco-friendly lifestyle, you might be looking for a swap: a better product to replace the traditional paper towels you’re using now.

You’re not looking to change your habits, just the brand you buy.

In this situation, you have 2 options, but I’m going to narrow it down and say that there’s just one option…

The best disposable paper towels are made from recycled post-consumer content paper.

This type of paper towel repurposes existing paper, which eliminates or at least reduces the need for timber to be harvested.

You can find recycled content paper towels that are bleached or unbleached. Stick to the unbleached options when possible to avoid those chemicals.

The best recycled paper towels

According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the most sustainable recycled paper towels are made by these brands:

  • Thrive Market (A+)
  • Everspring by Target (A+
  • Green Forest (A+)

What about Bamboo Paper Towels?

I do not recommend bamboo paper towels at all.

Basically, the only reason to use bamboo is to avoid BPA and since we’re not wiping with paper towels, we don’t need to bother.

Plus bamboo paper towels cost more money and have a higher environmental cost than recycled paper.

Best Reusable Paper Towels

If you’re ready to take a step away from single-use products entirely, then you’re ready for reusable paper towels! Simply pop them in the washing machine and use them again and again.

This shrinks their environmental impact significantly.

Plus, there are lots of reusable alternatives and I’m sure you’ll find one you’ll love!

eco-friendly paper towel alternatives swedish dishcloths.
Photo Credit: DepositPhotos

Swedish Dish Cloths

Made from biodegradable cellulose and cotton, Swedish dishcloths are like sponges, but better. They’re larger, thinner, and extremely absorbent.

They’re great for everyday use and you can use them as a paper towel or sponge.

To clean them, you can microwave them briefly or run them through the dishwasher.

Swedish dishcloths typically last for 6-9 months. When they’re done, you can stick them right in your compost bin!

  • Plantish Future has beautiful botanical Swedish dishcloths
  • Nordhus Design’ Swedish dishcloths are actually designed & made in Sweden!

Unpaper towels

Have you ever heard of paperless paper towels? Maybe you’ve seen them on Etsy or at a local craft fair.

Unpaper towels are typically fastened or simply just rolled together around your paper towel tube or holder.

You’ll simply pull one off the roll to use like a regular paper towel and then store them in a bin somewhere in your kitchen until you’re ready to wash them.

There are lots of paperless towels available. Some of the most popular options are:

  • Marley’s Monsters come in lots of different colors and patterns
  • Juniper Seed Mercantile’s unpaper towels are made with organic cotton

Are unpaper towels worth the hassle?

Personally, I don’t use unpaper towels. I find the process of fastening or rolling them together to be an extra step that slows me down.

I prefer simple routines with less maintenance to help make sustainable living easy.

Plus, unpaper towels are typically more expensive than other options.

Reusable cotton towel

This is my favorite type of reusable paper towel alternative! You have so many options in this category, too, which can be helpful or…more confusing. Let’s work through it together.

Basically, the idea here is to use some sort of simple cotton towel that can be washed and reused again and again.

To find the best choice for you, we need to think through where you want to store these cloths and your budget.

stack of reusable kitchen towels.

How to store reusable cleaning towels

  • Store in a basket on the counter
  • Lay over an old paper towel tube for easy access
  • Fold and keep in a drawer

Reusable cleaning cloth options

  • Repurpose your old dish towels (free or cheap)
  • Make cleaning rags out of old t-shirts and flannel sheets (free or cheap)
  • Buy glass cleaning cloths (inexpensive)
  • Purchase zero waste paper towels (more expensive)

Before I knew about the difference between organic and conventional cotton, I purchased a set of lint-free glass cleaning cloths.

They’re thin, about 12 inches, and fold up perfectly. I keep them in a drawer with my dish cloths and simply grab one as needed.

In this situation, you don’t have to keep any cloths or paper towels out on the counter, yet they’re still easy to access.

This is ideal for people who are trying to minimize or just can’t stand clutter!

I keep a rust-proof metal bucket under my sink (my old over-priced and too-small compost bucket) and store them in there with dishcloths, hand towels, and more until it’s fun.

Then, they get washed, folded, and returned to the drawer.

Did you know that reusable cloths are a great way to reduce plastic waste? Even recycled paper towels are typically packaged in plastic films, which are not easily recycled.

Are eco friendly paper towels a good investment?

Let’s take a look at a cost breakdown here.

You’ll probably want at least 10-12 eco friendly paper towel alternatives to make sure you have enough on hand even while some are in the laundry. You might need less especially if you’re good about folding the laundry! I’m not. 🙂

For this comparison, let’s estimate that a family would use 1 roll per week, which might be a light estimate for many families. For double rolls, that means they’ll go through one every 2 weeks.

Conventional & Recycled Paper Towel Price Comparison

BrandPrice per rollRolls per monthPrice per monthPrice per yearPrice for 5 years
Target Make-a-Size
(8 pack of double rolls; $14.99)
$1.872$1.87 x 26$48.62$243.10
Bounty Select-a-Size (4 pack of double rolls; $8.99)$2.252$2.25 x 26$58.50$292.50
Everspring recycled paper towels (8 pack of single rolls; $12.99)$1.624$1.62 x 52$84.24$421.20

If you’re already kinda crunchy, you might go through a roll over the course of several months. Your break-even point will take longer to reach.

That’s not a bad thing!

It means you’re probably already using a paper towel alternative to tackle most messes.

Reusable paper towel price comparisons

Paper Towel AlternativePriceAmount for Year 1Cost for Year 1Longevity
Swedish dishcloths$23.99 for 102-4$4.78 – $9.56New cloth every 6 months
Juniper Seed Mercantile organic cotton unpaper towels$19.99 for 612$39.98Several years
Marley’s Monsters organic cotton unpaper towels$37.99 for 1212$37.99Several years
Cotton glass polishing cloths$14.46 for 1818$14.46Several years

Even if you were only ditching regular paper towels from a cost standpoint and not for the environment, it’s clearly an excellent investment.

Plus, these cloths will last years. I’ve already used my cloths for 2.5 years and they have tons of life left to go.

Imagine how much more you’ll save when you invest in other sustainable alternatives like fabric bowl covers, reusable bags, silicone baking liners and more!

What’s your favorite eco-friendly paper towel alternative?

As you can see here, I feel pretty strongly about reusable cloth towels. I’m very content with my stack of cleaning cloths.

They were at a great price point and I have no reason to replace them despite them being a less environmentally friendly form of cotton.

When these run out, I’ll probably try making my own…

If I had to buy something, I would look at the Marley’s Monsters organic cotton unpaper towels. Although they’re pricey, they’re organic cotton from a brand with a great reputation!

eco friendly paper towels

Which paper towel alternative do you want to try?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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