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The Paper-Towel-Free Kitchen

Some people call them unpaper towels; some people buy cute ones on Etsy. Some people ditch the paper ones because of cost; some people are convicted about the environmental impact of production, bleaching, shipping, or a lifetime in a landfill. Me? I offloaded paper towels years ago because of cost and environmental impact. As for what I call them, the unglamorous term rags comes to mind. But, really we call them kitchen cloths (to distinguish from the different colored ones we use to clean the bathroom or yet another set we use as diaper wipes). Our are free, because we made them from old, holey cotton t-shirts. If the old fabric doesn’t absorb because of years of being washed with detergent (this is called repelling), you can boil it to strip it and make it absorbent again. We love that these are free, no-sew, last for years, and then are compostable when done (or at least trashed without guilt). $0 for 5+ years of use is pretty awesome in my book! (I don’t count in laundry costs because we have to wash our kitchen towels and kids’ bibs anyway.)  So, how do you cut a shirt into rags? You certainly can just go at it with scissors any way you’d like, but here is how we do it:

1 Cut collar and sleeves

Step 1: Cut off collar and sleeves. You can leave the collar ribbing on, but it is not very absorbent and will eventually come loose in the wash). You’ll use the sleeves shortly.


3 cut

Step 2: Cut the body of the shirt into strips. Aim for at least 5.5 inches for the width.

cut again

Step 3: Now cut for length. 6-9 inches will make it big enough to clean but small enough that you won’t keep using it to sop up more and more dirty stuff before grabbing another. Remember, these are for use like paper towels (use once, then clean) and not a sponge (egad, sponge funk gives me nightmares).

do your best with sleeves

Step 4: Do your best at cutting the sleeves to a usable size

Unused Emph

Step 5: Enjoy your pile of new cloths and admire your minimal waste.


What else should you know?

You’ll need a place for the dirties.  In the past, we used a small plastic basket with open “weave” sides (AKA holes). The ventilation allows the cloths to dry. Now, we use a wetbag (like for cloth diapering, but is now just for kitchen use). Putting wet, food-covered cloths directly into the wetbag allows mold to grow, so we rinse, squeeze, and then use an intermediary drying area (a metal bar by the sink) before moving them to the wetbag. We also use this wetbag for bibs and drying towels.

You’ll need a place for the clean cloths. We use canisters.

If your fabric doesn’t absorb… Is it 100% cotton? If so, you may have repelling. This just means that soap or other residue has build up. If you are using old T-shirts, it could be from deodorant. Boil the cloths in ample hot water on the stove top to get them clean.

What about cleaning the windows? Crumpled up newspaper works great!

What about bacon grease? Ok, this is our one paper towel holdout. We’ve tried using cloths, but it is challenging to get them clean again. A cut up paper bag from the grocery store could work, but I’ve wondered about cleanliness and that method.

For washing…We wash our kitchen cloths on hot along with bibs, cloth napkins, placemats, and kitchen towels. If  you are using the cloths in the bathroom, have a separate set that is optimally a different color or pattern and wash separately from the kitchen load.


About More Green for Less Green

Hi, I’m Pamm. Welcome to my little slice of the web! As both a pastor and crunchy homeschooling mom, I’m never quite what anyone expects of me. But, hey, that’s what makes blogging interesting, right? Join me as I try to wholeheartedly parent my three little boys, slowly fix up the trashed foreclosure we bought in 2009, and live simply.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Rosemarie July 31, 2014, 9:57 pm

    I’m glad to find someone else who thinks paper towels are wasteful! We haven’t used them since we got married almost 11 years ago and I don’t even think about it. We use old burp clothes, cut up shirts like you showed, wash cloths — and we have a hamper in the kitchen where the dirties go and get washed separately (much like our cloth diapers!)

  • Sarah Bolger March 4, 2015, 2:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing. It’s a great idea.” Reuse and recycle ” is my motto for 2015.

    Hatchend Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

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