Written by Grove Collaborative

The best reusable paper towel alternatives & how to use them.

Last Updated: April 29, 2021

Alternatives to paper towels are everywhere — but are they all equally effective and eco-friendly? Here’s the lowdown on reusable paper towels.

Even though most of us have plenty of cloth kitchen towels and colorful dish sponges around, the allure of paper towels is irresistible — whether you accidentally spill wine on your carpet or your pet leaves you a surprise in the living room, paper towels are great precisely because you don’t have to reuse them.


But we all know paper towels are bad for the environment and create a lot of paper waste — they’re single-use, often chemically bleached, and made out of trees via a chemical-laden process. The New York Times reported at one point that, “Rob Gogan, the recycling and waste manager at Harvard University, estimated that paper towels often account for 20 to 40 percent of waste (by volume) from an office building or a dorm.” And Stanford Magazine published this statistic from 2017: “Paper towels command a $2.5 billion industry and Americans use 270 million trees’ worth of them each year.”


If you’re looking to be a better friend to the environment — but you really want to keep that paper towel option open — reusable paper towels are going to be your new best friends for the majority of messes that need wiping up.

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What are reusable paper towels?

What if each square of your current paper towel roll lasted for more than just one spill? Imagine how many you’d save in just one day! Well, reusable paper towels are just that. Often made out of bamboo or other more-sustainable-than-paper substitutes, reusable paper towels are very similar to their conventional counterparts, making the swap to reusable painless.


But unlike conventional paper towels, reusable ones are super-strong and most are compostable and biodegradable. You can use them over and over again for about a week — just rinse and hang to dry between uses.

Different kinds of reusable paper towels

If you look up “reusable paper towels,” you are going to find a lot of options that all look pretty different from one another. Here’s a quick breakdown to set the playing field for you:


Bamboo & cotton “paper towels”

Bamboo is a sustainable paper source that many paper products have switched to. Made from strong, absorbent bamboo fibers, bamboo paper towels are tree-free paper towels and reusable for up to one week so you can clean things up at home and far beyond. At Grove, we craft our Seedling paper towels from 100% fast-growing, sustainable bamboo fibers instead of trees because bamboo takes about 3 months to grow back after harvesting and trees take about 20 years. Our bamboo is also panda-friendly, meaning it is not a source of food for panda bears. Plus, these reusable paper towels come in packaging made of recycled and recyclable paper too.


Cotton “paper towels” are very similar to cotton kitchen towels, but they’re made with recycled or scrap fabric and designed to be less durable and more biodegradable — and therefore more disposable. They last way longer than a conventional or reusable paper towel, but you don’t have to feel guilty for tossing one out after you clean up something truly disgusting with it.


Cellulose dishcloths

Made of straight-up cellulose or a cellulose-cotton mix, these soft kitchen cloths are highly absorbent like a sponge, super-strong like cotton “paper towels,” and convenient and biodegradable like reusable paper towels — and they’re machine washable and microwave- and dishwasher-safe.


Microfiber towels

The go-to heroes for many messes are microfiber towels, which are extremely absorbent and remove dirt, grease, and a majority of germs by grabbing onto them with their microscopic little hooks and holding on for dear life, releasing them only when you rinse and wring with water. Microfiber cloths are washer and dryer safe — but not disposable!

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Are reusable paper towels better for the environment?

Yes! They are the most similar to paper towels in terms of use, but they’re often made of bamboo instead of trees. Bamboo grows, composts, and biodegrades much faster than trees, making bamboo reusable paper towels much better for the environment than regular tree-made paper towels.

Are recycled paper towels better for the environment?

Most recycled paper towels are better for the environment than regular paper towels because they are unbleached and use recycled paper or other materials instead of brand new paper. If they are unbleached, it’s even better because that makes these paper towels compostable as well.


As The Sierra Club writes, “if you do use [disposable] paper towels, opt for recycled ones, because every ton of recycled paper saves an estimated 7,000 gallons of water, according to a report from Green Seal, an organization that certifies the sustainability of various products.”

How do reusable paper towels work? A step-by-step guide

Reusable paper towels work pretty much the same way as regular paper towels do:

Step 1: Replace your regular paper towels

Just like your conventional paper towels, reusable paper towels come in a tall roll with perforations for easy, uniform tearing. Slide your reusable paper towels over your paper towel holder, and stand by for a mess!

Step 2: Use like regular paper towels

Reusable paper towels are more durable and absorbent than regular ones, but they aren’t dish towels — use one square for light jobs and multiple squares for heavier-duty cleaning tasks.

Step 3: Handwash and hang dry

After you use a reusable paper towel, handwash it with lukewarm water, rinse thoroughly, wring it out, and hang it to dry on a drying or dish rack. After a few hours, it’ll be dry and ready for the next emergency!

Step 4: Toss after a week

After about a week, your reusable paper towel will start looking pretty sad. Feel free to toss heavily discolored, frayed squares like you would any paper towel (it will biodegrade naturally), and pull a fresh square from the roll.

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Don’t use reusable paper towels on glass or screens!

Like paper towels, dish towels, and towels in general, reusable paper towels can scratch or streak items like mirrors, computer screens, and camera lenses. For these types of delicate surfaces, we recommend a dedicated microfiber or e-cloth.

Are reusable paper towels worth it?

Reusable paper towels tend to get a bad rap, with a reputation for being less convenient to use than regular paper towels. But this notion is outdated — with tons of eco-friendly reusable paper towel options to choose from, along with more durable options like Cellulose dishcloths, there’s a paper-towel alternative for everyone. At Grove, we know that this stereotype about reusable paper towels exists and that’s why we test our Seedling paper towels to make sure they are abrasion-resistant and designed for durability, so you can tackle any mess without having to worry if a sheet will tear mid-clean. They’re versatile enough to be used for anything from absorbing floor spills, cleaning countertops and glass windows, or even wiping off a baby’s hands and face.

Are you ready to make the switch?

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