How We Ditched the Paper Towels and Went to Cloth

Ditching the paper towels has been a surprisingly easy transition for my household. See how we did, and how I made a pretty little container to house the towels!
How We Ditched the Paper Towels and Went to Cloth

Making the switch from disposable diapers to cloth (see my complete cloth diapering guide here) a few years ago was like learning how to ride a bike – not easy at first, but it became easy once we got the hang of it. Then, the ball kept rolling and before I knew it, I’d thrown in cloth baby wipes,ย toilet cloth and cloth napkins so it just made sense to finish out the cloth revolution and stop buying paper towels! By the time it got to cloth towels, there was no transition at all because we were already so used to using cloth and not paper products.

I knew I had to come up with a method that was pretty and easy to access and dispose of the towels or the new system would never catch on for my family. Here’s how I did it – without any sewing!

Buy Flannel From the Thrift Store to Use as Paper Towels

I was already using all my old towels for kitchen rags (to clean up messy spills and such) but they just aren’t pretty and I didn’t want them displayed on my countertop. I keep them in a kitchen drawer so they are easily accessible, and rinse out the goo after cleaning, then hang them up on the trash can to dry.

So,ย I decided to buy what I needed, but wanted something used both for the cost savings and to be green. So, I bought three receiving blankets from the Salvation Army for $1.99 each.

If you’d rather not buy, but upcycle something you already have, jersey cotton will not fray and is absorbant and can be found in:

  • Old cotton undershirts and t-shirts
  • Old jersey knit bed sheets

If you buy or use cloths that will fray, like flannel, cotton or terry, you’ll either need to sew the edges (by god, who has time for that?) or do it the easy way and cut them with pinking shears. Now, they will still fray at the beginning, but then it will stop after a few washes and you can cut off the extra strings then.

I used theย pinking shearsย to cut my cloth into the same size as paper towels, about 6 by 8 inches.

To store my pretty new cloth towels, I decorated an old oatmeal container with yarn (otherwise known as yarn bombing!). If you’d like to try this yourself, read all about it here. I didn’t spend a dime to do this and the colors match my kitchen perfectly.

Yarn Bomb an Oatmeal Container
Now, I figured out a method of rolling the cloths so they are super easy to pull out and use.
Start by rolling one cloth from one short end to the other. Then take each subsequent cloth and roll them the same way, but on top of the previously rolled ones. Here is a picture of the second cloth being rolled on top of the first.
How to Roll the Cloth Paper Towels to Fit in a Container
Then, insert the one huge roll into the oatmeal container and you can pull out the towels one at a time!
How to Switch from Paper to Cloth Towels the Easy Way

Then, I keep a small trash can in the kitchen where I throw all our cloth products and wash them about once a week – rags, napkins and towels. It is important for the towels and rags to dry before throwing them in the trash, otherwise mildew will set in and it is nearly impossible to get out without a lot of work (even with lemon juice and sunshine, it sometimes still doesn’t come out!). So, I hang the towels over the side of the trash can to dry, and it takes a few hours.

This post is being shared at these parties.

About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.


  1. GREAT idea!

  2. Sorry, posted this on the wrong blog post: I love the paper towel idea. I crochet towels out of Lily or Peaches and Creme cotton and hang them above the sink from the cupboard handle. I use any pretty stitch to make a rectangle, decrease at the top and add a button hole and crocheted button. The more you wash them, the more absorbent they become. Also, instead of sponges I use 50% wool and 50% nylon yarn to make scrubbies. When they’re felted, the nylon sticks out and adds to the “scrubbalbility” and they work as well as the sponges covered with net. If you want a pattern, let me know.

  3. I would love to have a pattern!

  4. Rolling the paper towels together; such a great idea! I will have to check out the yarn bombing too! Sounds like fun project! Thanks for the post!!

  5. Love how simple you made this. I’ve seen them done one other way and it was a bit more time consuming. Really like how easy this looks. Thanks for the idea.

  6. Great idea! Stopping by from Tip Me Tuesday.

  7. I love the reusable cloth fad these days. I just cut up cotton clothing or towels that I no longer use and keep them handy. Some in the laundry room, some in the kitchen. I actually get so many cleaning cloths from them, I can toss them out as they are used. I like your idea on how handy they are on the counter, I just stuff mine in a plastic bag that hangs under the sink in the kitchen. It is very important to only use absorbent cotton.

  8. This is great! I like the way you made them as convenient as paper towels. I linked to this in my big list of ways to reuse things.

  9. Another good source for cleaning rags (dusting, polishing, wood cleaning…) is to use old cloth napkins. Not the really decorative sateen looking ones – they don’t absorb – but the cotton ones that are stained up and not pretty for use anymore make excellent cleaning cloths.

  10. Love this! Pinning.

  11. We don’t use paper towels either (except for the occasional really bad pet mess). We just have a stash of old towels and washcloths under the sink. but I love this idea. We use cut up receiving blankets for baby wipes for diaper changes and I never thought to use them for this. Thanks for the lovely tutorial. I’ll be sharing it on my FB page ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Like your tube! I am using cloth towels. I am having a big roll of paper towels, but I just use in emergency case, when I have to clean some dirt, I can’t remove from cloth (e.g. shoe polish or some oil-based paint.)Fabric towels are very practical and just like lot of eco-friendly solution, they are cheap!

  13. I was wondering if you use your cloth towels for things like soaking up grease after cooking bacon, and if you do, is it safe to put that grease in the washer?

    • Hi Amy! I do use paper towels on occasion – to clean up doggie messes and other such unsanitary things like that! However, I did just the other day use a cloth towel to soak up some turkey bacon grease, so funny you would ask! I haven’t washed it yet, but there isn’t much grease on it, so I’m not worried about it coming out. I have oils in everything I use – from my own lotion to homemade detergent, so my washer is always washing oils out. Not sure if that helps or not!

  14. I did almost the same thing with flannel cloth baby wipes and an old wipes dispenser! I folded the wipes so they’d pop out like the commercial baby wipes. I did it for the baby’s entertainment (you know how babies love to pull all of the wipes out of the dispenser if they can get their little hands on it), but OMG I should totally use this in the kitchen! Thanks for the inspiration.

  15. I was wondering what size your oatmeal container is? It seems to fit the towels perfectly, but I couldn’t tell from the picture if it was the small or larger container. Thanks!

  16. Jane on Whidbey says:

    This is just fantastic! I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, but keeping them available and not ugly and then with the sewing and adding snaps and all that crap, I just couldn’t be bothered. This I can do. Easily. I particularly love the instructions for making them pop-up from a container.
    I’ve been wanting to do this with hankies, too. I was considering folding them like the paper tissues, and decided that was too much work, too. lol If I consider it a waste of time, it ain’t gonna happen! I won’t be on my deathbed worrying about my folded tissues, for sure! This, I would do. Rolling is so easy, vertical is better than horizontal. Clever!

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