How to be more eco-friendly with a paperless kitchen

using cloth napkins in a paperless kitchen

Have paper towels become your best friend in the kitchen? You usually use paper towels for just about everything – wiping up the counter, cleaning up pet mess, wiping your kids spaghetti sauce face, cleaning your bathroom mirrors. Have you noticed that paper towels are thin and you have to use a million of them to get the job done? And guess what? You can’t recycle paper towels – yikes!

Check out what eHow Home says about paper towels,

Paper towels cannot be recycled the way other paper products can. They are generally already made of recycled paper products, and as the products get reused, the fibers get continuously shorter. Recycling paper towels would also raise concerns of bacteria and food waste, as they are used to clean up messes.


Baby steps to family green living

There are a few small steps you can make to family green living: purchase seasonal produce straight from the farm; furnish your home with second-hand treasures; give away gently used toys and books as presents; give consumable gifts and avoid adding clutter to peoples lives; use totes bags for groceries; start an art recycle box and use recycled items for art projects; go paperless in your kitchen.

Have you ever considered being more eco-friendly with a paperless kitchen? I’m here to say that if it has ever crossed your mind, it’s time to give it a try. Are you ready to break up with paper towels? Let’s get started!


How to start a paperless kitchen

  1. Say, “no” to paper towels. On your next shopping trip, skip buying paper towels.
  2. Purchase super cute cloth napkins with fun prints, kitchen wash cloths and towels (for a family of 3 with frequent guests over we have 12 cloth napkins, 10 dish cloths, 4 kitchen towels, 1 dish drying mat, and we wash weekly– crazy that’s all we use, right?)
  3. Create a simple system for the family to follow and agree on it. (example: green rags for soiled messes, blue rags for cleaning the counters)
  4. Make a home for each cloth item. Let your family know where each of the napkins and towels are stored (we store ours in baskets under cabinets and on the counters for easy access).
  5. Designate a basket just for your dirty cloth napkins and towels. You want to separate your dirty clothes laundry from your dirty cloths (we use a plastic bin with holes to let it air out).
using cloth napkins in a paperless kitchen
using cloth napkins in a paperless kitchen
Tip: After cleaning up a pet mess or a major spill, rinse the towel in the sink first, wring out the excess water, then put it in your dirty basket.


Benefits of a paperless kitchen

  • You’re being environmentally friendly– yay!
  • You prevent waste from going into the landfills
  • Cloth absorbs way more liquids than a paper towel
  • You get to buy super cute cloth napkins, or why not make them!
  • You save money and storage space (paper towels are bulky space suckers)
  • You can use cloth napkins and towels for a variety of things like packing a snack

using cloth napkins for a paperless kitchen

Join the discussion

How many paper towels do you use in a day? Do you use cloth napkins and towels in your home? Share how you keep your kitchen eco-friendly. Or let us know what’s keeping you from starting a paperless kitchen.

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58 Responses to How to be more eco-friendly with a paperless kitchen

  1. Wendie June 28, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    We went paper-free in our kitchen a few years ago. I bought a few large stacks of plain white wash clothes that I use for wiping up counters, spills, table, and the kids hands and face. I keep a plastic tub with a lids on the counter containing a mixer of water and vinegar that’s labeled “dirty.” I throw all the dirty wash clothes in there and when it’s full I throw it into the washer. I like using plain white ones because I can bleach them—removes the stains and I feel like they have been sanitized. Most of my cloth napkins I made myself. I have found material on the clearance rack for a dollar or less a yard, took it home, cut it out, zig-zaged the edges, and had a whole stack of cute napkins in under an hour for super cheep!

    • Jadah Sellner June 28, 2012 at 11:31 am #

      Wendie, I love the vinegar+water container to store the dirty cloths. We use all white bath towels and mats, but I just couldn’t resist having some colorful napkins. It keeps me happy while I clean. 🙂 You will have to share some pics of your hand-made cloth napkins and your step-by-stey DIY tutorial. You and your family are such an inspiration!

  2. PB Rippey July 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    We always use cloths in the kitchen—it’s become the norm and the patterns make me happy, too. So cheerful. And who doesn’t want to be cheerful when cleaning up the kitchen! I give my son a cloth napkin for every meal. I just can’t bear using paper and the laundering doesn’t bother me or my husband. Sorting dish towels, cleaning towels and napkins has become 2nd nature around here. Cowboy napkins, dino napkins, napkins with boats or nature scenes–makes for a fun meal setup. Oh the things that make parents happy!

    • PB Rippey July 16, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      And that make the kids happy, too, of course…ahem…

  3. Jen Hansard August 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    I have slowly become a paperless kitchen— thank you Jadah for the inspiration! I still keep paper towels in the kitchen (above the fridge), but rarely use them. I will be honest— this has been a challenge for me. It’s a longtime- habit that I am breaking, so I need some time. But I am getting there and am thrilled with the results so far.

  4. PaperlessKitchen August 27, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    We’ve started a site that is dedicated to helping users create a paperless kitchen in their home! Going paperless in your home is one of the easiest ways to make a difference in the environment and your wallet. Our favorite product for eliminating the paper towel habits are the Bambooee bamboo towel and the Skoy cloth. The Bambooee towel is like a paper towel except that it comes from the renewable bamboo plant and can be reused multiple times – perfect for clean ups and bacon grease ( The Skoy cloth is the perfect paper towel alternative – made of natural cotton and cellulose pulp. One cloth replaces 15 rolls of paper towels.

  5. marcia January 12, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

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  7. Karen Peterson August 3, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    This past month I was inspired to begin using cloth napkins in my home, and I just love it for so many reasons. I read a great tip which made all the difference to making this a practical solution for my family of 5… by giving each family member a unique napkin ring, we can certainly reuse our napkins meal after meal until they are ready for washing. This freedom to reuse our lightly used napkins made all the difference for me, because I had previously thought that I would have 5 napkins to wash after each meal, and that felt much to cumbersome.
    My 6 year old daughter and I crafted our very own beautiful napkin rings out of scrap booking paper and Mod Podge. Now, our napkin collection is a lovely centrepiece for our kitchen table and a handy, cozy addition to every meal that I serve! See how we made our napkin rings at our Simply Fun Families blog post :

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    I’ve been thinking to introduce a small finger bowl/water bowl at the dining table to use alongside fabric napkins. My thinking is that there should be less laundry as the napkins are then really just for drying the fingers or wiping the mouth. I didn’t see anyone else using this idea so I thought I’d post and get some feedback.

  15. David February 7, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Unfortunately it isn’t necessarily this straight forward. Once you take into account the energy use in rinsing (particularly if you rinse with hot water) and subsequently washing the cloths, per use (i.e. mopping up one small sized spill with a single paper towel vs a fabric towel) the environmental impact is not definitively less than using a paper towel.

    On the surface the idea of replacing a throw away paper cloth (which is often made with recycled paper and also can be composted) with a reusable cloth seems like the more environmental choice this potentially comes under what Leyla Acaroglu calls Environmental FolkLore.

    I encourage you to watch some of her TED talks (!presentations/c1uqc) as when developing a lifestyle site like this it is easy to unknowingly encourage these misconceptions (the video on paper vs plastic is also interesting).

    This is not a criticism of your site, stepping away from the current destructive doctrine of how we should live is so important but unfortunately making a true net reduction of impact on the environment is a very complex area.

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