UnPaper Towels: Transitioning to Cloth

The other day I was speaking with a friend about the level of “crunchiness” we’ve achieved over the last few years.  In the broad spectrum of crunchy, I feel like we’re only semi-crunchy.  But I’m proud of the changes we’ve made. It’s all been incremental, and it’s been done in baby steps.

One of my favorite changes is switching our kitchen products to cloth.  I’ve heard the term “unpaper towels” which amuses me. It especially amuses me because so many of the paper towels today use the term “cloth like” or the phrase “just like cloth” in their marketing.

I mean, if finding a product that is just like cloth is such a priority, why wouldn’t someone just use… CLOTH?  It is reusable, less expensive in the long run, and takes up less space in the kitchen.  We never need to worry about forgetting to pick up paper products from the store or running out in the middle of a mess.  About once a week, we just throw our towels in the laundry with our existing laundry so it doesn’t even add an extra load of wash!

This is what our all-cloth set-up looks like, minus a few items that are currently dirty:

We have four types of kitchen cloth in regular use:

  1. 10-ish Flour sack towels or thin flat cloths
  2. 4-ish Bar towels (thick, terry cloth, smaller than a flour sack towel but more absorbent)
  3. 5-ish Bar wash cloths (same as above except smaller)
  4. 20-25-ish cloth napkins.  There are only two of us and this is more than we need but I like variety. And they are so PRETTY!

Really, we could get by with ONLY the flour sack towels (my husband’s preference) and a few cloth napkins but I prefer a mix of the bar towels for drying hands and flour sack towels for wiping counters.  We don’t use the wash cloths terribly often but they are nice to have.  We also have a stash of old “traditional” kitchen towels that never get used (and I should probably find a new use for) and a few prefold diapers that have been dedicated cleaning cloths around the house.

So, grand total for our currently in-use stash of towels: $25.     (This estimate doesn’t include napkins.)

Considering that a few packs of paper towels would cost this much, and we haven’t had to buy paper towels in well over a year, I consider that $20 well spent.  Plus, we have years of life left in our cloths.  Here’s the breakdown:

Flour sack towels: around $1 each at Wal-Mart or Target. Amazon has them a little less, with free shipping.  Check them out HERE.  You could also take some thin COTTON fabric like muslin and sew them yourself.  Note – these become more absorbent with a few washes.  Many cloth diapering parents even use these as diaper flats, so don’t doubt their ability to multi-purpose!
Bar mop towels and wash cloths: around $1.50-$2 each depending on your source.  Amazon has them HERE in fun colors. I think ours were from Target. If you are also on a tight budget, you could use old bath washcloths or you can buy in a multi-pack from the dollar store.
Cloth napkins: we’ve amassed our stash from several locations. My first ones were store-bought on clearance but I’ve also found them in sets of four or more from the thrift store (including brand new Pottery Barn napkins… score!)  I didn’t mention earlier that we have some lovely vintage linen napkins that we keep with our fine china for holidays; our regular napkins are under heavy use so I like to keep the linen ones separate from every day ones.  Personally, I’m going to stick to thrifted cloth napkins in the future because we do this to save money and be a little green.  Just wash them well when you get home and enjoy all that money you save! Note – you could also sew these out of any cotton fabric, even an old sheet, if you are on a budget!

One last note on cloth napkins: my friend Kendra was commenting on our cloth napkin useage a year or two ago and said it just seemed like so much extra laundry that she didn’t think it was worth it. (She has three kids.)  So, for those of you that are thinking this, just remember that you can use a cloth napkin more than once if you are old enough to make minimal mess while eating.  So with a toddler, yeah, it might be a one-time-use. But with older kids or adults, you can use the same napkin for 2-3 meals.  Perhaps everyone could have a special napkin or two assigned to them?  Besides, cloth napkins take up such a small space in your load of laundry! Folding takes just a few seconds.  And it ALWAYS feels nicer to use cloth than paper!

How many of you have switched to cloth in your kitchen?  Do you have plans to transition? What’s holding you back?

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