My Paper Towel Problem

This is hard so I need a second. (Ahem.) Ok, my name is Adam Roberts and I have a problem. It started when I began cooking nine years ago and Sara Moulton said on the TV that you should blot your chicken before it goes into the oven to help the skin crisp up. I’ve been blotting ever since. But not just blotting and not just chicken. Paper towels are a constant in my kitchen–I use them to swipe the counters after cooking something messy, to pat vegetables dry after rinsing them under the sink, to line a mesh strainer when draining yogurt or ricotta–you name it, paper towels can do it. And I’m addicted.

The thing is I know it’s really bad for the environment to waste paper towels. With specific tasks, like wiping the counter, I often try to use kitchen towels so as not to waste paper towels. Only, more often than not, and no matter how many kitchen towels I buy, the dirty pile grows faster than I can keep up and the paper towels are there calling me: “C’mon, just use a few sheets. No one’s gonna see.”

And to be honest, I prefer using paper towels. They’re so absorbent. And because they’re disposable, you don’t have to worry about wiping up red wine or chicken grease or other things that’ll stain or funk up your kitchen towels. With paper towels, all your mistakes go out with the trash; with kitchen towels, they’re there to haunt you forever.

I know, I know. There’s no excuse. Trees are dying, forests are being depleted, Nancy Walker is dead.

But damn it all, I like using paper towels. They make kitchen life so much easier.

48 thoughts on “My Paper Towel Problem”

  1. I see you’re using Bounty Paper Towels. Allow me to introduce the Viva Paper Towel. They’re thicker, more absorbent, and you’ll use fewer (thus somewhat helping the environment).

  2. Our best purchase ever was a box of 50 polyester “shop towels” at Costco about 5 years ago. They can do anything and they don’t really stain. We got them first because we had a refluxy baby who spat up on anything and everything. They are more absorbent than sham-wow. They leave granite counters and stainless steel shiny and glistening. And there are 50 of them. You can do laundry every 3 months. They are amazing.
    Now go invest! You will never miss the paper towels.

  3. They are also very convenient when one is compelled to wash hands after every step in the cooking process. I confess to that compulsion. In fact, I think I just ran out of paper towels…

  4. You know you can get paper towels made from recycled paper right? Ok they don’t have the super softness of old growth forest fibres used in super fluffy paper towels, but they clean up messes and blot chicken just fine.

  5. simiilar to tdm’s shop towel solution, I cut up a few old bath towels to make a big bag of washcloth-sized rags, enough that I don’t run out before I do laundry. I use them for all blotting/mopping kitchen tasks, and don’t have to worry about them getting stained. If the stains bother you, you can always bleach them every once in a while (or use dark towels).

  6. I gave up paper towels a couple years ago but I keep a roll on hand for cleaning up cat puke. My environmental endeavors have limits.

  7. Bounty – the quicker picker upper.

    What can I say? I with you on this one and it HAS to be Bounty. I’ve tried others, but nothing compares to the weight, texture, and sturdiness of Bounty. And it tears neatly along the perforated seam.

    And I have to admit that my addiction has migrated to cleaning the bathroom. Double wham-o.

  8. At my grandmother’s estate sale, she had a bunch of old towels. We were going to toss them, but I washed them, cut them and store them below the sink and in the laundry room and use the heck out of them. I feel so much better not throwing away money and paper now. I agree that a lot of kitchen towels are just not absorbent. These are!

  9. omg!! My kindred spirit. Yes, I too am a Paper Towel Addict. I’ve grown to love the Viva brand and Bounty. They just make life so much easier. I go threw tons of sheets. I clean my bathroom, counters, use then to carry my food snacks. They just always find a way in what I’m doing. Me and my boyfriend said it’s the one thing, as adults, that we can get away with and not feel bad about lol. No regrets Adam! (:D)

  10. Hello, my name is Renee and I am a paper towel addict too. Should there be a support group? I use them for the same reasons as you and know I should use less. I just can’t help myself.

  11. Paper towels are convenient and have a place. I try to go with lint free and pick a size (to help conserve them.). Depending on how it was used, you can sometimes let them dry and get a second or third use, like if it was only used for blot drying your hands or absorbing just water. I also have some nice “Shop Towels” from automotive section of stores that you can get several uses out of. I haven’t tried it but I suppose you might even be able to wash them (shop towels). If you’re using them to absorb grease, they can be used in concert with newspaper such as if you’re deep frying. Newspaer under paper towels saves quite a few paper towels.
    There used to be a brand called “Bolt” I think that was machine washable.

    1. there was a brand called bolt. i sometimes had the habit of using a paper towel as a handkercheif and would forget they were in my jeans. after the wash and dry, they would come out in the wash as a whole towel. wish i could find them again.

  12. I, too, love the paper towels! I used to be an addict and my husband fueled this addiction with his absolute aversion to all things germy – kitchen towels and sponges are high on the list of germ carriers. However, during their last visit, my mother in law brought sponge clothes with her from Europe because she wanted to share in their wonder. Yes, they are WONDERFUL! More absorbent than Bounty or Viva, leave traditional sponges weeping in their inadequacy, and they do all of this pretty much STREAK FREE! No streaks on my glass topped stove or granite or microwave or glass dining table! Not only that but they hold up in the dishwasher (mine get washed at least every other day) and end up without staining. Paper towels still get used for direct contact with food items, but for clean up I have my sponge cloths. I found mine at the local Whole Foods, but I think Target and Walmart might carry some, as well. Plus, they are made from recycled wood pulp and nylon. Win, win, win all the way around.

  13. Paper towels are a necessity. Some messes are so horrible, so incredibly foul, that you never want to imagine the possibility of seeing them again. Dog vomit, rotting dead things, even car wipings (you know what lurks between the door seals and the vehicle body? UCK)– it is actually more environmentally friendly to use paper towels than to sacrifice a cloth rag. And not all of us have a place to keep those nasty used rags till they can be washed en masse (they sure as hell don’t go in the laundry basket with my clothes). It’s okay. Baby steps.

  14. I feel your addiction :( I’ve found that I waste a bit less by using those “select-a-size” kinds, typically because 1 sheet is still enough even if it’s smaller than a “standard” sized sheet.

  15. Let me blow your mind here: cloth napkins. Way better for drying veggies, etc. than kitchen towels and you can get loads of them on eBay, in thrift stores and from relatives who have fallen sway to the paper napkin.

    I haven’t bought paper towels in years. I do save paper napkins from takeout places to use for meat, and I’ve never run out.

    Also? Toss the grosser napkins/towels in a big bowl and soak them before putting them in the laundry and the red wine and whatever other grossness will cease to be an issue.

    Or you could just buy recycled paper towels.

  16. I too adore the paper towels – OK, I’ll start buying the recycled more enviro-friendly, but won’t give them up. and of course they are used to clean the bathroom too. duh?

  17. check out Trader Joe’s super amazing reusable kitchen cloths. they come in packs of two and they really are amazing. I rarely if ever use paper towels anymore.

  18. Jeffrey Lawrence

    do you not share the environmental concerns about the chemicals and energy used when washing your kitchen towels? my point being, do not be too quick to assume the environmental impact of your actions. wipe away!

  19. I can’t give up paper towels either, but I do feel guilty. When I can’t find the select-a-size, I just tear them in half myself. It’s amazing how rarely you really need a full sized towel. At least I only feel half as guilty.

  20. I have the same problem, but it’s one I don’t know how to fix. Sponges are terribly unsanitary, and I refuse to wipe counters with them. But I do have hand towels that I use for wiping my hands after they’ve been washed with soap–in other words their dedicated to clean hands. Same goes for towel drying clean plates and silverware. You could cut down on them in some areas, while keeping them in place for things like counter wiping and chicken blotting.

  21. I have 2×12 packs of white cotton washcloths from costco. I use them for general kitchen cleanup & everything but chicken, bacon grease, dog drool, etc. It’s a good balance-some paper, but only for the very essential tasks where I wouldn’t want to deal with washing ’em. I drape them over the laundry sink if they are damp and then they go in the laundry basket on top of the washer until I do another load of laundry.

    Once i started using the washcloths, my paper towel usage went down by over 75%..

  22. Are kitchen sponges not an option? I would never wipe up spills with either paper towels or kitchen towels – that’s what sponges are for! Reusable, way more absorbant than any other option, and with a scouring side for getting rid of dried-up gunk and other stuff.

  23. I also think of the cost of paper towels. Even if you buy in bulk at Costco (with a coupon) they still are expensive….

  24. Rita Marie Hall

    Honestly, I try to not buy paper towels frequently, but I wash my hands so much at both work and home, paper towels FEEL so much better on my antisepticized, uber clean, lacking moisture hands! I can’t help it!

  25. Why not use a sponge? I use sponges for most things, unless handling raw meat, especially raw poultry.

    And you can wash the sponge out by putting it in your dishwasher (top rack) about once a week or so to sterilize it.

    And use paper towels for drying off meat and poultry and for wiping up the counter of raw meat juices etc.

    This way, a roll can last for quite a while, and I don’t often have to purchase a roll for at least 3 months, if not 6 months out.

  26. I guess I share your addiction and have no intention of giving it up as long as Costco Kirkland paper towels are available. They’re the best!

  27. If Billy Mays were still alive I’d think he would have a product for you. But we’re stuck with that other Sullivan guy. :/

  28. It’s not like paper towel companies are clear cutting rainforests… Trees are a renewable resource. If anything, I’d wager that the more paper products we use, the larger the forests these companies grow and cut down are, so more trees, right?!

  29. My family gets so mad at me for using paper towels all the time, but I’m addicted to them as well. I’ve been trying to be a little more conservative with them (not so much for the environment but for my wallet) but they are one of the best multi purpose tools in my kitchen.

  30. Hmm, does anyone really care about a stained kitchen towel? It’s a towel. In the kitchen. Have one special towel for hanging decoratively on your oven door handle if you need one for when the guests mill about.

    That said, I use paper towels, but I’m happy using towels too.

  31. me too! i feel bad about it, i know i shouldn’t do it, i know that it’s wrong… but i can’t help myself! they’re so effective and so gosh darn convenient I JUST CAN’T STOP! PAPER TOWELS 4 LIFE!

  32. I buy a stack of cheap kitchen towels every time I go to Ikea, and our washing machine is in the kitchen, so they just get thrown in when they get funky. I throw them away if they get stained. At 50-80 cents a pop, I can do that.

  33. A friend and I were talking about this just last week! And feeling guilty about how many paper towels we use. In my defense, I only use them in the kitchen where they definitely make life so much easier.

  34. Sue from Pleasanton

    I have a basket in the kitchen just to hold the used cloth kitchen towels which I wash separately with a small amount of bleach. I used to have a dog that hated going outside, so had Pooch Pads that I washed according to the enclosed directions: couple tablespoons bleach per load. So I use the same formula for my kitchen towels. The idea is to adequately sanitize, not pollute the earth with chlorine. But I still use paper towels, as well.

  35. I’ve been experiencing the same dilemma. I feel like I’m killing the universe with my paper towel use but even drying my hands on a kitchen towl isn’t the same as a sheet of paper towel!

  36. Another self-avowed Viva user, I showed up for a week’s vacation to a rental house in Mexico, and alas, not a paper towel to be found. After I got over the initial shock and withdrawals….. I used the cloth towels they left for us, and strangely by the end of the trip I didn’t even miss them. I have become quite the fan of e-cloths, no need to use soap. But for cleaning up the every day spills, paper towels rule.

  37. Adam, food-stained paper products are compostable. In Seattle, I throw them in the yard waste bin! I keep my addiction to paper products (of all kinds) and feel good about the future of the environment. Win-win!

    1. Ethyl Margarine

      it doesn’t matter if they’re compostable. you are upping the demand for the product so more old growth forests are being cut to supply your need. compost or not, i don’t think you’re creating any new forests, so fuck you.

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