Cost/Benefit Analysis: Un-Paper Towels

Sometimes I look at things people post online and I marvel at how many people seem to have more money than sense.

Multi-layered, snap-together to make a roll, "unpaper towels" are the impetus for this particular rant. They seem to be an expansion of the cloth menstrual pads stores, more than anything, and presumably therefore made to appeal to the same demographic. But, there are better ways to accomplish a lot of goals sometimes, and this is one of those times. I love that people want to reduce their paper usage and their contribution to landfills. That's great!

The ones I'm seeing about typically use a single-sided terrycloth on one side, and quilting cotton on the other. I've seen a few with interfacing or batting in the middle to increase absorbency. They have snaps on each corner so that you can snap them together in a row and roll them up to be stored on the paper towel holder. Presumably, this is to help the household adjust to the new method, because they reach for the paper towels where the paper towels were before, and find this instead.

  1. Who in the world has time to be snapping all these together?! I mean I guess if you're bored, but if that's the case I have some alternative ideas for you to do with your time. 
  2. Are you so attached to the paper towel holder that you just can't get rid of it? I used mine for plastic wrap and foil for a while until I needed the counter space.
  3. Do you think that when people reach for the paper towels and don't find any, they're going to be like Sims characters who get stuck trying to walk when there's a banana peel on the floor and be suddenly unable to function because their little task list says "grab paper towel" and they get stuck until they have one? Do you think if you communicate "hey we don't have any more paper towels, use this instead" they will be too incompetent to remember that when they habitually reach for the paper towels and not find them there? 
  4. If they're that incompetent, doesn't that mean you can't trust them not to just throw out the item they're using like they were doing with paper towels? 
  5. Don't these strike anyone else as too precious to be using for wiping up spilled tomato sauce and smears of peanut butter? 
  6. With all those layers (and especially the ones with batting), doesn't it seem like they'd harbor a lot of bacteria in between washings and take a while to dry? Or like the fabrics would shrink differently in the wash? Or like you can't wash them on hot because they're too precious? 
Solution: Basket, pack of bar towels. You can get bar towels at Costco and similar warehouse stores, or any restaurant/bar supply store. I've bought 20 packs for as little as $5. 

I fold the bar towels in quarters. This perfectly covers my hand while giving me maximum control over the entire usable surface. When one surface gets soiled, I fold the big fold opposite. Then flip a corner around to a new fresh surface. Typically, since I'm going to use them quarter-folded anyway, I just do that to store them in the basket when laundry is getting folded anyway. However, you could toss them in the basket unfolded if that suits you. I've even just stuffed them in those plastic shopping bag sleeves, with great results. 

If it REALLY means that much to you, you can roll them up to use on your paper towel holder. I'd get a piece of PVC pipe that goes around the stick for the paper towel and is as long as the towels are wide, and for that matter get two so you can have a backup roll at all times. Lay the towels out by putting the first one down, then the second one with the edge 3/4 of the way down the first towel so they only overlap by 1/4 of the towel. Place the PVC pipe on the first (bottom) towel's first edge. Roll until you reach the opposite seam, hiding underneath the second towel. Place the third towel the same as you did the second, overlapping 1/4 of the second. Continue layering & rolling thusly until you have a roll that fits on your dispenser. No need for snaps! 

Bar towels are super cost-effective. You don't cry if you stain them. When they get greasy, you soak them in some dish soap and oxyclean, wash them in the machine with baking soda and rinse with vinegar. When they get worn, you repurpose them as all sorts of things (mostly here they get relegated to floor rags, camping supplies, car washing), and since they're usually made of cotton you can just compost them or rip them apart for fire starters once they're really unusable. I'm on my second set in 5 years, and the first set was only downgraded because I wanted fresh ones for self-catering my wedding after I accidentally dyed the old ones lavender (and had used them that way for 2 years).  

Yes, I love supporting local businesses (but so many restaurant supply chains are regional and locally-owned anyway). I love supporting single-owner businesses and especially women-owned ones. The supplies used by the people making these are very, very rarely of better conscience than the bar towels. And, I get that they're pretty. I just feel that there are better ways to spend one's money and time than on this particular product. 


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