7 Things You Should Never Do with Paper Towels

updated Jun 29, 2021
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What should you never do when using paper towels? If you ask some, they’d say you shouldn’t have them in the first place! There are several reasons: Environmentally, it takes a lot of resources to produce paper towels; they go into landfills after they’re used and produce greenhouse gases as they decompose; and the carbon footprint from both production and transportation is significant.

Not only that, but paper towels, simply put, cost money. While having them around offers a convenient, one-and-done approach to many messes, buying them adds up. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like buying and storing what will so soon become trash.

Even taking all these things into account, it’s hard for some of us to ditch the paper towel habit completely. Whether we’ve concluded that going paper towel-less is “overrated” or we just can’t seem to use rags to clean up things like raw chicken juice or cat throw up, we cling to our paper towels even if it’s sheepishly.

Cutting down on paper towel use, though, is a big step toward greening our home-keeping habits and saving a bit of cash along the way. When it comes to reducing paper towel use, one of the easiest ways to cut back is realizing that some areas are best left untouched by the controversial paper towel, no matter where you fall on the usage spectrum.

Here are some things you should never do with paper towels.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Don’t use more than you need to.

A big way to reduce your paper towel consumption is to simply use only as much as you need to use. Be intentional about exactly which tasks you’ll use paper towels for and then discuss the new strategy with your entire household. In addition, everyone can make a conscious effort to use the minimum amount of paper towel possible for the job that needs to get done. You might also decide to switch to select-a-size rolls to help you not over-use paper towels. While this TEDx talk demonstrates how to use just one paper towel when drying your hands in public restrooms, the impact of using just a little bit fewer paper towels cannot be overstated.

2. Don’t clean anything rough or sharp.

Using paper towels to clean anything that’s going to cause the paper towel to tear is a waste. Don’t reach for paper towels when it comes time to clean the grout in your floor or backsplash — the texture of the grout will eat through the paper towels quickly. In addition, if you’re performing chores like cleaning window or shower tracks, the sharp edges of the tracks (as well as the butter knife you may use to guide the paper towel through) will tear at your paper towels. Opt for brushes or rags instead of paper towels in instances like these.

Credit: Cat Meschia/Kitchn

3. Don’t wipe your electronics’ screens.

Believe it or not, paper towels are more abrasive than you might think. To prevent micro scratches (and lint!) that occur with paper towel use, opt for a microfiber or suede cloth for cleaning your TV screen, laptop, or phone.

4. Don’t blot spills on the carpet.

Similar to the way rough or sharp surfaces cut holes through your paper towels, carpet fibers will quickly shred any paper towels you use to blot or scrub spills. Not only will the combination of wet paper towel and carpet cause the paper towel to disintegrate, but the paper towel will leave pieces of itself behind and make the mess an even bigger one. Choose white rags to blot and agitate carpet stains.

5. Don’t flush them down the toilet.

We get wanting to flush pet accident cleanup waste down the toilet to get it as far away from you as possible. But flushing paper towels down the toilet is bad news and could land you in a different kind of mess involving sewage, the plumber, and a lot more cash. Always dispose of paper towels in the garbage can.

6. Don’t clean mirrors and windows.

The goal of cleaning mirrors, windows, and any glass, really, is a sparkling clean surface without a speck or smear to obstruct your view. Paper towels sabotage that goal by leaving behind lint (read: many, many specks). Opt for microfiber, coffee filters, or an old t-shirt instead of paper towels whenever you clean glass.

7. Don’t clean your glasses (or any lens).

We’ve mentioned that paper towels can be abrasive, so it’s no surprise they shouldn’t be used to wipe the lenses of your glasses or sunglasses, which are often coated with a protective film. Needless to say, don’t use a paper towel for your camera lenses, either, including your phone camera lens. Use a lens cloth instead.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 7 Things You Should Never Do With Paper Towels