I Exclusively Use Cleaning Rags — Except for These 3 Times When I Still Reach for Paper Towels

updated Mar 17, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I believe in cleaning rags. We use scrubby rags to wash dishes, regular rags for wiping the table and counters, and bigger rags along with microfiber cloths for routine cleaning. Retired towels get saved for wiping up bigger messes like mud tracked in by the dog or (not proverbial) spilled milk.

Rags, over paper towels, are my preference from both a waste and an efficiency standpoint. I don’t like spending money if I don’t have to on things that end up in the trash, and I don’t like storing paper towels. (Plus, they are increasingly hard to find these days with everything that’s going on in the world.) Even if they’re more convenient because they don’t need washing, folding, and putting away, for me, paper towels just aren’t the best choice for certain cleaning tasks. Using paper towels on mirrors or other glass leaves behind paper fuzzies, and if you need to scrub a spot out of upholstery or a rug, paper towels just disintegrate and make a bigger mess.

I do, however, like that my different rags serve different functions. For instance, microfiber cloths, with their large surface area, are perfect for cleaning smudges off the wall, polishing the granite counters to a gleam, and giving our mirrors a streak-free shine. And my cleaning rags are just thin and just abrasive enough to tackle jobs like getting into all the nooks and crannies of the toilet.

You might not see them anywhere if you come to my house, but I do have paper towels. I keep them on a rack in the pantry, purposely out of sight and a little inconvenient to get to so that we don’t reach for them every time there’s something to wipe.

As much of a cleaning rag person as I am, however, there are times that I do reach for paper towels.

Credit: Lauren Volo

1. Handling Raw Meat

If I’m sopping up some raw meat juice, I’d rather not leave that kind of mess hanging around on a rag, possibly spreading dangerous bacteria around the kitchen, onto the sink where I hang rags to dry, or the laundry basket. I figure that the fewer hands that touch raw meat messes, and the fewer places touched by raw meat juice, the better. I like being able to confine the paper towels I use in these scenarios in the garbage can.

2. Wiping Up Bodily Messes

If we have to clean vomit or potty messes (sorry) from children or animals, we opt for paper towels and put used ones in a re-purposed plastic bag before tossing it. I have the same kind of reasoning behind that choice: Bodily messes aren’t the kinds of germs I want clinging to and multiplying on rags until wash day.

3. Cleaning Something Flammable

Another time I reach for paper towels is if I’m cleaning up something flammable like paint or, more often, cooking oil. I definitely don’t want to put anything combustible in the dryer. Sometimes I shine our stainless steel appliances using a mist of oil and opt for paper towels for the same reason.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: I’m a “Cleaning Rag” Person, But Here are 3 Times I Still Reach for Paper Towels