reusable cleaning towels

**This is a massively edited and revised post from 2018**

If you read my blog regularly, you know that my last few posts have been a bit heavier than usual. I wrote about why I left higher education and shared a little bit of my story. I, like the rest of us, am a work in progress. Today’s post is back to our usual stuff…

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about reducing paper. As part of our minimalist/frugal path, we have been working towards a less waste or zero waste lifestyle. It sort of makes sense when you consider the natural progression. Owning less stuff has made us more mindful of the waste that we do create with the stuff that we still own.

I was going to give a long, in-depth discussion of the why’s and how’s of paper towel production, but Growing a Green Family did an excellent job and I’m not one to reinvent the wheel. Needless to say, paper towels aren’t doing the Earth any good.

A little over three years ago, we bought a set of 36 microfiber cloths (these are the towels we bought) in an effort to reduce or eliminate our paper towel consumption. We have two different colors and differentiate them by area used. The blue towels are for the kitchen and the yellow towels are for the bathroom.

At first, we only used the towels for routine cleaning such as wiping down counters, drying dishes, etc. Justin was a little leery of the idea of eliminating paper towels completely at the time because of the occasional animal mess. (Aren’t hairballs the worst?!) There was also the question of, “But how will we drain the bacon grease?” Both seemed like valid reasons at the time for keeping some paper towels around.

We have not used any paper towels for over three years. We actually ended up donating our paper holder! It turns out the critters don’t “mess” all that often and when they do, a few squares of toilet paper does the trick. Heck, I’m normally flushing the mess anyway. As far as cooking goes, the towels do just fine for draining the occasional greasy meal. It also helps that we’ve drastically reduced our consumption of bacon.

We wash cleaning towels, reusable napkins, hand towels, and kitchen towels, about once every three weeks. I usually throw the bath mat in as well since we keep the litter box in the bathroom. I keep a small hamper in the laundry closet to catch the dirty towels until it’s full and then run the load with hot water.

Cost breakdown:

One of the common claims for switching to reusable towels instead of paper towels is the potential for cost savings. As you can see from the math below, the reusable towels are, indeed, most cost-effective than paper towels. However, the savings seem minimal. Further, the calculations are not necessarily comparable as there is more than one towel per roll of paper towels. However, this seemed to be the most efficient way of doing the math. Also, we may not be the norm when it comes to paper towel usage.

One set of cleaning towels: $19.93 (the most current price) for 36 towels used over 36 months (and counting) = $.01 towel/month + washing. A load of laundry costs $3 at our current apartment. So the total cost of cloth towels is about $3.36 per month. The longer we’re able to keep our towels without replacing them, the closer their cost approaches zero.

36 paper towel rolls: $48.42 for 36 rolls of paper towels = $1.35 per roll. The average person uses .7 rolls per week or 1.4 rolls for a family of two, that translates to 5.6 rolls per month. In other words, about $7.50 per month.

Therefore, using cloth towels saves us $4.14 per month. According to investor.gov, that could translate to about $500 over 10 years. Not a whole lot of money, but certainly something.

My results are a little different from Flannel Guy ROI, but I used slightly different assumptions. At the end of the day, we come up with the same general idea that cloth towels will save you a little, but not enough to get you to financial independence.

With minimal cost savings for us, the major benefits of switching to reusable towels are the positive environmental impacts. We no longer contribute paper towel waste to the landfill and we don’t incur the environmental harm from having paper towels delivered or going to pick them up.

Have you ditched paper towels? How is it working out?

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