Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to not need paper towels in a house full of messy creatures

Relying on paper towels to clean up spill after spill stinks. Sure, it’s not so eco-friendly, but, even more immediately distressing to me, at least, is it’s practically throwing money away.

There’s always the option of buying a huge supply of kitchen towels and cloth napkins, but the initial cost of buying enough to keep up with a toddler’s destructive capabilities is off-putting to say the least. Retiring old clothes, sheets, etc. to rags is a viable and frugal option, not to mention you’re upcycling (or is it recycling? or repurposing?). I don’t really mind just using scraps as rags, but I prefer something a little more aesthetically pleasing, especially if guests are involved.

There’s also the convenience factor to consider. I have limited storage space, so devoting a kitchen drawer or part of a cabinet to hold all the towels isn’t practical. Neither is a basket on the counter, because counter space is even more limited.

Here’s my solution. First, I cut up any appropriate worn fabric (t-shirts, flannel sheets, old bath towels, anything soft and absorbent) to whatever size I want. I started with something close to paper towel size but then started cutting some smaller to make more use of the fabric. Then I serged the edges to make them pretty. You could also do a zig-zag, overcast stitch or even just a straight stitch a little in from the edge on a sewing machine. If you are really ambitious you could do a real hem. I’m going for nice but quick to do in bulk. Any edge finishing is unnecessary for t-shirt knits, but they will be more durable being finished. Wovens like flannel will need something to keep them from fraying.

For the storage, I made a hanging tube similar to a plastic bag dispenser. If you have one of those around it will probably work perfectly. If not, there are tons of tutorials for them floating around, but the basic design is a tube of fabric with a handle at the top and elastic at the bottom to tighten the opening enough to keep the towels/bags from falling out. This solves my lack of space problem because I can hang it anywhere and it’s as easy as pulling a paper towel off a roll. They stay in and dispense better if I just shove them in the top without folding them, so no extra laundry folding time.

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This was my quick nap-time prototype. I made it out of half a t-shirt. You can easily make one out of any fabric to match your d├ęcor.

I also made a little tote bag to hang in the kitchen to put the dirty towels in. Unless clean something really gross or are soaking wet, there’s no real reason to keep them separate from the rest of the laundry, though.

Since making these, I have almost eliminated my need for paper towels. I do try to keep a roll on hand in case the cat does something gross because eww. I have to hide it, though, to keep other people from reaching for them out of habit.

If you need some heavier cleaning cloths, double up the fabric. To use up smaller scraps of flannel, finish the edges of squares as small as a couple of inches to use in place of cotton balls.