Paper Towels Question

momrox4June 30, 2009

I've noticed that lots of folks on this and other forums use old towels, rags, etc. instead of paper towels. I'm curious to know if anyone has figured out if there is really any savings to this, other than being green, I suppose, once you figure in the cost of running the rags through the wash? There's the water cost, electricity and/or gas, and detergent. Seems to me that that would add up to more than the cost of paper towels........

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It probably depends on how many paper towels you use in a day. Here the cheapest are about 68 cents a roll, and they aren't very absorbent. For good ones, it is about $1-1.25 a roll.
I use rags, mainly because I prefer them. I have a bucket in the laundry room and when I have a bucket full of reusable rags, I run them through the washing machine and line dry (the neighbors are taking up a collection for us since it looks like all our clothes are rags!).
If you don't use many paper towels, it is probably cheaper or equal cost to use paper.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 8:54AM
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Tough question to answer since it'll vary. If you, for instance, buy new diapers to use as rags and run a load of laundry for just a few of them at a time, and have high utility rates (remember even gas dryers use electricity) and if you don't use a lot of paper towels, then you could easily, in that scenario, exceed the cost of disposeables. But if you use a lot, and wash them with kitchen linens that you're washing anyway, even if you factor in the bit of extra drying time if using a dryer, and if you're using end of life clothes for rags, and you use a lot of them, then I think it'd be difficult to not be cheaper.

There is one advantage to paper on occasion and that is sanitation. Many people who use sponges and rags do not change them often enough so they spread contamination where paper gets tossed. So if you use reuseables, you need to be careful to change often and wash properly.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 10:05AM
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Cloth rags/towels aren't EXTRA loads of laundry, they fit nicely in with other loads I already do. Mine get dried on a drying rack and put in with the dish cloths and dishrags, which is one load per week. I use one color of towels for drying hands, and another color for drying dishes (to avoid potential cross contamination - a direct result from taking a food safety class...), one dishrag and one kitchen rag per day.

Rags I use in the bathroom for cleaning are sanitized after use and dried on a drying rack, and go into the whites load.

I use a kitchen rag (a really old dishrag or small towel or towel portion) for most things others might use a paper towel, in the general clean-up division. But people have grown accustomed to grabbing a paper towel, rather than a rag they have to rinse out.

I spritz my rag AND my dishrag used for dishes with a mild solution of bleach/water (1 t. bleach to 1 qt. water) or Grapefruit Seed Extract and water after use. This is the same solution I spritz and wipe off all the flat surfaces in the kitchen and on the refrigerator handle (a #1 place for germs) when we're done with after-meal clean-up. I rinse the sanitized kitchen rag and dishrag and hang to dry between uses. I change the hand towel, dish towel, dishrag and kitchen rag once a day.

The difference between a kitchen rag and a dishrag: I'll only use a dishrag while doing dishes and wiping off counters or the table. A kitchen rag is used for the "icky" things, like a drip of something on the floor.

There are things you can use instead of paper towels BESIDES cloth. I hoard paper napkins, especially from the restaurants who toss a huge bunch on the table and we only use 2, or when we get an occasional ice cream cone from McDonald's and they give us 20 napkins along with the 2 cones.... (maybe we look like a couple of slobs - LOL). These work not only for packing in lunches, but I also use them where I might want to use a paper towel.

-For that dropped egg - you REALLY don't want to use a cloth for that!

-Cleaning stainless steel pans with Cameo or Bar Keeper's Friend. Another place a paper napkin works well.

-You can wipe out a greasy pan with an envelope you got a bill in. Just open it up at both ends and wipe away and toss in the trash. The same with a wadded-up sales flyer or some newspaper.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 3:47PM
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The only thing I use paper towels for is to put bacon on after I fry it. Just kind of gross to use a rag for this purpose!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 5:09PM
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very interesting topic. I go back and forth, use rags or paper towels? Love the convenience of paper towels. Hate the cost. I too use different towels and rags colors for different things. I don't dry my dishes so thats not an issue, air works just fine.
However I have to comment on this because I saw a show where the cook used brown paper bag for the catching of the "grease" when making french fries. soooo I was out of paper towels and decided to try that with bacon, WOW, not sure if it was because of the bag or the fact it just showed more, but I could not believe the amount of grease. Perhaps the paper towels just absorb more and we can't see it with the eye, but I think I am into the paper bags now.
any comments or suggestions on this one?

side note: hmm after seeing the amount of grease on the paper bag I might have to give up eating fatty foods like that, its one thing they taste so good, but just sitting looking at that grease while you eat, really puts it into perspective.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 11:20AM
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Brown paper bags once were a commonly-used item for draining fat, even for lining baking pans, etc., but that's just not a good idea these days. At best, they are not sanitary (can you say rodants/roaches while in storage); at worst, they can contain toxins.

Brown paper bags are made with recycled paper that can contain metals, glues, ink and even toxic chemicals from sprays used to control insects while bags are in storage or from unknown sources before it was recycled.

Compound the problem by using brown paper bags for things like making popcorn in a microwave, and you've added fat, moisture and heat for that toxin-laden popcorn delight, or that November favorite, baking a turkey in a bag.....

It's best to avoid brown paper bags of all types for cooking/baking/draining foods.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 1:10PM
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I wouldn't use rags for draining greasy foods -- yuk! I use several layers of black and white newspaper, and yes I know they say they use soy ink now but I don't really trust that. I will use a layer of paper towel or paper napkin on top of that. And yes, brown paper bags certainly may contain mouse or rat droppings, roach eggs and all kinds of other unsavory stuff besides chemicals used in processing them and the dyes from the printing.

When I use a rag for a messy clean-up, such as a dog accident (either end) or a really greasy spill, I just throw the rag away. We seem to always have a lot of rags. But then I don't mend sox. When a sock gets a hole in it, I rip it beyond wearability so it's obvious to anyone that it's a rag. Sox are great for small dirty messes.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2009 at 2:16PM
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I calculate that there's no comparison in this house.

My rags (residue of towels long-used to the point of threadbareness, sheets, underwear, etc.) would turn white with astonishment/shock were they ever to be accorded the exclusivity of enjoying a wash cycle all to themselves ... they usually get dropped into the tub when it comes time to wash the dirty work/gardening clothes.

Occasionally they may get washed in warm water, more likely cold ... but it's seldom that they get immersed in fresh water - usually it's water (and soap, with a little extra added) that was cycled through suds-saver after the whites, coloured, linens, etc. ... and dirt that precipitates out of the wash water while in the suds-saver doesn't go back into the washer, but gets flushed down the drain after the upper water has been sucked back, if I'm around to do it.

The water is pulled from a well in the yard (that's too close to what used to be the barnyard - I have to bring water that I drink and use for cooking from the city). The well was expensive to construct ... but that was done many years ago, and the long-ago-rather-expensive pump needs repairs from time to time, but not in the seven years that I've known anything about it ... but the landlord takes care of that, when needed. Sometimes I need to haul in some air from the air pump in a "pig" to add to the bubble in the top of the pressure tank, to keep the pump from starting and stopping several times during the withdrawal of a small amount of water - but it's the landlord's pig, and he doesn't charge rent when I use it: he's a really nice guy!

It takes a miniscule amount of electricity to produce the water in the washer to wash the clothes. Not much to run the washer for that short time, either.

And during most of the year they are dried "online" ... which was the way we dried clothes long before anyone ever heard of computers or the internet. In winter, they'll be hung over a line in the basement.

Some of you who read my story about reusing toilet paper, may remember that it included my observation that the regular roll of toilet paper collected some dust while not in use for several months ... well, it's about the swame story on the roll of paper towels hung under the kitchen cupboards.

Enjoy what's left of this great productive (green?) summer: learn something new before Saturday, if possible, O.K.?

ole joyful

    Bookmark   August 4, 2009 at 11:24PM
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momrox -

One package of 24 white cotton terrycloth shop rags at Home Depot cost $7

Let's assume $1 per roll of paper towels, based on what others have said.

I bought the pack of shop rags about 5 years ago, and although they have some permanent stains, which don't bother me because these are scrub rags, they are still as absorbent and useful as they were the day I bought them.

How many rolls of paper towels would have hit the trash can during those five years? At a very moderate usage rate of 2 rolls a month, that would be 2x12x5 = 120 dollars in paper towels. If you have kids, usage goes up because they use half a roll on one glass od spilled milk.

Compare that to $7 for the shop rags, plus laundry cost.

Laundry cost is hard to calculate, because the rags go in with other towels or underwear unless they have been used for something really gross like dog barf, in which case they get a pre-wash. They are less than 1% of my laundry bulk, I wash in cold water, and they are air-dried ... if it cost more than $10 in detergent and water to wash them over the years I'd be really surprised.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 8:00AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I have several categories of towels for cleanup:

1. A basket keep in the kitchen cabinet of 40 cheap white washcloths. These are used for general cleaning all over the house. Dusting, wiping counters, etc.
When dirty, they go in a 5 gallon bucket kept in the laundry room. I wash them with bleach and hot water when the bucket is full and they get their own wash load, usually once a week or so.
These, more than anything have almost eliminated our need for paper towels.

2. Dish towels kept in a kitchen drawer. For drying hands, fruit, dishes, etc. These get washed with "at home" clothes worn around the house.

2. Paper towels- hmm, because hubby needs them but occasionally I use them for miscellaneous things.

3. A basket of old clothes cut into "rags". These are for really dirty jobs (dog mess) and I always throw them away after using.
I keep these in the laundry room.

4. Old clothes and towels kept in the garage for car maintenance. Used multiple times then thrown out.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 10:01AM
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Maybe off-topic, but I once ran out of coffee filters. I tried using a double-layered paper towel in my coffee maker. The coffee tasted terrible!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 10:18AM
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I do have paper towels, usually Bounty that I got with a coupon, but I rarely use them. I like the idea of having them on hand if a really greasy, dirty, or unpleasant cleanup presents itself!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 4:30PM
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Kind of OT since I am not answering the question of whether using rags saves any money over paper towels. But seeing the posts about draining greasy foods made me want to pipe up.

I use a large strainer to drain my fried foods. The grease drops into a container below, and I don't have to clean rags (which I used to do) or put greasy paper in the trash. And then the collected grease can even be reused.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 4:37PM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

You folks can probably appreciate this little story.

I was at an elderly neighbor's house doing some sort of a little odd job for her. For some reason I asked if she had a rag handy. She thought long and hard before she replied with a big smile, "No, I'm still wearing them."
She was quite frugal and joking me.

Another time I was helping another elderly frugal friend. I asked for a rag and what she handed me was a bunch of holes it seemed stitched together with a few threads. What a sorry excuse for a rag. It wouldn't even do the job. Come to find out later, after I took her some better rags, that she had better ones, but she was just saving the better ones until the oldest ones were worn out.

Good grief!


    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 11:40PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I find that rags are cheaper. I have had many for year and years. I hang mine to dry. When we used to eat bacon, we drained it on the splatter screen over the pan. My younguns' and their father would use too many paper towels to accomplish a job so I save myself the anxiety and don't purchase them.

I do however keep a couple of rolls of the thick blue shop towels in the garage because there are some messes, like vomit, that I insist on having towels for.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 9:03PM
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