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Paper Towel Is Selling Out. 7 Sustainable, Budget-Friendly Alternatives

Once you tear yourself away from paper towel, you may never go back.

rolls of paper towel on white background. Tight inventory has fuelled fears of a paper towel shortage

(Photo: iStock)

It may be hard to imagine your kitchen without paper towel. It’s ultra-convenient for cleaning, dusting, sopping up spills, and wiping dirty hands and faces. It’s no surprise that with so many people working from home—and cleaning more—paper towel has been selling out. But don’t rush out and stockpile paper towel just yet.

While it is indeed handy, paper towel isn’t exactly eco-friendly. It’s usually made with virgin lumber—often from Canada’s boreal forest, which plays a crucial role in locking away climate-change fuelling carbon dioxide—and it goes straight into the garbage when you’re done with it. The good news is, there are better and more sustainable products to choose from. They are reusable, take up less space, and don’t have to be constantly restocked—so they’re better for the planet and your wallet. (The U.S.-based non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council recommends reusable cloth towels as the best alternative to paper, with paper towels made of recycled paper coming in second.) So if you can’t find paper towel at the store—or you can’t seem to tear yourself away from it—here are our top picks to help you make the more sustainable swap.

Flannel cloths


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Flannel cloths are soft and absorbent, and the more they’re washed the more they absorb. You can use them for just about anything: wiping up messes, washing and drying dishes, or lint-free cleaning and dusting. They’re even soft and pretty enough to double as napkins. Because they cling together, they can easily roll around your paper towel holder. Serged edges keep them from fraying, and they’re easy to care for—just throw them in the washer and dryer. (Or line dry them.)

Marley’s Monsters Cloth Wipes (12-pack), $24.95, koylanaturals.com

Three Huggers Reusable Paper Towels (8 pack), $18, Etsy

Unpaper Towels (8 pack), $16, bare market

Sponge cloths

Universal love sponge cloth from Simons for a piece on alternatives to paper towels during a shortage

(Photo: Simons)

Sponge cloths have been used in Swedish kitchens for more than 60 years. Made of cellulose (wood pulp) and cotton, they are reusable, biodegradable, and even compostable. They can absorb up to twenty times their weight in liquid, and one cloth will replace seventeen rolls of paper towel. They are incredibly durable and can be washed up to 300 times in temperatures up to 190 °F (88 °C) in the dishwasher or washing machine.

Danika Studio Sponge Cloth, $6, kolyanaturals.com

If You Care Natural Sponge Cloths (5-pack), $12.29, Well.ca

Simons Maison Sponge Cloth, $3.75, Simons

Skoy Cleaning Cloths (4-pack), $12, Logan & Finley.

Viola Sponge Cloth (set of 2), $12, modernkomfort.ca

Huck towels

Huck towels, or surgical towels, were originally used to clean surgical instruments. Made of lint-free cotton, they’re popular with professional window cleaners. Highly absorbent, they’re also great for cleaning up spills, drying dishes, or even used as napkins. They can be tossed in the laundry and hung dry.

Reclaimed Huck Towels (10 lb box), $24, The Rag Factory

Recycled Surgical Towels (12-pack), $14, windowcleaner.com

Huck Towel, $5.45, Linen Plus

Microfibre cloths

A stack of microfibre cloths

(Photo: Norwex)

Microfibre cloths are made of polyester and nylon threads up to 200 times finer than a human hair. Because they carry a slight positive charge, they act like magnets to attract dust and dirt instead of just pushing it around. Super soft, they can be used on just about anything, including stainless steel, enamel, ceramic, glass, chrome, granite, marble, wood, tile, and china. They dry quickly, inhibiting bacterial growth.

Envision Home Microfiber Cleaning Cloths (10-pack), $12.79, Well.ca

FRANK All Purpose Microfibre Cloth (12-pack), $19.99, Canadian Tire

Ninja Microfibre Cloth, $7.80, Canada Cleaning Supplies

Norwex EnviroCloth, $19.99, Norwex.biz

Ultrafine Microfibre Cloths

The extra-tight weave makes these microfibre cloths super absorbent and great for polishing mirrors, windows, shower doors, stainless steel, chrome, and even screens. They are totally lint-free and leave zero spots or streaks, eliminating the need for additional cleaning products. I’ve had mine for years, and they have only gotten softer and more effective over time.

FRANK Microfibre Glass Cleaning Cloths (2-pack), $3.99, Canadian Tire

Jude’s Miracle Cloth, $7.99, judesmiraclecloth.com

KD Cloth, $8.80, KDCloth.com

Norwex Window Cloth, $21.99, Norwex.biz

Wipe and Glow, $6.99, potandpantry.ca

Wood Fibre Cloths

Simply Natural Wood Fiber Cloth, 6 Pack Antibacterial Dish Cloths

(Photo: Amazon)

Like synthetic microfibre cloths, these are super soft and absorbent—except they’re made entirely from wood pulp fibre (viscose rayon). Engineered with an eight-layer open weave, they claim to rinse free of dirt and bacteria with tap water, so they don’t get smelly like typical cloths. They are strong, durable, and machine washable.

Mabu Cloth, $4.49, Well.ca

Simply Natural Wood Fiber Cloth (6-pack), $26.59, Amazon.ca

DIY Cleaning Cloths

a knit dish cloth

(Photo: knitpicks.com)

If you’re the crafty kind, try making your own cleaning cloths. Not only can this save you money but it gives you the freedom to choose whatever colours, patterns and fabrics you like.

Some people swear by knitted or crocheted dishcloths. You can get free patterns on Ravelry, an online community for knitters, crocheters and fiber artists. Knit Pix offers lots of free dishcloth patterns, and they also sell yarn, kits, tools, books, and free instructional videos. Try making yours out of linen yarn—it’s absorbent, durable, and gets softer with each wash. Plus linen is one of the more sustainable textiles, as it uses less irrigation, pesticides and energy to produce than most other fibers.

If you like to sew, take a break from making masks and sew your own cleaning cloths. These double-sided cloths are durable, absorbent, and easy to wash. Plus you can make them out of eco-friendly fabric like bamboo, organic cotton or hemp terrycloth. You can even reuse old towels, sheets, or cloth diapers.