DIY Faux Paper Towels. Upcycled, Eco-friendly and Economical!

One of the first unsustainable products I “disposed of” when I made the decision to stop using single-use products, was paper towel.  Old rags made from torn up pieces of old cotton bath towels worked beautifully.  They absorbed more than paper towels, they were free, and they washed up nicely to be reused again.  They weren’t, however, attractive.  I like beautiful things, and when I first came across faux paper towels (also known as un-paper towels) on etsy I was attracted to them.  Not only are they functional, eco-friendly and cheap to make: they are a beautiful addition to the kitchen!  And they make great gifts.

I hit up the thrift stores and purchased a few towels in good conditon, as well as a few pillow cases and napkins, also in good condition, made with a fabric pattern that suited what I was looking for.  1 large towel makes 12, 11 inch un-paper towels.  If you happen to already have fabric you like, and a few old towels, you won’t even need to purchase them.  I admit it feels good to upcycle old bedding, table cloths or napkins into something new and useful! 

Perhaps the most challenging part of the un-paper towel project is what to fasten them together with so they roll up nicely and stay together on the roll.  I have a snap press used previously for making my babies’ cloth diapers so I chose snaps.  Buttons would also be attractive, and velcro would work too.  Or, if you don’t want them to roll up like paper towels you can leave them on the counter in a basket.

If you love the concept but don’t have the time, skills or materials needed to make them and would just like to buy them, check out Green Planet Parties (Canadian supplier but also ships to the USA) or this etsy seller (based in the USA), or google them and find many other WAHM-style cotton towels!  Butterflies and Needles is a facebook follower of mine who makes and sells them.  They sell anywhere from $40 and up, and are worth the cost if you can’t make them.  They take several hours to make at home if you have the right materials.

Materials:

  • Attractive fabric for the decorative side of your towels.  11×11 inches or so for each cloth.
  • One large bath towel for the absorbing side of your towels.
  • A sewing machine or serger.
  • Snaps, buttons or velcro for attaching them together.
  • Scissors or rolling cutter (and cutting board), thread, pins.

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry your fabric if necessary.  Iron.
  2. Find something to use as an 11×11 inch, or 12×12 inch pattern.  An old tile would work, or cut one out of cardboard.  I used a child’s book :D .
  3. Cut 12 pieces of your decorative fabric into squares using your pattern.
  4. Cut 12 pieces of your towel into squares using your pattern.
  5. Place one piece of towel together with one piece of decorative fabric, right sides showing.  Pin together and serge or tightly zig-zag your squares together.  Repeat for all pieces.  You could also stitch, turn and top stitch if you would rather have a more finished looking edge.
  6. Choose your fasteners.  Make a simple paper pattern for snap/button placement.  Mark the spots with a washable pen or chalk.   If using buttons, make button holes on one end of each cloth and sew buttons on the other end.  I’d recommend 3 per side.  If using snaps, attach male snaps and caps to one end, and attach female snaps and caps to the other end, making sure that the caps on one end  are not on the same side of the fabric as the caps on the other end, as shown.  (Again, I recommend using 3 snaps per side).  If using velcro, place fuzzy side (loop) and rough side (hook) on opposite sides and ends of the fabric.  Attach.
  7. Fasten together your fabric and roll up, or onto a paper towel holder and you are done!

This post has been linked to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #55, Fresh Eggs Daily’s Farm Girl Blog Hop #11 and Waste Not Want Not #7, and Homestead Barn Hop #90.

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43 comments on “DIY Faux Paper Towels. Upcycled, Eco-friendly and Economical!

  1. Fantastic idea, never would have though about it :)

  2. What an absolutely wonderful idea. I am definately going to make these. I think I will use a basket tho, because I have just the one to use as it is doing nothing and I hadn’t a clue what to use it for til now!!!! Love this post and I really enjoy the way you write. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful ideas. Have a happy day!

    • Thanks Correna! You have a great day too!

    • I agree and like the basket idea. I don’t care if they’re not attached. I use old towels as paper towels to begin with, so this isn’t far from my thoughts. I really like the idea of the pretty side though! The old towels get pretty nasty – even though I do try to keep them as clean and stain-free as possible. Thanks for sharing!

  3. So happy to see this! I will be making these for my son-in-law. He cooperates with me on most of my green life except I could never convince him to give up paper towels. Hopefully this stellar idea will finally cross him over to the greener side! Great idea!!!!

  4. Fantastic idea! I’ve been phasing my husband out of using paper towels, but haven’t quite been able to do away with them completely ;) I can’t wait to give this a try. Also, it’s nice to meet another BC’er in the blogging world!

    I’d love it if you’d consider sharing this on my blog’s link exchange, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, a place for sharing frugal tips and gluten free recipes!
    http://www.poorandglutenfree.blogspot.com/2012/11/waste-not-want-not-wednesday-7.html

  5. Sounds promising, but I would like to see a detailed analysis of the full-up cost of laundry compared to paper towels. I do use occasional paper towels, but I only buy plain white ones with small sheet sizes and I compost them (unless they are filled with toxic substances).

    • I am so glad someone asked this. I have been dying to argue this topic! Thanks.
      Did you know that 17 trees are cut down and 20000 gallons of water is consumed to produce 1 ton of paper towels?
      Ever think of how many paper towels people use to wipe up a little spill? Every day 3000 tons of paper towel waste is made in the USA alone.
      Paper manufacturing is the largest industrial user of water per lb of finished product.
      Paper towels can only be composted if they are “clean”, not wet or oily. Recycled or not.
      Paper towels that rot in the landfills produce methane gas which is way more toxic than CO2.
      And of course dioxins produced from the bleaching process are toxic.
      Show me a study that indicates that washing towels in with other loads of laundry wastes anywhere near as much water than producing the paper towels in the first place. Much less the waste and toxins produced while making them. I can’t find one. :) Thanks!
      https://peopletowels.com/aboutpt/WageWarOnWaste
      http://www.goodgirlgonegreen.com/eco-products/bleached-recycled-or-cloth

  6. Wow! You are one talented blogger! What a great housewarming gift this would make for a new homeowner who is into green living! Nice job!

  7. I absolutely love this idea. Neat gift idea. I don’t use paper towels, instead opting for rags, and recently dumped paper napkins in place of cloth. So glad I did and wish I had done so sooner.

  8. I love, love, love this idea. It is such a cute way to store in paper towel. I just have a basket which is not as fun. I think I may just have to make these.

  9. Made these for a friend for her birthday and she was delighted to put them in a basket by her sink and she thinks of me everytime she uses them! Great idea! Now I need to finish my set! Thanks for posting!

  10. MARKEYSHA E. on said:

    OMG! I recently have been protesting the useage of paper towels in my home. So I went out to a thrift store and brought a bunch of hand towles. But I never thought of doding this! WONDERFULL! If you where saling this I woudl SOOOOO BUY IT LIKE RIGHT NOW!

  11. Stacey on said:

    Oh, I love these, another thing to put on my to do list :-) I probably won’t bother with the fasteners, tho. After washing them, I would never get around to putting them back on the paper towel holder, so just tossing them in a pretty basket will work just fine. Thanks for the idea.

  12. I buy a 20 pack of Handi Wipes (blue cloth rags) in the cleaning product aisle for about $2.50. I use one for a week coupled with a bottle of vinegar/water to wipe up everything as my all purpose kitchen rag. I rinse the rag between uses and hang it over my sink divider to dry out. At the end of the week I toss it in the laundry. They are very thin so they loose a little integrity in the wash, but can be washed 3-4 times before having to throw them out. I can toss them in the microwave to kill germs midweek if needed or throw them in the laundry and get out another one. At this rate, one pack of rags will last two years (about as long as those towels you made will last if washed every week). I keep a roll of paper towels and a bottle of bleach solution to clean up things that belong in the trash rather than the laundry (raw meat, spoiled food, etc.). I have been working on my current roll of paper towels for 3 months. My mom and grandmother had the same system when I was growing up. Paper towels were reserved special uses, the kitchen rag was for normal mess, so I have never understood other people’s obsessive use of paper towels for everything. The towel replacement system you describe sounds like way more work, waste and expense than just having an everyday kitchen rag.

  13. AmandaR on said:

    Where can I get the snap fasteners?? There are so many to choose from!

  14. I’d love to use less paper towels. What do you suggest for greasy messes? I often use paper towels to wipe out dishes/sklllets/baking sheers before washing to keep the grease out of the dishwater/drain. I don’t want to deal with greasy laundry though……..

    • I usually just use hot water and a scrub brush to wash out oily pots before I wash them with soap, or put in the dishwasher. I use rags for washing the counter tops and rinse well and toss in the wash.

  15. Eleanor Snyder on said:

    We use paper towels for picking up broken glass. Any alternative? Glass has always been broken so there must be a way.

    Aloha,
    Ellie

  16. Judith on said:

    Why not simply use rags neatly folded in a basket or drawer? Why in the world do you need to buy, wash, cut and sew two kinds of cloth and even apply snaps? Wouldn’t it be easier to grab a cloth from a basket rather than having to unsnap a thick cloth from the roll? There is no need for the cloths to be attached to each other, unless you want to mimic paper towels, and it will be harder to grab one when you need it. Why does it have to be on a paper towel roll? You seem unable to think outside the box (or roll, in this case). It would be much more efficient just to cut up old towels, flannel sheets, T-shirts, etc. in convenient shapes and to bind the edges if needed, and leave it at that. They would wash better, dry faster, and have less energy invested in them. I think this is needlessly complicated. Why make something exactly like paper towels, but out of cloth? Why not just use simple cloths?

    • Interestingly enough, that’s what I use (rags). I made these for gifts, and they are being used in place of paper towel now. I feel like I have helped make a difference by encouraging people who weren’t using cloth in the first place to cloth by giving them something that was a direct replacement for paper towels. Believe me, I am well aware that it was a lot of work to make them. But sometimes gifts are like that… you put time and effort into making something for someone you love.

      • rhonda on said:

        i love your idea, FRM, and think it’s an awesome way to introduce people to the whole idea of NO paper towels & napkins. It’s a hard transition for many, and this is an excellent way to help them see how to be sustainable on an everyday basis. i especially loved that you included the use of a basket.
        Thanks!!

  17. Janet on said:

    I like the idea but it is just one more project. I go to the thrift store purchase larger sized t shirts and cut then in the shapes I want no sewing required even the sleeves are large enough to wipe up spills. I do not use then for food areas.but they can be washed or If it is some else in the house cleaning up they can be trashed?

  18. Christy on said:

    These are neat. One thing I feel like I ALWAYS need paper towels for- cooking bacon. Any alternative ideas for how to drain and dab the grease off? Can’t imagine using something reusable for that.

  19. I have seen these on pinterest but it always links to etsy or a place to buy them…I am not good of thinking up ways to make things I like, these directions are amazing…Thank You!

  20. Anonymous on said:

    hi,
    thank you for sharing such a great article with us.
    I am so glad someone asked this. I have been dying to argue this topic! Thanks.
    Did you know that 17 trees are cut down and 20000 gallons of water is consumed to produce 1 ton of paper towels?
    Ever think of how many paper towels people use to wipe up a little spill?

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