close-up of generation me unpaper towels

Inside: Can a paperless kitchen really work when you have kids? One mom with four small children decided to give it a try.

Paper towels are my mainstay. With four kids seven and under, I am constantly cleaning up messes. I mean, CONSTANTLY. It feels like they are just waiting for me to turn my back so they can knock over yet another glass of water.

I’ve tried to stop using so many paper towels in the past, but when they are sitting right there on the counter just begging to be used? I can’t NOT use them.

I always succumb to the awesomeness of disposables. Is it even possible to go without paper towels with this many little kids? I wanted to find out.

paperless towels with colorful borders, with text overlay "the paperless kitchen experiment - four kids, no paper towels"

The Paperless Kitchen Experiment


I don’t really know why I picked now to attempt to kick the paper towel habit. Maybe it’s because the paper towels ran out? Maybe I don’t have enough to do?

Maybe I needed another challenge besides homeschooling, working from home, and making sure my toddler doesn’t attempt another death-defying climbing act?

Was it money? Nope.

Perhaps it’s because I love cutting costs. However, after I started crunching the numbers, I realized that thanks to Amazon Prime we weren’t going to be saving that much money, not in the short term anyways. At least we weren’t going to see the savings this year, especially with the initial investment in more cloth products. Ten dollars a month, tops! And that’s with going through paper towels like crazy.

Read more: Why Amazon Prime is a Must-Have for Young Families

The environment? No, sorry.

I wish I could say it was some noble effort – the belief that one family going without paper towels will save the earth somehow. I’m gonna be honest: I don’t even use cloth diapers, people. Right now, saving a couple of trees is just not the highest thing on my priority list (sorry, trees).

Maybe one day.

Challenge? Yes, ma’am!

I seriously needed a challenge, one that could actually be considered “done”. I’m an achiever by nature, and as we all know, in motherhood, you don’t often feel like you’re achieving very much.

Finishing laundry? Never conquered. Teaching manners? Still working on it. Empty sink? Ha!

I really just need something to conquer, something tangible, something I can cross off my list. Check! Achieved! Done!

Curiosity? Absolutely!

I’m also genuinely curious. Can it really be done with little kids? How complicated will it be? Maybe it will be simpler than it seems. I want to know, and the only way to know is to try.

And for all of you reading who already do ALL THE GREEN STUFF (cloth diaper, make your own bread, DIY everything you can get your hands on) with energy to spare, I know I sound slightly ridiculous. Cut me some slack – it’s a big change for me.

Side Note: If you do decide to stick with paper towels, stay away from these ones we’ve been using for the past three months. I’ve decided to be a name brand snob when it comes to paper towels (if we ever buy them again). Stick with Bounty: thank me later.

The Prep Work to Go Paperless

I knew that if our paperless kitchen experiment was going to be a success, we needed more rags, dish cloths, and paper towel substitutes.

I ordered the following (see, I told you this wasn’t a money-saving operation!):

Threshold Dish Towels

Update: Sadly, these are no longer available. I haven’t found a replacement yet that I love as much as these.

These dish towels are super absorbent.

threshold dish towels


Scotch-Brite Cloths

I plan on using these mainly for food spills and scrubbing.

Unpaper Towels (Generation Me – Etsy)

I purchased the unbleached version of these paperless towels from Etsy and anticipate using them for general spills and wiping down counters.

Generation Me Unpaper Towels, stacked in rainbow order

I also made rags out of old t-shirts to use when cleaning the bathroom and wiping up other messes – if you’re a mom, you know the kind I’m talking about – that I’d rather my nicer cloths not touch (ever).

I made room in a visible place to store rags and unpaper towels (we use wall baskets like these to store plastic grocery bags and rags).

The Predictions

1. Going cold turkey will highly influence the results.

If the roll isn’t sitting there on the counter, I can’t use it. All in. No back-ups.

2. My husband may question the experiment.

At some point, he might ask why there are no paper towels in the house. But then again, he may not even notice. I’m not sure which is the better outcome here?

3. The kids will easily adjust to the new normal.

Train ’em while they’re young!

4. Staying on top of the laundry may be a challenge.

I need to re-up my laundry game anyways. Good excuse!

5. Storing used, damp rags may be a challenge.

Occasionally, storing wet clothes in laundry baskets caused them to mold. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my rags. Anyone have thoughts?

6. What to do for things like bacon grease?

I typically use paper towels for sopping up bacon grease, wiping peanut butter out of dishes, etc. I’m not sure how

Related: 4 Steps to Fighting Laundry Overwhelm

Paperless Kitchen? Here We Come.

I’ve got everything ready for the paperless kitchen experiment. What’s next? Cloth diapers? Essential oils? Who knows?!

Stay tuned for the verdict: is it really possible to live without paper towels? (Update: See “Read Next” for the verdict!)

Read Next: Why Every Mom Should Try a Paperless Kitchen

Have YOU transitioned to a paperless kitchen? Tell me how it went in the comments!

Help a friend out: share this!


  1. I can’t wait to see how your experiment goes, June! I use so many paper towels. I’m interested in changing for environmental reasons. I look forward to hearing your solutions for storing the used towels and for grease issues. Thanks for taking on the challenge so we can all learn!

    1. Author

      Turns out there’s a lot of readers considering going paperless. It’s already so much easier than I thought. You could totally do it, Robin! Now, I’ve yet to decide what to do about the bacon, but I’ll be sure to include it in a follow-up post. Thanks for reading!

  2. You can do it June! We’ve been paperless for about a year … All These Bright Things on Etsy (Courtney Shanahan) made me affordable and cute and very durable cloth napkins – I LOVE them!! … I use old wash cloths for cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms etc…we also use cloth wipes for diapers… I keep all of these when dirty on top of the dryer … I wash these about once a day or every other day in a small load with swaddle blankets … I love doing laundry and prefer small loads (more to feel accomplished about) so I don’t mind at all … as for grease, I just put the bacon or sausage on a plate, let it drip, and then put on another plate to serve … so I’m washing the grease off the plate with soap instead of using a paper towel … not as easy but we don’t keep any paper in our house – I’m extreme … but it’s worked wonderful for us!

    1. Author

      Thanks Kate! It is surprisingly easier than I thought as long as I don’t have a roll sitting there to use instead. With laundry, I already do my kitchen linens separately, so it’s just a slightly bigger load. Going great so far! Dave did notice though – but he quickly moved on and didn’t complain. 🙂

  3. Old receiving blankets cut into quarters. Old cloth diapers. Good will dollar day cotton t shirts cut up, and the same for stained cotton towels cut up, good for scrubbing. A 5 gallon bucket in a child proof spot 1/2 full with vinegar, water, and your fave essential oil to soak them in till washing…here, is everyday.

    1. Author

      Thanks so much for your tips, Catherine!

  4. Interested to hear how this goes. Your supplies sound nice – I just got a big pack of microfiber cloths at BJ’s (40 for about $15?) that I use for all sorts of things. They are looking pretty sad now, they’ve been on duty around for 1-2 years now. I’d love to upgrade my cloth supply – so update us on how these items works out.

    I do keep one pack of the CHEAPEST paper napkins around for things like bacon grease etc.

  5. Good for you!! It is great to do something that is new and scary sometimes as a mom to up your game. And I love the gorgeous cloths! Beauty helps 🙂
    To #5: I find I don’t need nearly as many cloth rags as I would paper towels, so I sort of drape partially-wet rags on a hook, rod, or the outside of the kitchen hamper to use on the next spill (that will inevitably happen). Then they usually dry enough by evening or next day to not worry about mold. A breathable laundry bag also helps, though I’m guessing your humidity situation is worse than here in the dry northwest!
    To #6: I honestly still use paper for bacon, chicken, milk spills, and egg spills. We use about a roll of paper per month. I don’t know what to do about that because you shouldn’t put anything that’s had grease on it in the dryer.
    Good luck!

    1. P.S. I also mostly use the mop for floor spills, especially if it’s just water. This keeps more cloths dry and clean.

      1. Author

        Great idea – I hate mopping, but it would be handy for water and milk spills. This is why I love comments! I never would have thought of that on my own. Thanks so much Heather!

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