Thinking of making the swap to unpaper towels? Honestly, it’s easier than you think and you can make your own reusable paper towels in 15 minutes!
I made the switch to unpaper towels in 2018 and it has been WAY easier to keep up with then I thought it would be. Here’s what happened…
A few years ago, I woke up one day and was suddenly grossed out by all the paper towels we were using in our family. I’m not sure what it was, but that day something clicked and I realized that (at least for us) cutting down on paper towel usage OR eliminating it all together was a small thing we could do in our home to help reduce waste.
So, I mentioned it to Jeff and put the paper towels we already had under the sink for the weekend, just to see if we could actually do it. I mean, it didn’t seem like it would be that hard. BUT at the same time, paper towels are so convenient and we really used them out of habit for pretty much everything from cleaning and spills to wiping down Hayes’ face after meals.
Long story short, we tried it that weekend and never looked back. It was honestly way, way easier than I thought it would be to make the switch. And one of the key reasons why it was so easy was because we already had what we needed to get started: dishcloths, and lots of them.
But then I got to thinking, what if you don’t have any dishcloths handy already (or you only have a couple) to make the switch easier. And that’s how these DIY reusable paper towels came about. I say ‘paper towels’, but they’re actually made of fabric – no paper at all. Even better than being made of fabric though, they’re made of fabric scraps to further eliminate waste AND help anyone who’s interested, get started right now…in 15 minutes (or less)!
Did I mention there are two version of these DIY reusable paper towels as well – a sewn version AND a no-sew version! Click through for both tutorials and let me know what you think.
While I was putting this post together, I noticed a handful of tutorials out there for DIY unpaper towels that snap together and take the shape of a regular paper towel roll that you can put on an actual paper towel holder, etc.
When it comes to a project like this, that really just needs to be functional, I personally gravitate towards the easiest option. And that’s what today’s tutorial is. But if you like the idea of a snap roll, there are some great tutorials out there. Wanted to mention that in case you’re looking for different option.
That said, let’s get to the tutorials…
Reusable Paper Towels DIY Materials Needed
- fabric scraps*
- thread, pins and a sewing machine (for a no-sew option, use hemming tape)
- iron ruler
*Towel fabric from ratty old hand towels and old cotton or flannel t-shirts are great options if you’re looking to create super absorbent towels for big spills, etc. But if you don’t have any absorbent scrap fabric like this, simply use whatever scraps you have.
I used scrap linen from a previous project for the backing to balance out the absorbency on one side and something good for glass cleaning, etc on the other side. But you can use pretty much any fabric you have on hand – as long as it absorbs liquids in some capacity.
In this case, it’s better to use any fabric scraps you have available than going out and buying more fabric. It saves money to use scraps and cuts down on the waste you are creating by reusing something you already have.
How to Make Reusable Paper Towels
1. Measure and cut.
Measure two pieces of 10” x 15” fabric (this can be an absorbent piece and a linen, two absorbent fabrics, etc – again, just use whatever you have on hand). Then cut.
If you don’t have enough, you can do different measurements. Just make sure your two sides are the same size. I’ve found 10 inch squares are a great size too.
2. Pin the two fabric pieces together and sew.
Put your sides face to face and pin along the edge. Sew all sides 1/4” from the the edge but be sure to leave a small gap to turn the towel inside out!
3. Cut the corners.
Cut the corners so that when you flip the towel inside out, the corners lay nice and flat.
4. Flip inside out and sew the hole closed.
Flip the towel inside out and iron along the edges. Now, you can sew the hole closed. Be sure to get as close to the edge as possible.
For a cleaner look, you can hand stitch this closed.
Additional Ideas: For one of my towels, I sewed two straight lines about an inch in on the top and bottom to prevent the towel from getting bunched up in the wash or during use. This is totally optional, but I actually didn’t mind the way it turned out!
Also! It’s been suggested in the comments that you can sew a button hole on the end of each cloth, if you have a hook for it to hang from. Or add a little string that can be tied to cabinet handles, etc. Love those ideas! Makes the possibility of using unpaper towels even higher, which is the whole point.
Instructions for No-Sew Reusable Paper Towels
1. Measure and cut fabric scraps. Just like the sewn option, measure two pieces of 10” x 15” fabric, then cut. And again, if you don’t have enough fabric to make that particular size, you can switch up the measurements to whatever works for you. Just make sure your two sides are the same size.
2. Cut hemming tape to size. Cut 3 pieces of hemming tape long enough for each side. Put your pieces face to face with the hemming tape just on the edge.
3. Iron and apply hemming tape. Iron the pieces together on only 3 of the sides leaving a smaller side open. Check the instructions that come with your hemming tape.
For mine, I applied a lot of heat and waited until it cooled to check if the two pieces were bonded well. Instructions may vary, so just be aware.
4. Let cool and flip inside out. Once cooled, trim the corners so that they lay flat when you flip the towel inside out. Flip the towel inside out and iron along the edges.
5. Fold in and complete with hemming tape. Fold in the bottom side that was left open and put hemming tape between the two pieces of fabric. Iron to close. Allow to cool completely before using!
And that’s it! Pretty easy, right?
Once they’ve been used several times (maybe more depending on how dirty they get), toss them into a laundry basket and throw them in the washing machine when you have a full load to wash.
FAQ on Unpaper Towels
Why switch to unpaper towels?
There are a couple of reasons to switch to unpaper towels that I can think of off the top of my head. The first is eliminating the use of single-use items whenever possible is better for the environment. And yes, that includes paper towels. Every little bit helps! So, if you can switch to the reusable paper towels instead, that is a helpful choice for the environment!
In relation to the environmental aspect, I also try to be mindful of the amount of water I am using with using unpaper towels. And do my best to not run loads of laundry too frequently, which is why I have so many of these reusable paper towels on hand in my kitchen. I’ll touch on how many I have in just a minute.
The second reason to use unpaper towels like these is the cost savings. The average American family spends $180-250 per year on paper towels. So, if you’re able to continue using the same reusable paper towels like these for at least a year, that is what you can expect to save. And in some cases, even more, if you were a heavy paper towel user.
How long do reusable paper towels last?
At the time that I’m writing this update (4/22/2021), I’ve been using some of the same unpaper towels for almost three years now, and they are all just as usable now as they were the day they were first made.
Some of them don’t look as great at this point. The no-sew ones haven’t held up quite as well as the sewn versions. I think they just don’t hold up as well to being wash dover and over again? But the sewn ones are still being used, for sure.
I only had a couple of no-sew towels anyway, at the start, because the sewn ones were faster and easier. But the sewn ones and all of the store-bought towels I already had (and have continued adding to over the years) are still in great shape as well.
Is switching to unpaper towels hard?
No! Well, at least it wasn’t for our family of three. And honestly, before we made the switch we were using a lot of paper towels. So, if we can do it, I think anyone can! Truly.
I think the biggest thing that helped us move away from regular paper towels is how accessible the unpaper towels were for us. Meaning we have a lot! And speaking of which…
How many unpaper towels do I need?
It’s worth noting that we have 40+ of these reusable paper towels at home (that’s total between the DIY ones and store-bought dishcloths) that we use them for everything. I have different types of towels (and colors) for different jobs, so we don’t get the counter towels mixed up with the unpaper towels we use to clean up cat messes, for example.
I realize that probably sounds like a lot, BUT the reason we have so many is so we don’t have to run new loads of laundry all the time (which saves a little bit on water usage as well). And I keep all of my towels in a drawer in the kitchen, so they’re super easy to grab but aren’t in plain sight taking up space on the counter.
If you have a large number, like I do, you will be far less likely to run out when you need it. Which will make keeping up with the no paper towels thing MUCH easier to sustain over time.
Do you use these as napkins for meals as well?
Yes! We use unpaper towels for everything you would normally use paper towels for. So, when we sit down to eat a meal, we each have our own reusable paper towel to use (and I usually share mine with our kiddo).
Once we’ve used those for the meal, if they’re dirty, we’ll rinse them and reuse for cleaning the counters before they go into the basket for laundry. And if they’re relatively clean, we’ll continue using them as dry cloths for whatever else we need.
How do I clean reusable paper towels like these?
You clean them just like you would any of your other towels or laundry. I usually use each reusable paper towel multiple time before tossing it in a basket to be washed with all of our other laundry.
You can also rinse them out with hot water and maybe even a little dish soap if you’re reusing after spills or tabletop cleanup, which I also do frequently to cut down on the number of cloths I’m going through each day.
Another tip: We keep one or two handy, tucked over one of our kitchen cabinet handles or the stove, that is for drying only. So, after we wash out hands, we use those to dry off, etc. It works well and is super easy to remember when its right there next to the sink.
How to Make Reusable Paper Towels with Fabric Scraps
- fabric scraps*
- thread pins and a sewing machine (for a no-sew option, use hemming tape)
- iron ruler
- Measure and cut.
- Measure two pieces of 10” x 15” fabric (this can be an absorbent piece and a linen, two absorbent fabrics, etc - again, just use whatever you have on hand). Then cut.
- If you don’t have enough, you can do different measurements. Just make sure your two sides are the same size. I've found 10 inch squares are a great size too.
- Pin the two fabric pieces together and sew.
- Put your sides face to face and pin along the edge. Sew all sides 1/4” from the the edge but be sure to leave a small gap to turn the towel inside out!
- Cut the corners.
- Cut the corners so that when you flip the towel inside out, the corners lay nice and flat.
- Flip inside out and sew the hole closed.
- Flip the towel inside out and iron along the edges. Now, you can sew the hole closed. Be sure to get as close to the edge as possible.
- For a cleaner look, you can hand stitch this closed.
Sewing by Casey Harper
Think you’ll give this DIY a try? I’d love to know your thoughts on ‘reusable paper towels’ like this.
Looking for more eco-friendly ideas like this one? Try my natural dish scrubber tutorial (that’s also compostable).