Save Money in the Kitchen With Cloth

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One simple change in the kitchen can make a big difference in reducing waste and saving money: switching to entirely to cloth instead of paper.

This is one easy change that I resisted for a long time but wish I had made the switch much earlier. I think the idea of removing paper products in the kitchen is much more daunting than it actually is to switch.

I have many friends who cloth diaper but who still resist the idea of using cloth instead of paper towels and napkins in the kitchen (kitchen messes are less gross than poopy diapers in my opinion… at least most of the time!).

If you’ve never considered the idea of using cloth in the kitchen before, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Not only does it save money and reduce waste, but I actually find that it isn’t much extra work at all (and we cook 3x a day).

What Kind of Cloth?

I think the two biggest factors that make using cloth in the kitchen easy for us are:

  1. Picking the right kind of cloth
  2. Having enough of them on hand

To go paper-free in the kitchen, you have to replace paper napkins, paper towels, and other disposable products like cleaning wipes. I’ve found that there isn’t necessarily a single solution that replaces all of these, but that there are very effective replacements for each category.

Paper Napkins Cloth Napkins

We actually had a big supply of cloth napkins already since we bought them instead of renting them when we got married (It was a lot cheaper!) They were all white though and have gotten stained over the years, so I’ve occasionally replaced some of them with colorful napkins like these or mismatched ones from thrift stores and yard sales.

Paper Towels Huck Towels

Hypothetically, all paper products could be replaced by huck towels if you didn’t mind how they look as napkins. I’ve found that they are more absorbent than paper towels or regular napkins and surprisingly easy to use.

If you haven’t heard of huck towels before, I can’t recommend them enough. We got a few from a friend for our wedding and I searched for years in home stores and couldn’t find them. Then, I noticed them in an odd place: in the hospital! Turns out that these are the type of towels they use in the hospital for absorbing blood and other fluids during/after surgery.

You can order huck towels online and they work wonderfully as regular kitchen towels and in place of paper towels.

Setting up the System

If you’re just switching to a paper-free kitchen, setting up a good system for using cloth greatly simplifies things. I have cloth napkins, cotton rags, and huck towels in easily accessible places around the kitchen so that even the kids can use them. I also have a place where used towels go so they can be washed.

We keep cloth napkins by the table in a cabinet and huck towels and cotton rags in a drawer by the sink.

The kids are responsible for setting the table before meals and cleaning up after so I’ve made sure that they can easily reach the napkins and cleaning cloths to clean the table after meals. When they are done, used cloths go into a small basket under the sink. With our family size, I’ve found it helpful to have on hand:

  • 2 dozen or more huck towels
  • 1 dozen cotton dishcloths
  • 3-4 dozen cloth napkins
  • Other assorted cloths for cleaning and picking up spills including cut up old shirts, old cloth diapers/inserts or old socks (for younger kids to use in cleaning and polishing)

The assorted other cloths are especially helpful when cleaning up oil, paint, and other non-washable spills where it is easier to just throw the cloth away.

The Laundry Aspect

My biggest hesitation in switching to cloth was the extra laundry, but just as with cloth diapering it really isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. I’ve found a few tips that have made things easier though:

  • Run a rinse cycle with some baking soda first to cut any grease
  • Run an extra rinse cycle with vinegar at the end if needed for extra cleaning/deodorizing.
  • Using this BioKleen oxybleach or Branch Basics oxyclean occasionally to get rid of stains or odor (I also use this on cloth diapers sometimes also)
  • Wash every other day and teach younger kids to fold the loads (easy thing for them to learn how to fold)

The Savings

I wish that I had kept up with how much we spent on paper products for the kitchen when we used them so I could give a good estimate for how much we save. Maybe some of you can chime in below with averages of how much you spend on paper products.

Of course, if you can’t quite give up paper towels in the kitchen (and no judgment here, I haven’t switched to cloth toilet paper and probably never will!) there are recycled options from responsible companies that make these a better choice.

I do know that for under $60 you can get a good supply of all of the cloth replacements for paper products in your kitchen, and based on the prices of paper products in the stores, I would think these would pay for themselves within a few months.

Do you use cloth in your kitchen? If not, would you consider making the switch? Let me know why or why not below!

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

143 responses to “Save Money in the Kitchen With Cloth”

  1. Valerie Green Avatar
    Valerie Green

    I got Bird-E towels through Etsy. They are wonderful and come in various colors and sizes. Highly recommend!!

    1. Meredith Avatar
      Meredith

      I cant seem to find that shop on etsy. Am i spelling something wrong Bird-e ?

  2. Heather Bigler Avatar
    Heather Bigler

    We have been paperless for a few years. I do use paper towels for bacterial spills.

  3. Leslie Morgan Avatar
    Leslie Morgan

    I clicked on your link to the huck towels and there were 7 colors. 🙂 I got fuchsia and yellow. 🙂 The price did vary a little depending on the color but not a ton.

  4. Lizelle Avatar
    Lizelle

    Can you die whatever white cloth you are using a different color? I know it makes no difference in their use, but it looks so happy when you have a rainbow of colors 🙂

  5. Shivashankari Vaiyakani Avatar
    Shivashankari Vaiyakani

    I have a paper free kitchen, have bidet sprays in the restroom and I cloth diaper, While going paper free you should also consider the amount of money you would spend on laundering the cloth, my electricity and water bill are getting higher because I washing them every other day. Though I get plenty of sunlight my apartment community doesn’t allow me to dry my clothes on the patio, so I have to run 2 dryer cycles. Because of this I some time to move to a higher tier pricing.

    I still use cloth because of eco conscience and not cost.

    1. Lorraine Woodman Avatar
      Lorraine Woodman

      We used to hang our clothes inside by the patio door, could you do that?

    2. Kathleen Avatar
      Kathleen

      I also live in an apartment that doesn’t allow hanging clothes outside, but when the weather is nice, I push the limits and hang it inside by the open screen door. For the long summer in Texas when I do not wish to air condition the neighborhood, I use wool dryer balls- a one time purchase that cuts my dryer time in half. They also soften my clothes, reminiscent of the days I used those awful dryer sheets… and I love putting a few drops of lavender essential oil on the dryer balls when I am drying sheets.

    3. Leila Avatar

      I know Shivashankari posted 6 moths ago but can she or someone else recommend a brand and type of bidet spray that can be bought/used in the USA? I really, really liked them when abroad.

  6. Jesse Avatar

    We are mostly paper free in the kitchen. One thing that really helps is keeping wet bags in the kitchen and dining room for soiled rags. We use the “travel sized” cloth diaper wet bags. I think they are meant to hold 4-5 diapers and we can easily fit in 3-4 days worth of dirty rags in there. They are hangable on a door knob or similar. Then we just toss them in the wash. Much better than placing dirty, wet rags in with regular laundry, etc. or having to walk them down to the laundry room. We use child-sized washcloths the most. They are great for our pre-schoolers to wash up after meals and just the right size for cleaning our dining table (which doesn’t get terribly messy) and even countertops after an “easy meal.” I hate using large dish or other rags when something small will do – and it keeps laundry loads smaller.

  7. Alannah Avatar
    Alannah

    So which is better for napkins: polyester, %100 cotton, or a blend? I use cloth bibs for the kiddos that I got at an estate sale which are great as they also double for napkins. I want to make some napkins and more bibs and was wondering which fabric would absorb and resist staining the best?

    1. Shantel Avatar
      Shantel

      I don’t have kids yet, bit what I do is hunt through thrift shops for vintage sheets I like the pattern of and use those for sewing projects. The fabric is super soft from ueats of washing. I have a free source for the cottonpoly napkins so haven’t bought paper towels much in almost 6 years.

  8. Emma Avatar

    I’ve desperately wanted to make ours a paper-free kitchen for well over a year now, but first I didn’t want to start sewing towels in the middle of massive international house buying stress, then I didn’t have anywhere to sit and eat, much less sit and sew, and now we finally have a table so that I can sew, but a puppy that is still having accidents inside. This blog really got me excited about the prospect again, though, so now I’ve got the husband on board and the moment the puppy is house trained the paper towels (organic recycled, but still!) are out of here! Thank you for getting me excited about this again!

  9. Diandra Linnemann Avatar
    Diandra Linnemann

    I’ve done this without noticing… most spills are simply cleaned up with a dishtowel, which then journeys on to the laundry pile. Of course we don’t have kids yet, so spills are not the norm, but still… and I also wash our dish sponges at least twice (once to return them to the kitchen, once to turn them into bath scrubbers) before throwing them out.

  10. Karen Hill Avatar
    Karen Hill

    You can buy white huck by the yard at the major chain fabric shops and many online fabric shops for somewhere between $3.50 & $6 a yard. It’s a favorite for embroidery.

  11. Aimee Avatar

    I’ve been paper free in the kitchen for at least 10 years. I find that using baking soda and the hot water setting works best to clean the cloths. Also, my fancy new washer has a soak setting that I usually use for the cloths. The baking soda takes care of all odor problems that can occur when you have too many wet cloths lying around until they make it into the wash. My biggest problem is when relatives stay with us. Some people just seem to be so resistant to not having a paper towel. I’m frequently having to remind them that napkins and dish towels are supposed to be used for cleaning messes. As they get too stained for the kitchen they go into the “cleaning rag” pile.

  12. Bonnie Beck Thompson Avatar
    Bonnie Beck Thompson

    I have a nearly paper free kitchen. Use microfiber clothes to wash dishes, clean up and use at table napkins. Only have paper to drain things on however after seeing Iyss post I just might have to rethink that.

  13. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    I use flour sack towels for the kitchen, and keep the older ones for dog towels. They work great! I do keep a roll of recycled paper towels for the really gross jobs, but I only buy maybe 3 a year.

    1. Dani Hyde Avatar
      Dani Hyde

      Yes. I would hide my blue paper towels or white ones if the food bank gave ya any from my ex. He would use three huge sqs just tondry his hands and crumble it and leave it wherever. I only use the paper towels if there is a huge doggie mess as most of my cloth is cut up to small to deal with that and my bath towels are still in to good of shape to be tossed out.

      I have separated my towels and wash clothes as i got some from grandparents and my mom and who knows where else’s. And their all under an open cabnit in the bathroom where my soon to be three year old can get to them. She was potty trained by age two in the day time as I would have her go get a towel and clean it up with one of the rags lol. She has a kid table in her room now she eats at or leaves her drinks so now she has a small cubby with rags to clean up with. She knows where to hang them (one of three hampers in the house over the side to dry)

      The groove which I got hooked cause of Mamma has microfiber type cloths with their cleaning stuff that I love. i don’t feel like it sucks the moisture from my hands.
      If you go into my house you’ll see the dust and know I don’t clean often. Lol. But when i do. It’s with rags or those microfibers unless it’s outside. Food bank gave me a ton of santi wipes and so I’m using up that stash only for outdoor stuff – big guts and such lol. But I’m a person I’m not going to just throw out stuff.
      Only paper is recycled TP just cause we can have a roll last us a month.

  14. Erica Binder Avatar
    Erica Binder

    We’ve been a paper-free house for about 5 years. I knit a lot of wash rags out of cotton or bamboo yarn. They’re such a quick, easy knit, and perfect for long car rides or knitting with a sleeping baby in your lap 🙂 We also use all of our old pre-fold diapers for wiping and cleaning. Thrift shops are a great place to get a stash of old towels and washcloths too! I have a special stash of “rags” for the really icky stuff, like grease and animal messes.

  15. Leah Avatar

    We just use old wash cloths for almost all kitchen cleaning. Honestly, I even use them for greasing my cast iron, I haven’t really had a problem with washing it after. For draining grease, i usually just use a plate & let the fat drain off, or a sieve if theres way too much oil… I dont find much need for napkins.
    We generally don’t set the table with napkins unless we’re having guests or eating something particularly messy. My 4 year old just cleans himself off with a damp washcloth at the end of a meal.
    At this point, the washcloths are looking a bit ratty, but they are clean & still work. I like the idea of thrifting for some cloth napkins to add to our cloth only kitchen, though.

  16. Jennifer Lynch Avatar
    Jennifer Lynch

    This was the first change I ever made actually, probably because I grew up with someone whose family only used cloth napkins. Even though my own family thinks it is gross.

  17. Nichole Avatar
    Nichole

    Would bamboo or hemp terry cloth work? I use those for diapers and they work great. Very absorbent and the stains come out in the sun. One of them is a little fuzzy in the first few washes but it goes away after time. I also have micro fiber but it can be very drying on your skin. (it absorbs the moisture out of your skin, shouldn’t be used in direct contact with skin for diapers) I would be interested if the hemp or bamboo would work. Thanks for the advice!

  18. Deanna Rounds-Wiley Avatar
    Deanna Rounds-Wiley

    That was going to be my question. I could easily go paperless except for the draining of fatty foods, bacon, taco shells, etc.

    1. Randi Avatar

      Hot things should never be placed on paper towel anyway – it causes the material to release the chemicals that were used to bleach it, which stay inert except when exposed to heat. I use a simple cake drying rack on a plate or pan to let the fat drip off. better yet – bake the bacon in the oven, so you don’t have to worry about spattering, and then just prop a corner of the pan when you take it out and it will run into the corner.

      1. Deanna Rounds-Wiley Avatar
        Deanna Rounds-Wiley

        That was helpful, never thought of the cake cooler. I love baking bacon, just don’t have an oven right now. Thank for your ideas

    2. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      I use paper bags if I have any on hand, old pieces of fabric or just put them on a rack over another dish so the grease drips through.

  19. Angela Lilley Bennett Avatar
    Angela Lilley Bennett

    I’m super intrigued by the “huck towels” — we’re paper-free, but I haven’t found a good solution for oiling my cast-iron after I wash it. I also am reluctant to buy any more microfiber, because although it works great — it is not compostable (and therefore destined for landfill). Ugh! So many things to consider! I’ll definitely order some of the hucks. Thank you!

    1. April Peacock Avatar
      April Peacock

      We use a regular cotton rag to wipe down the oil in our cast iron. We don’t wash it all the time though. Once there is a certain amt if oil on it, it doesn’t seem to absorb anymore so the spreads the oil pretty well

      1. Tine Schenck Avatar
        Tine Schenck

        For cast iron, I simply use my hands and some regular vegetal oil of any kind. I figure it’s only good for my hands after doing the dishes.

        (I also use my hands to pluck stuff out of the sink drain. Just do it when it’s fresh!)

  20. lyss Avatar

    I also have a “paper-free” kitchen. I will say that I’ve never heard of huck towels, and while I do have microfiber cleaning cloths, I don’t keep them in the kitchen. I guess we all have our ways of doing things! A drawer full of “regular” kitchen dishtowels and dishrags works for me. : ) And some handmade cloth napkins….I love not having to buy paper napkins!
    The main objection I hear to ditching paper towels is “I have to have them for draining bacon!” Maybe I’m weird, but I just set it on a plate and it works just fine. I figure it’s ok to eat a little fat, and the few drops left on the plate isn’t going to clog the pipes.

    1. Virginia Miner Avatar
      Virginia Miner

      Draining the bacon is the only thing we still use paper towels for, lol. I think a cheapie wire rack would solve that problem, though 😉

      1. April Peacock Avatar
        April Peacock

        We use cut parts of paper bags to drain our bacon. Works great!

          1. Alison Avatar

            We use this to cook the bacon in the micrwave and it works perfectly and the bacon is suprisingly very crisp and there is no splatter to clean up. I put it in the dishwasher each night. No need for paper towels anymore.

          2. Alison Avatar

            We switched to cloth napkins 2 years ago and I will never go back to paper napkins. We purchased napkins on Etsy that are made of Berber (cloth diaper material), they have a colored stiching on the edges so everyone in the house has their own color. We use the same napkin all day and then at night they are put in a little bag that hangs off our oven door. Whenever I do laundry I just put them in, with that current load. Very easy and we havent bought napkins in over 2 years which is such a cost savings.

      2. Bruce Avatar

        We drain our bacon or French fries on paper groceries bags, that we request when we shop. Also at some stores you can purchase them if you want

      3. Allie Avatar

        After reading this article, I searched (and added to my Amazon Wishlist!) Huck towels and cloth napkins. I am very interested in slowly changing over to a less wasteful, more sustainable lifestyle. Thank you for this article and sharing your helpful tips!

    2. Kelly Castiglione Avatar
      Kelly Castiglione

      We save cereal boxes and use them to drain grease on.. Also a wire cooling rack works.

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