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. Terri Jergenson Avatar
    Terri Jergenson

    When I bought my first home in 82 my brother sent me cloth napkins and cloth dish towels. I have continued to use them. I need to get rid of the paper towels. I am buying recycled ones. I do like the cloth napkins as they absorb more “stuff” than paper napkins.

  2. Lori Avatar

    l really love this article! I ordered, from the link, the huck cloths & fabric napkins. I have been using a glass water bottle for a while now. I will also work on no plastic shopping bags. Thank you for all of the ideas. More & more people are becoming aware of this issue.

  3. Carole Avatar

    Just one thing I use cloth for most things and have a solution for the nasty messes that no one wants in thier washer. I take my family’s worn out t shirts etc and also sewing scraps and use this to clean the really nasty stuff and then yes I throw them away. I use old towels for other clean up cutting them smaller. My brother in law is allergic to Kleenex so my sister has made a whole bunch of cloth tissues/ hankies from old sheets usually thrifted. I have made kitchen scrubbers from netting and yarn that works really nice too. There are many ways to affordably reduce paper if your budget is tight like mine.

    1. Mary Avatar

      Scrape most of the grease off into the trash, then wipe using a brush or cloth and some baking soda to absorb more grease, which is shaken into the trash. Then wash / rinse the cloth. That should get most of it.

  4. Noel Avatar

    Linoto, the company that makes linen sheets in New York also makes treeless linen towels called House Helpers. They have a many different uses and look great as well.

  5. Amy Joy Avatar

    Thank you for this concise and clear guide on how to switch! I’m going to invest in a pack of microfiber cloths today. I’m not ready to completely eliminate paper towels from my home, but I’m hoping to reduce my paper towel use by 50%. Maybe one day I’ll remove paper products altogether. 🙂

  6. Lindsey Avatar
    Lindsey

    We’ve been almost paper free for years. The one thing I haven’t figured out is bacon! I don’t want to put bacon on my towels. Any advice?!

  7. Erma Bonilla Avatar
    Erma Bonilla

    I have gone paperless as much as I can. With no paper plates. I made cotton napkins. I bought bar wash cloths instead of paper towels. My laundry room is close to my kitchen, so I just toss everything into a basket waiting for enough laundry to toss them into. My problem is that I cannot convince my husband to use them. He will buy paper plates and paper towels. And he uses the cloth napkins only if he really needs it. Drives me crazy!

  8. Kathy M Anderson Avatar
    Kathy M Anderson

    We have an aerobic system – which is a small-scale municipal water treatment plant – so everything that goes down the drain becomes our responsibility. That means having the tanks pumped out more often. Anything greasy in the laundry and anything going down the sink drain adds to the tank mess. So we wipe everything off our plates before they go in the dishwasher and any drained grease (think meatloaf?) has to go into the trash. So how could I wipe grease off everything and not end up with a load of greasy cloths? I’m stumped.

  9. Lisann Avatar

    I’ve used cloth for years and can’t imagine going to paper products. We only use paper towels for really messy things like lots of grease or spilled paint. We use less than 2 rolls of paper towels a year. If you don’t use microfiber towels, you can just throw them in with your regular wash, so no need for extra loads of laundry or extra rinses. When they get stained I use them for cleaning the bathroom or wiping up really messy spills. I also use new bar towels in the bathroom for make up removal to reduce the number of tissues we use.

  10. Brandy Wortham Avatar
    Brandy Wortham

    I prefer tea towels over huck towels. My hubby uses those in his body shop and if I don’t have any flour sack towels or tea towels I will use those. I use tea towels (not the large ones) the ones by Lilane or Utopia for cloth napkins, spills and more basically the same as flour sack towels. This is so much better then hick towels and they don’t produce lint either. I hate microfiber cloths so wouldn’t use those. I use bar towels for larger spills and either flour sack towels or dish towels for drying dishes. I have 1 dozen flour sack towels, 1 dozen tea towels, 6 bar mops and about 6 dish towels. I really could live by tea towels and flour sack towels alone. Bar mops make larger spills easier. I like how soft flour sack is and they also make nice paper towel replacements. Tea towels are closest to huck and thicker. My SO has shop rags and huck towels for his shop but I don’t care for those as much. Plus I don’t want him stealing mine. Lol. I haven’t used paper towels/napkins in over 10 years. We are just now buying more tea towels and flour sack towels. I was curious what others use in replace of paper towels.

  11. Alex Avatar

    Happy to have found your web site as I am trying to go paper free and make my kitchen healthier (I’m 64 but it’s never too late to start!). Still going thru all the info but wanted to comment on one thing, you had a link to Norwex, I was surprised after going thru their site to find their microfiber is produced in China! Their justification for this is that China is known to be a world leader in textiles… well I’m old enough to remember when the US was a world leader in textiles… until too many companies started buying from China and put the US companies out of business! I make every effort not to buy Chinese products. If I can find the equivalent or close made in this country I will go for it… even if I have to pay a bit more. Please consider recommending American made products instead of Chinese made products.

    1. Melissa Avatar

      I bought huck towels and I’m afraid mine were probably made in India; however the website I used does have some made in the USA.

  12. Jennifer Avatar

    I’ve been paper towel-free for almost a month now 🙂 My biggest problems are the best cloths for interacting with food. I like the ideas in the comments for draining bacon, but what about for patting dry chicken? Squeezing water out of tofu? These are the types of things I can’t figure out a solution for. I feel like everything will just get lint all over it. Thoughts?

  13. Cat Avatar

    I use those cotton bar mop towels around the kitchen. When I’m home alone, I use them for napkins. My cleaning lady uses microfiber cloths, but I can’t stand the way they feel. I throw everything into my one laundry basket, and the only things I separate are whites. I wash microfiber with cotton, mix towels in with clothes, etc. Never had a problem. But I don’t eat dead animals or oil products. Not only is it a heart healthy diet, it makes kitchen clean-up a breeze. No icky grease layer everywhere. I’ll definitely try the huck towels when my stash of cotton towels runs low. Cotton is compostable, though, and microfiber is not as eco friendly but apparently it does hold more water!

  14. Mildred Avatar

    Hi,

    First of all I would like to say a huge thank you to the wellness mama, your blog has been a source of such wonderful changes in our home! We are based in Germany, does anyone know of a European alternative to huck towels or where to buy them at a reasonable price? I check on Amazon.de and for one set its 80-90 euros which is a bit steep in comparison to the US site.

    Thanks in advance and a Happy New Year to you all.

  15. Melissa Avatar

    We are slowly (and new to) switching over to better choices around the house. One thing I just purchased were huck towels in two different colors. One color will be for the kitchen, the other for general cleaning (like in the bathroom.) We had been using blue (disposable) shop towels for cleaning because they can be used over and over. However, they do end up in the trash after a comparatively small amount of time. So I took my shipment and cut them up! yes, we washed them and I proceeded to cut them up. I made three or four different sizes (sewing the edges so they don’t fall apart) so we could use them for napkins to cleaning to drying dishes . . . different sizes are also good for different sized little people to help 🙂 Thanks for this nice, easy to incorporate, tip!

  16. Almira Avatar

    linen dishtowels are a great sustainable alternative that if properly taken care of can easily survive 10 years and up to 30 years in the kitchen. It’s my understanding that production of cotton products is extremely harsh on the environment

  17. Miranda Cunningham Avatar
    Miranda Cunningham

    I strain and use beacon grease for cooking. Its tasty. Have a container I keep in the fridge. For cleaning I keep old degrading towels, t-shirts, microfiber dollar tree clothes. A friend uses old socks and underwear. Kinda odd but it works. They replace extremity often. Looked up the huck towels for kitchen towels though. The ones I get from the dollar tree are so so.

  18. JennM Avatar

    My husband wears a plain white cotton under-shirt every day. When they are stained with sweat I cut them into squares- most are a little bigger than my hand, which are perfect for wiping off countertops, baseboards, furniture, and little messy faces. The large pieces I use for straining liquids like cheese cloth. I get excited when one of his shirts has bit the dust- like a get a whole set of new linens!

  19. Mary Avatar

    I love cloth for the kitchen. When I find cotton fabric on sale, I buy a couple of yards of a “food/kitchen” print and make my own napkins. I must have 3 or 4 dozen in use now. I also stock up on kitchen towels. There’s a basket in the laundry room for kitchen linen ONLY. When full, I’ll overnight presoak the load adding some homemade enzyme solution. Then a regular wash and hang to dry. The grandchildren are accustomed to using 3 or 4 paper towels as placemats on their tv trays and another 2 or 3 for napkins. Getting them use to using cloth napkins at the dining room table has been “entertaining”.

  20. Amy Avatar

    The automotive section of your local Menard or Fleet Farm has packages of micro fiber cloths, about the size of 2 big kitchen cloths… they usually come in 12 packs for about $9.00 or less if there is a sale. They are the exact same kind you find in the kitchen or cleaning section but half the price. They are super absorbant and work great for any type of cleaning at home. Funny that the price is SO much less because of the section they are sold in! I use them for EVERYTHING!

    1. Galina Avatar

      Would it be as safe to buy from the automotive store? I would have thought that purpose made kitchen towels would have to pass stricter safety standards than cloths sold for cars.

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