Unpaper towels are a simple, easy alternative to paper towels.
For some people, the pull of paper towels is a hard mountain to overcome. Convenience is all-too-often a deciding factor in what products people choose, but we collectively need to make decision that go beyond convenience.
But as you delve into zero waste living, you’ll quickly realize… you totally don’t need paper towels. Check out their zero waste alternatives, unpaper towels!
Why make the switch to unpaper towels?
There’s a few reasons I really enjoy using unpaper towels.
First, nicely sewn, uniform unpaper towels seem to make the “I could never get rid of paper towels” brigade feel slightly better about the switch.
Secondly, it saves money. It’s estimated the average US family spends $114 per year on paper towels. Over $100 on something you literally buy to throw away! Probably not the biggest bit of your budget, but that frees up some extra cash for the local produce you can’t afford.
And finally, the benefit that’s harder to see is using scrap fabric to create unpaper towels saves a ton of resources. It’s estimated that it takes 17 trees and more than 20,000 gallons of water to make one ton of paper towels. If we use the estimate that the US collectively uses around 6,500,000 tons of paper towels per year, that means we’re using over 110 MILLION trees and 130 BILLION gallons of water every year just for paper towels.
So a super-quick sewing effort it is!
What sort of fabric should I use?
But unless you already have some on-hand I find it self-defeating to purchase new fabric for a project that’s supposed to reduce your consumption habits.
Use what you have – old fabric scraps, t-shirts, flannel shirts, or even old towels or washcloths are great!
How to make unpaper towels
These unpaper towels are so simple they hardly even warrant a tutorial, but I want to lay it out to make it as simple as possible!
For context, I’m really slow at sewing and I created 8 new towels from old scrap fabric in just a few hours of on and off work. If you’ve sewn a few projects before, these shouldn’t take you more than 10-15 minutes to put one together.
Before we start, though, let’s talk sizing.
The good news is… It doesn’t really matter! You can make these unpaper towels any size you like, though I like to approximate a paper towel sheet which is about 11 x 5.5 inches. Mine usually turn out a bit bigger because I find them easier to work with, but again – whatever works for you!
1. Pin fabric together and sew almost closed
Start by cutting out two rectangular pieces of fabric of the same size.* Lay them so that the outside/correct sides are facing together.
*The easiest way to create an unpaper towel is to just hem around the sides of one piece of fabric, like a cloth napkin. I prefer to have my towels double-layered for more absorbency and duriability.
Pin around the edges to keep the fabric in place and sew all the way around with a 1/4-inch hem except for a small 1-inch opening. (That’s how you’ll flip the fabric right-side out.) Make sure to backstitch when you start and finish sewing around the edges so that it doesn’t unravel when you turn the fabric inside out.
Trim the corners down and any excess fabric around the hem. This will help the layers lay as flat as possible once you flip it inside out.
Your unpaper towel will now be inside out, almost sewn closed except for a small 1-inch opening.
2. Flip right-side out and fold the hole’s hem in
Using the small hole you left in the side of your fabric, flip the towel inside out so the right sides are facing out.
Tuck in the hem that’s likely poking out from the open hole and pin in place before you begin topstitching so you make sure it’s hidden and the hole is complete closed shut.
3. Topstitch all the way around
Topstitching is just what it sounds like: you stitch over the top of the part you just sewed. You’ll want to sew very close to the edge (basically as close to the edge as you can get) all the way around the towel, making sure to backstitch at the end to keep it from unraveling as you use them to clean or when you toss them in the laundry.
Iron it flat it if you like.
And you’re done! It’s really that easy!
(You can iron it if you’re feeling particularly fancy, but not necessary.)
Want something else to sew? How about a 30-minute bento bag?
How to fold your unpaper towels together
Somehow, people really really love to have their unpaper towels folded, rather than just tossing them into a drawer. The underachiever in me doesn’t get that, so my unpaper towels are usually just a mess of linen in a kitchen drawer.
But if you want your unpaper towels to look a little more put together (and don’t have the time or inclination to fix snaps to your towels), you can use the tried-and-true tissue-folding method.
I’ve put a gif of me folding the unpaper towels below, along with written instruction beneath. Happy folding, you neat people!
Like the GIF above, simply lay one unpaper towel flat on a table and put a second halfway on top. Fold the first towel up over the second. Then lay a third towel with half on the part you just folded and the other on the bare table. Fold the second towel down over the 3rd.
Continue until all towels are folded neatly on top of one another and then stuff them into your container of choice and pull them out like tissues!
And that’s that! Ditch paper towels for good!
If you have questions about the process of converting to unpaper towels, how to clean them, or why we should care about reducing our paper towel consumption in the first place, check out Break up with paper towels in 5 easy steps.