You might have a paper towel problem without even realizing it—and you wouldn’t be alone. In the United States, it’s pretty widespread. That’s why the country accounts for almost half of all global paper towel consumption, The Atlantic reported last year. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, there are plenty of paper towel alternatives that make it easy to kick your single-use habit for good.
If you’ve long sworn your allegiance to a traditional toss-and-go brand, reusable paper towels may sound less effective than what you’re used to—but they just might get the job done even better. So in an effort to cut down on the 13 billion pounds of paper towels that are used each and every year, we tested out four options that can help you save some trees (and even some money!), while also keeping your home as spot-free as possible.
For Stuck-on Stuff
The texture: Stiff when dry, flexible and soft when damp.
What it’s best for: Scrubbing the gunk off your stove, countertop, and microwave. These little guys are the secret to keeping your kitchen spot-free—all you have to do is get one a little wet and use it to remove those mysterious sauce specks that have accumulated everywhere. Then just rinse it out when you’re done. You can also pop it into the washing machine if you want it to be better sanitized. Just be warned: They’ll stain over time (especially if, for instance, you like to cook with turmeric).
For Smaller Puddles
The texture: Like a tried-and-true dish towel, but covered in threaded loops.
What it’s best for: When you need something that goes above and beyond your usual rag. The slightly bumpy surface of this option helps it to absorb more water than a typical dish towel—without leaving it totally soaked. They’re small, so they’re handy to keep by the kitchen sink–and you can easily mop up the water that’s spilled over from just-washed dishes.
For Bigger Messes
The texture: Card stock–like when dry, pliable and soft when wet.
What it’s best for: When you have a more formidable cleaning job—say, the bathroom—these reusable rolls are a game changer. You can tear off the exact amount you think you’ll need for a given mess, so there’s a level of customization, and they can absorb a whopping 16 times their weight in water. Sanitize them with a quick blast in the microwave and they’ll last about six weeks. Just don’t expect them to look pristine after you use them—because they’re white, stains are pretty obvious. But better to have a clean home than a clean towel, no?
For Cooking Spills and Crumbs
The texture: Sturdy and thick—but they get softer with use.
What it’s best for: A quick counter sweep. These cotton towels are sold in packs of 12, and even though they’re not “rinse and repeat” towels, you can toss them in the washing machine once they’re too messy to reuse. Keep them on hand while cooking so you can easily clean up after yourself as you go.