Recycled Paper Towels

One of the biggest trends for home cleaning right now is recycled paper towels. With more and more parents choosing eco-friendly products for housecleaning, the editors at Recycling Center Near Me decided to tackle some of the popular questions people have about paper towels and provide our suggestions of what the best recycled paper towel products are on the market!

Paper Towel Recycling FAQs

What are recycled paper towels made of?

Recycled paper towels are similar to other paper towels—except that they are more sustainably sourced because they are made from recycled materials. In general, recycled paper towels are at least 80% post-consumer recycled fiber—meaning that at most 20% of their fiber is virgin wood product. As a result, not only is less water consumed in the production of recycled paper towels, but fewer trees need to be logged as well. The best recycled paper towels further limit their environmental impact in other ways; for instance, most paper towels use chlorine and bleaching to get that white color, but many recycled paper towels do not (and are brown as a result). Additionally, many recycled paper towels are made with no added dyes, inks, or fragrances—yet another way you can limit the environmental impact of your paper towel use. Check out our favorite recycled paper towels below.

Are paper towels recyclable?

No. Paper towels cannot be recycled even if they are unused because when they are broken down the fibers are too small to be reused. Also, paper towels are usually soiled with liquid, grease, dirt, and cleaning chemicals. However, the cardboard rolls are recyclable.

Are paper towels biodegradable?

The short answer? Yes and no. Most paper towels will break down, and paper towels can be great composting material. As to whether or not you should compost paper towel, however, depends a bit on how you use them.

For instance, if you use a paper towel to wipe up chemicals or oily foods, that paper towel can contaminate your compost and you should really just throw it away with your household waste. Similarly, paper towels often don’t work for recycling because they already use short paper fibers (and often might already be made from recycled paper; these paper towels are sometimes even sold as recycled paper towels).

In general, though, most paper towels are biodegradable. Bounty, for instance, claims their paper towels are certified by the US Composting Council to compost in 60 days or less, and most other paper towels are made to a similar biodegradable standard.

Can you flush paper towels?

While some sewage systems are better equipped to handle paper towels than others, it’s generally a bad idea to flush paper towels. That’s mostly the result of the fibers used in paper towels and toilet paper; unlike toilet paper, which is designed to dissolve quickly inside your toilet and plumbing, paper towels are designed to withstand and absorb liquid without falling apart. After all, that’s why you use paper towels—to pick up liquids!

As a result, paper towels have a tendency to get stuck in the toilet trap, or if not there, then farther down your plumbing system in the main stack, forming a clog in the drain. Even if your plumbing is able to pass paper towels, they might still stick in sewage pumps or septic tanks, and odds are good you’ll end up needing to call a plumber. So don’t flush paper towels!

7 Best Recycled Paper Towels

Seventh Generation 100% Recycled Paper Towels – Unbleached Seventh Generation has a reputation for earth-friendly products, and these nontoxic paper towels are no exception.

new package of seventh generation paper towels
Seventh Generation Recycled Paper Towels

White Cloud Green Earth Recycled Paper Towels – Again 100% recycled materials, these nontoxic paper towels are great for cleaning up most spills. (They are not, however, the best at absorbing liquids, so for especially wet messes, another brand may be a better option.)

Marcal Small Steps Recycled Paper Towels – One of the stronger recycled paper towels, these nontoxic paper towels are better than many other recycled brands at wet messes, as they’re less prone to the disintegration slightly more common among recycled paper towels.

new package of Marcal recycled paper towels
Marcal recycled paper towels

Green Forest 100% Recycled Paper Towels –  One of the best chlorine-free options, these nontoxic paper towels are whitened without the chemical processes common in other white paper towel options. Additionally, with a minimum of 90% post-consumer recycled content, they’re one of the most recycled paper towels.

365 Everyday Value 100% Recycled Paper Towels –  Whole Food’s store brand performs comparably with Seventh Generation, which is far better than most store brands can say. Given that they’re also frequently more affordable than Seventh Generation, this is likely the better budget-conscious choice for many shoppers looking at nontoxic paper towels.

Seventh Generation 100% Recycled Paper Towels – BleachedWhile not as environmentally friendly as the unbleached version, unfortunately, they sometimes hold up better when extremely saturated, meaning that for some shoppers, this Seventh Generation option is a better choice when it comes to recycled paper towels for messy homes.

Scott Naturals Mega Roll –  While the option to choose a size is a nice touch, unfortunately, Scott’s recycled paper towels are not all that sturdy. We’d recommend any of the six above over this choice—but it is still a good choice for nontoxic paper towels simply because it is made of post-consumer content.

10 Eco-friendly Paper Towel Alternatives

Of course, you also have other choices than simply using recycled paper towels when it comes to lessening your environmental impact. For instance, consider these 10 eco-friendly paper towel alternatives, each of which can help you keep your home clean without the guilt of using paper products.

  1. Microfiber Cleaning Cloths. Not only are microfiber towels and cleaning cloths super absorbent, but they’re easily washable and last seemingly forever. Use a little bit of a green eco-friendly cleaning solution and you can clean up just about any mess, no matter how crazy your kids might be!
  2. Cotton Napkins. Unlike paper napkins or paper towels, cotton is easily washable, and add a touch of class should you use them as part of your place settings, too!
  3. Unpaper Towels. With a mix of cotton and linen, Unpaper towels are incredibly friendly to your budget (they’re affordable and reusable) and the environment. They’re also soft, and they work well for most messes (though they aren’t always the most absorbent).
  4. If You Care Reusable Paper Towels. Made of a mix of wood fiber, salt (which aids in absorbency), and cotton, these nontoxic paper towels are up to 16 times more absorbent than ordinary paper towels—and did we mention they’re reusable?
  5. Popup Sponges. The joy of popup sponges is that they take very little space (when dry, they’re nearly as flat as a piece of paper), expand as they soak up liquids, and they last seemingly forever. They also wash quite easily; while machine washable, simply rinsing and wringing them out usually works, making them a great nontoxic paper towels alternative.
  6. Bamboo Paper Towels. Made from—you guessed it—bamboo, these paper towel substitutes can withstand up to 100 washes before they begin falling apart, drastically lessening your impact. Even better, they’re machine washable. See bamboo towels on Amazon.
  7. Three Blue Birds. With a consistency similar to a sponge, these wood fiber and cotton wipes have a mix of flexibility and durability that makes them great for cleaning up messes. They’re machine washable, and whenever they do finally start breaking down, they’re also biodegradable, meaning you can simply compost them.
  8. Huck Towels. Originally used for surgical implement cleaning, huck towels use low-lint cotton for an extremely soft feel while also being incredibly durable. See Huck Towels on Amazon.
  9. Reusable Cotton Kitchen Cloths. We’re specifically referring to the textured washcloths and hand towels that your grandmother might have had when you were a kid; they’re making a comeback—and with good reason. They’re soft, easily washable, and great for cleaning up spills both large and small.
  10. Sponges. Really, any type of sponge will work well for liquid messes, because what are sponges best known for? Their absorbency. The best part about sponges, too, is how easily rinse-able they are, in addition to generally lasting.

The truth is, as often as not there’s no good reason to still use paper towels, even if recycled paper towels or nontoxic paper towels, because paper towels—no matter how environmentally-friendly, are still not really a reusable product. Instead, consider one of the ten options above.

Just remember that in order to best minimize your impact, you shouldn’t need to wash them after every use, nor should you need to use hot water (which uses significantly more energy than cold water).

Whatever strategy you take, though, good luck with your messes!

Resources for this article on the best recycled paper towels were gathered from the following places: