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Un-paper towels tutorial

make your own alternative to kitchen towels

My parents would never have bought dusters or kitchen roll - there was a bag under the sink of rags, cut up shirts and t-shirts, there were cloths hanging over the taps. Yet somehow over the past couple of decades kitchen roll became a kitchen essential for me. I felt that - hey it's paper - it can be recycled . . . .

But it seemingly isn't that easy. Advances in manufacturing kitchen roll over the past decade mean that with most brands chemicals are added to stop it shredding when wet (you know those adverts!) - those chemicals stop it from being recycled by councils and they aren't keen on the spray residues or the fact it clogs machinery either. Some councils will allow a small amount of kitchen towel (less than 1% by volume) in your food waste bin, many will not. This why paper towels shouldn't be in your recycling bin and certainly why they shouldn't go down the toilet (paper tissues are the same). Even kitchen towels marketed as 'biodegradable' are not recyclable. I had been putting them into my garden compost bin - but thinking about what I'm introducing into an otherwise organic set up has been making me re-consider.

So I have been working on an alternative for cleaning that will suit everyone in the house *. Like most of my eco-alternatives it is at its core just going back to pre-1970s habits.

Commercially there are a few alternatives available - towelling backed cloths, elaborate popper based contraptions that mimic the traditional roll of kitchen towel - but I feel that they are over engineered, as well as expensive and I just know that I would never re-popper all the cloths into a roll or be able to dry towelling backed cloths.

So here is a step by step tutorial, recycling old fabrics into a good alternative to kitchen roll.

I use kitchen towel primarily for mopping up spills, for a quick wipe down of a surface, for drying my hands between tasks. An alternative doesn't have to be large or fancy but it does need to be absorbent, and, given that we live in Scotland where drying things is often difficult, it has to dry quickly.

My solution is inspired by two things - by those rags under the sink and by the Liz Earle muslin cleaning square. Making the rags two ply - basically joining two together with a stitched edge transforms them, making them sturdier, more absorbent, yet doesn't increase the drying time much.

The tutorial is for a machined version (because you need a lot of squares so it is worth getting a machine out and doing it as a batch) but I've added in hand sewing alternatives. PLEASE don't regard this as an exercise in neatness, we are making cloths to wipe up kitchen spills, not creating a quilt. The important thing is that it gets done, not that it is perfect!

1. Make a template. I used an A4 piece of paper folded into a square (so 21cm x 21 cm) - a good size for most things.

2. Cut out squares from waste fabric. Most of mine are from the same holey sheet that I made the produce bags from, some are from a moth eaten brushed cotton pillowcase. Check that the fabric you have is absorbent. You can use towelling but it will increase drying time and there is absolutely no point in doing this if you are then going to table dry your cloths . . . .

3. Put 2 squares together, right sides out and machine right round the edge with a zig zag stitch - make the stitch as wide as you can and a fairly short length (2-3 on my machine, not button hole kind of stitch but a nice firm zig zag). Trim the edges and also any excess fabric on the outside of the zig zagging.

4. You can also sew the edges by hand - a running stitch is fine. I find it is then worthwhile recutting the edges neatly half a centimetre from the stitching to neaten it all up.

Store your cloths somewhere obvious and easy - mine are currently in this basket along with the knitted dishcloths - and also provide somewhere to toss the dirty ones ready for washing - a bag that can go into the washing machine might work really well. I am beginning with 20 cloths but I suspect that I will need more if I am to have a good system where there is always a good supply.

* we are not a kitchen towel free home, as I still continue to use kitchen towel for absorbing oil from fried food, but I will try to source 100% recycled towel that is not chemically treated and keep it in a cupboard along with the baking parchment of foil!.

Comments: 5 (Add)

Yvonne on July 19 2019 at 09:12

Really useful. I had no idea that kitchen towel isn't recyclable. Thank you.

Gillian Smellie on July 19 2019 at 09:18

We haven't bought kitchen paper in years (although my husband occasionally pops a packet in the basket when on auto pilot). I am like your parents. All old tee-shirts are cut up for rags and I have a box of them where the kitchen paper holder used to stand. Likewise our dusters are the old sweatshirts my daughters wore for primary school (the oldest is about to graduate as a Dr next year!) Even my hoover bag is washable. Once you start ditching the unresuable it becomes habit forming!

Liz Stevens on July 19 2019 at 09:26

great idea Jane.

Sue Adlam on July 19 2019 at 09:55

Another thing that I need to eradicate! I don't use it very much, so can easily get rid of it. Thank you for bringing it to my consciousness Jane. Have loads of cloths that I use for cleaning, so not sure why I still use kitchen towels! S x

Catherine MacDonald on July 20 2019 at 20:26

Goodness me thank you yet again - I had no idea it wasn't recyclable as it was possible to put in food compost bin in Perth (not sure with here in Ayrshire as I have issue with their food recycling full stop). I have recently hemmed a bunch of old towels into suitably sized cloths and I absolutely LOVE my dish cloths I knitted from your pattern (they are so much better than shop ones). My main use of paper towel is to dry/wipe salad type veg any helpful solution gratefully received :)

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At Snapdragon we gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

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