Paper Towel Rehab: How to Curb the Habit

Hi, I'm Jessica and I was addicted to paper towels.

Whew. I said it. We would buy in bulk and although they would last a while, I was probably going through a roll a week. Extreme house cleaning and Nick would joke about buying stocks in Bounty. Eek. I wanted to get better and reduce my usage, but the "unpaper towels" that were out there (here and here) were too expensive and it seemed like there could be an easier (read: cheaper) way. I could just buy a ton of dish towels or the expensive unpaper towels, but some of the things I use paper towels for are pretty gross and I never wanted to use my dish rags for, so would I use the pretty new towels? Probably not.

So when Nick said that he needed new t-shirts, a light bulb went off. People have used cut up old t-shirts as rags for as long as they've had worn out t-shirts, so of course I would give it a try. But the thought of having a giant pile of cut up t-shirts just seemed overwhelmingly disorganized. So, I thought about what I liked about paper towels and how I could use t-shirts in the same way without giving up the convience factor.
So, what did I come up with?

This jar, filled with rolled, cut to size t-shirt rags. Meeting all of my criteria, it was a great solution and makes the change from paper towels much easier.

What you'll need:

Fabric shears or sharp scissors
Ruler or template
Clean glass jar
Old T-shirts
Cleaning Solution (Optional)

I started with those old, grungy t-shirts Nick was tossing. I started by cutting out the seams and laying them flat. I had a total of 8 shirts, so they could be cut together, but any more and I would split them into two piles. Figure out the layout. I was able to get seven 6" x 11" rectangles out of one of Nick's shirts, but depending on the size, you may get more or less. Cut the shirts into rectangles of the proper size.

To roll the "towels," overlap the first towel with the second towel by one or two inches. Roll the first towel until a few inches sticks out from the second. Overlap a third towel onto the second towel by one or two inches and roll. Continue overlapping towels until you get about 20 or so in the roll. This amount fits in a 3"  jar pretty tightly. For dry towels, you can simply add the towels into the jar and set on the counter. Reach into the center and pull up the first towel and it should leave an inch or so of the next towel up, just like a wipe dispenser.

Since most of the time, I use these for cleaning, I've also made them into pre-moistened cleaning wipes. Simply wet the rags with the cleaning solution of your choice and ring out excess before placing into the jar.

Since I got about 60 from Nick's shirts, I was able to roll 3 "rolls" of towels. I also have some additional rags from the sleeves I can use for small jobs. Since the paper towels we were using have about 56 in each roll, we can easily use these for a week and then launder.


  1. LOVE this idea! I use way too many paper towels.

  2. Brilliant idea! You are my new best friend :-)

  3. Great idea! I have tons of icky looking dish rags that I get embarrassed when people see them. Your solution solves the messy stack.

  4. @The Improbable Farmer

    Yes, that's what I was trying to avoid. I knew they would get used more in this form than just a pile of rags.

  5. Great idea! Thanks for the tutorial.

  6. saw your link on going home to roost...what a great idea, one I will be using!!

  7. I linked to your great tutorial today:

    thanks so much!

  8. I'm wondering how you prevent these from fraying. I'm doing something similar to this, but I think that after several washes, they might start to fray to pieces. Thanks :)

  9. Angela, I don't do anything special to them. What material are you using? I used regular old 100% cotton t-shirts and have had no problems with fraying - they are basically exactly the same as when I first started using them, with a few more stains of course. The ends do curl up after a wash cycle, but easily unroll into their original shape. I would use old cotton t-shirts, which I know do not fray when washed. I'm not sure how other fabrics would work. Come back and let us know how yours turned out!

  10. I'm using some cloths that I bought at Target, flour sack cloths, but I looked at the tag and they're 100% cotton so maybe they won't fray either. I had to cut them up because they are 30x30, so I just cut them into squares. I'll give you an update :)


Thanks for commenting! I try to respond to comments by email, but if you haven't allowed blogger to show your email address, I can only respond to you here.