I have serious paper towel guilt. I love using them. They are always handy and never stinky, and I just throw them away when I’m done. How could something so convenient be wrong? But they are wrong because they break all of the cardinal rules of going green; they just don’t fit into the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Check here or here for rundowns of some of the reasons I’m looking for green alternatives so I can look myself in the (streak free) mirror every morning.
In my quest to find convenient, longer lasting, and more sustainable cleaning options (that won’t gross me out when I touch them . . . or smell them) these are some of the smart alternatives that I’m willing to give a try:
- Cleaning brushes are great for scrubbing sinks and bathtubs, cleaning dishes (especially glasses), and spot cleaning the floor. Please don’t think I’m telling you to use the same brush for dishes and your floor! That’s not what I want for you. But brushes don’t absorb dirty water/germs so they dry quickly and can last for months if not years. The occasional run through the dishwasher is usually all you need to keep them up.
- Sponges are great for wiping up spills and general countertop cleaning but can easily become stinky by gathering germs and mildew. One way to help avoid this is to cut your sponges into quarters so it will hold less moisture and will dry faster, giving bacteria and mildew less of an opportunity to grow. Also if you cut them into quarters you won’t have to feel as guilty throwing each piece away after a week if they start to stink because you’ll still be stretching the overall life of your sponge to a month. Another way to extend the life of your sponge is to use a sanitizer like hydrogen peroxide or pop your wet sponge in the microwave for 1 minute to kill bacteria.
- Rags are really similar to sponges in that they are perfect for wiping off surfaces or absorbing little spills, but they earn a bad rap for being stinky or unsanitary. Just like sponges, the key to keeping dishrags clean is to allow them to dry the best you can, that means remembering to hang them up with as little overlap as possible and avoiding the temptation to just lump them up. The faster they can dry, the less time germs or mildew will have to grow in them and cause a stink. And when you’ve decided your rags are gross, just toss them into the wash. One way to keep your rags fresh longer is to spritz them with a sanitizer like hydrogen peroxide before you hang them up to dry between uses.
If you’re like me and you want to make a change but you’re not sure you’re ready to take the full leap into a paper-free kitchen, it’s easy to take a step in the right direction by making sure that you at least buy paper towels made from recycled content. If you do think you’re ready to be devoted, here is an article by someone who can lead by example.