How to Go Paperless in the Kitchen

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Cloth Napkins

Thinking about transitioning away from paper towels and napkins? For most of our married life, we’ve had a paperless kitchen. We made the switch to save money and protect the environment, but along the way we discovered a way of doing things that we just like better. Here’s a look at our system.

Using Cloth Napkins

Switching to cloth napkins was the first step for us. To minimize the cost of switching, I started picking up cloth napkins at thrift stores and yard sales. Then, my mother-in-law caught wind of my project, and gave me all of her cloth napkins. In no time, I had amassed a large collection of napkins – enough to fill two drawers in our sideboard.

Drawer Full of Cloth Napkins

A lot of those early napkins were white. Now, I mostly look for brown, tan and terracotta-colored napkins. These colors match our decor well, and they do a good job of hiding stains. That’s important because we don’t use bleach, and I don’t have any interest in scrubbing stains out of napkins.

When it’s just our family, we pull out a fresh set of napkins in the morning, and use them throughout the day. They just stay on the table between meals. Then, after dinner, we gather them up, and toss them in a laundry basket that we keep tucked under our kitchen shelf.

When we have guests, we typically pull out a fresh set of napkins for each meal. Sometimes guests are a little hesitant to use cloth napkins because they’re afraid they’ll mess them up, but that’s easily remedied with a quick reassurance. By now, most of our friends and family know that we use cloth napkins, and they also know that we really mean it when we say we won’t mind if they get stained.

Using Washcloths Instead of Paper Towels

When we decided to reduce our reliance on paper towels, I started picking up white washcloths second-hand. I would often find them at estate sales for 10 cents each, and I soon had stacks of them.

Since we don’t use white washcloths anywhere else in the house, everyone knows that they’re for kitchen use.

Kitchen Washcloths

We keep our kitchen washcloths in a basket over the fridge, where they’re easy to grab. And we use them to clean up most kitchen messes – wiping down the table and counters, cleaning up spills, etc.

For bigger cleanups we also keep a handful of barmops on hand.

Since the washcloths are often damp when we’re finished with them, we keep some clothespins clipped to the side of one of our kitchen shelves. This gives us a spot to hang them until they’re dry, so we’re not adding wet laundry to the basket.

If we need to clean up grease, or something really yucky, we just use a rag, and toss it when we’re done.

We have a bin in the basement where we stick worn out clothing for this purpose.

This eliminates most of our need for paper towels. We still keep some on hand for things like draining bacon and cleaning bathrooms, but more often than not, we reach for a washcloth when we have a kitchen mess to clean up.

Laundering Kitchen Linens

I’d love to tell you that we wash a load of kitchen linens every time the basket fills up, but the reality is that we stay busy and behind on laundry. So, a big part of what makes this system work for us is that we have enough cloth napkins and washcloths to make running out unlikely.

When we do find time to catch up on laundry, we just throw a load of napkins or washcloths in the wash (we wash them separately on warm) and call it good. We don’t spending time pre-soaking, scrubbing out stains or doing anything else heroic. If something comes out stained, it comes out stained. The dark colors do a good job of hiding stains on the napkins, and I don’t care a bit if our washcloths look clean, I just care that they are clean.

If we fold the napkins while they’re still warm, they come out relatively wrinkle-free, but if that doesn’t happen, we just live with a few wrinkles. Life is too short to iron napkins.

And that, simple as it may be, is our approach to a paperless kitchen. Have questions about how we do things? Have a different approach that works well for your family? Leave a comment below.

Working to Eliminate Disposable Products From Your Home?

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