I use washcloths exclusively in the kitchen. Joshua feels strongly about having paper towels on hand for a couple of specific tasks. I feel strongly about paper towels not being visible in my kitchen, so that they do not accidentally get over-used. The end result is that there is one lonely roll of paper towels hidden in a little-used cabinet, but I personally only ever use washcloths.
Originally, this choice related primarily to environmental concern. Paper towels are single-use items, which seems especially grievous for a small task like hand-drying. Over time, I have become less vocal about attributing certain choices to environmental reasons, though. The truth is that I don’t know for certain how this single choice stacks up environmentally. For example, am I wiping out all potential environmental benefits of reusing by washing them in hot water? I don’t know.
What I do believe is that more complexity, in general, doesn’t do me, my money, my health, or the planet any good. Using cloth in the kitchen remains a simple, easy, life-lived-lightly choice for me, and I simply enjoy it.
I enjoy not having another item to buy. I’ve been in some houses where the paper products to be regularly purchased really stack up in their variety. There’s paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, paper plates, wrapping paper, etc. Paper towels are one thing I’m happy to have permanently checked off my list. Wrapping paper is another. Toilet paper may be coming soon!
I especially like the feel of cloth over paper. For drying my hands or for using as a napkin at the dinner table, cloth is so much nicer on my skin than paper towels. Paper towels used in the kitchen often end up greasy, meaning they can’t be composted. I like that cloth means I have less kitchen waste. When kitchen clothes do fall apart, they can be re-purposed into garage cloths, diaper inserts (if we ever manage to make a baby!), or even composted.
And finally, I just like the simplicity. This is related to not buying things. When I need more kitchen cloths, I don’t have to buy anything or even leave the house. I just have to do laundry. This is a home activity I already do, so procuring more cloth for the kitchen fits seamlessly into my day. This results in me never “running out” of an essential kitchen item.
There are two or three things that tend to pop up when people consider moving away from paper towels in the kitchen. I’ll give you my solution for those.
What about microwave items that say to be wrapped in a paper towel?
I eat a few items like this, so this is something I had to tackle. I like to make on-the-spot baked potatoes – stab it with a fork a few times, wrap in paper towel and zap for 5 minutes. I also like frozen burritos heated up for breakfast, which also needed to be wrapped. What to do?
The reason for wrapping in paper towel is to hold in the moisture and steam the item a bit. For most things, I simply zap them in something with a lid. The burrito or baked potato goes in a bowl and I put a small plate on top of the bowl for a lid. Or you can use plastic ware with lids if you have that in your kitchen. For some items that are well-contained (not messy) and only need a small amount of heating (like some burritos, for example), you can wrap them in a washcloth just like you would have with a paper towel.
What about de-greasing items like bacon or ground beef?
My first step for these items is to put them in a mesh strainer. Much of the grease simply strains away, which I save for use in other dishes that call for oil/fat. If you need further straining than that, go ahead and use a washcloth. If you’re washing them in hot, a little grease is not going to be a problem.
What about pet messes?
This is where a multi-cloth system can come in handy. You might not want to put a washcloth that’s been used on a pet mess back in the kitchen. But you can have a second set of cloths for this kind of messy purpose and still not need paper towels.
I have found that in kitchens using washcloths, you use a lot. You won’t just get out one cloth in the morning and toss it in the laundry at the end of the day. If you do a lot in your kitchen, you’ll have one “clean” one you’re drying your hands with, a messy one you cleaned up some spill with, one that the dripping ladel is resting on, a couple on the table that have been used as napkins, and a miscellaneous one or two here and there.
At The Wallow, we keep a small bowl near the stack of clean washcloths. When a washcloth is ready for the laundry, we simply toss it into the bowl. This gets dirty ones out of the way so you’re not accidentally going to dry your hands on something icky. It puts all the dirty ones in one place, ready to be whisked to the laundry when the time comes.
You will have to wash the cloths in a way that sanitizes. This means hot water, bleach, or some other sanitizing method. Otherwise, your clean washcloths will smell bad, which means there’s still bacteria lurking on there. I usually wash in hot water, occasionally running my washer’s “sanitize” mode (which is extra-hot) or the “silver care” mode that does some ions/magnet/magic sanitize thing that I don’t understand. I used to try to wash my kitchen cloth on cold like I do everything else. Nope. Not if you want to be able to dry your hands without holding your nose!
Simplicity and Satisfaction
I don’t talk about simplicity a lot, even though it’s something that’s so important to me. Simplicity seeps into all my choices, so it can be an invisible value sometimes. Environment aside, using cloth in the kitchen is just simpler for me and easier on my mind.
I like doing things around my home that bring me simple satisfaction. When I buy a roll of paper towels, unwrap it, and place it in my kitchen, I get no sense of pleasure. However, this post came into being because today I washed the washcloths for the kitchen at The Wallow. I took them out of the dryer and carried them upstairs, where I put the bundle on the counter. I folded them all and made a nice little stack at the end of the counter. A little tower of clean cloth now awaits me for my various kitchen tasks. The very act of creating this pile strikes me as clean and fresh and satisfying, and I think I’ll keep it.