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The Challenge: Go paper towel-and napkin free for three weeks

The Family: Sonia and Thom Leiter of Delaware, Ohio, and daughters, Madison, 15, Ava,7, Gianna, 5, and Poppy, 2

Throwing in the (paper) towel Like most families, the Leiters turned to disposable towels and napkins to deal with tabletop crumbs, juice spills, messy hands, and more. But when Sonia realized they were tearing through a roll per week, she wondered if they could cut back.

Stocking up Before starting their challenge, the Leiters used up their existing paper towels. Then, Sonia added to a pile of rags and old T-shirts under the sink. “I wanted plenty of extras so I didn’t end up having to do laundry every day,” she says.  She also set out colored washcloths that her daughters (and the five kids she watches at her in-home daycare) could use for cleaning their hands and faces.

Letting it soak in The Leiters were surprised by how easy it was to get by sans paper towels. Without any to turn to, Thom and the girls usually found it easy to reach for the reusable alternatives. Poppy wasn’t a fan of having her face cleaned with a washcloth, though: “She’d say ‘No I want paper,’” says Sonia. Instead, Sonia would let her decide whether she wanted hot or cold water on the cloth. “Giving her the choice seemed to make her feel better,” Sonia says.

Small Spill One icky event almost brought out the disposables: When one of the kids stepped on a grape, Sonia was tempted to clean it up with a baby wipe–quicker, and less chance of ruining the cloth. She debated for an hour before picking up the squished grape with a washcloth. “Now if I start to get squeamish. I remind myself that I’ve been pooped on and puked on by my kids for the last 15 years, so I should certainly be able to handle messes like these!”she says. Then, there was one minor “oops”: “We got sandwiches at Subway, and while we were eating, I realized we  were using the napkins they’d stuck in our bag!” Sonia says.

On a roll Even with the challenge over, the family plans to stay paper towel-free. “By the third week using rags and washcloths had gotten so ingrained that going without paper towels seemed easy,” Sonia says. Though she did only one additional load of laundry a week, she’s now trying to make the family’s cloth habits even more eco-friendly by squeezing multiple uses out of her rags and washcloths before tossing them in the laundry. “I don’t want them to turn into the same quick throwaway thing,” she says.

Easy-absorb advice Want to give life without paper towels a shot? Stock up on rags and towels and figure out how they’ll be used–certain rags for cleaning floors and others for hands and faces, Sonia suggests. “I do still have moments where I think it would be simpler to clean something with a disposable cloth, but I’m committed to being paper towel-free now,” Sonia says. “It’s easier than you think!”

 

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