Paper towel buying guide

Soak up spills with ease.

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While paper towels might look the same on the shelf, there are actually different types — including virgin pulp, recycled, certified and chlorine-free options. Compare some of the leading brands to find the best fit for your cleaning needs.

Compare some of the best paper towels

Name Avg. price
Number of rolls Sheets per roll Ply Purchase
Bounty Select-A-Size $10.49 6 101 2 Buy now
Brawny Pick-A-Size $10.48 8 103 2 Buy now
Viva Signature Cloth $10.99 8 91 1 Buy now
Scott Professional Multi-Purpose Shop Towels $9.98 6 55 1 Buy now
Seventh Generation 100% Recycled Paper Towels $12.49 8 156 2 Buy now
Data obtained April 2019. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.

Types of paper towels

Most paper towels are made from pulp, which is made by separating the fibers in timber, waste paper or fiber crops. Several environmentally friendly options are available, including recycled, bleach-free and certified.

Common types of paper towels include:

  • Virgin. These paper towels don’t include any recycled/alternative fibers.
  • Recycled. Made from a mix of reused materials, these are less harmful to the environment and won’t end up as waste in landfills. However, the pre-processed pulp used is weaker, which can mean the towels aren’t as absorbent.
  • Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF). Paper towels are frequently bleached to appear white. ECF products are not actually chlorine-free, but rather bleached with chlorine dioxide instead of more harmful elemental chlorine gas.
  • Processed chlorine-free (PCF). PCF products are treated with bleach alternatives such as hydrogen peroxide or oxygen.

Environmental certifications

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are international organizations that endorse sustainable forest management. If you want to use more environmentally-friendly paper towels, choose an FSC- or PEFC-certified product by looking for the FSC tree tick logo or the PEFC-certified logo.

How to understand FSC and PEFC labels

FSC mix The timber used in the product is either recycled, made from FSC-certified forests or from controlled sources and is not harvested illegally or in violation of traditional and civil rights.
FSC recycled The entire product is made with recycled or reclaimed material.
FSC 100% All of the timber used to make the product comes from FSC-certified forests.
PEFC certified At least 70% of the timber used in the product is from PEFC-certified forests and controlled sources.
PEFC recycled At least 70% of timber used in the product is recycled PEFC-certified material and timber from controlled sources.

How to compare paper towels

Paper towels differ in price, type and absorbing power. The right choice for you depends on your needs and lifestyle.

Key features to consider:

  • Ply count. Generally, the higher the ply count, the more layers of paper used. This means the material will be more absorbent, thicker, softer and stronger.
  • Scrubbing strength. How well does the towel withstand scrubbing rough surfaces when wet? Check reviews for different brands to find a towel that doesn’t break or leave lint all over your countertops or floors.
  • Absorbency. How much liquid can the towel soak up before it gets saturated and breaks apart? There’s usually a tradeoff between strength and absorbency.
  • Sheet size. Paper towels that come in smaller sheets can help you use less each time. Look for products with more tear-off points to reduce waste.

Additional factors:

Paper towels vs. reusable dishcloths

There’s no denying paper towels are convenient to use, but like single-use plastics, they’re harmful to the environment and produce a lot of waste. A more environmentally friendly alternative to single-use paper towels is reusable dishcloths. In the long run, reusing your cloth towels rather than constantly purchasing paper towels could be more cost effective.

As long as you clean and disinfect reusable dishcloths properly, they’re hygienic enough for most daily cleaning. However, you shouldn’t use them for cleaning up bacteria-filled messes. Ultimately, it might be best to use a mix of both.

Bottom line

Paper towels are a convenient product to have on hand, whether you use them for everything or in conjunction with cloth dishrags.

How did we choose these products?

To choose our list of the best paper towels, we compared the price, size, absorbency and environmental-friendliness of leading brands.

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