In a current experiment here at Growing a Green Family, we’re trying to figure out if an average family of four can save $50,000 in five years simply by living green.
So far we found that you can save $6,000+ if you switch from bottled water to tap and filtered tap water in reusable bottles and we also found that you won’t save much at all if you switch from paper to cloth napkins (although you still should). Up next…
Ditch paper towels and use cloth instead
Figuring this calculation won’t be easy. It’s easy to calculate cloth towel use because I’m actually in a family of five and use cloth exclusively – so I’ve been there. It’s a lot harder to guess how many paper towels people are using, although research in this area points to a lot.
You may think, “I don’t use too many paper towels” but it’s easy to see how paper towel use can get quickly out of hand if you consider these estimates for a family of four…
- Use as napkins at meals = 84 sheets per week.
- Use as hand towel in the bathroom – (4 potty breaks a day x 4 people) = 112 sheets a week.
- Washing up before meals and before cooking (3 meals a day) = 105 sheets a week.
- Washing and drying fruits and veggies (assuming you eat them at each meal – which you should) = 63 sheets a week.
- Cleaning two bathrooms once a week = 20 sheets a week.
- Wiping down the kitchen after cooking = 42 sheets a week.
That’s 426 paper towel sheets a week (typically 3.5-7 rolls a week – most paper towels have 60-120 sheets per roll) and I haven’t even covered cleaning up spills, pet messes, kid messes, washing hands after baby diaper changes, snacks and more. Paper towel use adds up alarmingly fast.
How many paper towels does the average family use?
The most common estimates I’ve seen are 1.5 to 2 rolls of paper towels used per week per family of four. However, excessive use could be far more (as seen above). The most common estimate I’ve seen among friends who use paper towels is about one roll every week to two weeks.
I also know families who use maybe one roll a month (combined with cloth). It really varies and I’m guessing one general estimate won’t make everyone happy so I’ll do estimates for people who use paper towels excessively and for people who use them less, which looks something like…
- Excessive virgin fiber – 12 rolls a month; 720 rolls in 5 years: You use a ton of virgin fiber paper towels. You use them in the bathroom instead of hand towels, for cleaning, for napkins and more.
- Excessive recycled – 12 rolls a month, 720 rolls in 5 years: (See above for usage).
- Mid-range virgin fiber 6 rolls a month, 360 rolls in 5 years – You use them a lot but not so much as excessive users.
- Mid-range recycled 6 rolls a month, 360 rolls in 5 years – (Ditto above)
How much will 5 years worth of paper towels cost?
Based on two of the current best-selling bulk paper towels at Amazon; Bounty 15 rolls, 60 sheets per roll, 900 total sheets ($2.08 per roll) and Seventh Generation 30 rolls, 120 sheets per roll, 3,600 total sheets ($1.93 per roll).
- Excessive virgin fiber – 12 rolls a month = $1,498
- Excessive recycled – 12 rolls a month = $1,390
- Mid-range virgin fiber 6 rolls a month = $749
- Mid-range recycled 6 rolls a month = $695
How many cloth towels does an average family use?
We’ve got 3-5 people living at my house and use about this many cloths per week…
- 2 bathroom hand towels per week.
- 3 kitchen hand towels per week.
- 30+ kitchen cleaning towels per week – we’re insanely messy cooks.
- 2 car cleaning towels per week. I also wash my car with cloths but only a few times a year, so I’m not counting that in daily averages.
- 5 dusting and general wiping down towels per week.
- 8-12 bathroom cleaning towels per week.
- 10-20 misc towels per week depending on what’s going on.
Cloth towels last forever. At my house old cloth baby diapers (from nine years ago) along with old hole-ridden tees, unusable cloth napkins and other discarded cloth become cleaning towels so we actually never buy any cloth towels other than three microfiber towels I got for glass and the cars.
Our total cost for cloth towels over the last ten years has consisted of those 3 microfiber, maybe 5-10 kitchen towels, one pack of washcloths that I originally bought for homemade baby wipes but now use to clean with and I’d estimate 6 bathroom hand towels. IF you care about pristine looking hand towels you might buy more often but we don’t care.
How much will 5 years worth of cloth towels cost?
For the purpose of this post I’m calculating what I most often see. People who use cloth (including myself) tend to reuse what they have (old cloth napkins, old cloth diapers, cut up fraying towels, old tees, and so on) or head to the thrift store (used is eco-friendly) where you can score 5 years worth of cloth towels for almost nothing. I’m talking $20 and that includes hand towels.
However, maybe you do need some new cloth towels so I’ll also add on some new purchases, made with sustainable fabric because it uses less water and resources to manufacture and zero pesticides. Cloth towels will last five years plus easily so I’m also assuming a one-time purchase over five years.
- 6 organic cotton bathroom hand towels = $60; although at Overstock I saw 6 for $34.
- 10 organic kitchen hand towels = $55.
- 3 Microfiber Glass Cleaning & Polishing Cloths, Set of 3 (for glass, the car, dusting, etc) = $5.99
WASHING COSTS: Five year’s worth of eco-friendly cloth washing (wash on cold) for a family of four would total about $60 (rounded up big time for soap use and energy fluctuation).
Average cost of all cloth use above = $95 for cloths + $60 for washing = $155 for five years.
Savings with cloth vs. paper towels over 5 years…
- If you go from excessive virgin fiber paper towel use to cloth = $1,343.00
- If you go from excessive recycled paper towel use to cloth = $1,191 .00
- If you go from mid-range virgin fiber paper towel use to cloth = $594.00
- If you go from mid-range recycled paper towel use to cloth = $540.00
Switching from very judicial paper towel use to cloth use will save you about 170 rolls of paper towels but will only equal negligible savings. You’ll save a lot of resources but not a scad of cash.
Keep in mind…
Cloth use equals bigger savings in the long run. In ten years we’ve rarely bought new towels of any sort so if you’re an excessive paper towel user and you switch to cloth not only will you save $1,299 in five years but you’ll save about $2,500 in ten years – the savings will continually edge up the scale with time.
Also, at the regular grocery store I often see people with 8-packs of paper towels. Not everyone buys in bulk. If you don’t buy in bulk and are an excessive user it can cost you a lot more ($2.50 per roll is a typical mid-range cost at my grocery store). That’s about $1,800 in five years.
To know how much money you could save by switching to cloth towels from paper towels you have to be 100% honest about your paper towel use. Research by the paper industry shows that paper towels are a growing market and that most Americans use them at home (often regularly to excessively) so plenty of folks out there could probably be saving about $550 to $1300 over five years or an average of about $1,000.
Since the money savings aren’t insane, hopefully you also consider your eco-impact. You’ll save trees, water, and petroleum by switching to cloth.
END RESULT: We’re trying to save $50,000 and so far we’ve saved $8,534.00 That leaves $41,466.00 left to save. Whew. On one hand we’re going to have to find some better money savers to meet the $50,000 goal. On the other hand $8,534 is worth a whole lot of organic produce, no?!