It’s easy to go through rolls of paper towels. Using all that paper may not be the environmentally friendly thing to do, but most “green” paper towels tested by Consumer Reports weren’t up for all tasks. Nine of the 23 paper towels in our latest tests came with green claims but most scored only fair overall, putting them at the bottom of the ratings.
We tested all 23 paper towels for absorbency, scrubbing strength, and wet strength. The very best slurped up spills and survived five to 10 times as many scrubbing strokes as those that tore most easily. The lowest rated, Earth Friendly Products, was also one of the most expensive. There are few or no governmental regulations for many of the green claims on paper towels, but “recycled” claims have some merit. You want to look for products with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
Our paper towel ratings do include three products with green claims that are rated good overall. But if that isn’t good enough, consider one of our recommended paper towels—two types of Bounty and Target's Up & Up—and if you’re concerned about the environmental effect of using so much paper and the chlorine used in many bleaching processes, find ways to cut back. Consider reserving paper towels for cleaning cutting boards, countertops, and greasy spills, and using a sponge or dishcloth for other cleanups. But keep them scrupulously clean or they’ll become a breeding ground for germs. For windows and mirrors, try a lint-free cloth, although some swear that newspaper does the trick, and for drying salad greens, skip the paper towels and use a salad spinner.
And consider this. It was in the Depression, of all times, that the Scott Paper Company rolled out a campaign introducing paper towels as a kitchen necessity, with Ad Age reporting the ads listed the paper towels’ many kitchen uses and a spokeswoman proclaiming, “I don’t see how I ever did without them.” Ah, the genius of creating desire and demand, rolled into one.