paper towels

How Scarcity and Bar Mops Helped Me Kick My Paper Towel Habit

Years ago, I had a frugality wake-up call—something I admit to needing from time to time. It’s so easy to get sloppy when we are surrounded by abundance and a seemingly endless supply of everything.

paper towels

Cleaning Mode

It was the morning of our annual Holiday Dinner Party. I had limited time and many things to do to get ready for the big event. On my list was “clean patio chairs” because we would undoubtedly need them for additional seating. I wanted them to be sparkling clean and presentable.

Big Spin

The chairs had been out during several recent rainstorms and they showed it. I grabbed my supplies only to discover I had just one roll of paper towels and it was partly used. This would be a three-roll job at the very least. I was too busy to carefully count out one or two towels. My style back then was to spin off a big wad.

Normally, this shortage would have sent me on a quick trip to the store to replenish my supply. But, as you may recall from previous columns, back then I did not have a car. I lived in automobile-dependent Southern California and by choice, I shared a vehicle with my husband.

On this day he was at the office and I wasn’t. I did not have time to walk to the nearest store so I decided to go with the only choice I had at the moment:

Make Do

I carefully tore off three towels. I scrubbed and cleaned. Then instead of tossing those wet towels in the trash (my first inclination) I opened them up, straightened them out and cleaned some more.

From Irritated to Gaming

At first, I was irritated that I had to do this but it didn’t take long to turn this into a game to see how long I could make the towels last. I worked my way through the chairs and ended up with clean white chairs and towels to spare. I was downright proud of myself.

What if?

My experience with paper towels made me think:

  • What if I approached everything with the same sense of scarcity and the fear of running out? Would the milk last longer? Would I measure the laundry soap instead of “eyeballing” it?
  • Would I be more thoughtful with errands if gasoline were scarce?
  • Would I be careful to wear an apron in the kitchen if I had only a limited amount of laundry detergent?
  • What if this was the only tube of toothpaste for the foreseeable future? Could I make it last?
  • Would I throw away half a pot of cold coffee or freeze it in ice cube trays for later if some rare beetle destroyed the world’s coffee harvest?
  • How long could I make other things last—items that seem so ordinary and available it’s easy to be wasteful?

How long could you make things last—not because you have to, but because it’s just the right thing to do? It’s good for the earth, for your attitude, and good for your wallet, too.

Update

It was this event, now more than 20 years ago, that served as the catalyst to change my arrogant attitude about abundance and entitlement.

A half-used roll of paper towels turned into a lasting wake-up call. I won’t say we have entirely kicked paper towels from our home, but we’ve come pretty darn close!

A single roll can last for six months. If paper towels were to become extinct and disappear from the face of the earth, not a problem, as we have replaced paper towels in our home with bar mops.

Bar Mop FAQ

stack of white bar mops

What is a bar mop?

A bar mop is a small white 100% terry cloth towel. Typically it is  16 x 19-inches, but the exact size can vary. A cross between a washcloth and a dish towel, you’ll see them in restaurants and bars as they are used to clean up counters, tables, bars, and so forth.

Where do you keep your bar mops?

I have six dozen bar mops. I fold them in half and store them standing file drawer style in a kitchen drawer—with the fold up. This makes them easy to grab. In our home, bar mops need to be super handy.

How do you use bar mops?

The easy answer is everything I used to use paper towels for, cleaning up spills, wiping down counters; we use them as napkins, for window-washing,  washing dishes, dusting furniture, cleaning baseboards, scrubbing anything that needs scrubbing, detailing the car. I use them as hot pads, too. Bar mops are so versatile and easy to use.

How do you wash them?

I have a small hamper under the kitchen sink, where I toss used (dirty) bar mops. I use many every day, and with abandon. When the hamper gets full, I launder them.

Yes, they get stained, but honestly, my current set has to be at least two years old and they’re still fluffy, white, clean, and amazing. When one gets stained beyond repair (it happens), it goes to my husband’s workshop or my housecleaning cupboard to get a second life as a down-and-dirty shop rag.

My bar mop laundry routine

HOT water, 1/2 cup borax, 2 tablespoons liquid laundry detergent, heavy-duty cycle; extra rinse; white vinegar in the last rinse (I pour it into the liquid softener reservoir).

Now and then I will pretreat a serious stain, but that’s pretty rare. Once or twice a year I add bleach.

The secret to keeping them sparkling white is that 1/2 cup of borax I use in every load and the hottest lo. Since I launder bar mops almost daily, stains don’t have a chance or set, nor do wet, dirty bar mops get mildewed.

Where do you get bar mops?

While the most universal resource is Amazon (link below), my favorite is Costco. I find a bundle of 52 in the automotive aisle. Mechanics and car washes use bar mops (Costco calls them terry cloths.)

Costco’s version (by the way, you can find them online at Costco.com and anyone can purchase there, even non-members although if you are not a member, you’ll pay 5% surcharge) are of excellent quality. You can also find them at SamsClub.com. I find those from Sams to be lower quality, but sufficient for sure. Another idea, which I have not tried, but if you have an auto supply store near, check there.

Do you really need six dozen?

No, that’s totally a personal decision. I suggest you examine your current paper towel usage. Do you go through a roll a week? Yeah, you’ll need many bar mops to kick that habit. Also, it depends on your personal ick factor!

Personally, I don’t like to clean up a spill with a bar mop then straighten it out, fold it nicely to use as a hot pad. If you’re a re-user, you can probably get by with fewer.

You could easily buy maybe two dozen bar mops and put them to use. See how that goes for you. Do you run out before you can wash and replace—resorting back to the paper towels? Then you need more bar mops. Experiment. You haven’t much to lose other than a bad habit.

 

Also available in 12-count and 60-count bundles

24-Count White Bar Mops

SAMSCLUB $13.87

 

Costco 52 count bar mops52-Count White Bar Mops

COSTCO $26.99

 


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37 replies
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  1. Francine Harvey says:

    I was recently introduced to Swedish Dish Towels available thru Amazon. They are biodegradable, washable and can absorb incredible amounts of liquid compared to usual paper towels.

    Reply
  2. Virginia S. DeWitt says:

    25 years ago I quit using paper towels . Instead I cut up any old piece of clothing, linens scraps of fabric. No kidding, so far, so good. My daughter is a caregiver and she uses scraps of soft fabric for what she calls ” butt rags”. Says paper wipes are too rough for delicate bottoms. I used to spend $4 a month for the paper towels, At that price I have in my pocket $1200 to spend om something more fun! Wish I had put it in a savings acct., but not that good at this game yet.Do have a stash of real good cash though THANKS to you!

    Reply
  3. Diane Vosburg says:

    A similar idea – During the pandemic I decided to do away with communal hand towels in bathrooms and kitchen. After all, do we really all sing Happy Birthday through twice while soaping up our hands? I purchased several dozen white wash cloths and small baskets to set in each sink area, as well as small lidded trash cans to throw them in after a single use. When they accumulate I wash them with other whites. We have had far fewer colds and flu than past years and I think the single use drying could be a reason. I’m sold!

    Reply
  4. atk says:

    I decided a couple of years ago to quit my paper towel habit. I use washable, reusable bamboo paper towels (Amazon) and bar mop towels that I purchased at WalMart. The paper towels can be washed in the machine, although I prefer washing them by hand in the kitchen sink. When they start to fall apart I use them for other cleaning jobs around the house and then pitch them. I am still using my first roll, that I started in September 2022. I use the bar mops as hand towels in the kitchen, and change them out daily. I have been happy with the bar mops and the bamboo paper towels.

    Reply
  5. Kathy says:

    I purchased dark gray bar mopes from your link, I’m doing pretty good at trying to break paper towel habit, I mess up every once in a while..but I just love the towels..thanks for amazing idea!

    Reply
      • Genevieve says:

        Mary, why do you use white bar towels? Is it just your preference? I was leaning towards the dark grey or brown, just because they would not show the dirt as much.

      • Mary Hunt says:

        I love white. All of my household linens are white … sheets, towels, duvet covers. Everything matches, everything can be bleached. Just a personal preference. (And by the way, our wedding was also … all white)

  6. Estelle Stone says:

    I LOVE the idea of using Bar Mops for everything. I do have one problem, however. I don’t have room underneath my sink for the dirty ones. It is a really big pain to run into the laundry room each time to throw the dirty ones in there each time. Any other suggestions?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Set a hamper/container (preferably one with a lid) in a convenient out of the way spot in the kitchen. That should work just fine.

      Reply
  7. Becky says:

    The hard part for me is to remember to use them rather than going first for the habitual paper towel! I’ve even tried to hang a few over the roll of paper towels, but that didn’t work very well.

    Reply
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