12 Things You Shouldn’t Be Cleaning with Paper Towels

If you stop to think about it, most things can be cleaned with a reusable sponge or cloth. Save paper (and cash!) with these expert tips.

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Don't clean bathtub with paper towel
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The tub

Think twice before reaching for the paper towel to remove that icky residue from your sink, shower or bathtub. According to Sara Hernandez, Crew Leader, Housekeeping Associates of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the best way to remove soap scum (residue) from your bathroom is to use a mixture of vinegar with Dawn dish soap to cut through the grime, then wipe with a clean cloth.

Find out more bathroom cleaning tips you’ll wish you’d known sooner.

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Woman tying apron
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Wiping your hands while cooking

It’s easy to just grab a sheet off the roll to dry your greasy, sticky fingers, but try to resist. Martha Stewart recommends wearing an apron while cooking, and chances are you’ve got one hanging in the kitchen you’ve been neglecting. You’ll not only save paper as you cook, but you’ll also protect your clothing in the process. Just wipe your hands on the apron after washing them, and move on to the next step in your cooking process.

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Laminate parquete floor. Light wooden texture. Beige soft carpet. Warm interior design
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Carpets and rugs

Accidentally spill soda on the rug? Don’t reach for the paper towel. “Wiping up spills or scrubbing stains with a paper towel will leave paper residue on carpeting, and it does not do a thorough job of wiping up,” says Deretta Richards, Crew Leader, Housekeeping Associates of Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Instead, use a clean dry cloth to soak up spills, let it dry, then vacuum.”

There’s another problem with using paper towels, warns professional cleaner Olivia Monash of Fantastic Services Group in Australia. “Scrubbing the stain will make the lint to go deep into the fibre and it will be difficult to vacuum afterward. Use a sponge instead.”

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Empty white plate with silverware on wooden table. View from above
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Dinner plates

Wiping kitchen plates and cups with paper towels because they’ve been sitting unused in the cupboard for a while is a bad idea, says Monash. “This would be anything but nature-friendly.” Use a rag or damp cloth instead to wipe off those plates or mugs.

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An open laptop on an office desk with flower, coffee, books in front of white brick wall background concept

Electronic screens

Keep paper towels far away from your TV screen, laptop, and even your cell phone. “We would never recommend using paper towels on delicate glass surfaces like LCD or plasma TV screens,” says Carol Smith, owner of Toronto-based HireaMaid. “The fibres can cause permanent etching of the screen. Instead, use a product and microfibre cloth designed specifically for these surfaces.” Adds Smith: “It’s also important to not apply too much pressure when cleaning these screens, because it may cause damage to the crystals inside an LCD.”

Find out how to save your laptop after a spill.

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Modern hallway interior with clothes on hanger stand and mirror
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Mirrors and windows

When cleaning windows and mirrors, use microfibre cloths—a favourite of professional cleaners—instead of paper towels. “I used to be a firm believer in Windex and paper towels to get my windows and mirrors sparkling, but I’ve since converted,” says Lifestyle expert Ayn-Monique Klahre of Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn, an online food magazine. Microfibre cloths, explains Klahre, work just as well (if not better) and they’re reusable. “If you don’t have cloth, newspaper or even a paper bag will also work. And the best part: None of them leave lint behind the way a paper towel can.”

Find out how to clean absolutely everything in your kitchen, according to Charles the Butler of CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show.

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White toilet bowl in a bathroom

The toilet

“Paper towels are not effective in cleaning toilets,” says professional cleaner Carolyn Osborne, Crew Leader, Housekeeping Associates. “Instead, use Lysol Toilet Bowl cleaner or Comet Toilet Bowl Cleaner with bleach and a toilet bowl brush to make your toilet bowl sparkle.”

Psst—did you know that even bleach has an expiry date?

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Cutting Board.
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Cutting boards

“When cleaning up stains such as meat juices on a wooden surface like a cutting board, do not use a paper towel as it will not thoroughly soak up all of the liquid. Use a clean, damp cloth with disinfectant on it to remove all residue,” recommends Lisa Sorensen, Crew Leader, Housekeeping Associates.

Discover 40 brilliant kitchen hacks that’ll save you time, money and effort.

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Eyeglasses on black and white marble table texture


“Raw paper can be hard enough to scratch your lenses, and it will leave lint,” says Monash. “Instead, always use microfibre cloths as it cuts the oils that cause smudges and wipes them away.”

Here are 11 everyday items you don’t wash nearly enough.

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car jeep interior
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Car interiors

Avoid using paper towels when cleaning the car, says Jennifer Gregory, Brand Manager of Molly Maid. “Don’t dust your dashboard with a paper towel. Again, microfibre is ideal as it removes the dust versus moving it around. A dry paper towel never seems to fully remove the dust and applying a cleaning product leaves a sticky residue that attracts more dust! The grooves in microfibre capture and remove the mess.”

Believe it or not, the best polish for your dashboard is in your pantry!

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White subway tile wall and dark grout for a kitchen or bathroom backsplash
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Use a toothbrush instead of paper towel, writes Klahre on The Kitchn: “Anything that requires to you really get in there (to clean deeply) is not gonna get clean with a paper towel. The material is too flimsy and will shred as soon as you start scrubbing! Instead, use an old toothbrush to get stains out of grout, brick, or other textured surfaces.”

Find out 10 things you should never clean with baking soda.

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Things you shouldn't clean with paper towel - paper towel rolls in kitchen
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…And nearly everything else

According to Jeri Fritz, founder and owner of Highland Park Housekeeping, her housekeepers have swapped out paper towels for microfibre cloths to clean almost everything. It’s a must-have product in their cleaning arsenal of products. “Microfibre is better than paper towels, which leave streaks and create waste.”

Gregory of Molly Maid is also a big fan of microfibre cloths. “It’s ideal to use something sustainable like microfibre whenever possible! Microfibre cloths can be reused and laundered—though don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener.”

Next, find out 35 nearly-forgotten house cleaning tips from the past.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest