Paper towels lead a brief and unglamorous life. When it comes to slurping up spills, some paper towels really deliver, some don’t. Among the products we tested, prices ranged widely, from less than two dollars to more than four per 100 square feet, but you needn’t pay top dollar. Some store brands offered impressive absorbency, scrubbing, and strength at a good price.
We test for absorbency (measuring how much water weight a towel can suck up), scrubbing strength (the number of strokes it takes to tear a wet towel when rubbed across an abrasive surface), and wet strength (the force it takes for a ball to burst through a paper towel). The best at scrubbing survived two to three times as many scrubbing strokes as those that tore most easily. Though two-ply paper towels top our tests, not all of them are more absorbent or durable than one-ply brands we tested.
Dollars and Sense
Online merchants and the websites of many walk-instores sell paper towels, tissues and toilet paper touting low prices and convenience. Bulk purchases may be required to avoid shipping costs. Stocking up when your favorite brand goes on sale is a time-honored way of saving money.
As for "green" claims, there are currently few or no governmental regulations for many of the claims on paper towels. But "recycled" claims do have some merit, so it’s a good idea to look for a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
You probably know you can prevent cross-contamination after handling raw chicken and meat by using paper towels and hot, soapy water to clean kitchen countertops and cutting boards. Here are five more uses for paper towels and five things you shouldn’t use them for, even in a pinch.
• Wash and dry fruit and vegetables with paper towels before peeling to keep dirt and bacteria from transferring from the knife to the produce.
• Wrap food in wet paper towels to steam-cook in your microwave, creating healthy meals and snacks.
• Cover bathroom door handles with paper towels before turning them to reduce exposure to germs during cold and flu season.
• Make a tight pad from two folded paper towels, add some vegetable oil, and use tongs to drag it across your grill’s grates just before cooking to prevent food from sticking.
• Clean the rubber edge of your car’s wiper blades with a paper towel dampened with glass cleaner or water and a little dish detergent to extend the life of the wipers.
• Use paper towel to dust furniture. Chose a microfiber cloth or other soft cloth rather than a paper towel’s rough surface. That roughness also makes paper towels a no-no when cleaning TV screens and camera lenses. Use a damped microfiber cloth instead.
• Clean eyeglass lenses with warm water and a drop of dish detergent, then dry with a soft hankie or microfiber cloth, not a paper towel.
• Use a squeegee to wash windows; paper towels can leave lint behind.
• Paper towels may be great for cleaning up messes on the bathroom floor, just don’t flush them down the toilet. Paper towels take much lonter to disintegrate than toilet paper and can cause the toilet to back up, especially if you have a septic system or older sewer pipes made of cast iron or concrete.
"Green" Paper Towels
The "green" brands we tested claim their paper is made from varying amounts recycled paper or fibers. with amounts varying from. Scotts claims its Naturals paper towels are made from 60 percent recycled fibers. Both the green products lagged behind in our tests scoring in the low 40s (out of 100) in our Ratings.
These paper towels have "pick-a-size," "choose-a-size," or "right size" tacked onto their name. They have more perforations so you can choose a smaller piece for sopping up small spills or a larger one for bigger messes. The select-a-size rolls we tested cost about as much as regular paper towels, on average. So you can save if you really do use less paper per pull.