Share on Facebook

12 Things You Shouldn’t Be Cleaning with Paper Towels

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

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

Paper Towel Pyramideyebex/Getty Images

Paper isn’t always best

Paper towels are a hot commodity these days, so the last thing any of us would want is to be wasting some. And yet, if you’ve recently cleaned your electronic screens, mirrors, or bathtub with paper towels, you’re wasting paper towels. Here are the 12 things you should stick to cleaning with sponges or reusable cloths instead. But make sure you’re still aware of the 9 extraordinary uses for paper towels.

White bathtub with steel faucet and shower head on white wooden chick blind background.Oppdowngalon/Shutterstock

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 and then wipe dry with a clean cloth. Make sure you’re also aware of these quick bathroom cleaning solutions to make the most of your time.

Cooking - chef's hands preparing vegetable vegetarian stew (thick soup). Kitchen scenery - pot with recipe ingredients around on the grey stone worktop captured from above (top view, flat lay). Pinkyone/Shutterstock

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 Living has recommended 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.

Laminate parquete floor. Light wooden texture. Beige soft carpet. Warm interior designJuly Prokopiv/Shutterstock

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 fiber and it will be difficult to vacuum afterward. Use a sponge instead.” Speaking of carpets, have you been vacuuming yours frequently enough?

Empty white plate with silverware on wooden table. View from aboveIevgenii Meyer/Shutterstock

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, not to mention that tiny particles might stick to dishes and later on end up in your digestive system.” Use a rag or damp cloth instead to wipe off those plates or mugs. And if you’re someone who hates doing the dishes, here are 5 cleaning tricks.

An open laptop on an office desk with flower, coffee, books in front of white brick wall background conceptra2studio/Shutterstock

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 fibers can cause permanent etching of the screen. Instead, use a product and microfiber cloth designed specifically for these surfaces, such as this from Screen Mom.” 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.” Here are some more tips on cleaning other tricky household objects.

Modern hallway interior with clothes on hanger stand and mirrorNew Africa/Shutterstock

Mirrors and windows

When cleaning windows and mirrors, use microfiber cloths—a favorite 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. Microfiber 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.” While you’re probably sticking to Windex for your windows and mirrors, here are some things you should never clean with it.

White toilet bowl in a bathroomaradaphotography/Shutterstock

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.” Check out the germiest places in your bathroom.

Cutting Board.Billion Photos/Shutterstock

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. Here are some other ways you might be cleaning your kitchen wrong.

Eyeglasses on black and white marble table texturehappydancing/Shutterstock


“Raw paper can be hard enough to scratch your lenses, and it will leave lint,” says Olivia Monash of Fantastic Services Group in Australia. “Instead, always use microfiber cloths as it cuts the oils that cause smudges and wipes them away.” Know these cleaning tricks that don’t actually work.

car jeep interiorVolha-Hanna Kanashyts/Shutterstock

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, microfiber 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 microfiber capture and remove the mess.”

White subway tile wall and dark grout for a kitchen or bathroom backsplashDuntrune Studios/Shutterstock


Use a toothbrush instead, 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.” Or you could clean your grout with vinegar—it’s just one of 150 household uses for vinegar.

white paper towel, macro shot.Igor Normann/Shutterstock

Most things

According to Jeri Fritz, founder and owner of Highland Park Housekeeping, her housekeepers have swapped out paper towels for microfiber cloths to clean almost everything. It’s a must-have product in their cleaning arsenal of products. “Cloth works perfectly with a multi-purpose product like Branch Basics‘ non-toxic All Purpose Cleaner and Glass Cleaner. Microfiber is better than paper towels, which leave streaks and create waste.”

Gregory of Molly Maid is also a big fan of microfiber cloths. “It’s ideal to use something sustainable like microfiber whenever possible! Microfiber cloths can be reused and laundered—though don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener.” Now, learn even more cleaning hacks from the pros you’ll wish you knew all along.


  • The Kitchn: “5 Things You Should Never Clean with Paper Towels”
  • One Good Thing: “9 Unexpectedly Useful Things You Can Do With A Paper Bag”

Rachel Sokol
Rachel Sokol is a longtime contributor to Reader's Digest, tackling mostly cleaning and health round-ups. A journalism graduate of Emerson College, she's a former education writer, beauty editor, and entertainment columnist.