Project: Paper Towel Replacements

In keeping with the “Waste Not” part of our family mission statement, we recently did a quick review of where we have the most waste. One thing we identified is that while we compost 85% of our paper towels, we use a LOT. So, I decided to try getting cloth replacements.

The options seemed to be:

  • Buy sexy-looking paper towel replacements on the internet, probably live in regret since they will inevitably get stained and abused;
  • Buy ordinary towels like a sane person, put them in a basket, and don’t pretend like they’re going to work on a paper towel holder;
  • OR try to make sexy-looking replacements that DO fit on a paper towel holder, expertly choosing both the most difficult, time consuming, and ultimately disappointing result.


SO, full of hope I marched down to Joann’s, got some white terry cloth with a coupon, went home, and then asked myself how on earth I thought this was a good idea.

Later, once my hope had refilled, I returned to Joann’s to get snaps because GOSH DARN IT how else was I supposed to simulate a roll of towels? I considered velcro but also velcro and I have a barbed relationship. I just wanted a terrible pun. I really PULLED THAT OFF.
ANYWAY, velcro always just gets full of nonsense and I accidentally scratch stuff with it and I JUST HAVE PROBLEMS. So snaps it was.


Mine looked like this except it has a CLEARANCE sticker on it. Protip: see that sharp spike? You don’t want to drive that into your finger pad.

I got judged by the clerk who thought I was an idiot (I mean, she’s not WRONG), and I went on my merry way.



  1. Cutting fabric is hard. I’m real bad at it. Straight is not a thing I can achieve which is important, turns out.
  2. Even though you may have lived life without an iron for five years, it would kind-of be super helpful to have for sewing projects so you can convince fabric it wants to stay where you need to to while sewing. WHO KNEW?
  3. Just because you used a sewing machine when you were 12 means nothing. GREAT, KID, DON’T GET COCKY.
  4. If your sewing machine isn’t working, the first step would probably be looking for instructions, not attempting to take it apart.
  5. Protip: you actually need to thread and put in the bottom bobbin properly.
  6. Turns out just general know-how of threading your machine is important.
  7. TENSION. It’s important. Find out where you set it. Find out where you’re supposed to actually be reading the nob so that you’re not thinking it’s at 6 when it’s at 9.
  8. Watch some youtube videos so you know what the crap is going on with your machine and its your many problems.
  9. Make sure your thread is bulky enough for whatever nonsense you’re attempting.
  10. When in doubt, throw your plan out.
  11. Just never ask your machine to sew backwards. Do whatever is necessary to make this work.

AS YOU CAN SEE, uhhh I had a lot of problems. Originally I was just going to double over the edges of the terry cloth and sew them so they wouldn’t fray. Apparently a serger is better than that, but my machine can’t do that. Also even if it could I wouldn’t be able to figure it out, let’s be real. I tried using the crazy zig-zag stitch, straight, I TRIED ALL THE THINGS. (At least all the wrong things.)

Eventually I said “FINE YOU WIN,” pulled out some red fuzzy fleece I had gotten for dog toys, cut out some (even worse) squares, and decided I’d just have the top be fleece, and the bottom be terry cloth. Apparently either my sewing machine liked this because it wasn’t as hard to get through as double layer terry cloth OR we had come to an understanding. Either way, I started sewing those puppies together, flipping them inside out, hand sewing the remainder, and WE WERE IN BUSINESS.


Pre-snap. As you can see, the old “flip it inside out” trick still wins…it makes it look like I’m only PARTIALLY incompetent at sewing. Sort-of. Note also: dog hair on the fleece. This may become problematic in the future.

I’d be lying if I said it was smooth sailing from there, but it was generally much better. I also learned I’m still terrible at HAND sewing too. I DON’T HAVE THE PATIENCE FOR IT. So just a general sewing fail.

Then we get to the fun part: SNAPS. Why is it fun? YOU GET TO USE A HAMMER. I’m not sure if I need to explain how to use snaps or if I’m the only one who has never done this magic but basically you put two parts in a plastic thingy and SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER MWAHAHA. It’s real fun. I only had one snapfu (snafu nvm I need to stop with the bad puns) which resulted in finger death. Otherwise it was pretty simple, fun, and I was impressed it could go through that thickness of fabrics. SNAPS WIN THE DAY.


Then I put them all together, stuck them on a roll, and BAM, there’s a thing.

I should note that I’m not actually sure this will replace 100% of my paper towels. BUT I’m excited to see if we use them, when we use them, how they wash, etc. I wanted them to be white so I could bleach them, but when I had to add the fleece obvs that isn’t gonna work. I think they probably won’t last on the roll long, honestly, because the unequal distribution of weight means they occasionally want to unroll themselves, so…we’ll see how that goes.

Was it worth it? Ehhh I guess we’ll see. I learned a lot. It was probably cheaper than buying them?

Total cost: $16.76
for 8 fleece-sided towels, 8 “crap I screwed this up but imma still use them” towels
$2.10 per towel if I only count the ones I could probably show to people without feeling TOO much shame

  • $8.97 for snaps & tool
  • $7.79 for 1 yd terry cloth (Apparently I paid in cash and forgot to put it in the budget, CRAP, but I believe it was $12.97 a yard and I used a 40% off coupon)
  • Already owned: fleece, thread, sewing machine

I did also buy some fabric scissors but that will obviously be useful for all future projects. They were roughly $6.

Another reminder: don’t forget to wash/dry the fabric before making the towels. I did with the terry cloth and forgot with the fleece SO THAT’S GONNA BE A FUN TIME (yikes).

I will try to do a follow-up post in a month to see how using them works out!


One thought on “Project: Paper Towel Replacements

  1. I’m so glad you took the leap into reusable! I know reusable napkins are a popular item in my Etsy shop Jane’s Needfuls. There are so many options for reducing your paper waste in your house and one thing at a time is how it starts!
    Stopping by from


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