It can be easy to go through a lot of paper towels. After having kids, I felt like I was going through way too many, with many more spills and messes than usual. When we decided to try cloth diapers, I also wanted to try cloth wipes in the place of paper towels (or at least most of our paper towels). Since making the switch, we have been able to use this eco-friendly, cost-effective system of using rags instead of paper towels.
There are many different kinds of cloths you can use in the place of paper towels. Personally, my favorites are cheap washcloths, which are either sold as washcloths or rags. I feel like they are very absorbent and hold up well from spills to scrubbing, but you can use just about any kind that works for you, from microfiber cloths to old t-shirts. You can also be creative, such as cutting up an old sheet and sewing the edges so that the material does not fray. Once our children were out of diapers, we saved the cloth diaper inserts to use as rags, and we always save old towels, washcloths, dish towels, etc. to use as rags.
I recommend keeping quite a few rags on hand. I have a large bin of washcloth size rags in my mudroom, which is easy to grab and plentiful. I also have a smaller stash of large size rags, which are about the size of hand or face towels, and come in handy for big messes. I also keep some rags in the back of my car, which get used for messes in the car or if we encounter a situation that can use some cleaning up (anything from mud getting tracked into the car to if the kids spill something on themselves). In the winter, we keep some large rags by our front door, for any stray snow, salt, or ice that gets tracked into the house. I am always finding new uses for my rags!
There are some things I still use paper towels for. Some examples would be grease or oil, when the cat throws up a hairball, and other messes that are just too messy or unsanitary to deal with.
I love using rags instead of paper towels. They absorb so much more, so if the kids spill a whole cup of juice, I simply wipe it up with a rag, rinse it out, and toss in the wash. And rags hold up well – I even scrub my floors with rags.
I use my rags with a lot of homemade natural cleaners – such as white vinegar, or a solution of vinegar and dish soap. When I am done, I simply rinse the rags and toss into the wash. You can find lots of recipes for natural cleaners online.
I have been washing my rags for years, and I don’t think any of them have worn out or gotten too stained use, but when the time comes, I will compost them. I usually rinse them out before putting them in the washing machine, to remove things like dirt, sand, or food particles. I usually use a natural powdered detergent (which does not leave residues and therefore keeps the fabric absorbent). It also helps to add a laundry booster like Borax. Lastly, I sun-dry when possible, which helps to reduce stains and odors.