Before Paper Towels



There was a time in my memory when both paper napkins and paper towels were considered a luxury; potentially a handy convienence and also a wasteful expense. Now that this is one of the items to eliminate completely, or greatly reduce to help lower our carbon footprint, I am thinking back to those days and what we did instead.

We had dozens of cloth napkins, the every day ones made from stained, worn out  tablecloths or chicken feed sacks. The feed sacks were made out of a yard of gingham or calico and became curtains, aprons, pillow cases, and napkins. Only the company napkins were fine linen or damask. Paper napkins were a special luxury for Birthday Parties and the like.

Instead of paper towels, there was the rag bag for spills and icky cleanups. For draining bacon and other fried foods we used brown paper bags and to peel potatoes newspaper was opened on the table to catch the scraps. Then the whole bundle went into the compost. Under the sink were more t-shirt pieces for dusting and old washcloths for wiping little faces. While cooking we wiped our hands on the apron, which could also be used for emergency clean-ups, little faces, and a temporary potholder to get a pot off the stove quickly.

All of these napkins, rags, aprons and so forth were washed then when full of holes and stains moved down to the next level: tablecloth to napkins to rags; t-shirts and socks to rags; then any that were a natural fiber (cotton, silk, linen, wool) were cut up or torn up and went into the compost since the rag-man no longer came around. This is still a good system once  it’s started and it makes me feel wonderful as well.

I’m sure there are other ideas out there and I’d love to hear them!



Befriend a teacher! You’d be amazed at what sort of things teachers would like for their classroom. I solicited worn but in-tact socks to serve as an eraser and hold chalk pieces for individual student chalkboards. Our art teacher always happily accepted adult t-shirts for little ones to wear to protect their clothes.


Hi TSue,

I loved your comments! Thanks! Unfortunately I hit the wrong button for your comment on About Plastics and much to my dismay I deleted it. Please re-comment as it was a good one! K

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