UnPaper Towels, Reusable Paper Towels, Paperless Towels

UnPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels ~ whatever you call them ~ they are as handy as it gets.

What is an UnPaper Towel and how do you use it?  UnPaper Towels are reusable cloth towels that are useful for cleaning up spills and wiping off counters. They wash and dry beautifully.   A perfect paper towel replacement that is eco-friendly and cost effective. A dozen will hold up for a year or more.

UnPaper Towels are also easy to make. {And, don’t necessarily require a serger ~ I’ll explain below}

Reusable Kitchen Towels

The first thing you are going to need to make your unPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels {if you have an idea for a new name please don’t hesitate to share} is something called Diaper Cloth or Birdseye Cloth.

Unpaper Towels

This fabric is exactly what it’s called: cloth used for diapers.  It is 36″ wide and comes in white. I purchased mine at Joanns for $6.99/yard and used a 40% off coupon making it $4.19/yard.  Fabric.com also sells Diaper Cloth for $3.98/yard, and the shipping is free if your order is $35 or more.

unPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels

For the sake of this tutorial, I am working with one yard of fabric that has not been pre-washed.  I like to wash it after making the towels because of shrinking.

Remember, the diaper cloth is 36″ wide, and I will be working with it folded in half with the selvage edges matching, which makes it 36″ x 18″.

unPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towelsOnce the fabric is squared, cut across every 12″.  You will technically have 3 pieces that are 36″ wide by 12″ across.  You need to cut again on the fold, and this will then give you 6 pieces that are 18″ x 12″.

unPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towelsI find that this is a great size ~ especially after shrinking in the wash.  Most paper towels are 11″ x 11″ so these are slightly larger.

Unpaper Towels

I am using a serger to secure my edges. I start by setting my serger for a 3-thread overlock stitch.

I begin serging by starting in the middle of one of the 18″ sides.

UnPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels

When I get to the first corner, I do not serge off.  Instead, I carefully curve around the corners.

UnPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels  UnPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels

Then back to straight serging until I hit the next corner, continuing around the entire towel.

When I return to the start, I serge over my starting point about 1″, and then serge off a long tail and tuck it into the overlock stitching. Lastly, I trim the tail.

UnPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels UnPaper towels, reusable paper towels, paperless towels

I continue with all of my pieces until I have a stack of towels.

To mix it up a bit I switch out colors so my towels will look pretty.

**What to do if you don’t own a serger?  I have a couple of ideas that work just as well. The first way is by doubling the fabric.  Place two pieces of fabric together, stitch around the outer edge, leaving a small opening for turning. Turn inside out and stitch the opening closed. With this method I recommend sewing a large ‘X’ from one corner to the next. This will help maintain the shape and your UnPaper Towels will be double-strong.

A second way to make them is to hem the edges. This keeps them single layer but will take a little more time. Iron in a 1/4″ double folded hem and top stitch in your favorite thread colors.

Either way, this is a simple project that doesn’t take much time or cost much money.

Totally worth the effort.

Reusable Kitchen Towels



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  1. Sarah says

    If you don’t have a serger? the rolled hem presser foot for your sewing machine makes it faster and easier. Also, check your machine. Some machines have an overlocking type stitch. Or fold light weight ribbon in 1/2 and just topstitch. This is a great idea. I’m going to roll mine on a dowel, that is split like my needle point stand, to hold the first one, and then just roll them as I go, so the kids can still just pull off the roll in the kitchen, instead of digging through my drawers.

  2. Irene says

    I think I’ll save my paper towel card board roll to put mine on. If I roll one on part way then start another and roll it part way and continue on then they can be taken on the roll just like a paper towel only it wont need to be torn off.
    To do the edges of the towels I would get all the towels cut to size. Then get either some paper towels or Tear Away which can be purchased at Joann’s to use under the edges of the cloth towel. I tear the paper towels into strips about 2 inches wide. I don’t know for sure if the Tear Away product will tear straight or if it will need to be cut into strips. Then put a strip of paper towel or Tear Away under the edge of the cloth and set your machine at a wide zig zag and small stitch length. Or which ever stitch you prefer on your machine. You will be sewing through the cloth and the paper towel with the zig zag stitch or which ever stitch on your machine that you prefer. The paper towel strips will tear away easily as does the Tear Away when you finish your paperless paper towel. This method will stabilized the cloth while you are sewing and your stitches wont bunch up. I’ll be rounding off the corners to make it easier to go around.

  3. says

    I have to laugh at this (in a good way). Our grandmothers would have never dreamed of using a paper towel! Dishcloths were used in the way we use paper towels now. My MIL came for a visit several years ago and “set me right” by buying me a stack of kitchen utility towels. It was about $12 for a dozen towels. They are super absorbent and when they are no longer pretty, they become rags to wipe the counter or clean up other icky messes. When people come to my house, they are so very confused when they ask for a paper towel and I hand them an actual *towel*…. and they are always “what do you use if you don’t use paper towels??” LOL

    • Leslie says

      I laughed out loud when I read your comment. When I was a newlywed (back in the late 70’s) Mr. SH and I couldn’t afford paper towels. We considered them extravagant. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lorene says

      Our DGMs had to use cloth for EVERY thing. I was off the towels, pretty much, until I moved in to care for my father, who had Alzheimer’s disease. His use of PPTs was like pouring water down a gopher hole! And now that my children live with me, well, let’s just say we still say we have a nice PPT bill. Thanks for the lovely idea. I can use the 48″ nappie cloth for son sized PPTs, and regular sized for daughter and me. This will also work for another project we have been searching for a middle for.

  4. says

    Oh I love these! I’ve been meaning to make a set for myself for some time now but never seem to have the time. I just end up using my tea towels…

    I really really really like how you used a different coloured thread on them. They look great and the thread really does add a bit of fun to them.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. Heather says

    Did you know that you can also get birdseye cloth in 48 inch widths AND unbleached (light tan) cotton? You will have to wash it on hot several times to increase absorbency, but it will last longer than the bleached fabric. Look on diaper sites like Wazoodle.com or Verybaby.com or sometimes WAHMsupply.com for this awesome fabric. It probably won’t be as cheap (I ordered 10 yards for a discount, but I also make diapers with it), but I liked the unbleached better because it doesn’t show stains as readily, is more durable, and it just gets softer every time you wash it.

    • Leslie says

      Thanks for the extra tips on the Birdseye cloth. I have never seen the 48″ unbleached cloth. After a few uses, they start to look unbleached anyway.

  6. says

    I really love this idea for its simplicity (and being green!) and appreciate you taking the time to post a tutorial. Now to find some time to make some!!! :)

    • Leslie says

      Like you, I love the Birdseye cloth. It is so practical, holds up well, it soft, and not real linty. Kudos on the gift idea!

  7. says

    Found you on the hop! I’m so glad I did too! What a great idea. I love that you use diaper fabric, that’s brilliant. I have never thought of making my own paper towels. They wash up pretty good? Even if you have the equivalent of a black thumb at laundry?

  8. says

    Leslie, this is such a fabulous idea! Thank you so much for joining us and sharing at Best of the Weekend! Pinning to our party board and other large boards, plus sharing on FB over the weekend. Hope you will join us every week – we love having you party with us! Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

  9. says

    Leslie, these look great & are super useful. I try to use rags around the house instead of paper towels, but would love to have a set of “real” unpaper towels like this. Do you think that I could use this same fabric to make paper napkins using the same technique as well, perhaps altering the size a bit? I’d so love to make these. Will be sharing via twitter!

    • Laurie says

      I double up old t shirts and use them instead of buying more fabric. I especially like if they have logos front and back. Mine are all different sizes, colors, reminders of life. Fun way to repurpose. Also I don’t have a serger, so I bind, flip, and a fun top stitch over the entire edge.


  10. quiltedchick says

    Thanks for helpful hint! I did not know this material was available for purchase. I will have to try these towels. Might get some extra material and make some cute burp cloths or such for new mom gifts.

  11. says

    I need to buy and learn to use a sewing machine! These are fantastic, and the directions I assume are clear enough, although I have no idea what you mean by serger ( I’ll have to learn some lingo along with learning how to use one!)


    • Leslie says

      Thanks for the comment. A serger is a specialized sewing machine that overlocks the raw edges of fabric. A similar look can be achieved using an overcast foot on any sewing machine.

  12. says

    I love that you used different colored thread for each one when you serged them. I really need to do this and keep putting it off. I have some flour sack dish cloths (those really huge ones) and think I will cut them down to do this. Just found your blog through the Sew Darn Crafty link at Sew Many Ways.

    • Leslie says

      The flour sack dish cloths are an excellent idea. I think I have a few in drawer ~ going to have to try this.

    • says

      I also just thought about the colorful edges. Your serger must be MUCH easier to thread than mine because it would take me about 40 minutes just to thread the darned thing! The rainbow colors definitely make them more fun. And if it were me and my silly OCD issues, I’d make a color mean something like always use orange for floor messes, blue for countertop messes, etc. Yeah, I’m a nut like that.

    • Leslie says

      Hold that thought. I will be back soon with a way to make these towels with no serger! Remember, used sergers are everywhere and some can be purchased for around $100!

  13. says

    Do you think that if I had pretty cleaning things that I would enjoy cleaning more!?! :)
    I don’t think my sewing machine has a serging foot, but I think I could still make this work. No one else would see them anyway, right!! Hopping over from LOBS; thanks for the post!

  14. says

    This is such a fabulous idea. It always pains me a tiny bit when I throw away money on things like paper towels. Plus, you could make them the size of the select-a-size towels for smaller jobs. Love it. Thanks for sharing!

  15. says

    We just switched to cloth towels, recently. I’m loving it! At the moment we’re just using dish rags, but I’d love to try this out for more…cohesiveness. I guess? Lol.

  16. Sandra says

    A little late to the party, but………just whipped these up last night. The entire project probably took me 40 minutes and I am the proud owner of professional towels! My daughter said it looks like I bought them somewhere! I’ll be making more of these, thanks for sharing the tutorial.

  17. says

    I like this idea and haven’t heard of the specific cloth. I haven’t bought a roll of paper towels in 20+ years. I do have some paper napkins and when there is something that is really vile to clean up, you will see me using those, but most everyday disasters are cleaned up using dishtowels. I should make some of these since they are white and can easily be bleached and would only be used for cleaning instead of using my good dishtowels to clean up messes!

  18. says

    We have a bunch of cloth diapers lying around (we ended up using mostly disposable) and they are great for spills! These are much prettier then those old things, though! I love the rainbow edges. Great idea and thanks for sharing! I found you via the Block Party.

  19. says

    Hi Leslie,
    Just stopping over from the Sew Many Ways link party.
    What a good idea! I like your tip with the crochet hook to finish off the serging at the end!
    Have a great day!

  20. says

    Isn’t it funny trying to think of the right name for a blog post? I struggle with that all the time! I like this idea, Leslie–this would save us a lot of money on paper towels! Thank you for sharing this at Frugal Crafty Home Blog Hop!

  21. says

    Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing :) I have a set of similar un-paper towels that I use for spills…I use paper towels to make my own baby wipes! :P

    I’m visiting from the Family Fun Friday link-up! Blessings!

  22. says

    We have a system of taking the old dish towels that are no longer pretty to clean dishes and those are our rags under the sink. I still use a few paper towels but only about 1 roll over a month of two for food stuff like cleaning up grease. Do you use them to towel off meat or drain fried stuff? I love these and I might have to ask my mom to make them for me!!! She has the fancy sewing machine :)

  23. says

    This is actually pretty useful. I don’t dare to start counting how much money we waste on paper towels each year. Perhaps I should count how much money we could save instead :D

    Thanks for sharing this tip with us, Leslie. I’m personally not much for sowing, but this looks like a good project to get your feet wet with. Have a great 2014!

    Love, Nathalie

  24. says

    Um, so when are you going to make some for me? :) I’d love something like this. Your tutorial reminds me of when I made my own cloth diaper wipes. These are both functional AND gorgeous. I hope you sell them! Psst: Featuring it on our Pin-it Party this weekend!

  25. says

    I’ve seen other unpaper towels but these are MUCH simpler to make! Reducing our paper products is one of my goals for this year so I’m pinning this post! Thanks for sharing via Family Fun Friday.

  26. says

    Very clever, and I really like the different colors of thread you’ve used in the serging. I don’t have a serger but think I could turn over the edge and zigzag. You’ve also given me the idea of taking some of my old bath towels that have been relegated to the garage for washing the car or messy cleanups, cutting them into smaller pieces and finishing off the edges — smaller sizes would be much more useful I think. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Sarah says

    I brought some un paper towels exactly like these off etsy 2 yrs ago. They are still standing strong and ditched the use of paper towels back then and have never regretted it. To think of the waste of money and environmental impact. My unpaper towels get used for EVErYThING!! They wash up in a hot cycle like new. Now to borrow a friends serger to make more for gifts.

  28. Gail L says

    I like this idea a lot Leslie. Unfortunately I can hardly sew on a button. Why don’t you make them and sell them??? For instance, I would want one set in Red which I would use for my 1/2 bath; then a set with Yellow to use in my Kitchen, and two sets of blue or green which i would keep in my other full bathrooms.

    Would you consider making them to sell?

    Terrific idea, nice execution too.


    • Leslie says

      I love your color coded idea. Keeps it all tidy. Now, why didn’t I think of that. I don’t think I will get into the business of making these towels; however, if you do a search on Etsy, you will find lots of them to purchase.

  29. F. Ternes says

    I have some made from flour sacking but also keep a few made from microfiber terry, so great for big, wet spills. They really soak up a lot and wring out to keep going. Next time I’ll zigzag the edges to match my kitchen accent colors!


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