Monday, September 11, 2017

Can You Compost Paper Towels?

Paper towels: you may love them, you may hate them, but they are a part of most everyone’s life. Call me a super-freaky-hippy chick, but I try to avoid paper towels whenever possible. In my house we use cloth towels to dry our hands, wet wash cloths to clean up messes, and cloth napkins when we eat a particularly messy meal.

Even trying to avoid them, they still come in handy occasionally (I have two kids and a cat; use your imagination). So the question remains, can you put them in your backyard compost bin? The answer depends on what you cleaned up with that paper towel.

Greasy Paper Towels? Nope
If you use a paper towel to clean up oil, butter, or anything greasy do not put that towel in your compost. Oil and grease push air out of your compost, creating havens for anaerobic bacteria (the smelly kind you want to avoid). Throw greasy paper towels in the garbage.

Chemically Paper Towels? Nope
Using strong cleaning products with your paper towels? Also throw these chemical-laden paper towels in the trash. You don’t know how they will affect your macro and microorganism friends hanging out in your bin.

This also goes for paper towels covered in "green" cleaning products as well. Even green cleaners strive to kill bacteria and we do not want to invite that into our compost bin.

All Other Paper Towels? Yep
Paper towels not filled with grease or chemicals will decompose quickly in your compost bin. They are considered a brown or carbon rich material and can substitute for leaves if you are running low.  A paper towel with dirt, water, or plant-based food is perfectly welcome in your compost bin.

My, what colorful food scraps you have!
A peak inside my home kitchen collector.


In our office we collect paper towels from hand-drying and mix them into our compost bin along with our fruit and vegetable scraps. The towels decompose quickly after getting wet.


In addition to being an unapologetic hippy, I am also a pretty big cheapskate and never buy the super thick, fancy quilted paper towels. Has anyone had luck composting this kind? Leave a comment below.

15 comments:

  1. I actually line my kitchen compost bin with Bounty, the super thick, fancy quilted version (green), not the basic (yellow). I do this to help reduce clean up of the bin itself--my wife's coffee grounds have a bad habit of sticking to the inside of those green bins you hand out. I also throw in Bounty that has been used to dry hands, or clean up messes, as they break down well. A bit of moisture and nitrogen go great with these!

    If you are not using Bounty, I hope you use Tide PurClean to wash all your towels, wash cloths, and napkins! ;-) #PGEmployee

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    1. Good to know! And I love the shameless plug. :)

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  2. Ok, this might be kinda gross, but one of the ways I use paper towel (thin type), is to blow my nose after using the neti pot. Would that be ok to include in the compost bin??!!

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    1. Actually, yes that would decompose. Unless you had some contagious virus you were worried about spreading to others who tend the compost bin.

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  3. Thanks for the great advice! I actually considered greasy towels even better for some reason. We use paper towels on a daily basis (natural ones without chemicals) and I never considered selecting them based on whether they've been soaked in grease or not. I guess most of them are since they are used for wiping a lot of kitchen stuff. Anyway, thanks for the tip! Cheers

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  4. hi!
    i make my own cleaning solutions (vinegar+water+essential oil), if the paper towel has been soaked with this, can it be considered compostable?

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    1. Yes, that small amount of vinegar will be fine in a compost bin.

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    2. Thanks for asking! I googled this question because I'm trying to be more green this year and I'm using vinegar to clean with both rags and paper towels.

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  5. Thanks for sharing ! I am using a closed compost bin a sterlite plastic bin with lid, so far once a week I'll dig a hole and bury all organic scraps I've been saving. First week done friday. Thinking about looking into some brown paper towels too. Need more research. Also I don't think open compost bins are cleanly; don't you get a lot of flies and bugs; and the smell of it being in the open ? If I had land space and more time I'd bury organic compost shortly after using it. For now I'll use the bin and lid and see if once a week bury will be clean enough.

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    1. Christopher- I do not have odors or bug issues in my compost bin for two reasons. First, I ALWAYS bury my food scraps under a layer of leaves. Fruit flies will not burrow to lay their eggs so you will not have issues with bugs. Second, I balance my food scraps with one part scraps to three parts leaves. This decomposes the material without odors. Aerating the pile also helps eliminate odors.

      Good luck with your trench composting!

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  6. My husband doesn't want me to put paper towels in our compost bin because he thinks the chemicals in them (think Chlorine and Formaldehyde?) will not be good for his garden. He uses the compost in his garden and doesn't want anything unnatural in it. Do you have any thoughts on this? Thanks

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    1. My personal thought- why would he be willing to rub something he believes is toxic on his skin but be unwilling to compost it? I don't use paper towels very often but when I do, I buy the organic ones with high recycled content. They don't work as well as the pricey, quilted fancy white ones, but they work.

      I am not sure what chemicals they use in manufacturing paper towels but if they are white it makes sense they are using some sort of bleaching agent. Does that break down in the compost pile? I am not sure. These are my thoughts based on little scientific research, just my instinct.

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  7. Bleach breaks down in the environment very quickly, and does not accumulate in the food chain.

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  8. I have learned a lot in the last 5 minutes! I am just started composting, have a new Joracomposter which I am thrilled with, and I'm looking into having enough Brown material. I use the Costco brand paper towels so I'm assuming that they're considered the heavy or quilted ones. I will check into other options. I do use a lot of these, I noticed that they could be added to my compost bin. What about paper plates? I also use the cheap ones from Costco, I'd be willing to rip them up so that's a smaller item but it would be so nice to be able to add them also. I need to find more Brown material because my garden is mostly vegetables, and chickens! Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. Yes, you can add paper plates as well, especially if they are the cheap ones with no coating. I would not recommend the colored or coated ones.

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