10 Uses for Paper Towels

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Oct 17, 2013 | Katie Marks

Paper towels are most commonly marketed to clean up spills, which is really not the best use of their talents. It's much better to use a washable kitchen towel -- or a rag -- rather than wasting a sheet of paper. (My friends always laugh at me because I keep paper towels around the house, but never actually use them for their intended purpose.)

That said, there are a lot of great things you can use paper towels for, so let's explore some of them!

1. Composting

Photo: Joi Ito/Flickr

Paper contains a lot of carbon, and that makes it great for the so-called "brown" content in your compost management system. After you've used a paper towel, compost it to help maintain the carbon balance in your compost and aerate the pile. The paper towel's fluffiness encourages air pockets to form, supporting the growth of beneficial microorganisms ... so you'll have nice, healthy, beautiful compost for your landscaping service to work with.

2. Keeping greens and herbs fresh

Photo: lizard mama/Flickr

Lettuce, herbs, kale, and other greens tend to wilt in the fridge. Add a moist paper towel to the bag they're kept in, and notice how their lives are dramatically extended! The paper towel holds moisture to maintain a comfortable humidity level, without keeping the greens damp and allowing them to start rotting.

3. The bread trick

Photo: rprata/Flickr

Ever stick a loaf of bread in the freezer for later, thaw it out, and discover that you have a soggy mess? That's no bueno. Try adding a paper towel to the bag before freezing. When you do that, it'll collect the moisture and wick it away from the bread, keeping your loaf nice and fresh.

4. Grease and gunk absorber

Photo: oomlaut/Flickr

Hey, it's what they're made for! But you can use paper towels for more than wiping grease off your hands and tools (hint: rags are usually better for that). Try running a paper towel through a freshly oiled sewing machine to pick up the excess lubricant so it won't stain fabric, or "open" a paper towel with a can opener to absorb the buildup of adhesives, grease, and gunk that tends to appear over time.

5. Seed viability testing

Photo: Garrett/Flickr

How old are those seeds, anyway? Will they even grow? Figuring out whether seeds are viable is a common problem for gardeners in the spring, and it's time-consuming and irritating to plant them in seedling trays to find out. The solution? Paper towels. Sandwich a sample of seeds between two damp paper towels and stick them in a warm place. If they don't sprout in two weeks, your seeds are probably past viability.

6. Cast iron maintenance

Photo: Jessica Spengler/Flickr

Cast iron pans are expensive, and they require some tender loving care. After use, wipe them down with paper towels to remove oil and food, and consider storing them interleaved with paper towels if you're not hanging them up, ensuring that rust won't arrive. If you need to wash a cast iron pan to remove caked-on food messes, make sure to dry it on the stove and when you're done, rub it with a paper towel dipped in fat to keep the pan in good condition.

7. Corn cleaner

Photo: Michael Dorausch/Flickr

This is a pretty cool trick. Don't you hate it when an ear of corn stubbornly retains its silk? Cleanly pull away the last of the silk by moistening a paper towel and running it over the shucked ear. You can reuse the towel on the rest of the corn, and then compost it!

8. Softening hardened brown sugar

Photo: Comrade Foot/Flickr

Thanks to its natural high moisture content, brown sugar can start to glom together, and if it's not used, it will turn into a hard mass that's no fun to cook with. If you've got rogue brown sugar in the kitchen, try dumping it into a bowl, covering with a moist paper towel, and leaving overnight. (If you have an ant problem, stick it in the fridge -- and then call an exterminator.) The increased humidity will help the brown sugar soften up so you can use it again.

9. Removing crayon marks and other wax

Photo: laffy4k/Flickr.com

Set a paper towel over the wax stain and run an iron over it on low. The paper towel will absorb the crayon, while also protecting the iron. This works best on hard surfaces like chalkboards, but you can use it on upholstery and carpets too!

10. Emergency coffee filter

Photo: inna dee/Flickr

We've all been there: desperately needing morning fuel, and yet lacking a key component. A paper towel can serve in a pinch!

While rags should be your cleanup medium of choice, sometimes a paper towel really is the perfect tool for the job.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

Updated January 9, 2018.

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