In an effort to green their clean routines, some Apartment Therapy staffers are taking on small shifts at home, replacing their usual products and tools with more eco-friendly versions.
Anyone who watches Shark Tank knows about Bambooee towels. In fact, while I had our roll sitting on the counter waiting to take this challenge on, my husband couldn't resist shouting "BAMBOOEE!" (in co-founder Noam Krasniansky's contagious accent) every time he walked into our kitchen. It sure is fun to say, but would these reusable and machine-washable bamboo paper towels be as fun to use?
My Old Way: Paper Towels for Everything
My husband and I live in a paper towel household. We use paper towels as napkins with dinner, to wipe up after ourselves in the kitchen, and we'll go through an entire roll when we tackle a big Sunday clean every other week or so. A 3-pack of paper towel rolls is a bi-weekly purchase on our two-person household's grocery list.
I don't need to see your knowing nods through the screen to realize my household is not alone in living the paper towel life. Paper towel use has been growing steadily in the United States, and in 2020 an estimated 320 million Americans will be using paper towels at home. That's great news if you're in the Bounty business, but bad news for Mother Earth. According to The Paperless Project, 3000 tons of paper towel waste is generated daily—requiring as many as 51,000 trees to be cut down to replace the number of paper towels discarded every day. The Paperless Project also offered this staggering statistic: If every household in the U.S. just used three fewer rolls of paper towels each year, it would save 120,000 tons of waste and $4.1 million in landfill dumping fees. Consider me shook.
If such a small shift in my routine—cutting out just a few rolls of paper towels a year—can make such a huge difference to the environment, I have to give it a try.
Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towels, $10.29 on Amazon
My Green Clean Small Shift: Bambooee Reusable "Un Paper" Towels
When confronted with the challenge of reducing my paper towel waste, I thought immediately back to that episode of Shark Tank, where the over-the-top pitchman Norm Krasniansky and his wife Irene Krasniansky presented their latest product, Bambooee "un-paper" towels. The product looked like paper towels—they're presented in a perforated roll that fits any standard paper towel holder—but it promised to be more. More durable, first of all, so that you could do more work with a single towel. But also completely reusable; each bamboo paper towel can be washed in the washing machine up to 100 times. That's the utility of 2,000 sheets of paper on a single $10 roll of Bambooee towels. The Bambooee website suggests that a single roll of their towels can replace 286 rolls of traditional paper towel products. So I grabbed a roll off Amazon.
My first impression of Bambooee towels were that they certainly felt way more durable than traditional paper towels. Each sheet is much thicker, and woven tightly with a pulp-y texture—though they more closely resemble cloth than they do paper. I put them to work that night for the first time as I prepped dinner. I usually go through anywhere from four to six sheets of select-a-size paper towels when cooking, but a single sheet of bambooee got everything done. After drying rinsed veggies, a paper towel (or two) would have been a soppy wet mess destined for the trash can, but the bamboo towel was solid, and ready to stick around for the whole night as I used it to clean my hands and wipe down the counters throughout cooking.
The only time that night—and during dinner every night after—I needed to reach for a paper towel was to pat a couple of steaks dry before hitting the grill. I thought for a second about using a Bambooee for the task, but I realized that I'd have to keep a raw-meat-soaked towel sitting around until I was ready to wash it. That was my first experience with what I think is the only problem with living the bamboo towel life: Where do you keep the dirty ones? (Or the clean ones, for that matter, once they're off the roll?).
My husband (who lovingly washes the dishes after dinner), mentions that he likes the Bambooee towels. He hand-washes some of our dishes and usually grabs for a few sheets of paper towel to dry them off and put them right away, but tonight a single Bambooee sheet took care of the whole sink. We're just wiping water from clean dishes, so there isn't any gross factor at all. That towel, plus my gently-used but certainly oil-stained sheet from dinner, sit on the counter for the next day or so waiting to be washed.
The next morning, I used a Bambooee towel to wipe down our patio furniture. I usually need to grab several paper towels to get the job done, but one damp Bambooee took care of the whole thing. This is where bamboo towels really shine. They hold up to a big, dirty clean by being more durable than paper towels, but more absorbent than regular cloth towels. I came inside, and put the three sheets (the dirty one from the patio, the greasy one from dinner, and the one used to dry dishes) in the wash with a few of our other bath and kitchen towels, and did the laundry as I normally, do, per Bambooee's instructions: Machine wash in cold or warm water, and let air dry.
The results were surprising. The towels were a bit softer than the day before, and looked almost like new—though there was still a bit of discoloration on the greasy dinner towel. The Bambooee website suggests washing them with bleach to get the bright white look back, but I couldn't bring myself to run a special load for a handful of "paper" towels.
But back to that one small problem: What do you do with all these towels? A roll of Bambooee towels is a convenient and easy replacement for paper towels when you break them out of the package for the first time and put the roll on your paper towel holder. But after that, they're just used paper towels you have to keep around the kitchen, and stick in your washing machine with your regular laundry. And even when they're clean, there's no easy place to put them—they can't go back on the roll, so my freshly cleaned towels end up sitting quarter-folded in a corner of the countertop, looking clean enough but certainly not spotless. I guess you could put your dirty bamboo towels in your regular clothes hamper. But one, that's inexplicably gross to me. And two, I don't exactly keep my clothes hamper in the kitchen. Regardless, the "pile in the corner method" worked well enough, even if it was inelegant. Over the course of the next week and a half, I used the three once-washed towels again, and grabbed a handful of fresh new sheets off the roll.
Although we haven't found the perfect storage solution yet, I'm determined to stick with it. In the two weeks that I've been using Bambooee towels, we're only about halfway through the 20-sheet roll of bamboo towels (my two-weeks' worth of 10 sheets are in the washer as I type). And although I've still reached for a paper towel here and there, the traditional roll I put on the paper towel holder at the start of the experiment is still totally full (pre-Bambooee, we would have used most of a 3-pack by now). I feel like I could go all summer without buying another paper cleaning product—and that would be a huge green clean transformation.
The biggest barrier to making the switch to a bamboo towel life is certainly working it into your routine. Once you have a system and a solution for storing both dirty, about-be-be-washed bamboo towels and the freshly-cleaned ones, you'll be good to go. But that—plus the paper towels, if you elect to keep them around—takes up a lot of kitchen counter or cabinet space. That said, reaching for a Bamboo towel is just as simple as reaching for a paper towel, and they work way better, especially for deep cleaning.
A roll of Bambooee is $10 on Amazon, which is quite a lot more than a $1-$2 roll of paper towels. But the reusability of it—a single 20-sheet roll of Bambooee is equivalent to 286 paper towel rolls, according to the company—makes the per-use cost way less. Doing a little back-of-the-napkin math, I'm guessing we normally spend about $72 on 72 rolls of paper towels in a year, but in the post-Bambooee world, we could use one roll of Bambooee towels and only 6 rolls of paper towels (a generous estimate) for a total of $16 per year.
No contest here. Every time I use and re-use a Bambooee, I'm creating zero waste. They aren't infinitely reusable—each towel is estimated to stand up to 100 washes—but a single roll of bamboo towels will certainly last a year in our two-person household.
Have you ever used bamboo towels?