This Small Swap Will Instantly Make Your Cleaning Routine Less Wasteful

published Apr 19, 2022
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Someone pulling out full trash bag.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Living in a modern world means figuring out how to walk that fine line between convenience and waste. On the one hand, most of us are grateful we don’t have to scrub our hands raw to wash the laundry or clean the floor. On the other, many of these modern cleaning shortcuts create a large amount of waste. From paper towels and throwaway cleaning pads to plastic bottles filled with various cleaning solutions, getting the house tidy often means sending products to landfills.

But if you’re in the process of creating a greener cleaning routine, there is one thing that you can do to make your process instantly less wasteful: Replace all of your paper towels and single-use pads with cleaning rags. My parents came from Poland, so I grew up cleaning everything from the floors to the windows to the knick-knacks on the credenza with rags. Paper towels were an expensive luxury, and we usually only used half of a sheet for the most immediate emergencies. But the older I got, the more I embraced the ever-so-convenient paper towel, mainly because I didn’t want the extra laundry to deal with at the end of the week. 

But I’m coming back around to it, especially since my trash can is a quarter full of discarded towels after cleaning the entire house on a Saturday afternoon. Rather than buying cloth towels, save any old sweatpants, t-shirts, bedsheets, or bath towels, and cut them into neat squares of varying sizes. You’ll want some big ones for your Swiffer and smaller ones to dust with. 

Next, you’ll need to find a convenient place to store them. I like to keep mine under the sink, in two plastic bins stacked on top of each other. The bottom bin is the “discard” pile that needs to be washed, and the top one stores the neatly folded rags. Whenever the counters need to be wiped down, the kitchen table needs a polish, or it’s time to clean the entire house, I just take what I need from the stockpile.

Not only do I save money on expensive Swiffer pads and bulk Costco paper towel purchases, but my trash can is a little less full each week. So the next time you have a ratty t-shirt you want to throw away, cut it up and see if the rag-life is for you. 

This piece is part of Green Week, where we’re talking about ways to make eco-friendly choices and contributions at home. Head over here to read more!