How to Go Paper-Free in Your Kitchen

Paper free in Kitchen

A few years ago, I wrote a post sharing about our grocery budget (read how we spend $200/month to feed our family of 4). That post has been the most popular post on this blog, pinned more than 50k times.

With all of those readers, there have been many questions and comments. One of the most common questions I have received involve not using paper products in the kitchen. The response is usually one of 3 things:

  • I could never do that because we have a bigger family, busier schedule, etc.
  • How in the world do you do without paper products in your kitchen?
  • I would love to do that but don’t know where to start.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with how to answer these comments, especially the “how to” type of questions because it doesn’t feel like something we’ve worked at, but just something we do.

However, my husband told me recently that a friend of ours asked that very question, so I thought that I would post about some of the practical logistics of how we make it work.

1. Start Small

If you want to make the switch, but you’re overwhelmed, start small. Choose one area to focus on, and keep at it until it’s your new normal, and then move on to another. Buy one pack of paper plates, cups, napkins, etc. and challenge yourself to make them last longer. Cut out the paper towels and use only cloth. If that feels too hard, start with napkins instead.

Just start somewhere and make baby steps toward where you want to go.

2. Replacing Disposable Items

Cloth Napkins instead of Paper Ones. 

We use cloth napkins. I have slowly built up our collection as I find them at thrift stores, etc. However, you can also get them new of course, like these basic ones for less than $1 each which is my goal price. We use these every day, at every meal.

The biggest problem is that guests sometimes are a bit uncomfortable with using them, since they are usually more accustomed to using paper napkins.

They are small and don’t take up a lot of extra room, so I can easily throw them into the wash with other things.

Dish Towels in place of Paper Towels.

Okay, so they make lots of fancy reusable towels, some even snap together so that you can put them on a roll like paper towels. While that serves the purpose of helping the environment, at around $60 for a set of 10, it’s not so good on the budget!

So, I use basic dish towels instead. I have probably 20-30 dish towels. Many of ours have been gifts (my family loves to give these for Christmas, etc.), or from the dollar store, Walmart, Etc. You can get this set of 12 basic dish towels for less than $10

We use these for everything from drying dishes to wiping up small messes in the kitchen–things most people would use paper towels for. It works for us!

For messier cleaning, I use regular towels and hand towels, along with scrubbers occasionally.

 A note on keeping your dish cloths and dish towels fresh: Every few months (or if you notice odors), wash your dish towels and dish cloths in very hot water. Run one wash with 1 cup of vinegar. Another wash with hot water and 1/2 cup baking soda. For best results, line dry, but you can also use your dryer. This helps cut out build ups.

Glass or Plastic Cups, Bowls & Plates

For drinking, we use mostly glasses, including our children. When we need something portable, or need a lid, I like these plastic double-wall cups with lids and straws. However, we’ve been working to move away from plastic, so I’m looking forward to trying out these stainless steel ones.

We drink mostly water, so we usually keep the same cup throughout the day. Because we’ve done this for years, it works for us.

We use glass plates and bowls at our meals, including the children. The exception to this is that I have some cheaper hard plastic plates that we use for parties, etc. They are similar to these BPA-free ones from preserve or Ikea. They are a bit more than you’d pay for a pack of disposable ones, but you will save money over time as you use them for years to come.

We also use real silverware. We have 2 sets so that we’ll always have enough for guests, so plastic/disposable cutlery is never used in our house.

A note about washing dishes. I am a stay-at-home mom, but I am also a homeschooling mom, and am busy just as we all are. It is not that big of a deal to wash a few extra dishes once you get used to it.

Packing Lunches

My husband takes his work to lunch about 60% of the time. He either uses our glass storage bowls with lids, or plastic containers like these in an insulated lunchbox.

Just Do It

The bottom line is to make a commitment and do it.  There are things about our budget that may be difficult at times, but I can say with assurance that this isn’t one of them. My husband and I discussed this recently and we are so happy that we don’t use paper products in our kitchen, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It may take some getting used to at first, but it was a great choice for us and isn’t difficult at all. And for those of you who’ve said, “that’s easy with only 2 children,” we have friends with larger families who do this as well. It’s very possible for most families.

Give Yourself Grace

Even though we are 99% paper-free in the kitchen, there are still some disposable things we keep on hand. I keep aluminum foil and plastic wrap on hand for the rare occasion that I need it, but it is very rare. I also keep a roll of paper towels for things like draining grease from bacon, hamburger, etc. We literally use about 1 roll of paper towels per year or less.

Occasionally, I will also pull out some paper plates (that my mother-in-law brings when she comes for a visit, and that we’ve had in our cabinet for literally years) for birthday parties, etc.


  1. Piper says

    I haven’t bought any paper products for several years now. I used unbleached muslin to make coffee filters, flannel for “paper towels”(even drain meat on them, then into the wash they go,) handkerchiefs for tissues, and even made flannel toilet wipes. I used left over fabric for everything so no cost to me. I make all my own household cleaners, too. I used left over fleece for Swiffer dusters, dustmop covers, and even the wet mop with the cleaning solution on it. I put my own vinegar, water, essential oil mixture in the bottle. My budget has been helped tremendously by these small “fixes.”

    • Crystal Brothers says

      Love that, Piper! Thanks for sharing! I’ve been too scared to drain grease on the cloth, worried it wouldn’t come completely out or would get other things in the wash all greasy. I may try it though. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!

        • Anne says

          Piper, I know your comment was two years ago but would you mind sharing your homemade detergent recipe? I still haven’t found one that works well.

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