The Scott Paper Company introduced kitchen paper towels to the market in 1931, and they’ve since become an indispensable part of many households. While some are sold in precut stacks, most paper towels come in a continuous roll of perforated sheets, allowing you to easily tear off the amount you need.
Despite increased awareness of the environmental impact of the consumption of disposable paper products, Americans are still significant consumers of paper towels, using a total of 7.8 million metric tons (tonnes) per year—about 53 pounds per person. When it comes to cleaning up spills or wiping hands and faces, there’s nothing quite as easy to use, or sanitary, as good old-fashioned paper towels. From tidying up around the home to disinfecting high traffic areas, here is a list of the best paper towels to use.
- BEST OVERALL: Bounty Select-A-Size Paper Towels, 12 Double Rolls
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Sparkle Modern White Pick-A-Size Paper Towels
- BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: Seventh Generation Unbleached 100% Recycled
- BEST FOR TOUGH JOBS: Brawny Paper Towels, Tear-A-Square, 16 Double
- MOST ABSORBENT: VIVA Signature Cloth Choose-A-Sheet Paper Towels
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Paper Towels
Before shopping for paper towels, there are some key factors to consider. Though it’s easy to assume that all paper towel brands are the same because they work similarly, several characteristics can affect the quality. Keep reading to learn about some of the most important qualities to remember when shopping for the best paper towel for you.
Number of Rolls
Paper towels can be sold in single rolls or in packages of two, four, six, or 12 rolls. Bulk options are also available. Generally speaking, packages with a higher number of rolls are more economical.
Sheet Size and Number
When marketing paper towels, brands will refer to their roll sizes using terms like “double roll,” “mega roll,” and “family roll,” but these sizes aren’t necessarily consistent between manufacturers. The best way to compare paper towel prices is by looking at the number of sheets per roll. A standard roll typically contains 100 sheets.
However, it can still be difficult to calculate which product is the most economical, because each sheet’s dimensions vary depending on the brand. While most paper towel rolls are 11 inches in height, each sheet can vary in width from 5.5 inches to 11 inches.
Paper towels are typically made from one of three materials.
- Standard (or virgin) paper towels are the most commonly available on the market. They are made from the pulp of softwood trees. The fibers are then bleached to ensure a uniform white color.
- Recycled paper towels feature recycled paper pulp, making them more sustainable and eco-friendly.
- Bamboo paper towels are made from bamboo fibers. Because bamboo is a more easily renewable resource than softwood trees, it also makes for a more eco-friendly option.
Absorbency refers to how much liquid a paper towel can soak up. Paper towels must be absorbent for quickly wiping up spills. Most paper towels are coated in a translucent layer of resin, which makes the paper stronger when it becomes wet. They are then embossed to create small air pockets that aid in fluid absorption.
To test absorbency, experts measure the quantity of water that a sheet can take in before it begins to fall apart. While 2-ply paper towels tend to be more absorbent, some 1-ply models also fare well in these tests.
While softness isn’t quite as important with paper towels as it is with toilet paper, it’s still a key consideration if you use them as napkins at the dinner table to wipe your hands or face. In order to measure the softness of products like toilet paper and paper towels, sensory experts place the products in temperature and humidity-controlled rooms and evaluate their hand feel.
Paper towels typically have either one or two layers of material.
- 1-ply paper towels feature a single layer of paper. They disintegrate more easily after you dispose of them, making them more eco-friendly.
- 2-ply paper towels have two layers and are typically stronger and more absorbent than 1-ply paper towels. They do, however, also tend to be more expensive.
Paper towels are inherently wasteful, but some products have a reduced environmental impact because of the materials they’re made with and the way they are produced. Products made from either partially recycled paper or 100 percent recycled paper are readily available. Standard paper towels are typically bleached with chlorine to ensure that they have a pure white color. Because chlorine is a pollutant, unbleached varieties further lessen the product’s ecological footprint. Generally speaking, however, eco-friendly papers towels do tend to underperform compared with products made from virgin paper.
It’s important to note that paper towels take longer to disintegrate than toilet paper, and therefore you should never flush them down the toilet. However, paper towels are compostable if they haven’t been used with chemical cleaning products, and you can therefore dispose of them in an eco-friendly way.
Our Top Picks
The following recommendations take into account factors like material, absorbency, softness, sheets per roll, and eco-friendliness. This list features a variety of top-notch paper towel options to help you find the one that’s right for your needs and budget.
Bounty aims to create high-quality paper towels that stand up to spills and other kitchen messes. Each sheet is strong, absorbent, and doesn’t leave any lint behind on surfaces. While Bounty’s Select-A-Size Paper Towels are available in many different package sizes, this one includes 12 rolls, each of which has 110 sheets. Each sheet is 11 inches tall and 5.9 inches wide. It features narrower sheets so you can easily tear off a small amount for minor cleaning jobs, reducing waste in the process.
Bounty sources their paper fibers from responsibly managed forests and replant a tree for every one they use. Available at Walmart and The Home Depot.
These budget paper towels stand up to their pricier competitors. Despite the affordable cost, they soak up large quantities of water because their quilted 2-ply design is ideal for liquid absorption. This package includes six rolls, each of which contains 116 sheets of paper. Every sheet measures 11 inches tall by 6.5 inches wide, with the smaller width allowing you to tear off exactly as much as you need.
While these may not be quite as soft as some higher-end brands, they’re a great choice for cleaning. Available at Amazon or Walmart.
Those looking for a more sustainable option that doesn’t involve avoiding paper towels altogether will appreciate this pick from Seventh Generation. This listing is for a bulk package containing four packs with six rolls in each one. Every roll contains 120 sheets of 2-ply paper made from 100 percent recycled materials. Each sheet measures 11 inches by 9 inches.
The paper has no chlorine, dyes, inks, or fragrances and comes in fully recyclable packaging. The plush texture is both soft and strong, making it a great eco-friendly alternative to standard paper towels. This bulk package is available from Amazon, and standard quantities can be purchased at The Home Depot.
Brawny’s paper towels are made for tackling difficult jobs that require a little extra elbow grease. They’re both durable and resistant to tearing, while also offering excellent absorbency. This package contains 16 rolls, each of which has 128 individual sheets. Each sheet measures 11 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide.
While many brands offer narrower half-size sheets, these from Brawny can also be torn off in quarters, allowing you to use just a small square if that’s all you need for the task at hand. Additionally, the pulp used meets the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Fiber Sourcing Standard. Available at Walmart and Amazon.
Reusability makes this product stand apart from others on the market; rather than being fully disposable, each sheet can actually be rinsed and reused because of its excellent durability. Viva makes a variety of different styles of paper towels, and their Signature line is made to be ultrasoft and absorbent, with a thick texture that wipes up spills like a real cloth. Unlike many other products on the market, it has a smooth texture rather than an embossed one.
This package contains six rolls, with 110 sheets per roll. Each sheet measures 11 inches tall by 5.9 inches wide. Available at Walmart and Amazon.
FAQs About Paper Towels
With all the choices available, finding the best paper towels can be a bit overwhelming, so you might still have some questions. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about paper towels.
Q. Do paper towels break down in water?
Unlike toilet paper, paper towels do not break down in water, so it’s important never to flush them down the toilet, especially if you’re on a septic system.
Q. What makes a good paper towel?
High-quality paper towels are strong, soft, and absorbent.
Q. Which is more expensive, paper towels or napkins?
Because napkins don’t need to be as absorbent as paper towels, they are often available at a lower cost. These are a great solution for use on your dining table, but they probably won’t be effective at cleaning up major spills.