Are Paper Towels Compostable? The Answer Isn't So Cut and Dry

Paper towels can be compostable, but it depends on their composition and what they were used for. Here's the dirt, plus our six favorite picks.

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Jun. 21 2024, Published 4:19 p.m. ET

roll of paper towels
Source: Stock Photo

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POV: You've just wiped up a giant wine spill just in time to save the rug from being destroyed, and the result is a massive wad of soaked and stained paper towels. What now? Just stuff it all into the trash? Well, you could, but they'll just join the other 13 billion pounds of paper towels dumped in landfills each year. There, they'll release methane and take seemingly forever to decompose. Or to compost them. But are paper towels compostable? Well, sometimes.

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The 6 Best Compostable Paper Towels

Best Recycled Paper: Who Gives A Crap 100% Recycled Paper Towels, 6 Rolls ($20)

Best Recycled Paper Subscription Service: Reel Recycled Paper Towels, 12 Rolls ($50)

Best Bamboo: Cloud Paper Bamboo Paper Towels, 12 Rolls ($39, was $45)

Best Bamboo Subscription Service: Repurpose Premium Bamboo Paper Towels, 6 Rolls ($24)

Most Absorbent: Tork Handi-Size Perforated Roll Towel, 30 Rolls ($60, was $75)

Best Adjustable Sheet Size: Betterway Bamboo Natural Brown Paper Towels, 12 Rolls ($32, was $34)

Are paper towels compostable?

Paper towels can be compostable, but it depends on their composition and what they were used for. If they're not made using harmful chemicals, dyes, and inks, they're more likely to be compostable.

What you're actually wiping up matters, too. As long as your paper towels haven't been used to clean up non-compostable materials like oils, chemical cleaners, or meat juices, they can generally be composted. If you've used them to wipe up organic things like water, plant-based materials, or other compostable foods—or, yes, wine—they're typically safe for composting.

On the flip side, if you've used paper towels to wipe away chemical cleaners, paints, shoe polish, and other non-compostable substances, they're disqualified from the compost bin. Ditto for cooking oils and greases.

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Compostable Paper Towels

Paper towels are a sticky subject. Should you stick to dish towels? Invest in reusable paper towels? If you like your paper towels and want to keep using them, it's best to use a compostable brand—preferably one that relies on sustainable sourcing and forgoes plastic packaging. We found six of the best, most absorbent, and Earth-friendly compostable paper towels, so keep scrolling.

Who Gives a Crap 100% Recycled Paper Towels, 6 Rolls

Save the trees by opting for Who Gives A Crap 100% Recycled Paper Towels, which are made of 100% recycled paper. They're ultra-absorbent and made without dyes or inks, so they perform well before you pop them in the compost bin. They're also packed in recyclable paper. Kudos to the company for donating 50 percent of the profits to build toilets in developing countries.

$20 at Who Gives a Crap
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Reel Recycled Paper Towels, 12 Rolls

Reel Recycled Paper Towels have two-ply absorbency and are made from 100 percent recycled paper. They break down easily when you compost them, and so does their recyclable packaging. Reel emphasizes sustainable practices and supports global sanitation projects. Opt for a one-time purchase or save money by subscribing to auto-delivery every four to 16 weeks.

$50 at Reel Products

Cloud Paper Bamboo Paper Towels

These Cloud Paper bamboo paper towels typically decompose within 2 to 6 months under optimal composting conditions. These towels are designed to minimize environmental impact by reducing landfill waste and to respect the planet and bamboo supply by using FSC-certified bamboo. And even though these paper towels are white, they're bleach-free.

$39 (was $45) at Cloud Paper
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Repurpose Premium Bamboo Paper Towels, 6 Rolls

Repurpose Bamboo Paper Towels bypass the trees altogether and use sustainable (and compostable) FSC Certified bamboo, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional paper. Bamboo fiber's natural properties allow it to break down relatively quickly compared to conventional paper towels. Repurpose emphasizes sustainability right down to the recycled packaging. While both bamboo options in this list offer auto-delivery, we like that you can choose the amount and frequency of your deliveries with Repurpose.

$24 at Repurpose

Tork Handi-Size Perforated Roll Towel, 30 Rolls

For big cleanups, try the high-bulk Tork Handi-Size Perforated Compostable Paper Towels, made of 100% recycled EcoLogo-certified paper and designed to be highly absorbent and durable. Made from compostable materials, they break down efficiently, reducing waste. They come in two sizes: small and jumbo. The packaging is eco-friendly, too, as it's made of recyclable cardboard.

$60 (was $77) at Amazon

Betterway Bamboo Natural Brown Paper Towels

Made from natural, unbleached FSC-certified bamboo, Betterway Bamboo Paper Towels are tough on spills, two-ply strength, and superior absorbency — but they're gentle on the environment. Their compostable nature ensures they break down efficiently, and their packaging is plastic-free and recyclable. These rolls help you reduce waste further with select-a-size sheets.

$32 (was $34) at Amazon
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