Paper towels are essential household items. Luckily for us, they are now designed to be more eco-friendly than ever before; some are reusable, compostable, and washable, while others are perforated, so you only tear off what you need.
We conducted hours of research on paper towels, evaluating each brand on value, number of sheets per roll, and ply count for absorbency. Our top pick is the Brawny Tear-A-Square Paper Towel because it's absorbent, affordable, and comes in multiple sizes.
Ahead, find the best paper towels for your home.
Best Overall: Brawny Tear-A-Square Paper Towels
Three sheet size options
Ideal for spills of any size
More expensive than competitors
Who else recommends it? Bob Vila, This Old House, and Good Housekeeping all picked Brawny Tear-A-Square Paper Towels.
What do buyers say? 86% of 45,400+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 5 stars.
Our top pick for best paper towels is the Brawny Tear-A-Square Paper Towels. Not only are Brawny paper towels one of the most affordable picks on the market, but they also have a unique feature that sets them apart from the rest. They are the only paper towels that have horizontal perforations as well as vertical ones, allowing you to tear off a full, half, or even a quarter of a sheet. Offering exceptional strength and absorbency, these paper towels are great at picking up liquid spills of any size, from a small coffee overflow to a dropped dish of spaghetti.
These paper towels aren’t limited to everyday cleanups, which adds to their versatility. The 5.5-inch square shape can be used as a coaster, and the half sheet works great as a napkin. They have a soft and cloth-like texture, which feels pleasant on the skin. With more than double the amount of sheets per roll compared to other brands, these paper towels are an excellent value.
Best Budget: Sparkle Paper Towels
Strong and absorbent
Perforations for full- and half-size sheets
Available in various prints
Not as absorbent as other options
Less sheets per roll
With Sparkle Paper Towels, you don’t have to sacrifice effectiveness for an affordable clean. Thanks to pocketed crevices within the design, these 2-ply paper towels are strong and absorbent. The pick-a-size rolls let you tear off a full- or half-sheet, depending on the size of the spill. They also come in a plus-size version; each sheet is over an inch wider than regular sheets. If you want to add some pizzazz to your cleaning routine, Sparkle towels are available in different prints–and they come in white too.
These paper towels might not be quite as absorbent as Bounty towels, but that’s to be expected considering the price difference. When compared to other brands, Sparkle doesn’t give you as many sheets per roll; however, the half-size sheets make it easier to use less.
Best for Absorbency: Bounty Select-A-Size Paper Towels
Thick and sturdy texture
Convenient select-a-size option
Higher price point
Bounty Paper Towels are 2-ply, making them thick and soft to the touch. It also gives them superior absorbency. A single sheet can mop up large spills in one swipe. Bounty towels have small crevices in their design, which help to scrub away sticky messes and pick up loose dirt and debris. Even when they take on a lot of liquid, such as a spilled soda or wine bottle, they don’t crumble or disintegrate when wet.
The select-a-size feature is very convenient since you can tear off the exact amount you need while reducing unnecessary waste. Bounty paper towels are available in double and triple-sized rolls, so you won’t have to replace them nearly as often. Although they are a bit pricier than most of our other picks, they tend to last longer.
Best Recycled: 365 Everyday Value Paper Towels
Made with recycled paper
Free from dyes and harsh chemicals
Works well on most spills
Sheets are one size
Not as strong as other options
Made from 100 percent recycled content, 365 Everyday Value Paper Towels are just as absorbent as traditional paper towels. They don’t contain any fragrances, dyes, or inks, making them a good choice for people with sensitive skin. These towels are whitened using a more environmentally-friendly process rather than bleached with chlorine, which could release toxic chemicals. Although they’re not as strong or absorbent as the Bounty or Brawny paper towels, they still get the job done.
One drawback to these paper towels is that they lack half-perforations, so you might use a bit more than you need. This slightly defeats their eco-friendly purpose, but at least they’re affordably priced at a dollar per roll. Some customers have also complained that the paper is too thin and tears easily.
Best Bamboo: Kitchen + Home Bamboo Towels
Reusable up to 120 times
Thick and absorbent
Perforated for easy tearing
Needs to be stored when not in use
For those looking to maintain a more eco-friendly household, bamboo paper towels are a great alternative to traditional options. These towels are reusable up to 120 times, which will significantly reduce waste and likely prove more cost-effective in the long run. Some reusable towels are on the flimsy side, but the Kitchen + Home brand is surprisingly thick, soft, and sturdy. In fact, some people use these towels as replacement pads for their flat mops. Since they’re highly absorbent, you can tackle just about any spill in your home.
The only hitch is finding a place to store the towels once you’ve torn them off the roll. However, there are plenty of workarounds for that issue: You can tuck them into a basket or stack them in an empty wipes container. The sheets are machine-washable, so they’re effortless to clean. You could also pop them in the dryer on low heat, but air-drying is best if you want to preserve their quality and shape.
Best Reusable: Swedish Wholesale Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths
Each cloth can be used 50 times or more
Smaller than standard paper towels
Higher upfront cost
Made from cellulose and natural cotton, these Swedish dishcloths can hold up to 20 times their weight. In addition to their impressive absorbency, each dishcloth can be washed and reused more than 50 times. They come in a variety of colors and are sold in packs of 10. On average, one pack lasts for about a year, which is enough to replace 150 standard paper towel rolls. What’s more, you can toss these cloths into the compost bin when they lose their verve.
These dishcloths are machine-washable, and they're safe to use on wood, marble, stainless steel, tile, and a variety of other surfaces. They are incredibly soft when wet and gritty enough to be used for scouring when dry, further adding to their versatility. Measuring 8 x 7 inches, these dishcloths are smaller than standard paper towels, so they're not quite as effective at wiping up large spills.
Best for Windows: Scott Shop Towels
Deliver a streak-free shine
Ideal for bigger spills and messes
Less towels per roll than other options
Getting a streak-free finish when cleaning glass can seem like an impossible task, but Scott Shop Towels are up for the challenge. They are untreated and don’t contain any binders, so they won’t leave streaks or lint behind. Their smooth, cloth-like texture makes them ideal for delicate surfaces like windows, mirrors, and electric stovetops. They don’t have the quilting that you’ll find on other brands, which can make some paper towels feel rough.
These paper towels are often used in auto body shops to mop up grease and oil, which attests to their impressive absorbency. They’re also equipped to handle more substantial household messes, too. Despite their stellar performance, these specialty towels are very affordable; they cost about 1.4 cents per sheet, so you don’t have to pay a premium to achieve a streak-free shine. Compared to other brands, you get significantly fewer towels per roll, but if their use is limited to glass, you won’t run through them quickly.
Best for Bathroom: Scott Essential Multifold Paper Towel
Pocketed design for absorbency
Perfect for single towel dispensing
Not as thick or absorbent as other brands
Not as effective on big spills
If you prefer to use paper towels in the bathroom for hand drying, Scott Essential Multifold Paper Towels are a great choice. You can tuck them into a basket or purchase a dispenser, which allows you to pull out a single sheet without coming into contact with the next. Not only is single towel dispensing more sanitary, but it also cuts down on waste. At less than a cent per sheet, these towels are one of the most affordable options on the market.
Since they are single-ply, they won’t be as thick or absorbent as premium options, but they have signature “absorbency pockets” that soak up water. You may need two towels to fully dry your hands, and a few more to mop up big spills. However, they’re perfect for lightweight jobs like wiping down the counter or sweeping up crumbs.
Our top pick is Brawny Tear-A-Square Paper Towels because they are affordable, absorbent, and strong enough to tackle big spills. Their horizontal and vertical perforations allow you to tear off a full, half, and quarter of a sheet, so you use less paper per wipe than with other brands. If you're looking for a more eco-friendly choice, consider Kitchen + Home Bamboo Towels, a bamboo alternative that you can throw in the washing machine up to 120 times.
What to Look for in Paper Towels
Each brand of paper towel has a different number of sheets per roll, and the size of a full sheet will vary as well. Most sheets are 11 inches in height, but they can range from 5.5 inches to 11 inches in width. Determining the value of a particular product can be tricky because you also have to consider absorbency. With a highly absorbent paper towel, you don’t need to use as many sheets to clean up a spill.
Perforated paper towel rolls, which allow you to select the size you want, are a better value and more eco-friendly because you don’t have to use more than what’s necessary. Reusable towels cost more upfront, but they can last for years, saving you money in the long run.
Paper towels are made of ground-up, recyclable plant materials called cellulose, including cotton, wood, and other plants. Cellulose is made up of small sugar molecules, and these molecules give paper towels their absorbency. When shopping for paper towels, a good indicator of absorbency is the ply count. Paper towel quality is measured in plies. Due to its thicker texture, 2-ply paper is stronger and more absorbent than single-ply paper.
According to Darby Hoover, a sustainability expert with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), paper towels can be washed and reused in some instances. “If you’ve only used a paper towel to absorb water, you may be able to dry it and reuse it, but it is not recommended to reuse paper towels that have been in contact with food, other beverages, or pet waste," she says.
As an alternative, you can opt for a cloth or bamboo option, which you can use multiple times. You can use some of these recommended towels dozens of times before needing to be replaced.
Can you flush paper towels?
No. Unlike toilet paper, paper towels aren’t designed to break down easily in water. In fact, their larger size and dense texture may clog the toilet, especially if you’re on a septic system.
Are paper towels compostable?
Hoover says the answer is yes. “You can put them in your backyard compost. Shred them first so they don’t mat up," she says. "Some municipalities accept them in municipal compost pickup. You can check your local compost protocols to see if that applies to you.”
However, just be mindful about what you used the paper towels for, before tossing them in your compost. Katie Berry, The Spruce's Cleaning Review Board member, advises to not "compost paper towels used with cleaning products, paint, automobile oil," or anything of that nature.
Can paper towels be recycled?
Used paper towels cannot be recycled because they often come into contact with food, grease, and other soiled items, posing a contamination risk to the recycling process. However, the cardboard tube from your paper towel roll is recyclable. Although eco-friendly towels tend to be higher in price, they can, of course, be used more than once—which makes them a more sustainable alternative.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Sage McHugh is a freelance writer specializing in home decor and lifestyle content. She has written for The Spruce since 2019. For this roundup, Sage researched dozens of paper towels, carefully evaluating each product's size, material, absorbency, and usability. She also took hundreds of customer reviews and write-ups from third-party websites into account. Additional input was provided by Darby Hoover, a sustainability expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).