To All the Paper Towels I’ve Used Before

It’s a well-known fact that not all paper towels are created equal. Some of them have all the absorbent qualities of cardboard, while others are like someone took a sponge and turned it into paper form through the miracle of modern science. The trick, of course, is finding that sweet spot where you’re not paying an arm and a leg for drying your hands, and you’re not just smearing water around while pretending you’re having some sort of an effect. There are bonus points for being environmentally friendly, as well.

And because This Is Important, I figured I’d devote a whole blog post to the topic. Ranking the drying methods out there, from worst to best. I’m going to use a couple of different factors to rate them each. First: ease of use. Second: affordability. Third: effectiveness. Fourth: environmental friendliness. Fifth: ick factor. You know you want to read it . . .

Public Restroom Drying Options

When heading to the bathroom in a public place, I almost always wash my hands. (The times I haven’t are more due to the fact that the sink is broken, or there is no soap, or the very thought of touching the sink convinces me it’ll be much worse in the long run, so I just go find some hand sanitizer instead.) However, there have been plenty of times I choose to just wipe my hands on my pants or air dry them instead. Here are some of the worst options:

  • Blown Air Dryers: Ease of use (2). Affordability (4). Effectiveness (1-3). Environmental Friendliness (3). Ick Factor (5). There are different types of air dryers. It’s a plus that they just need a press of a button or wave of the hand to get them going, but the thought of using one now (after COVID) leaves much to be desired. There are enough germs in a bathroom already. We really don’t need to make them more airborne. Plus, some air dryers are better than others. At the bottom of the heap are the one’s that don’t really blow much in the way of air. It’s more like a gentle breeze, and you’ll be standing there for the next 10 years before your hands are dry. Then there are the ones that make you stick your hand inside them to activate them, going on the theory that those germs aren’t just going to spread themselves, so it’s more helpful if you put your hands into a spot that can collect the germs and deliver them more efficiently. Then you’ve got the industrial wind machines that try to take your skin off, since skin can’t be wet if it’s not on your body. But blown air dryers really suffer because they are so hyper focused. You can’t wipe a table off with one. You can’t blow your nose with one. (Granted, I haven’t tried to blow my nose with one, but . . . )
  • Hand Towels: Ease of use (5). Affordability (1). Effectiveness (5). Environmental Friendliness (4). Ick Factor (5). I suppose some places think they’re being home-ier by providing real towels to dry hands. I would sooner use a rabid skunk, but maybe some people out there prefer these? When I see a towel in a public bathroom, I can’t help but think what horrors that towel has seen over the last days or weeks. True, there are those funky machines that have towels on some kind of a rolling loop mechanism, where you pull down to expose a new piece of towel, but I’ve always found them more than a little suspect. If I see anything cloth-related, I’ll just wave my hands dry, thank you very much. I don’t care if they’re effective or easy to use. No.
  • Paper Towels: Ease of use (1-5). Affordability (4). Effectiveness (1-5). Environmental Friendliness (3). Ick Factor (1). The good thing about a paper towel is that you know where it’s been. If it’s nice and crisp, you don’t have to worry about the ick factor too much. The problem with them is you never know the experience you’re going to have when you get one. Some of them absorb about as well as a rock. Some of them get drenched after you’ve put about a teaspoon of water into them. Some people solve this problem by just taking about a bakers’ dozen of the paper towels before they start to try to dry their hands, but that really sinks the environmental friendliness score. On the other hand, you can indeed take some of these for using elsewhere, so yay for that. In an ideal world, a public restroom has paper towels that dry your hands with a single towel. That rarely happens.

Home Options

  • Paper Towels: Ease of use (5). Affordability (2). Effectiveness (5). Environmental Friendliness (2). Ick Factor (1). If money were no object, and I didn’t care about the environment at all, then brand name paper towels would be where it was at. Bounty, baby. The quicker picker upper. My problem is that I hate throwing money away, and I hate just making extra unnecessary waste. Bounty does both of these. I generally compromise by getting the paper towels that are half as wide as the normal ones, and even then I end up tearing those in half to make sure I’m just using what I need. But I still have a hard time using one without thinking that I could have used a cloth napkin or a hand towel instead. That said, there are definitely things you just need a paper towel for. What sort of a monster kills a spider with cloth towel?
  • Cloth Napkins: Ease of use (4). Affordability (2). Effectiveness (4). Environmental Friendliness (2). Ick Factor (3). They definitely get the job done. The big problem here is that they’re often too small, and they tend to get stained after a while, to the point that you debate whether or not they’re really clean, even after they’re straight out of the washing machine. I always feel kind of guilty giving guests cloth napkins unless they’re pristine. (The napkins, not the guests.) Also, these aren’t the cheapest route to go by any means.
  • Hand Towels: Ease of use (5). Affordability (1). Effectiveness (5). Environmental Friendliness (2). Ick Factor (3). I mean, if I had money just coming out of my eyeballs, then I’d use hand towels for everything. Definitely absorbent. They’ll dry pretty much anything you need. But they just aren’t that good for single-use applications. Maybe I just need to get over my inner desire to make each hand towel last as long as humanly possible before I have to wash it . . .
  • Actual Towels: Ease of use (2). Affordability (1). Effectiveness (5). Environmental Friendliness (1). Ick Factor (5). Proof that there can, indeed, be too much of a good thing. For one thing, buying actual towels is neither cheap nor easy to use for most tasks. You’ve just got too much terry. For another, when I go to the bathroom at a friend’s house and all that’s there is their actual towel, I start to get flashbacks to public bathrooms. Just sayin’.

So what’s the solution? What’s the one towel to rule them all? I’m afraid the search continues, for me. So far, the most universal towel option I’ve found happens to typically be “wipe your hands on your pants.” Unfortunately, this has a very low Wife Tolerance Rating, which often ends up being the most critical score of all.

How about you? Got any good towel tips, or horror stories of what to avoid? Please share.


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