Dishtowels, with their no-nonsense pattern design (that blue/white or red/white check or plaid or stripe has endured for decades) and soft texture (the finest are usually 50 percent cotton/50 percent linen), are not only nostalgic (lay one over that apple pie while it cools!) but well… handy. You can clean up messes, dry things, spray your cleaner and wipe away stains.

Kitchen towel made with cotton and linen.

Kitchen dish towel made with 50% cotton and 50% linen.

You can wrap around your waist as a classy apron and finally, as towels are washed and become threadbare, convert them into rags. For a long while I was using recycled paper towels, which I would throw into my compost and eventually add to the garden. This seemed a perfect “cycle of life” ritual, but the thing was – cotton dishtowels – despite the fact that they required washing (and thus electricity, detergent and waste) – to me were an aesthetic superior.

Kitchen towel close-up.

A detail of the weave from a cotton-linen dish towel.

Nothing’s ever black or white, especially when it comes to environmental issues – the web can get tangled when you’re trying to measure waste versus cost – what is good for the world and what is bad. Amid the myriad of arguments on either side, the simple decisions sometimes seem the most confusing.

Blue-and-white kitchen towel.

A classic crosshatch dish towel.

I may not be able to put dishtowels in the garden, but with the re-usability of long-lasting cotton and linen fiber, they seem both a practical, ethical and aesthetically rewarding choice. Fabric or paper – let me know what you think.

Detail of blue kitchen towel.

Detail of a kitchen towel weave.


  1. HG
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 8:56 AM | Permalink

    Kitchen towels? I can't think of a more boring subject to read about.

  2. Posted January 12, 2010 at 5:21 AM | Permalink

    @HG, could not disagree more. post too brief infact. history of those touristy dishtowels from the UK, airing cupboards, patterns… could go on all day.

  3. Mia
    Posted January 13, 2010 at 11:41 PM | Permalink

    These must be two "men comments". Have you ever dryed waver-thin glas with a regular dishtowel? Take a 50% cotton / 50% linen one and you will see the difference!

  4. Ra
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:52 PM | Permalink

    They can too go back to the garden! My husband and I just lined our weedy garden paths with old king-sized pillow cases, added a layer of cardboard (needed to get rid of all the boxes), and covered with a ton of pulled weeds to make it look more natural. Those things will take their time decomposing, but in the mean time will provide an excellent weed barrier! You could always just cut up the towel and put it into the compost, it won't take too long to decompose.

    Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:04 AM | Permalink


  6. Elllen
    Posted August 30, 2014 at 4:45 PM | Permalink

    I use cheese cloth for rags and use over and over, I have even gifted som but the new generation cannot give up their paper towels!

  7. alexredgrave
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 7:55 AM | Permalink

    We couldn't agree more, Ellen!

  8. LMG
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 5:48 AM | Permalink

    I love dish towels and I love shopping for them, I have not used paper towels for thirty years, we also use cloth napkins at our home. Try the linen towels or flax towels, if you have fine stemware these leave no lint residue on your china or glassware. Enjoy life, we are such a throw away society. Try it you might like it.

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