How to Make Reusable Paper Towels and Hankies

Reusable Paper Towels | Octaves of Color

Reusable Paper Towels | Octaves of Color

I hate sponges. I don’t like how they smell or how they stay wet on the counter. And I can’t handle having sponge smell on my hands. Instead, I end up using mountains of paper towels to clean. I love being able to grab a new one for each surface. But all of those paper towels add up—in dollars and in the landfill. So I decided to take the plunge and make a set of reusable paper towels. While I was at it, I made a bunch of reusable hankies, too.

Reusable Paper Towels: Selecting a Style

Until now, the primary obstacle that kept me from choosing reusable paper towels was that I didn’t want my reusables to become another “sponge” in my life—a wet, stinky, not-so-clean cleaning item. My solution was to make a lot of them so I could treat them like a single-use wipe. After one use, the reusable paper towel goes directly into a pile to be washed.

Reusable Paper Towels | Octaves of Color

There are many ways to make reusable wipes. Some people use snaps or Velcro and roll them up on a tube to more closely mimic the look and feel of a paper towel roll (like this). It’s adorable. But, for me, impractical. I know that after a couple washes, my wipes would never make it back onto the roll. So I opted to create a set of uniform, and independent towels without any connectors. They might not look as cute, but they will work better for my lifestyle.

Finding Materials

Reusable Hankies | Octaves of Color

I found all of my materials at the thrift store (the green flannel was apparently the scraps of a Christmas tree cut-out). I sought out flannel due to its availability and softness. Terry cloth brought scrubbing power and greater absorbency to a portion of my wipes. I reserved the cutest color and print, a blue, red and white plaid, for the hankies since I knew I’d be carrying those around in my pocket.

Making the Wipes

Reusable Paper Towels | Dimensions | Octaves of Color

I used a rotary cutter and cutting mat to slice up my fabrics into two sizes of paper towels. I cut some towels into larger rectangles measuring 12” by 14” while others are smaller 9” squares. All of the towels are double layered with either two layers of flannel or one layer of flannel and one layer of terry cloth. All of the hankies measure 9” square and are a single layer of flannel.

Reusable Paper Towels | Octaves of Color

I chose the simplest construction I could think of for my reusable paper towels and hankies: a serged edge. If you don’t have a serger, you could also use an overcast stitch on your sewing machine (like a zigzag or blind hem stitch) to finish the edges and prevent fraying.


Crisp square hankies (like these) look beautiful, but they are a lot slower to serge. I rounded the corners on all of my reusable paper towels and hankies to help make construction and finishing go faster. You can serge around all four rounded corners in one continuous step. I used a plastic electrical tape holder as a guide to cut off the corners, although you can use any guide you have on hand (drinking glasses work well!).

After you finish serging around the edge, you will be left with one serger tail. There are lots of ways to secure a serger tail (see helpful link here for other methods), but my favorite is to use a needle to weave the tail into the serger stitches.

How to Secure Serger Tails | Octaves of Color

Steps to Secure Serger Tails:
  1. Thread all threads of the tail into the eye of a (large) hand sewing needle. I think it’s easier to do this with untangled serger threads.
  2. Weave the threads into the serger stitches for about ¾” in one direction
  3. Then weave the threads into the serger stitches for about ¾” back in the exact opposite direction
  4. Clip excess thread

This method is a little tedious, but it’s really secure and looks really nice. The tails are almost invisible and the threads are not going to work their way out, even after many washes.

The Breakdown

Reusable Paper Towels and Hankies | Octaves of Color

In all, I made 30 reusable paper towels (20 large and 10 small) and 40 hankies for less than $10. I used thrifted terry cloth ($2.00) and flannel ($7.50). I’m hopeful that these will keep me free from icky sponges and mounds of used paper towels for a long time.

Happy sewing!

Have you tried reusable paper towels or hankies?
What do you think of them?


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    1. Thanks! I store the used towels in my laundry area (it’s just off of the kitchen) and I wash them every couple of days. I’ve been thinking about creating a container to store the dirty ones in so they don’t end up on the floor, but I haven’t gotten there just yet!

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