Simple Paper Product Swaps to Try

Been wanting to save more money and have to buy fewer things when you go to the store? Today I’m sharing some of the paper product swaps that we’ve made and you can try!

Been wanting to save more money and have to buy fewer things when you go to the store? Today I'm sharing some of the paper product swaps that we've made and you can try!

Simple Paper Product Swaps

There are many different reasons why a person would want to stop using paper products or to stop using as many paper products but today I’m just going to focus on the main reason why this is important to our family. Simply speaking, finding alternatives to paper products has saved us money and has saved us trips to the store.

Below you will find some of our favorite paper product alternatives and also some that friends of ours have tried. I hope that this helps you make easier decisions when you are looking for more ways to reduce your household budget and produce less waste!

Paper Towels

Paper Towels

Paper towels are one of the easiest things to replace. We stopped using them for almost everything (I still have a few on hand to clean up grease/oil) about 10 years ago.

If you want to replace your paper towels, you can always make some “Unpaper Towels” (find a tutorial here). If you just want to replace paper towels quickly you can grab a few of the cheap washrags at any store. (I’ve gotten mine at Target). For a totally free alternative, you can cut up old towels or old sheets to use as your paper towels.

You don’t need to do anything special to wash your cloth towels, I just toss mine in with the regular laundry on a wash day.

Cloth Napkins

Paper Napkins

Like with paper towels, we switched to cloth napkins instead of paper napkins many years ago. Over the years I’ve had to buy a few additional sets so we have enough to go around, but I still have yet to wear through the original set we bought. We prefer cloth napkins that are 100% cotton and I’ve gotten them from World Market and Hobby Lobby (during Christmas time).

Like the cloth paper towels, I just toss cloth napkins in the dirty laundry with everything else after we finish a meal. It’s nice to have at least 3 napkins per person in your household so you have enough for 3 meals a day.

Disposable Sanitary Goods

With everything that is on the market today, there is very little need for disposable sanitary goods unless you need them for being out and about. I and many other Little House Living readers have found cloth pads to be much more comfortable and you can make them yourself!

If you aren’t a pad person, there are many different options for “cups” that will work as well.

If you’d like to make your own pads, be sure and check out my Cloth Pads Tutorial.

Washing your cloth pads is just like washing anything else. I usually keep them separate from my regular dirty laundry until it’s wash time (in a wet bag) but when it’s time for them to be washed they just go in with everything else.

toilet paper

Toilet Paper

I will admit, this is one on the list that we don’t personally use a swap for but I know many that have made the switch or at least have cloth on hand for backup.

Family Cloth is the alternative to regular toilet paper. If you are struggling to find toilet paper in stock in your area or if you just don’t want the expense or the waste, this might be an option for you. My friend Beth has a post all about Family Cloth if this is something that interests you.

Tissues

If you want to reduce your paper usage even further you could consider using a good old-fashioned hankie instead of a tissue.

Our family still personally uses tissues because it doesn’t seem like we go through them very fast and I can find them for less than $1 per box, but I will admit that using handkerchiefs could work, especially if your household is made up of mostly adults or older children that could be responsible for keeping them with them.

If you do decide that handkerchiefs are the way to go for your family, I would recommend having at least one (or more) per person per day.

greeting cards

Greeting Cards

I love to send a good card just as much as the next person. In fact, that’s why we make our own cards and have them for sale in our online store Homestead Made!

But if you find yourself buying too many greeting cards and feeling like you are using too much paper, you might want to do what I used to do and create your own.

You can use parts of old greeting cards or scraps of paper to put together your own cards. My Granny and I used to cut the designs off of old cards that we had gotten and pieced them together with other paper to make a brand new card. It’s really easy to do and kind of fun!

newspaper

Newspapers and Magazines

Newspapers and magazines can add a very large amount of paper clutter to our homes but now there are many alternatives to consider!

If you really want to keep getting newspapers and magazines in physical form, consider downsizing your subscription list to only your favorites.

If you don’t really need them in physical form, almost all newspapers and magazines come with an online version (and it’s often cheaper!) that you can check out instead.

If none of these seem like a great option, it might just be time to stop your subscription entirely. Most magazines now consist of a large number of ads, trying to get you to buy more and shop more. Perhaps your life would be a little less cluttered (by paper and other things) by just stopping the subscriptions altogether.

div line

Something to keep in mind….many paper products can be composted if they are made from unbleached materials and if they do not contain grease. You can compost toilet paper cardboard tubes, paper towels without grease or harmful chemicals, cardboard boxes, or even shredded up junk mail. Paper acts as the “brown” in a compost pile and since it seems harder to add more brown to a compost than it is to add green, this can be a welcome addition to your pile or bin.

I hope this at least gets your mind turning about the paper alternatives that are out there! Not only can the things on this list help to save paper waste but they can also help your budget.

Which of these swaps have you made? Which one do you want to make?

Merissa Bio

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34 Comments

  1. These are awesome ideas! I am a magazine lover but realized my library carries just about every one, so I stopped my subscriptions and borrow them for free instead. We still get a daily paper – I hate reading news online – but we use the read ones to light our woodstove so it doesn’t seem as wasteful. I got your adorable chicken greeting cards as a gift for my mom and she LOVED them!

  2. Thank you for this post. We’ve done most of the swaps you listed and I love it. We were never paper napkin users, but went through a ton of paper towels. We’ve stopped using them as plates for the little things and moved to microfiber cloths in the kitchen for spills, et cetera. My daughter and I use menstrual cups and reusable panty liners, which we LOVE. I have some family cloth here, but can’t get the rest of the family to even try it, so we switched to bamboo TP at least.

  3. We currently use “unpaper” towels. We use these same cloth towels as table napkins as well. I keep a roll of paper towels for cleaning up oil and any animal accidents. We also use cloth sanitary napkins. I would love to start using family cloth but I’m not sure my husband would be on board for that. I’ve considered making some for myself and my daughter and just letting him continue to use paper. We would need paper for guests anyway (although we almost never have guests). I love the ideas about repurposing the cards and will definitely try this. These are all great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I switched to a bidet and haven’t looked back! Saves so much money, so much more sanitary and it’s easier on our septic system! I wish I had done it years ago!

    1. We also switched to a bidet this past spring when toilet paper was scarce. It is wonderful. Saves a ton of toilet paper and we just have designated towels to dry off after. We have a large bathroom, so we were able to install a stand alone bidet. However, many options are available for an “under the seat” install if one doesn’t have the space for another bathroom appliance.

  5. I love all of these ideas. We reuse our news papers as fire starters year round but I already use wash cloths as napkins/paper towels. Thank you for sharing.

  6. We use hand towels for napkins and for certain clean ups where I might use a paper towel. We don’t subscribe to the newspaper and I quit doing magazines a long time ago as I just never read them. I send greeting cards online. I have gone through menopause so no need for pads and haven’t gotten to the point of using a cloth for toilet-paper yet. Not sure I can go that route.

  7. I have replaced napkins, tissue, paper towels, toilet paper & feminine pads. Hankies are so much easier on the nose!!

  8. I discovered Swedish dishcloths last year and WOW! They are the best! My son somehow turned our freezer off one day and everything melted – one giant puddle at the bottom! I used a Swedish dishcloth to soak it all up, and it’s so much sturdier and holds more than a paper towel! Plus, they’re reusable and compostable at the end of life!

  9. In these days of COVID-19, it is FAR safer to use disposable tissues rather than handkerchiefs. I for one will not die so that the planet (actually, us humans; the earth is just fine) doesn’t have to deal with a little paper.

  10. Hello: we use paper towels to cover food in the microwave so that it doesn’t splatter on the microwave. Do you have availability alternative for them?

  11. I loved this post. I will be living alone so it will be really easy to incorporate these ideas into my new life. I love your site. thank you so much,

  12. Having raised two of my babies without running water, indoor plumbing just electric and wood stove, it’s a very good idea to get used to “cloth paper towels.” I rarely use paper towels even now that I’m older. I used disposable diapers when they were really little due to no running water and having to conserve a 30 gallon a day water jug limit. Water is going to be a big issue in the future so learning how to conserve water by living with the limits of how much I could haul from town was a good lesson in conservation. With that much we got a baby bathed, two stepladder showers, dishes washed, and rinse water, and water to wash up. Sometimes we could make it last two days. We heated up the milk jugs by leaving them on a table in the summer sun. Winter you had to heat your water for a bath. Tp in the outhouse, Sorry!

  13. Hi Kathy, I was also going to suggest borrowing magazines from the library or reading them at the library. I’ve just reduced the number of magazines I subscribe to from 3 to 1 and will get a few hand-me-down magazines from my grandma once she’s finished with them.

    Our family has used cloth napkins for a number of years to reduce costs and less waste – also, they’re pretty!

    I also use a combination of handkerchiefs and paper tissues. We still use paper towels, but I use them only to clean up especially dirty messes. When I do use paper towels, I often tear one in half and only use half of the paper towel, saving the other half for another time.

  14. This is going to sound weird, but I want to sew reusable tampons. I wonder if organic muslin fabric would be best?

    1. Maybe make a smaller version of whatever materials are used to make pads? I’m past the age of needing sanitary products but it is just a thought I had.

    2. You would have to make sure you are using all organic cloth with no dyes or bleaches to make your own tampons. Have you heard of sustainably sourced sea sponges? They are soft absorbent sponges that you rinse and reuse. You can get them online. They can be cleaned and reused for up to 6 months. They are very comfortable and affordable and great for an all natural tampon. I have been using them for years.

    3. Mandy have you considered menstrual cups? I found these much better than tampons. They required a learning curve the first few tries. .i love not having to buy tampons anymore.

  15. The other swap out is to stop using wet baby wipes for baby’s diaper change. I used to cut up old towels or save old face clothes to use for diaper changes. I would only use the baby wipes on full outings where regular clothes were not enough and that was rare. Since I was already using cloth diapers, I would add the used baby clothes to the diapers soaking in the bucket and wash them altogether on laundry day.

    1. This is exactly what we did before the commercial wipes. I just can’t imagine all those
      ingredients they use are good for their skin.

  16. The other swap out is not exactly with paper products but to use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. I bought a set of 3 dryer balls made out of sheep’s wool at a farmer’s market over 5 years ago and they are still going strong. They work much better than dryer sheets and help dry the clothes faster. The kids have a hoot playing with them. They are safe for indoor use because they are so soft.

  17. I switched over to family cloth last year, and am not looking back. I only use them for myself (it’s just my hubby and I), and I only use them for #1. I bought bamboo cloths because they are thick and soft, and I keep a bucket of water and vinegar next to the toilet, and whennit gets full, I wash them with our regular laundry. We are currently trying to eliminate our use for paper towels and napkins by using cheap towels from the dollar store. I bought a plastic reusable cover from Target to cover our food when microwaving. I do still keep a roll of paper towels for cleaning up oil and animal accidents. Next thing I’m going to try is replacing kleenex/tissue. My husband and I have really bad allergies, and our noses are always raw from wiping. I keep the little tissue packs from the dollar store in my purse for when were out and about. These are all great ideas, thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply

  18. To reduce paper towel use I buy Handi-Wipes or the generic brand. They last a long time.

    To give them a second life, I’m going to save them and add them in when I have to re-stuff my dog’s toys.

    Another way to reuse them would be if a child is doing an craft project: good for smearing paint or dabbing it on.

    To reuse paper or use up pieces of scrapbook paper is to make a junk journal. There are lots of YouTube videos on how to do it. I found this lady and I was hooked! She recycles old energy bar boxes, yarn, and a number of other things she had to create a really cute journal. Here’s the link if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec04rVh0ndU

    The journal would make a wonderful unique gift, too.

    I hope I’ve helped add to Merissa’s wonderful list.

    Hugs,
    Tambra Nicole

  19. Great article. I reduce use of napkins, paper towels and hankerchiefs with toilet tissue;; often one sheet gets it done. I have to hand wash in a small bathroom, so this is good for me now.

  20. More wonderfully useful frugal ideas! I want to train my family completely away from paper towels–guess I need to stop buying them–right? We have used cloth napkins all of our married life. I love your emails and blog and podcasts and book and everything! Blessings to you!

  21. A reusable plastic microwave cover costs about $1. You can also use a plate. You don’t even have to wash it every time you use it.

    TP–Use less. Although I haven’t trained my family well (husband being biggest offender), I only use about 4-5 sheets fluffed into a ball, and we are talking Scott’s 1,000 Sheets. I have done this all my life (it’s what I was trained to do). I know this is TMI, but after I wipe one part of me, I fold the ball in half and use the other side for the other part. This is surprisingly NOT messy.

    Paper towels–I buy a roll occasionally to keep my marriage together, but I do not buy cheap ones. If I am using paper, I want GOOD paper, like Bounty, and I think they are cheaper in the long run because they last longer. However, we mostly use rags–cut-up old towels and T-shirts–instead of paper. If my husband starts using paper towels recklessly (like to blow his nose) I just don’t buy it for awhile. (“I forgot, sorry.”) I jthrow the rags in with the regular wash. If it’s greasy or otherwise yucky, I use one of the older rags and just toss it.

    CLOTH NAPKINS–Buy at thrift stores or make from leftover cotton fabric. Four hems and you’re done! My favorite size is 18×18, which becomes 16×16 with 1/2 inch hems folded over twice. If the fabric is even, just tear them–faster and easier than cutting.

    KLEENEX–I rarely buy it unless someone has a cold, and then I want the kind with lotion. We mostly use TP. At the beginning of the pandemic, I tore a yard of 100% cotton flannel into handkerchief size (they don’t have to be uniform) and didn’t even bother to hem them. They were for emergency use only! Now I find them all over the house–my paper towel loving, TP loving husband LOVES flannel handkerchiefs and uses them all the time. BTW, this was a rosebud pattern I’d had for 40 years (bought when my kids were little) so he doesn’t use them in public, LOL.

    BABY WIPES–These were invented when my kids were babies, but weren’t a big deal. (I have had tenants who flushed them and had to pay for a plumber). I bought a dozen THIN, CHEAP washcloths at Kmart and used them instead of wipes. I threw them in the diaper pail (yes, I used cloth diapers). If we went somewhere, I put a damp washcloth in a plastic bag. I used bread bags to haul around wet diapers if we were out…not a problem at all. Poopy diapers always got rinsed in the toilet. We were driving over a mountain pass in the snow once when my daughter got diarrhea. I threw the poopy diaper out the window! I’ve always wondered what whomever found it thought when they found it the next spring!

  22. We made cloth tissues from 100% cotton knitted fabric. They are so nice on the nose especially if you get a cold, no big red nose from wiping with tissues that are made out of wood. I will never go back to paper cause the knitted cotton is so much nicer even nicer than regular hankie material. and even in this pandemic you are only using it on your own nose until you throw it into the laundry pile. Then I use Lysol laundry sanitizer in my wash and they are ready for anyone to use.