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DIY Unpaper Towels (Without A Sewing Machine)

Affiliate Disclosure | in Healthy Home | by | with 141 Comments


Confession: I Have A Stack Of Paper Plates . . .

Sitting in my pantry, because as a soon-to-be-mama of three I have no illusions about how far my super powers go. Sometimes victory looks like scrambled eggs for dinner, you know? Ain’t nobody got time to do a load of dishes just to have something to serve them on!


Most days, though, I try to make more eco-friendly choices: cloth diapering, composting, local food, using real dishes, and avoiding paper towels where possible. On that last one, my strategy until recently was to use old rags and tea towels while keeping out the real deal for guests. Truth be told, though, I missed the convenience of tearing a towel straight off the holder, so when I came across the unpaper towel concept I knew I had to try it!

Problem Is . . .

I don’t have a sewing machine. And unless you count homemade beauty products, my crafty score is 0. Fortunately, with a little help from Youtube I was able to straight stitch my way to unpaper bliss. (What, you DIDN’T learn how to sew on Youtube? Pshaw)

How To Make Unpaper Towels


  • 2 yards terry cloth/flannel (Note: Though the terry cloth pictured is light in color, I’m making some with chocolate terry for messes that are likely to stain)
  • 2 yards cotton fabric of your choice
  • sharp scissors
  • needle
  • thread (preferably something that matches your fabric)
  • ruler or 12×12 stencil (I used a square book)
  • 57-63 snaps (you might want a few extra to practice with)
  • snap applicator (I used Babyville pliers, but the KAM applicator looks really good, too. Make sure you get one that is compatible with your snaps)
  • plastic canvas (2-4 sheets of 12×6 sections)
  • embroidery thread (optional)
  • superglue (optional)

Makes about 18 unpaper towels

Step 1: Wash & Dry Both Fabrics

That way if one or both of them shrinks it happens before you sew the pieces together!

Step 2: Cut Cloth Into 12×12 Inch Pieces

I found it helpful to use a stencil and trace on the back of the fabric before cutting. On or our old vacation photobook was just the right size – scrapbook paper is usually 12×12 too!



Note: You can adjust the size as needed, but keep in mind that the unpaper towels will be slightly smaller than the size you begin with.

Step 3: Sew A Straight Stitch

Lay the pieces together so that the fabric you want displayed is face down against the terry cloth/flannel and sew a straight stitch about 1/8- 1/4 inches away from the edge. Leave a 2-3 inch gap on one side so you can turn your towel inside out. Don’t know how to sew a straight stitch? It’s really, really easy, just watch the tutorial below and you’re on your way.

Here’s how the last corner should look when you’re done.



Optional Step: If you don’t feel quite confident that your stitches are super sturdy, you can apply a little liquid stitch around the seam. It’s not the “greenest” thing in the world, but I consider it a good tradeoff considering all the paper towels you’ll be saving.

Step 4: Turn Unpaper Towel Inside-Out

Trim any excess fabric that may create unwanted bulk, then pull your fabric through the gap you left so that the decorative part of the cloth is now facing out. Close up the remaining hole with a straight stitch.

If you would like, you can add a second later of stitching for decorative effect and to reinforce the edges. I chose not to, but this blanket stitch might be pretty with some embroidery thread.

Optional Step: Iron your towels so they will be nice and flat.

Step 6: Apply Snaps

Because it was cheaper, I started out using this snap applicator, but found that the unpaper towels were too thick for it to work properly. I ended up going with one like this. Though it was a bit tricky because my snaps were for a different applicator it was much easier to use! Here’s what you do:

Each unpaper towel will need 2-3 sockets on the right and 2-3 studs on the left so that each towel can attach to it’s neighbor. I chose to use three on each side.



You want the holes evenly distributed, so measure where you want them to go and then poke a little hole with the awl (pointy thingy that came with your pliers) to mark your spot. Place the cap through the hole and – using the instructions that come with your pliers – secure the snaps in place. If you have the Babyville pliers you may find this video tutorial helpful.



Step 7: Create Paper Towel Dowel

Now onto the last step: creating a sturdier version of the cardboard tube that holds paper towels in place. Some tutorials use PVC pipe, but when I went to my local hardware store to buy some I realized I had to buy an 8 foot pole and ask them to trim it into a 12 inch section for me. The rest would be thrown away, so I decided to try to find a less wasteful option and came across this tutorial, which uses plastic canvas.

Not only is this method easier, it saves you a trip! You can pick up plastic canvas at the fabric store while you’re picking out your fabrics. Here’s what to do:

Measure the height of your unpaper towels. Using that number, cut a section of plastic canvas that is (your unpaper towel height) x 6 inches. Mine was about 11.5×6.


There are several ways to attach the canvas so that it becomes a tube. There is this tutorial, which I planned to use until I realized that the snaps wouldn’t go through 4 sheets of canvas. Because I wanted a pretty sturdy dowel, I attached three studs to the outside sheet for the unpaper towels to connect to and then superglued the canvas together 


Now just put your unpaper towels on the dowel and you’re done!

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141 Responses to DIY Unpaper Towels (Without A Sewing Machine)

  1. Samantha Witte says:

    What type of snaps are used for these? Does it matter? Thanks!

  2. Lynn says:

    This makes me think of the things my mother used to do in the 1940’s & ’50’s. She told me about making a slip cover for a chair with no sewing machine or scissors. Just make due with what you had was what she taught. I saw a picture of that slip cover & it was awesome. Your idea of unpapertowels is right up that same “make use of what you have” idea. Thank you for this fabulous post.

  3. faith says:

    why not just glue snaps to p v c ?

  4. Writing the Ride | f ( 5t +/- 1 ) that got my attention this week says:

    […]  How to make homemade “paper” towels. Yes, I will be trying this and let you know how it goes. Love the idea. Will see how it works in […]

  5. Detox Your Kitchen | My Earth Mama Journey says:

    […] We go through a lot of paper waste. Consider a paper towel alternative in your house. I think Mommypotamus has a cute idea for “unpaper towels”: […]

  6. Kerry says:

    So why not just keep a hand towel on the cupboard to use?

  7. Friday Favs! | PAGEFIFTYFIVE says:

    […] We do a really good job in this house with making eco-friendly choices. But paper towels are still bought, used to dry off lettuce or to wipe up a spill and thrown away. Here’s a way to remedy this situation […]

  8. Stephanie says:

    We mostly use paper towels for draining things like sausage or bacon. Has anyone used these for that and do they come clean?? I want to transition, and think even my very convenience minded husband would find them ok since they’re on a roll like “real ” paper towels, but I am concerned about saturating them (even partway) with grease….

    • Heather says:

      Hi Stephanie, grease would be pretty hard to get out, unfortunately. You might choose a dark color for the terry cloth side if you plan to use them for heavy duty cleaning.

    • Heather says:

      try soaking the greasy ones in dawn dish soap (like overnight) before washing-I had a manager at fast food that said it got the fryer oils out of her work shirts.

  9. renae says:

    I was also worried about grease… I’m wondering if you do quilters cotton on both sides with the terry cloth sandwiched between if that would work… the cotton wouldn’t be fuzzy so you wouldn’t have fuzz on the food… you could do them in food fabric so you would know they’re only for draining food on… just my thoughts… someone may have a better idea lol… 😀

  10. meg says:

    I guess while I think those are super cute, I don’t really *get* them. We just have a stockpile of rags in a drawer. No extra cost, no fuss.

  11. jayme says:

    IS it saving money and the planet? I hate paper towels but wonder if it’s almost as bad to be using the water and energy (and paying for it) to wash them and the detergents that eventually end up in our ground water.

    • jsnally says:

      I find that it does save me a lot of money. I just use these to finish off a load of regular laundry. Since I always wash in cold water and use a homemade detergent that is much better for the environment (and my family), color bleeding isn’t really an issue. And I use them so often that I was buying 3-4 rolls of paper towels per month. And I would get the premium towels that cost about $1.50 per roll. With these, 18 only cost me about $6. Even with washing I only spent about $10 that first month. Within 2 months, they payed for themselves just in what I didn’t buy in regular paper towels.

  12. phaedra says:

    Paper plates are ok. You can compost them.

  13. Courtney says:

    I was just wondering how many fit nicely snapped together on a paper towel holder and how many you go through in, say a week? Would it make sense to make 2 rolls if possible?

  14. How To Make Unpaper Towels | Health & Natural Living says:

    […] How To Make Unpaper Towels […]

  15. Melissa says:

    I was wondering if anyone has tried Velcro instead of the snaps. I was thinking that if you used the rougher side of the velcro it may attach to the terry cloth…just a thought…planning on making these soon

  16. Debbie says:

    The title claimed “WITHOUT A SEWING MACHINE”. I don’t own a sewing machine, yet it DID require one.
    Cute idea, but I wasted my my time.

  17. Top 10 Tips to be More GREEN! | says:

    […] (Un)paper Towels, from Mommypotamus […]

  18. Clean up your Life, 16 Every Day Ways to Live Eco Friendly, It’s Biblical. | brandyskitchen says:

    […] the dependency on paper towels: make or purchase un-paper towels, they are re usable. you can also use recycled rags to make your own cleaning wipes. it’s […]

  19. Who am I? | Mrs.Ordinarymommy says:

    […] all my paper towels and toilet paper for reusable more “green” options such as theseUnpaper Towels but honestly I don’t ever see myself doing that. I would be overjoyed to find a more natural […]

  20. 99 Ways You (and Your Family) Can Become More Sustainable in the Next 9 Minutes | Jennifer Margulis says:

    […] 19. No more paper towels. Never buy them again. Stock up on cloth rags and dishcloths (best option) or make your own. […]

  21. Allie says:

    For those with a sewing machine and no serger, you could just straight stich the wrong sides together then trim the edges with pinking shears to prevent fraying. Also, a button hole or a loop of ribbon sewn on one corner would be the cheapest way to hang and there is no issue with scratching. For grease, you could always do what many in Europe do and use newspaper. If you are like me and hate the idea of not being able to recycle the newspaper afterward, you can use it as a fire starter for outdoor fire pits.

  22. Linda says:

    Great ideas in this post! I have a seger and I make similar rags out of old bath towels. I run my serger thru, cutting and serging the edge all at the same time. I can make rags of all sizes in minutes. Then I make buttonholes in a few of the corners. I either hang them on hooks under the sinks or toss them in baskets all around the house for messes and spills in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, etc. Old bath towels are absorbent, and have lost most of their lint. This is a grat upcycle project. To really get them clean and odor free, I wash them in hot water with a scoop of Biz and laundry detergent. This is also a great sewing project for the preteen in your house. Teach them how to use the serger, the sewing machine and the buttonhole maker. Great practice.

  23. Gail says:

    I made flannel crib sheets and had four left over corner squares that were cut out before I sewed them up. So I used the corner pieces for kitchen wipes. Just sewed two together. Sewed an X in the middle. They are super absorbent. And if they get stained, I really don’t care. They make great baby wash cloths too. My new granddaughter will have some cute ones too.

  24. melanie says:

    Super cute and a fun idea, but it doesn’t pass my personal “practicality test.”

    We have a basket of rags that we have accumulated over the years (random washcloths, old cloth diapers, etc.) that we use for most everything (not a cat fan, so no cat vomit! =) ) And for the messes that stain or are too greasy to throw into your laundry, I just use 7th Generation’s unbleached paper towels (the brown ones) and compost them. We go through one roll VERY slowly and they are going back into the earth from whence they came!

    That’s the happy compromise this girl has come to. But happy sewing and snapping to the rest o’ ya! =)

    • kath says:

      Same with me Melanie. I love to sew, and I love to re-use anything, AND these are SO cute. For me, an accumulation of rags and old washcloths will do, with a slowly used paper towel roll (I compost the paper towel too) is my practical solution. I wonder if velcro would work, instead of snaps, as Melissa suggested. I also seem to accumulate paper napkins when I’m given too many at a cafe, because I KNOW they will only go to the bin (landfill probably) if I don’t take them… they make a good alternative, and they too end up in my compost.

  25. VIRGINIA says:

    I’m super cheap. Instead of paper towels, I buy old,very cheap but pretty enough flannel sheets. They can go for a dollar or two. I rip them into squares. I don’t hem them or anything else. I fold them and keep them in a basket. I have a dedicated metal waste basket for the dirty ones . They then get a good wash with bleach and back to the basket. If they start looking too stained, I toss them. I usually rip up the sheets while watching tv. Very little work and lots of money saved.

  26. irene says:

    I use paper towels to absorb the extra grease when i fry food , so… i am wondering, have you use them for that purpose? will it do? (also the washing the greasy cloth afterwards worries me)

    • Heather says:

      No, I just use these for light cleaning/spills, etc. I use regular paper towels for heavy duty cleaning.

      • Irene says:

        oh, ok, i was really hoping for an answer that let me not to buy those ever again! maybe someday someone will invent a cloth suitable for those kind of things, …what did people do in the old days for taking out the excess of grease out of food?…

        • Heather says:

          Well, I do have a set of very dark cloths that I use to clean up greasy things. I don’t have a huge set so I use paper towels as well, but the dark cloths work well and clean up well in the laundry :)

        • jsnally says:

          If you find a good degreaser, like Mean Green, it works just fine. Just presoak them before you wash. Can’t guarantee that they won’t still stain, but it does keep the grease off your other stuff.

  27. jsnally says:

    I found cheap wash cloths at the store that were pre-cut and pre-stitched. I just attached snaps to these and now have a roll of 18 un-paper towels that only cost me about $6. Not as cute as the patterns here, but work just fine.

  28. 50 Things You Should Stop Buying & Start Making|DOUBLEPACK TV | says:

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  29. Frostbytn says:

    Buy a sewing machine….
    Time is money and a sewing machine will pay for its self.
    If you are using cloth diapers, you could be making your own.
    Also, old tee shirts and stuff like that work good for making towels/cleaning rags.
    Old jeans work good for the ugly side of pot holders.
    Table clothes on the clearance rack are another cheap fabric option.

  30. Designing Bee says:

    Thank you for such a great idea!! Your post has been an inspiration for me to make a set of my own. I have achieved a set of towels and have thoroughly enjoyed using them instead of using the real thing, paper towels. To my surprise the unpaper towels work really well, I would say, better than the paper! I absolutely love this idea and your demonstrations of making them are perfect! I truly think this is wonderful idea in reducing the cost of store-bought items (paper towels) and saving for the family that is also environmentally friendly.

  31. Less Waste and Green in 2015 Week 1- The Keeper Inc. says:

    […] if you’re feeling crafty- check out this DIY tutorial from Mommypotamus  (bonus- it doesn’t require a sewing […]

  32. Olivia Wright says:

    Hi Heather!
    Wanted to let you know we featured this tutorial on our blog from The Keeper Cup at
    We are challenging our readers to try a tip a week towards a greener and less wasteful 2015. This week’s challenge was getting rid of paper towels! Feel free to share with your social networks and email me if you have any questions or would ever want to do a guest post for us.

  33. Loren says:

    Hi Heather! Which metal snaps are compatible with the Babyville Boutique Snap Pliers? Can’t wait to try this out!

  34. Sherri Phillips says:

    I think using larger and thicker hot pads would also do the trick or even a baking glove mitt. I use baking glove mitts–one on each hand to dry my pots and pans. This way the pan is in both hands and is getting dried by both hands.

  35. Annette says:

    Wow, I can use my collection of ripped bath towels and odd pieces of fabric to make these! Thanks for the upcycle idea!

  36. Monica says:

    Ok so I bought the snap applicator kit on Amazon but I can’t find where it says what size snaps to buy.

  37. Karen says:

    I read several of your comments.
    Here is my idea.
    Buy in bulk 2 different colors (light and dark), wash cloths(terry cloth) and use in the kitchen.

  38. rob says:

    old cloth diapers are great and can be laundered. hey tend to be lint free, absorbant and can take a beating.

  39. MIA says:

    For fried foods,.my mom used to put a stainless steel colander over a bowl, and then put the fried food in it to drain. It worked great for frenchfries and cauliflower and the like.

  40. Rachael says:

    lol, love your confession! I had a huge stack of paper plates, and plastic utensils, when we were waiting for our daughter to arrive, and I loved having a break from dishes while she was a newborn.
    A friend of mine mentioned “unpaper towels”, and I had to check it out. Found your post through google. I love that it doesn’t require a sewing machine! Pinning this to try in the future!

  41. amanda says:

    Do you have to use snaps? I have a neuromuscular disease and velcro is SO much easier than snaps or ties. As someone whose made the UNpaper towels, what is your take on velcro vs. snaps?

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