Can You Compost Paper Towels?


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Paper towels are often considered disposable items and thrown away, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to reuse them in your compost pile.

If you’d rather not throw paper towels away at all, try putting them in your compost bin instead. This way, you’ll get both recycling and composting benefits!

This blog post will show you how to compost paper towels into something useful.

Can You Compost Paper Towels?

There is a long list of things that you might not have realized you can compost, and paper towels are definitely on that list.

Along with tissues and other household paper products, paper towels are just a part of your home waste that is usable and biodegradable.

With current efforts towards ecological issues, reducing what goes into landfills is a major part of reducing our negative impact on the planet. Composting items that would usually be put into the trash is an excellent way of reducing waste and creating free nutrient-rich compost for your garden.

Paper towels are usually made from organic material, namely wood-pulp, and therefore can be added to your compost. They contain valuable nitrogen that will enrich your finished compost.

Paper towels are classed as a brown material as they are nitrogen-rich, so they are a great addition to your kitchen composter to balance out the green fruit and vegetable scraps.

The white color in paper towels comes from a bleaching process that uses chlorine dioxide. But don’t worry, the white paper towels are safe to compost. It’s the same chlorine that’s use in some municipal tap water supplies to kill bacteria and viruses. 

They are also good to compost in the winter when brown materials from your garden are in short supply.

Things to Watch Out For With Paper Towels

When composting paper towels, you really only need to watch out for what is on them. Think carefully about what you have used them for before adding them to your compost.

Obviously, if you have used them in conjunction with any cleaning chemicals, you should not add them to your compost pile.

Even if they are organic or green cleaners, these cleaning chemicals can have a detrimental effect on the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that help break down your organic materials and turn them into compost.

If you have used them with any cleaning products, or to mop up petrol or motor oil, then you should put them straight into the trash.  

You should also be mindful if you have used them to mop up any edible oily substances like animal fats or butter. These substances can attract pests to your compost and cause your compost to smell bad.

Certain composting systems will be able to handle paper towels soaked in oil, but they are unsuitable for any open-air composters. The oil and greasy paper towels will lead to anaerobic bacteria when they push air out of the compost. 

For more information on this, including how you can successfully compost these items, check out my other articles, “Can I Compost Cheese?” and “Can I Compost Meat.” 

If you’ve used paper towels or tissues to blow your nose, they can be composted rather than put into the trash. This is great, as we all know how many tissues can be used up when we have heavy colds or sinus issues.

Can You Compost Paper Towel Rolls?

Unlike paper towels, you can always compost the paper towel roll. This type of unbleached rough brown cardboard is actually the most desirable type of cardboard to compost.

As you are not using the roll to clean or mop up spills, you don’t have to worry about contaminants getting into your compost.

These rolls break down pretty quickly, so you don’t have to shred them down before adding them to the composter.

But if you want to cut the cardboard rolls up before you put them in the compost, it won’t do any harm and will help break them down quicker.

How to Compost Paper Towels

Composting paper towels can be as simple as chucking them on the compost heap. However, you can speed up the process of decomposition if you shred them before adding them to your composter.

Below I’ve listed the best steps you should take when composting paper towels.

  1. Sort the paper towel waste that can and cannot be composted.
  2. Throw away any that are unsuitable.
  3. Tear or shred the suitable paper towels. It is usually easier to hand shred paper towels, especially if they are damp.
  4. Add them to your kitchen composter or directly into your composter. Shredded paper towels can even be added to your wormery. However, be careful not to add too much as they don’t offer any nutrition even though your worms will love them.
  5. Turn your compost to mix in the paper towels. Turning your compost on a regular basis can help the decomposition process and keep the compost healthy.

How to Compost Paper Towels Final Thoughts

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to compost paper towels. They’re just another item that can be added to your compost bin. 

Be sure to check out these other composting articles to learn more: 

How to Compost Paper Towels FAQs

Can all paper towels be composted?

Yes, all paper towels can be composted. If the paper towel is unused, they are able to be composted. But if the paper towels are used in conjunction with cleaning chemicals or grease, it’s best not to compost the paper towels. They will negatively affect the composting process. Paper towels are great carbon-rich, brown materials for your compost piles, so be sure to add them. 

Can bleached paper towels be composted?

Yes, bleached paper towels can be composted. The bleaching process to give paper towels their white color uses chlorine dioxide that is safe for compost piles. The chlorine dioxide is the same one that’s in some tap water to kill viruses, so it’s safe. If the paper towel has touched bleach, the paper towel should not be composted.

Are wet paper towels compostable?

Wet paper towels are compostable, as long as they are not wet from harmful chemicals. Don’t compost paper towels that are wet from cleaning chemicals, bleach, and grease. Be careful that you don’t only throw in wet paper towels though. That can lead to an overly moist compost and really bad smells.

How long do paper towels take to compost?

Paper towels take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks to decompose. It depends on the size of the towel and the amount of waste it contains. Paper towels usually go into the trash bin after being used once. 

Can Kleenex go in compost?

Yes, Kleenex and other tissue paper can go into the compost bin along with other paper products. Composting paper products breaks down the fibers and makes the compost richer. Remember that as long as the Kleenex hasn’t been used with harmful chemicals, you can compost them. 

Can you compost Bounty or Kirkland paper towels?

Yes, you can compost Bounty and Kirkland paper towels. You can place them in your compost bin along with other kitchen scraps. Just make sure that you remove any plastic wrappers before adding the paper towels to the compost. Also, make sure to turn them frequently because they tend to hold onto their moisture better than other paper products.