Personal Finance

7 Things You Shouldn’t Clean With Paper Towels

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Ripped paper towels
Oleg Opryshko /

Paper towels have many uses. They’re handy for wiping off counters, cleaning out microwaves or dabbing up a melted ice cube that hit the floor. It’s so easy to grab for a paper towel or two, that it becomes equally easy to forget they’re not always the best choice.

In fact, there are many items that paper towels are really not very good at cleaning. Here’s a look at some everyday cleaning needs for which paper towels should be left on the roll.

Electronics screens

TB studio /

From cellphones to laptops to smartwatches, our electronics have become vital to our everyday life. Inevitably, they get smudged and dirty.

But even Bounty, the paper towel company, doesn’t recommend cleaning such devices with paper towels. Instead, use a microfiber cloth, which won’t cause scratches or leave lint behind.


Senior looking carefully through his glasses squinting and surprised
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Those of us who wear eyeglasses know how easy it is to get them dirty. And since glasses are the one thing standing between your eyes and the world, you want to keep them clean. As eyeglass retailer Warby Parker notes, do not use paper towels for this, as they can both scratch lenses and leave small bits of paper behind. Use microfiber cloths instead, and keep them clean.

Carpet spills

Carpet stain
New Africa /

Paper towels can glide along a smooth kitchen counter and easily clean a spill. But when the spill is on carpet, paper towels are not always the best answer. They tend to break up in liquid and leave little shreds behind.

For a carpet stain that really needs immediate attention, such as red wine, you might use a paper towel to blot the majority of the liquid, but don’t scrub with it. Home Depot recommends blotting with paper towels, but then applying your choice of a variety of stain removal products and vacuuming up the residue.

Car windows

Art Konovalov /

It’s important that drivers be able to see out of their car windows and windshield. But don’t keep those car windows clean with paper towels.

NAPA Auto Parts notes that paper towels’ absorbent design means they’ll shred when wiped back and forth, leaving behind bits of paper and streaks. For car-window cleaning, NAPA’s blog recommends microfiber towels as the best solution, but newspapers as a secondary option.

Sharp knives

Simple Song Traditional Japanese Professional Gyuto Kitchen Chef Knife
Simple Song / Amazon

Paper towels won’t hold up to sharp items. They’ll shred, and you could end up cutting yourself. Japanese knife-maker Shun recommends handwashing your best knives and drying them immediately with a soft, absorbent dish towel.

Shower tracks

Wiping the tracks of a sliding shower door with paper towel
Benjamin Clapp /

If you have a sliding shower door, the tracks it moves along can get grimy with use. But a paper towel isn’t strong enough for that job. Cleaning service Merry Maids recommends using cotton balls to apply vinegar to the tracks, scrubbing with a toothbrush, then misting with water and drying with a microfiber cloth.

Silver flatware

Dee Dalasio /

Sterling silver flatware can be a lovely tradition, whether you only haul it out for holidays or appreciate it daily. But The New York Times notes that while paper towels can be useful for buffing wooden handles, you don’t want to rub Grandma’s silver directly with paper towels. Cellulose sponges, made from plant-based fibers, won’t scratch this family heirloom.

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