Paper towels are most commonly marketed to clean up spills, which is really not the best use of their talents. While these absorbent paper sheets can be great at cleaning up spills, it's much better to use a washable kitchen towel, rather than wasting a sheet of paper. (My friends always laugh at me because I keep paper towels around the house, but never actually use them for their supposedly intended purpose.)
That said, there are a lot of great things you can use paper towels for, so let's explore some of them!
1. Cast iron maintenance
Cast iron pans are expensive, and they require some tender loving care. After use, wipe them down with paper towels to remove oil and food, and consider storing them interleaved with paper towels if you're not hanging them up, ensuring that rust won't arrive. If you need to wash a cast iron pan to remove caked-on food messes, make sure to dry it on the stove and when you're done, rub it with a paper towel dipped in fat to keep the pan in good condition.
Paper contains a lot of carbon, and that makes it great for the so called "brown" layer in your compost management system. After you've used a paper towel, compost it to help maintain the carbon balance in your compost and aerate it — the fluffy nature of the paper towel will encourage air pockets to form, which will support the growth of beneficial microorganisms so you'll have nice, healthy, beautiful compost for your landscaping service to work with.
3. Grease and gunk absorber
Hey, it's what they're made for! But you can use paper towels for more than wiping grease off your hands and tools (hint: rags are usually better for that). Try running a paper towel through a freshly oiled sewing machine to pick up the excess lubricant so it won't stain fabric, or "open" a paper towel with a can opener to absorb the buildup of adhesives, grease, and gunk that tends to appear over time.
4. Keep greens and herbs fresh
Lettuce, herbs, chard, and other greens can tend to wilt in the fridge. Add a moist paper towel to the bag they're kept in, and notice how their lives are dramatically extended! The paper towel holds moisture to maintain a comfortable humidity level, without keeping the greens damp and allowing them to start rotting.
5. Seed viability testing
How old are those seeds, anyway? Will they even grow? It's a common problem for gardeners in the spring, and it can be time consuming and irritating to plant them in seedling trays and find out. The solution? Paper towels. Sandwich a sample of seeds between two damp paper towels and stick them in a warm place. If they don't sprout in two weeks, your seeds are probably past viability.
6. The bread trick
Ever stick a loaf of bread in the freezer for later, thaw it out, and discover that you have a soggy mess? That's no bueno. Try adding a paper towel to the bag before freezing. When you do that, it'll collect the moisture and wick it away from the bread, keeping your loaf nice and fresh.
7. Corn cleaner
This is a pretty cool trick. Don't you have it when an ear of corn stubbornly retains its silk? Try moistening a paper towel and running it over the shucked ear to cleanly pull away the last of the silk. You can reuse the towel on the rest of the corn, and then compost it!
8. Soften hardened brown sugar
Thanks to its natural high moisture content, brown sugar can start to glom together, and if it's not used, it will turn into a hard mass that's no fun to cook with. If you've got rogue brown sugar on the loose in the kitchen, try dumping it into a bowl, covering it with a moist paper towel, and leaving it overnight. (If you have an ant problem, stick it in the fridge — and then call an exterminator.) The increased humidity will help the brown sugar break up so you can use it again.
9. Emergency coffee filter
We've all been there: desperately needing morning fuel, and yet lacking a key component. A paper towel can serve in a pinch!
Set a paper towel over the wax stain and run an iron over it on low. The paper towel will absorb the crayon, while also protecting the iron. This works best on hard surfaces like chalkboards, but you can use it on upholstery and carpets too!
While rags should be your cleanup medium of choice, sometimes a paper towel really is the perfect tool for the job.
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