Are Paper Towels Compostable?

Are Paper Towels Compostable?


Paper towels are compostable, especially if unsoiled by chemicals or contaminated materials, with bamboo and recycled options being the most eco-friendly; however, care must be taken to avoid composting towels tainted with harmful substances.

We've all been there: staring at a crumpled paper towel in our hand after wiping up a spill, wondering if we should toss it in the trash or compost bin. Paper towels are made from paper, so they should be compostable, right? Well, the answer isn't quite so straightforward. 

Sometimes, using paper towel alternatives like cloth towels just isn't practical. When we opt for paper towels, compositing them afterward can be an easy way to reduce our environmental impact (especially in tandem with other practices like recycling). While all paper towels may seem like a natural fit for the compost bin, there are some key factors to consider before tossing them in. With a little guidance, you can make the right call — compost or trash — every time. Let's dive into the nitty-gritty details.

Can You Compost Paper Towels?

The simple answer is yes, you can compost paper towels...with some caveats. Plain paper towels that haven't been soiled with anything other than water are perfectly compostable. They'll break down over time and add beneficial carbon-rich materials to your compost pile.

For a truly green, compostable paper towel, look no further than Reel Paper's 100% Bamboo Paper Towels. Thousands of trees are cut down daily to make traditional paper products, but Reel is made from tree-free, 100% bamboo paper. Our paper towels are free of inks, dyes, BPA and elemental chlorine, and are super absorbent, soaking up to 50% more than the leading sustainable brand. Yet they are also thick and strong, standing up to heavy-duty scrubbing at up to 50% thicker than competitors.

If recycled fibers are more your preference, our recycled paper towels repurpose existing materials, giving them new life while sparing forests. Both our paper towel options are biodegradable and can be composted depending on how they were used. Whichever you choose, you can wipe up spills and tidy your home with a clear conscience.

Why Are Paper Towels Compostable?

Since they originate from plants, their chemical structure allows them to be broken down by microbes and fungi within the compost. It's the circle of life! This natural decomposition process enriches soil by returning nutrients and adding beneficial microbes.

What are the benefits of composting? Composting paper products keeps them out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.¹ When added to compost bins instead, these materials help create a nutrient-rich humus that improves soil health and fertility for your garden or landscaping. It's a win-win for you and the planet.

Composting is another benefit when comparing paper towels vs cloth towels. Every little bit of environmental work adds up!

Are Dirty Paper Towels Compostable?

This is where things get a bit tricky. Not all soiled paper towels belong in the compost bin. You'll want to avoid composting ones that are contaminated with²:

  • Meat, oil, butter, grease (these fatty foods can create anaerobic bacteria)
  • Cleaning products (harmful chemicals)
  • Animal or human waste (potential pathogens)
  • Viruses from illness (can spread disease)

These contaminants can introduce pathogens and toxins, disrupting the delicate microbial balance developed in the composting process. The last thing you want is a smelly, hazardous mess! When in doubt, toss nasty paper towels in the trash. Your compost (and gardening efforts) will thank you.

Can You Compost Bleached Paper Towels?

While it's true that bleached paper towels won't actually impact the pH levels of a home compost pile, unbleached is the way to go for an eco-friendly option. That's because the bleaching process relies on harsh chlorine-based chemicals that linger as dioxin residues. Why add those toxins unnecessarily?

Choosing chlorine-free, unbleached paper towels is better for the earth and your personal health. You'll be avoiding introducing chemicals into your home compost heap that could be transferred to your garden's soil.

Explore Unbleached, Recycled, & Bamboo Paper Towels from Reel Paper

Reel Paper’s commitment to the environment extends across our entire line. All Reel Paper household paper products like our paper towels, bamboo toilet paper, and recycled facial tissues are free of inks, dyes, and BPA.

Armed with this knowledge, you can feel confident in your practice of paper towel composting. It's a simple way to deal with paper towel waste and commit to sustainable living — two birds with one stone! 

Feel free to compost those sustainable, unbleached Reel Paper towels after their duty. Just be mindful of what soils they've encountered. With some care, composting paper towels is a simple way to reduce your household waste. Mother Nature will thank you!


  1. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Composting at Home. EPA. 
  2. Miller, J. (n.d.). Are Paper Towels Compostable? (9 things to be aware of) - theroundup. The Round Up. /
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