Are there toxic chemicals in paper towels? There certainly can be.

We recently discussed toilet paper, and much of the information is the same for paper towels. So in this article, we’ll talk about the common toxins found in conventional paper towels, and what to use instead.

(P.S. If you’re also looking for the best non-toxic paper plates and other cutlery, check out this article.)

This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.

Are Paper Towels Toxic?

You may think, “How can paper towels be toxic—it’s just paper!”

But just like a lot of household and personal care products, toxic chemicals are used to process these goods. Let’s look at a few of the problematic ones.

Dioxins & Furans from Chlorine Bleach

Most bleaching processes use chlorine, which produces toxic dioxins. Dioxins are considered persistent environmental pollutants (POPs), which accumulate in the food chain (mainly in the fatty tissue of animals).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”

That’s why unbleached paper towels are best. But there are also a few chlorine-free ways of bleaching as well, which we’ll talk about more in a minute.


You’ve probably heard that BPA (and its family of chemicals that include BPS and BPF) is problematic. This group of chemicals (called bisphenols) are known endocrine disruptors, which means they can cause infertility, breast cancer, early puberty, and more.

When you think of BPA, you probably think of plastic products, not paper. But unfortunately, bisphenols can make their way into recycled paper products since things like thermal receipt paper, lottery tickets, and shipping labels are used to make recycled paper.

The one “positive” thing to note here is that most recycled paper towels include a much smaller BPA amount compared to those other products (especially receipts and certain plastics). So if you want to go with recycled paper towels, it’s not the WORST choice.

reel non toxic paper towels on thefiltery
Reel sources their recycled paper pulp from a manufacturer that does not use receipts and other paper products that tend to have high levels of BPA.

What About Other Processing Chemicals?

In this article we talked about the toxic chemicals involved in making conventional bamboo fabric. It takes a lot of chemical intervention to turn something like wood or grass (bamboo) into a stretchy and silky fabric. A lot fewer chemicals are needed to make a thin, one-time-use piece of paper.

As far as we can tell, the toxic chemicals used to manufacture bamboo fabric (specifically, sodium hydroxide, carbon disulfide, and sulfuric acid) are not used to manufacture bamboo paper towels and toilet paper. But just to be sure, we reached out to a few companies that manufacture bamboo paper towels and toilet paper to get some more info. They confirmed that none of these chemicals are used to make their products. (It should be noted that we reached out to more conscious brands like the ones listed below that prioritize eco-friendly, safe practices as well as transparency with customers. We’re not sure the same can be said of conventional paper companies.)

Chlorine-Free Bleaching (Whitening) Methods

Why do paper towel brands bleach their products in the first place? Well, bleach does two things: it makes products less scratchy, and it makes them white. While these factors might be more important for toilet paper, they’re not really necessary for paper towels, are they?

But, there are a few chlorine-free methods that conscious companies use to whiten their paper towels. These methods, while they may not be perfect, are much safer than conventional chlorine bleaching.

Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) Whitening

Instead of chlorine, this method uses chlorine dioxide, which is a chlorine derivative. Although it’s not 100% non-toxic, it’s a much less toxic method compared to regular chlorine bleaching.

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) Whitening

This method uses zero chlorine or chlorine-derived products at all. Only about 3% of worldwide pulp production uses this method because it requires more energy and more pulp compared to ECF.

Process Chlorine Free (PCF) Whitening

This process is often used in recycled paper products that have not been re-bleached using chlorine or chlorine derivatives.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Some brands use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine-based products to whiten their paper towels, which is a much safer and healthier option.

Paper Towels & Deforestation

Just like with toilet paper (with the “tree-to-toilet pipeline”), paper towels and other paper products can be extremely detrimental to our environment.

A lot of our paper towels come from old-growth and endangered forests, including the beautiful boreal forest in Canada. This crucial forest “acts as a massive storehouse for climate-altering carbon, is also vital to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.” This is reason enough alone to consider decreasing our paper towel consumption.

Purchasing paper towels that are certified sustainably sourced by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a great place to start. But an even better option is to reduce your paper towel use altogether and/or switch to tree-free paper towels.

Image: StacyKitchenDecor

Best Reusable Paper Towels & Alternatives to Paper Towels

The thing about paper towels is that you don’t really need them the same way you need, oh, underwear or laundry detergent. Switching to reusable paper towels is actually pretty easy, and it’s just as effective. Here are some great alternatives to try:

Option #1: UNPaper Towels and Paperless Towels (a.k.a. Cloth Towels)

Honestly, this is probably the best option when it comes to paper towel alternatives, especially if the cloths are made from healthy fabrics like organic cotton, hemp, and linen, and colored using non-toxic dyes.

Many people prefer using UNPaper Towels and Paperless Towels as opposed to regular cloth kitchen towels because they are smaller (so less bulky for small messes) and less expensive. Plus, they’re almost endlessly reusable. There are so many great handmade brands on Etsy!

Image: Swedish Dishcloth from Simply Zero

Option #2: Swedish Dishcloths

These are a favorite in the zero waste community. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of replacing your conventional paper towels with Swedish Dishcloths:


  • Very absorbent
  • Can double as a sponge
  • 2 Swedish dishcloths equal about 34 rolls of paper towels
  • Compostable/biodegradable


  • Made from 30% cotton (which can be organic, virgin, or recycled) plus 70% cellulose. Cellulose just means “sourced from plants.” But the problem is that there’s a good chance this 70% part of Swedish Dishcloths are made from rayon/viscose, which is often produced using toxic chemicals. We’d like to see some more details and transparency here.

Where to buy Swedish Dishcloths:

Option #3: Regular ‘Ol Cloth Kitchen Towels

Image: Coyuchi

You can always just use regular kitchen towels and/or washcloths to clean up messes and dry things with! Check out this article for the best organic towels and washcloths.

Option #4: Old Rags, T-Shirts, etc.

This is a really easy DIY paper towel alternative that also helps you increase the lifecycle of what you already have. You can always cut up old rags, t-shirts, or other fabrics around the house that you don’t use anymore and use them instead of paper towels. You can cut them into different sizes for different needs, and hem the edges (if you want) to keep them from fraying and make them last even longer.

How Do You Make Your Own Reusable Paper Towels?

If you’re a crafter or have a sewing machine, you can make your own DIY reusable paper towels relatively easily. These are going to be prettier and more durable than using just a regular cut up rag or old t-shirt. Here are some great tutorials:

What About Microfiber Cloths?

When you see ‘microfiber’ cloths, that almost always means there are synthetics (a.k.a. plastic) involved, like polyester or nylon. Because plastic/petroleum materials are involved, they can contain toxic chemicals like bisphenols. Plus, they’re harsh on the environment both in their production and their end of life. Microfiber fabrics lead to microplastic particles filling up our oceans, negatively affecting our food chains, and ending up practically everywhere—even unborn babies.

For these reasons, we recommend you don’t buy new microfiber cloths. (Using ones you already have lying around until they’re not usable anymore is still a good idea from a low-waste perspective.)

“But Don’t Reusable Paper Towels Use More Water?”

It’s a great question. Using reusable paper towels require more laundry, and therefore more water. How do you weigh using less water versus creating less waste?

In this article from Sierra Club, “Mr. Green” answers this question very thoroughly.

According to “Mr. Green,” at the end of the day, it just depends on things like usage and washing machine efficiency. It’s likely that the total water usage of paper towels and reusable towels are actually very similar.

For this reason, water use probably won’t be a significant factor when you’re deciding which eco-friendly paper towel option is best for you.

Best Bamboo Paper Towels

Although using organic cotton, hemp, and linen fabric paper towel alternatives might be the best option in terms of overall waste, we’re realists here at The Filtery. We know that kicking that paper towel habit might be more difficult than it seems. We know that when it comes to things like kids or travel, paper towels might just work better. So, if you’re going to stick with paper towels, there are most definitely some much better brands to buy from.

Why Bamboo Paper Towels Are Better

Bamboo is a more sustainable option than sourcing from trees because it:

  • requires less water (about 30% less than trees)
  • grows really fast (it can grow 3 feet in just 24 hours!)
  • requires no herbicides and pesticides
  • doesn’t have to be replanted (it regrows itself)
  • gives out more oxygen (about 35% more than trees)

Plus, bamboo fiber is actually stronger than wood pulp, so it’s often even more effective than conventional paper towels at getting the job done!

Here are the best brands making bamboo paper towels:


Reel non toxic paper towels on


  • 100% bamboo paper towels AND 100% recycled paper towels
  • No inks, dyes, or BPA
  • Plastic-free
  • FSC-certified
  • Made in the USA
  • You can subscribe to save money
  • Now available at Target
  • Gives back a portion of profits to environmental non-profit organizations

Even better: although their paper towels are made out of recycled paper, Reel informed us that they source from a manufacturer that only uses recycled office paper. This means that things like receipts and newspapers (which often contain high amounts of BPA) are not getting into the mix. They also told us that their manufacturing team collects quality control data for every batch, which includes testing the paper pulp’s brightness, drainage, presence of contaminants, cleanliness, etc.


  • Whitened using elemental chlorine-free (ECF)

My review: I’ll be straight-up with you: most of the low-tox/eco-friendly paper towel options are not as thick as your Bounty-type brands. Personally, that’s fine with me! I’d rather use something that was safer and more sustainable. And anyway, I’m not using a ton of paper towels anyway, since I’m using reusable towels and rags whenever I can.

Anyway… Reel is included in that category: not as great as Bounty in terms of how much they can absorb, but they’re still a good option! I’d buy them again.

I like that they’re available at Target now, too, so you can save money on shipping and grab some quickly if you’re in a pinch!

Who Gives A Crap


  • Bamboo and sugar cane blend (which uses TCF and hydrogen peroxide to whiten)
  • Free of inks, dyes, and scents
  • Plastic-free
  • Subscription model available
  • B Corp certified
  • 50% of profits are donated to non-profit organizations

My review: These paper towels are pretty thick. I would say they’re slightly thicker and more absorbent than Reel. Plus, their packaging is fun. πŸ˜‰

Cloud Paper

cloud paper eco friendly paper towels review cloud paper


  • 100% bamboo
  • Free to BPA, scents, pesticides, and dyes
  • Plastic-free
  • Subscription model available


  • Not 100% toxin-free (whitened using the ECF method)

My review: These are definitely comparable to both Reel and Who Gives a Crap in terms of thickness (meaning they’re not as thick/absorbent as conventional brands like Bounty, but they’re still perfectly able to get the job done.)

I would say the Cloud Paper ones are a little sturdier than the other eco brands listed here (meaning they tear/fall apart less easily.)

Public Goods


  • Bamboo and sugarcane blend
  • Free of inks, dyes, fragrances, and BPA


  • Not completely toxin-free (whitened using ECF method for the bamboo and TCF for the sugarcane)

Grove Co.

grove co tree free paper towels


  • 100 % bamboo
  • B Corp certified brand
  • Every purchase helps restore American forestland
  • Plastic-free


  • Not 100% toxin-free (whitened using elemental chlorine-free – ECF)

(And see our full review and breakdown of Grove Co. right here.)




  • Whitened using a mix of oxygen and hydrogen peroxide (TCF method)
  • One tree planted with each purchase
  • Plastic-free, soy-inked packaging
  • Free from pesticides, fertilizers, scents and dyes, and lint
  • Based in UK

Best Recycled Paper Towels

Seventh Generation

seventh generation recycled paper towels


  • 100% recycled (FSC-certified)
  • Made without added dyes, inks, or fragrances
  • Available at many stores such as Walmart, Grove, and Thrive Market
  • Also available in unbleached (see below)


  • Not 100% toxin-free (could contain bisphenols and “bleached” using ECF method)
  • Not plastic-free

Thrive Market

recycled paper towels from thrive market


  • 100% recycled
  • Completely free of fragrances and dyes
  • B Corp certified


  • Not 100% toxin-free (could contain bisphenols and “bleached” using ECF method)
  • Not plastic-free


recycled paper towels from everspring


  • 100% recycled (FSC-Certified)
  • No added fragrances and dyes
  • Available at Target
  • Made in the USA


  • Not 100% toxin-free (could contain bisphenols and “bleached” using ECF method)
  • Not plastic-free

P.S. Click here for a more a deep dive into the Everspring brand as a whole—whether or not they’re really non-toxic & eco-friendly, etc.

Unbleached Paper Towels

Many people wonder: are unbleached paper towels safe? Does “unbleached” = “not clean”? Are brown paper towels better?

The good news is: unbleached paper towels are completely clean and sanitary. The bad news is: so far, we’ve only found ONE completely unbleached brand of paper towels, and that’s Seventh Generation.

Seventh Generation

seventh generation unbleached paper towels


  • 100% recycled (FSC-certified)
  • Completely unbleached
  • Made without added dyes, inks, or fragrances
  • Available at many stores such as Walmart, Grove, and Thrive Market


  • Could contain bisphenols
  • Not plastic-free

If you know of any other unbleached paper towels, let us know!

What’s the Deal With Bambooee Reusable Paper Towels from Shark Tank?

You should be wary of reusable bamboo towels like Bambooee. Although they’re technically tree-free and reusable, these towels are almost always made from rayon/viscose, which requires very toxic chemicals to produce. Since there are so many other great alternatives to paper towels, we recommend skipping the Bambooee or other bamboo fabric towels.

Don’t forget your paper towel holder!

This one is made by a certified B Corp company (Full Circle) out of bamboo, recycled aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic.


Whether you go with bamboo paper towels, reusable cloths, or something else, there are so many great alternatives to conventional (toxic) paper towels!

To get more tips & tricks, latest environmental toxin news, and more in your inbox once a week, sign up for Filtered Fridays.

About Abbie

Abbie Davidson is the Creator & Editor of The Filtery. With almost a decade of experience in sustainability, she researches and writes content with the aim of helping people minimize environmental toxins in an in-depth yet accessible way.

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    1. Hi Ana,
      Yea, Caboo looks good! They use the ECF bleaching method. We’ll consider adding them in the next time we update this. πŸ™‚

  1. THANK YOU for this wonderful information!! It is VERY HELPFUL!! I have recently started growing microgreens & pea shoots and love the EXTRA ENERGY BOOST that they give. Now I am searching for a way to store them in the refrigerator after harvesting them. I tried storing them in glass containers but they “sweat” so much that deterioration set in quickly. I am hesitant to use BPA FREE plastic containers so I am considering using glass containers with a paper towel lining it. The Bumboo and Who Gives A Crap brands mentioned above look like the safest food-related options. Your comments or recommendations?? Many thanks!