Fold Paper Towels to Save Time, Money, and the Environment

Picture of the trees you're supposed to save.


Folding paper towels makes them more effective at absorbing liquids, which can help you save a bit of time and money, while also reducing your ecological footprint. This obviously has only a small impact on things, but considering it’s something you just learned in about 10 seconds and can easily implement, it’s definitely a useful thing to know. If you’re curious why folding your paper towels is beneficial, read on.


Why folding is better

Folding your paper towel makes it a more effective cleaning tool for two primary reasons:

  1. Increased absorption rate- this occurs due to laminar flow channels between the between the folded parts, which reduce the viscous flow resistance. All this increases the rate at which the towel is able to absorb water through capillary action.
  2. Greater absorption capacity- a folded towel can hold more water than an unfolded towel of the same size, because water is stored between the folds of the towel. (A TEDx talk on the topic refers to this as “interstitial suspension”).

There are two other advantages to folding. First, folding the towel means that it is able to absorb more liquid at each pass (even without interstitial suspension), so using it will require less time and effort on your part. Second, a folded towel is going to be smaller, so a greater portion of its area will come into direct contact with the liquid, leaving less unused (and therefore wasted) edges.

Aside from saving you time and money, saving paper towels through folding is also good for the environment: millions of tons of paper towels are currently used annually around the globe, and the North American market has the highest rate of consumption per capita.

In terms of folding it in half or in thirds: it appears that a tri-fold is generally more effective than a bi-fold. Based on this, it’s reasonable to assume that folding more is better, but there is likely to be an upper limit where you’ll start running into absorption issues. It’s up to you to decide how many times to fold it, based on what works and on what’s most convenient; this would obviously depend on the size and type of the paper towel.


Saving paper when washing hands

Since we’re already talking about helping the environment, another thing you can do to save paper is shake your hands over the sink a few times before wiping them; this reduces the number of paper towels you need in order to dry your hands. In terms of time, there is no noticeable impact, since the time shaking your hands balances out with the time wiping them with the extra towels. (This method is originally referenced by this TEDx talk as the “shake and fold”).


Summary and conclusions

  • Folding paper towels increases their absorption rate and capacity.
  • Folding your paper towels before using them can help you save time and money, while also helping the environment.
  • After washing your hands, shaking them before wiping can also help reduce the number of paper towels you need.