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 overall, but considering the fact that it’s simple to understand and implement, it’s definitely a useful thing to know. If you’re curious why folding your paper towels is beneficial, read on.


Why folding your paper towels is beneficial

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, using fewer paper towels is also good for the environment. Right now, 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 more folds are preferable, 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 your paper towel, 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

Besides folding your paper towels, another thing you can do to save paper when washing your hands is shake them over the sink a few times before wiping them, since this reduces the number of paper towels you need in order to dry your hands. This reduces the amount of paper you end up using, without taking much extra time, since the time spent shaking your hands balances out with the time spent wiping them with the extra towels that you would other need. (This method is originally referenced by this TEDx talk as the “shake and fold”).


Summary and conclusions

  • Folding paper towels before using them increases their absorption rate by creating laminar flow channels between the folded parts, which improves the ability of the towels to absorb water through capillary action.
  • Folding paper towels also increases their absorption capacity, since 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.
  • In addition, folding the paper towel means that it absorbs more water at each pass in general, and means that a large portion of its surface area will make contact with the liquid each time.
  • In general, the more folds you can make, the more you will benefit from these effects, up to a point where the towel is no longer convenient to use.
  • All of this means that folding your paper towels before using them will allow you to use them more effectively, and help you save time, money, and the environment.