Which paper towels do the best job and are the best value for money?
Our test found the best-performing paper towels were 3-ply. Plies are the number of sheets that make up the thickness of a paper towel. The higher the ply count, the thicker, stronger and more absorbent the paper towel should be. In our test, 89% of paper towels were 2-ply with the rest being 3-ply (but you may occasionally find 4-ply paper towels for sale).
Most of the products in our test had accreditation for sustainably sourced materials. This means fibres (for example, wood, bamboo, sugarcane) used were grown and harvested in a sustainable way. These certifications are usually on the front and back of paper towel packaging.
Without a certification any sustainability claim is open to interpretation. We haven’t assessed the value of each certification programme, only if the packaging claims one.
The FSC in an international non-profit third-party that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests.
FSC accreditation is not a guarantee that the whole product is from a sustainable source, especially with the FSC MIX label. But it does indicate that the virgin fibres used in the product come from forests managed to high environmental and ethical standards.
There are three FSC classifications. Most paper towel products in Aotearoa use just one: FSC MIX.
FSC MIX: is for products that are a mixture of timber/fibre with a minimum of 70% from an FSC-certified source.
FSC-certified materials are from certified forests, recycled materials, and/or FSC-controlled wood, which does not include the following:
FSC RECYCLED: means all timber/fibre used in the paper towel is recycled material. However, up to 15% can be from manufacturing scrap that’s put back into products, such as faulty product (mis-cut paper towels).
FSC 100%: is when all of the material is from FS-certified forests that have been audited by an independent third party to confirm they meet FSC’s standards.
PEFC is another common label on paper towels signalling the product is produced to high ecological, social and ethical standards. It is a third-party endorsement, so not all products will have it. There are two classifications: PEFC Certified, where at least 70% of wood comes from PEFC-certified forests and controlled sources, and PEFC Recycled, where at least 70% of material is from recycled sources and controlled sources.
This is New Zealand’s government-owned ecolabelling programme that assess the lifecycle impact of a product, from manufacture to packaging and is a good assessment to look for.
Recycled fibres are less damaging to the environment than using virgin materials. It also helps keep waste out of the landfill.
Unfortunately, paper products can only be recycled so many times before the fibres become too weak. This means virgin materials are commonly added to give the towels strength.
Virgin fibres: Those have not been used in any other product, such as straight from wood pulp.
Recycled fibres: Come from pre- or post-consumer products, such as unused office products.
Paper towels aren’t a high-cost product. But if you go through lots it doesn’t long before they can start hurting your bank balance.
Rolls of paper towels in our test cost between 80¢ and $2.67 a roll. However, they come in different sizes/lengths. This means a per sheet cost is the best way to compare value.
The top paper towels in our test that earnt our recommendation cost between 3 and 4¢ per sheet. They were mostly 3-ply, which drives the cost higher.
The cheapest paper towel sheet cost 1.3¢, while the most expensive was 4.4¢ - neither performed particularly well in our test. You can filter cost per sheet on our reviews page.
Reusable paper towels are cloths that are both "reusable" and made of "paper". They can be used much like a standard kitchen cloth and thrown in the washing machine for a clean. However, they’ll eventually start to break down.
Unfortunately, due to their thickness they weren’t compatible with our test, but you can read our review of them here.