Can You Compost Paper Towels?

an you compost paper towels
Can you compost paper towels? Yes, they are compostable. Instead of throwing them in the garbage bin, add them to your compost bin. Paper towel rolls are biodegradable and can be added to your compost pile or bin as long as they don't have any oil, grease, or chemical products on them.

How Long Do Paper Towels Take To Compost?

When you factor in the paper towel type and surface area, you will find that your used paper towels could take 2 to 3 weeks to decompose in a compost bin fully.

1. Paper Towel Type

The type of paper towel will have an impact on its decomposition time.

The water-absorbent properties in some brands are made using synthetic fibers like polypropylene, which means that these brands are more resistant to decomposition than those that use cotton or wood pulp.

Check out our video below on how to compost paper towels and the best type of paper towels to add to your compost.

2. Paper Towel Surface Area

The size of the paper towel roll itself is another factor impacting how long it takes for your used paper towels to break down.

A standard roll is around 11 inches across and 5 inches high, but there are also jumbo and skinny rolls that are larger or smaller than this range.

Shredding speeds up the process because it exposes more surface area to decomposers like fungi and bacteria.

Generally speaking, paper products are high in cellulose and lignin but low in nitrogen-rich proteins that aid in decomposition.

They are brown material with carbon-rich nutrients. But if your compost pile is getting plenty of nitrogen-rich materials from other sources—such as food scraps or animal manures—the microbes will likely break down those paper products more quickly.

The Types Of Paper Towels You Should Not Compost

1. Paper towels bleached with chlorine bleach

Chlorine bleach has been found to cause serious problems in some composting environments.

2. Paper towels with an ingredient called Polyethylene (or PE) plastic

3. Paper towels that have been used in chemical products 

Suppose you are using a product with ammonia or other harsh chemicals. In that case, the paper towel can become contaminated and unable to be composted, as the chemicals could be toxic to the microorganisms that break down organic matter.

The best way to dispose of these paper towels is to put them in a recycle bin, as it is not safe to reuse them.

4. Paper towels that have come into contact with cleaning products such as disinfectants

Drain cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, and window cleaner. The chemicals used in these products can kill the bacterial microorganisms that make up most of the mass in finished compost.

5. Paper towels that have been used to clean up pet waste or vomit

Paper towels used to clean up any pet messes should be thrown out. They may contain pathogens that carry diseases or viruses.

How To Compost Paper Towels in 5 Steps

1. Sort Out All the Paper Towels

Put the clean ones, the ones used to dry wet clean hands, food-soiled ones in the green cart: even clean toilet paper.

Other paper towels used for cleaning with chemical products should be placed in the black cart as garbage.

2. Shred or Tear the Paper Towels

Shred them into smaller pieces; this will allow for the towels to decompose quickly. 

3. Prepare the Bin

Ensure you have the correct bin type, add grass clipping, and hays down.

4. Add the Brown and Green Organic Components

Add shredded or cut paper towels mixed with other brown organic materials into the compost bin.

Then, add green nitrogen-rich food wastes to offset the carbon to nitrogen ratio in the compost pile.

5. Close, Tighten and Mix

Mix every 3 days to ensure that the whole compost is hot and aerated for the microbes to digest the paper towels quickly.

Paper is made chiefly of cellulose (a carbohydrate) and lignin (another carbohydrate), making it particularly good at attracting all kinds of microorganisms once it’s introduced to the right environment.

A good compost pile has the appropriate airflow and moisture needed for these tiny creatures to break down paper waste effectively. The result is a mixture called “humus,” which is dark brown or black and looks like soil.

Can You Compost Napkins?

You can compost paper napkins by mixing them with other browns like dead leaves and straws, another composite pile in the compost bin. This will create a nice mixture of brown and green organic materials, which will allow the pile to break down at an even rate.

A significant distinction between paper napkins and other types of paper is that they are made from wood pulp, broken down by the microbes in a compost pile. The decomposition process creates heat, which helps break down the other materials in a pile and make room for more.

9320043788 eec74a54fb bCan you compost napkins?” class=”wp-image-248″/>
Can you compost napkins?

However, the paper napkins need to be cleaned from any grease or oil before composting. If there’s food residue or the napkins are not fully disintegrated, your compost could attract unwanted pests.

Also, there are 2 more factors that you should consider before composting;

  • napkins that are coated with wax or other materials are not compostable
  • bamboo fiber napkins are not compostable

An easy way to know which paper napkins to compost is by reading the label on the package. For example, if it is 100 recycled, “100% recycled,” you know that the item can be composted with your garden waste!

Paper towels or paper towel rolls are compostable. However, it depends on their conditions. It would be best if you did not compost those with cleaning products, grease, chemical products, or bleaches, as these are toxic to the soil.


Discovering composting as a way of life or even better, as nature’s way of recycling, Ana dedicates her time to trying out new methods of composting at home. Her goal is to share everything that she’s learned in the hopes that it will help others discover the amazing rewards of composting.

Recent Posts