Some of this article's listed sources may not be reliable. Please help improve this article by looking for better, more reliable sources. Unreliable citations may be challenged and removed. (February 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
A roll of paper towels (kitchen roll)

A paper towel is an absorbent, disposable towel made from paper.[1] In Britain, paper towels for kitchen use are also known as kitchen rolls, kitchen paper, or kitchen towels.[2] For home use, paper towels are usually sold in a roll of perforated sheets, but some are sold in stacks of pre-cut and pre-folded layers for use in paper-towel dispensers. Unlike cloth towels, paper towels are disposable and intended to be used only once. Paper towels absorb water because they are loosely woven, which enables water to travel between the fibers, even against gravity (capillary effect). They have similar purposes to conventional towels, such as drying hands, wiping windows and other surfaces, dusting, and cleaning up spills. Paper towel dispensers are commonly used in toilet facilities shared by many people (such as at schools or shopping malls), as they are often considered more hygienic than hot-air hand dryers[3] or shared cloth towels.


Early paper towels

In 1907, the Philadelphia-based Scott Paper Company developed the first restroom tissues.[4] They started the paper towel industry when they began selling Sani-Towels and used advertising to convince the public that paper towels were essential for personal hygiene.[5]

In 1919, William E. Corbin, Henry Chase, and Harold Titus began experimenting with paper towels in the Research and Development building of the Brown Company in Berlin, New Hampshire.[6] By 1922, Corbin perfected their product and began mass-producing it at the Cascade Mill on the Berlin/Gorham line.[7] This product was called Nibroc Paper Towels (Corbin spelled backwards[8]). In 1931, the Scott Paper Company introduced their paper towel rolls for kitchens.

Paper towels are commonly used for drying hands in public bathrooms. In the 21st century, however, electric jet-air dryers have threatened their dominance. While there is no clear scientific consensus over which method is more hygienic, the paper towel industry and hand dryer manufacturers such as Dyson have each attempted to discredit each other by funding studies which spur sensationalist headlines and running advertisements. The public relations battle has also been fueled by animosity between both sides.[9][10]


Main article: Paper tissue

Paper towels are made from either virgin or recycled paper pulp,[11] which is extracted from wood or fiber crops. They are sometimes bleached during the production process to lighten coloration,[12] and may also be decorated with colored images on each square (such as flowers or teddy bears). Resin size is used to improve the wet strength.[12] Paper towels are packed individually and sold as stacks, or are held on a continuous roll, and come in two distinct classes: domestic and institutional.[13] Many companies produce paper towels. Some common brand names are Bounty, Seventh Generation, Scott, Viva, and Kirkland brand among many others.


Tissue products in North America, including paper towels, are divided into consumer and commercial markets, with household consumer usage accounting for approximately two thirds of total North American consumption.[13] Commercial usage, or otherwise any use outside of the household, accounts for the remaining third of North American consumption.[13] The growth in commercial use of paper towels can be attributed to the migration from folded towels (in public bathrooms, for example) to roll towel dispensers, which reduces the amount of paper towels used by each patron.[13]

Within the forest products industry, paper towels are a major part of the "tissue market", second only to toilet paper.[13]

Globally, Americans are the highest per capita users of paper towels in the home,[14] at approximately 24 kilograms (53 lb) yearly consumption per capita (combined consumption approximately 7.8 million tonnes (7,700,000 long tons; 8,600,000 short tons) per year). This is 50% higher than in Europe and nearly 500% higher than in Latin America.[13] By contrast, people in the Middle East tend to prefer reusable cloth towels, and people in Europe tend to prefer reusable cleaning sponges.[14]

Paper towels are popular primarily among people who have disposable income, so their use is higher in wealthy countries and low in developing countries.[14]

Growing hygiene consciousness during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a boost in paper towel market growth.[citation needed]

Environmental issues

Further information: Environmental impact of paper

See also: Toilet paper § Environmental considerations

Paper towels are a global product with rising production and consumption.[15] Being second in tissue consumption only to toilet paper (36% vs. 45% in the U.S.), the proliferation of paper towels, which are mostly non-recyclable, has globally adverse effects on the environment.[16] However, paper towels made from recycled paper do exist, and are sold at many outlets. Some are manufactured from bamboo, which grows faster than trees.

Electric hand dryers are an alternative to using paper towels for hand drying.[17] However, paper towels are quicker than hand dryers: after ten seconds, paper towels achieve 90% dryness,[clarification needed] while hot air dryers require 40 seconds to achieve a similar dryness.[18] Electric hand dryers may also spread bacteria to hands and clothing.[19][20][21]

See also


  1. ^ "PAPER TOWEL | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". 2022-05-25. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  2. ^ "KITCHEN ROLL | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". 2022-05-25. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  3. ^ "Paper towels may be more hygienic than air dryers - NHS". NHS. June 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  4. ^ Subramanian, Samanth (April 25, 2019). "Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands". The Guardian. Retrieved March 19, 2024.
  5. ^ Coombs, Danielle Sarver; Batchelor, Bob, eds. (2014). We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life. . . and Always Has [3 Volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 130.
  6. ^ "It felt like death". Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  7. ^ "Once Upon a Berlin Time". Archived from the original on September 26, 2013. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  8. ^ "Beginnings of the Cascade Paper Mill" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 21, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  9. ^ Subramanian, Samanth (April 25, 2019). "Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands". The Guardian. Retrieved March 19, 2024.
  10. ^ Vincent, James (April 22, 2016). "Dyson vs Big Paper Towel: the battle over hand-drying hygiene". The Verge. Retrieved March 19, 2024.
  11. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on 2007-06-09. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
  12. ^ a b Sasser, Sue Lynn. Paper Towels Archived 2006-09-06 at the Wayback Machine from the Texas A&M website. Retrieved on June 29, 2007
  13. ^ a b c d e f Brad Kalil, Director of Tissue (October 2008). "Tissue market continues to grow". Pulp & Paper Int'l Digital Edition. RISI. Archived from the original on 2008-12-16. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  14. ^ a b c Pinsker, Joe (2018-12-10). "Americans Are Weirdly Obsessed With Paper Towels". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  15. ^ "Guidelines to choosing best paper towels". 16 August 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  16. ^ Jingshi Wu. "Taking Paper Towels to the Compost Pile: Nitty-gritty". Stanford Magazine.
  17. ^ "How much tissue paper does an American household use in a day?". Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  18. ^ "Paper Towels – What's the Big Deal Anyway?". Ocean Currents. Retrieved 2017-03-06.
  19. ^ TÜV Produkt und Umwelt GmbH Report No. 425-452006 A report concerning a study conducted with regard to the different methods used for drying hands; September 2005
  20. ^ Huang, Cunrui; Ma, Wenjun; Stack, Susan (1 August 2012). "The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence". Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 87 (8): 791–798. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.02.019. PMC 3538484. PMID 22656243.
  21. ^ Ngeow YF, Ong HW, Tan P. Dispersal of bacteria by an electric air hand dryer. Malays J Pathol. 1989 Aug;11:53-6.