Why Americans Are so Obsessed With Paper Towels

Image Credit: Instagram

If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that Americans are totally obsessed with our paper products – a fact we should have already known, given that we produce more unrecyclable trash (per person) than any developed country in the world.

And paper towels? Americans spend around $5.7 billion annually on them, and most people view them as a necessity, not a luxury.


We use them to clean spills, windows, hands, and everything in between. The next closest country, consumption of disposable towels-wise, is France – and they spend less than a 10th of what Americans do every year.

Why do we prefer paper towels the the more economic washable ones, though, and where did our obsession start?


Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Atlantic’s Joe Pinkser thinks that it could be due to how Americans tend to problem-solve. A paper towel allows us to immediately address a mess and then dispose of it without a trace – and without a need to take that extra step of cleaning our cleaning supplies.

Other possible contributors include being able to throw away the towel and avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, and for hygienic reasons, such as in public bathrooms, where they are more sanitary than air dryers.


One thing you can do if you recognize the problem, but don’t want to give up your habit, is to reuse your towels that haven’t touched raw meat. You can use most of them a half dozen times before they rip.

You can also fold one in half to make it sturdier, or invest in reusable and recyclable bamboo towels, which can take the place of 6 months worth of your regular towels (saving you some cash, too).


The bottom line is that we’re lazy, we don’t want to think too hard about food contamination, and we think they’re more sanitary.

If you want to address the problem, though, know that more sustainable (and cheaper) solutions to all of these issues (except the laziness) are out there if you want to seek them out!