Can Paper Towels Be Composted

Can Paper Towels Be Composted? (Crucial Notes)

Paper towels are a fundamental and necessary item that every home needs for sanitary purposes; with the amount of paper towels used in homes, it is common sense to seek ways of recycling them into something useful again.

Many gardeners want to know if they can up-cycle their paper waste by turning them into compost. 

The answer is YES; you can compost your paper towel. However, you cannot compost any paper towel with any chemical substances, oily dirt, or any form of human or animal waste.

Can Paper Towels Be Composted?

Paper towels are simply paper recycled and turned into very light material for most cleaning purposes.

We, however, must remember that papers are sourced from trees, which means that paper towels are woods that have been processed and recycled, and so they will make a great addition to your compost.

Some people worry that paper towel is bleached, so the chemical used in the bleaching process might not be good for their compost.

This is a fallacy because neither the compost pile nor the environment is affected by the bleaching used in turning the paper towel white; the bleach used is chlorine dioxide, and it is added to the water we use daily to kill viruses and bacteria. So, that paper towel will not harm your compost or the environment.

Some people believe that since paper towels are used to clean dirty surfaces, blow the nose, and wipe dirty hands, they must have lots of bacteria and viruses in them and so will introduce pathogens into the compost.

This is also a false myth because the microorganisms in the paper towel when added to the compost, help in the decomposition process.

Are Paper Towels Recyclable?

In our world today, conservationists seek opportunities to manage the resources we have around by recycling almost everything from plastics to bottles and the like, which is quite noble and commendable. Unfortunately, paper towels do not fall among the categories of things that can be recycled.

Even though paper towels are biodegradable and can easily be decomposed, they are not good to be recycled because they are used to clean off oily stains, grease, body fluids, and other things.

In reality, some of these stains and dirt cannot be easily removed from the paper towels during the recycling process, which means that if the paper towels are recycled, these stains and grease might remain. They appear in the new recycled paper towel as holes or spots.

Another reason why many people will seriously frown at the concept of recycling paper towels because they might harbor very harmful germs and infections, which by implication, means they can contaminate other materials that are meant for recycling. When these recycled materials are used, they can transfer these germs and diseases to people.

Do not forget that paper towels are also recycled paper products, which is why they are very light. The number of recycling processes these paper towels are subjected to results in them losing most of their starch. Hence they are lightweight. So if you continue to recycle them, they will become too light to be very useful.

When Should You Not Compost Paper Towels?

Even though we have established the fact that paper towels can be Composted, we must, however, state that there are some conditions in which it will be a bad idea to put your used paper towel into your compost pile, and they include:

1. Never compost or pile any paper towel that contains chemicals from cleaning products. This is because most of these chemicals create an imbalance in the composter; this imbalance will deactivate the microorganisms that help decompose the compost materials.

Secondly, some of these chemicals can kill these microorganisms straight out because they are harmful. Without these microorganisms, your compost pile cannot decompose completely.

2. All forms of grease, oil, fats and the likes that are wiped off with paper towels should not be added to your compost pile. These oils have a way of staying on the surface of the compost pile, thereby preventing air from getting into the compost.

The same effect that oil spillage has on the lives in the ocean so is the same effect these greasy paper towels have in your compost pile.

Remember that the bacteria in your compost need oxygen to survive; if air does not get into the compost pile, most bacteria that help the decomposition process will die off.

A stinking compost pile is where the decomposition process is stalled because microorganisms are dying off due to lack of ventilation.

3. One of the most important paper towels that should never find their way into your composter is the paper towel that contains animal or Human waste.

This is a big No, No, because it constitutes a big health risk for the person in contact with the compost and even the people eating from plants grown on the soil this compost is applied.

The animal waste here includes mostly those from our pets like cats and dogs, together with any human waste, all carry very harmful disease-causing pathogens which can easily get anyone in contact with the compost before it is fully Composted. So steer all human and animal waste away from your composter.

Pros Of Composting Paper Towel

There are quite a few benefits of Composting paper towels, and they include:

1. Paper towels have high carbon content, so they can supply the brown compost materials that every compost pile needs. Most compost piles require more green than green compost materials. (Green compost materials are those materials that are rich in nitrogen, like vegetable, and kitchen waste, while brown compost materials are rich in carbon, and they include wood shavings, paper towels, etc.). Hence, paper towel in the compost creates a good balance of the composting ingredients in the composter.

2. In the absence of leaves, you can add a paper towel to your compost as a substitute, and the beauty of this substitution is that it takes less time for these paper towels to completely decompose and turn into compost.

3. Composting paper towels help reduce the amount of household waste that we dump in our landfills. This is a great alternative to recycling paper towels, which is difficult; hence, composting your paper towel helps reduce the amount of waste that gets out of your house into the landfills. It also helps upcycle the paper towel and put it to better use.

4. Because paper towers can be moisture, they keep the compost from drying out by absorbing and retaining some moisture for the composting process. All these microbial activities that turn simple everyday materials around us into rich compost for our plants can only be carried out in the water; hence, paper towels in our compost keep our compost pile moist and active.

5. Paper towel in the compost prevents leaks in the humus, prevents the compost pile from clumping and rotting, which helps to ward off any unpleasant odor from the pile

How Long Does It Take For Paper Towels To Decompose?

The fact that paper towels are gotten from trees means they decompose quite fast. It can take as little as 15 days to almost 50 days for a paper towel to decompose completely. The length of time it will take a paper towel will depend on the following:

1. The Thickness of The Paper Towel

The thinker the paper towel, the less time it will take to decompose; the surface area on thin paper towels means more microbes can act on it, resulting in the paper towel decomposing faster.

2. The Wetness of The Compost Pile

The more moisture (without being waterlogged) a compost pile has, the less time it will take the paper towel to decompose. Water hasten every decomposing process because it provides a good medium for microorganisms to act on the paper towels.

3. If The Paper Towel is Shredded

This follows the same principle as how thickness affects the time it takes a paper towel to decompose. You can reduce the time of decomposition of the paper towel by shredding it into very small pieces.

How to Compost Paper Towels

There are different ways of Composting paper towels and other such materials like cardboard paper, paper napkins, tissue paper, and the likes; some of these ways include:

  • Outdoor Composting
  • Composting in a bin
  • Composting in a tumbler
  • Vermicomposting

Outdoor Composting

This is one of the easiest ways of Composting materials, like paper towels and the like. The procedure includes:

1. Look for a dry and shady spot in your garden, preferably somewhere close to a water source. This is the ideal place to situate your outdoor compost pile.

2. Then clear the site or space you just chose so that you can expose the bare soil.

3. You should then build a base layer with twigs and straws to ensure that the compost base has good drainage.

4. Then, add your paper towel with other materials to be composted one at a time. Add these materials in alternating order: brown and green compost materials. This ensures that the different materials are mixed up with the paper towels.

5. To trigger the decomposition process, add a nitrogen source to the pile. Nitrogen fertilizer will work perfectly, and so will other such manure.

5. Ensure that the pile is moist enough without being waterlogged. The feel of the pile should be like a damp sponge.

6. To allow the compost pile to remain aerated, you should turn the pile once every 2 weeks to incorporate oxygen that the microorganisms in a pile need to survive.

Composting In A Bin

The neatest way of making compost is by using a compost bin because you can easily preserve the system’s heat, and you can effectively keep animals away from the compost.

The steps below will show you how to make compost using a compost bin:

1. Choose Your Type of Backyard Compost Bin.

1. Get the type and size of compost bin you want which is a function of how much compostable paper towels and other materials you will be adding to your bin. Alternatively, you can build your compost bin.

2. Place the compost bin in a flat, sunny, and well-drained area that you can conveniently access even in winter.

3. Add a layer of compostable materials like twigs to ensure that the compost has good drainage and aeration.

4. In alternating between green and brown compostable ingredients, add each ingredient, one after the other, including your paper towel.

5. Continue to add your paper towels and other compostable materials to the compost bin until it becomes full.

6. You will notice that the compost bin will decrease in volume as it begins to decompose. Remember to turn the compost weekly to aerate it and keep the compost from smelling.

7. A crumbly and dark compost, which has an early smell, means that your compost is ready to be harvested.

Composting Paper Towel In A Tumbler

But composting can be significantly easier with a composting tumbler and a shredding machine. Follow these simple steps to compost paper towels in a tumbler:

Composting only gets easier with a tumbler and a shredding machine. The steps below are how you compost paper towels in a tumbler:

1. Gather all the paper towels that you will Composting and then tear them into very small pieces so that the decomposition process will be fast while keeping the whole pile aerated.

2. Get some other green compost materials like food waste and leaves to create a balance between the paper towel, which is a brown compost material. The ratio of paper towels to the green compost material should usually be 2:1, but you can choose any ratio depending on what you will be growing with the compost.

3. If your compost is dry, you can add more kitchen waste and plant wastes to the compost pile; this will moisten it.

4. You should rotate or turn your compost tumbler at least once in 3 days to ensure that the whole pile ferment and yields compost quickly.


Many people think it is incredulous that worms will feed on a paper towel, but they do. The worms help in the decomposition of the paper towels, while the paper towel absorbs and retains moisture for the worms. It also ensures a balance between the carbon and nitrogen content of the bin.

Even though you can add your paper towel to your worm bin, you must do so with caution. You must ensure that you don’t add a lot of paper towels to the worms bin so that it does not overwhelm the worms.

Secondly, you must ensure that the paper towel is not too bleached because the bleach can irritate the worms. Paper towels containing chemicals from cleaning agents should not be added to the worms bin because they can kill the worms.

In Summary

Paper towels are all around us because they are used for basic cleaning lots of things and surfaces. While we cannot recycle them because they are thin and the product of a series of recycling processes, we can add them to our compost pile because they add a rich carbon source to our compost pile.

It takes less than a month to turn that paper towel in your home into compost is a good reason you should try composing your paper towels today.

Helpful Links:

We trust this article helped you know if paper towels can be composted. You may also want to check out The 4 Components of Composting?

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