Can I Compost Paper Towels? (Or will it ruin your pile…)

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When you are composting everything in your house that can be broken down through natural processes you may be surprised when you hold some paper towels in your hand. These are things that can quickly cause your dustbin to fill up, making you use several trash bags. Most compost lovers quickly reach the stage where they start to question what other than organic material can you put in the compost bin, with paper towels being at the top of their list. 

If you have cleaned up organic waste such as water, dirt, oils, or anything else around the kitchen then you can use paper towels in your compost heap. However, if you are sick, cleaned up chemicals, or anything that would be damaging to the compost heap you cannot use them in your compost bin. The paper towels themselves will easily disintegrate as they are made to do so in the right conditions. 

Understanding how each type of paper towel can or cannot be composted is important, with the origin and type of paper towel playing a large part in how fast they will decompose. You need to understand how they will disintegrate and why it is never a good idea to use paper towels with some viruses on them. Learning how the paper towels are decomposing will mean that your compost bin will not be slowed down or damaged. 

What makes paper towels so different?

Paper towels come in all shapes and sizes and are made to not fill up landfills the same way some other towels might. Thus, under the right moisture and bacterial conditions paper towels will quickly dissolve into nothing as they are supposed to, providing foods and other things to bacteria. It should be noted that paper towels are also a mixture of new and recycled material.

The overall environmental impact of paper towels is lessened by the process made to create them, which is part of why they break down so easily. However, it should be noted that paper towels do not decompose in the same way that toilet paper would, as paper towels are made to structurally stay together even when wet. Usually, this is why you will see that toilet paper breaks apart as soon as it hits the water. 

All of these make paper towels drastically different than other towels that you may know about, as the towels are easily some of the things that will be a big boon to your compost bin. Many people use paper towels to create layers within their compost bins, as the paper towels can help to create some air pockets that will fade with age. 

How long can paper towels take to compost?

The good news about paper towels is that they can decompose into nothing a lot faster than most other kitchen utensils. It is estimated that most paper towels will take between two weeks and 45 days to completely decompose inside your compost bin. This is the perfect time to measure most of the other things and the overall health of your compost bin, whether it is outside or inside of your home.

If you have a compost bin that is healthy and working perfectly as expected then it should only take around two weeks for your paper towels to disappear completely. This means that the moisture levels, the worm health, and the bacteria in your compost bin are all super healthy and ready to continue composting everything else. Most of the time this is why you may see someone take a clean piece of paper towel and add it to their compost bin.

However, if your compost bin is taking longer and longer to decompose the paper towels that you are adding to them, you should be aware that there is something wrong. It might be that the paper towels are drying the bin out too much, or that something else is wrong with your compost bin. You will need to investigate exactly why the bin isn’t decomposing correctly and what you can do to fix them. It may also mean that the paper towels are too chemically active to be decomposed and are damaging your bin. 

Can all paper towels be composted?

This is one of the biggest questions that you should be asking yourself, especially as you are going to find that many types of towels can be bought. You need to be aware that different towels that are used for different applications will dissolve differently. Many towels almost not dissolving at all unless they are processed before they are added to the bin. 

You need to know how each type of paper towel will dissolve and what you need to do to ensure that they are going to dissolve properly. Many times, you may find that a paper towel you thought would dissolve with ease is quite stubborn. Other times you may find that the towel will never dissolve because of the inherent chemicals inside of them 

Compost Paper Towel Rolls

These are most likely to be the paper towels that you need to stress about as they are meant to be used around the kitchen. A whole roll of paper towels can disappear after only one cooking session, many times while trying to stave off something that has spilled. These are the best paper towels to use for your compost bin, as they are rarely used to clean up anything other than biological spills around the kitchen.

The use of these towels has been aimed at those that need something quick and disposable, which means despite the bleach used in the construction of these towels they will disappear quite quickly. Paper towel rolls are also most likely to contain reused papers from recycling bins as they are the ones that are bought most often. Composting them can be as simple as mixing them in with the compost and adding some water to help break them down. 

Folded Paper Towels

These are paper towels that you can find at hotels or restaurants and are meant to replace serviettes, usually made in the cheapest way possible as well. Oddly enough this means that the folded variety of paper towels can be thinnest and most recycled. Their harder texture may have you thinking that they will not be able to be recycled, however, once the water has been added to them they will dissolve almost immediately.

Folded paper towels are perfect for starter compost heaps that need something to be mixed in with your organics. However, please do note where you are gathering these from, as people use them for anything from water cleanup, to quickly using them to bleach a surface. Ensuring that the paper towel and organic biomaterial are all that is in the paper towel is an important and vital part of ensuring the compost bin works perfectly.

Bathroom Paper Towels

Made from the same paper as cheap recycled toilet paper bathroom paper towels usually come either folded into loaders or in giant rolls that are fed through a machine. While they are perfect for a compost heap, you should never use these towels as they will most likely contain viruses and bacteria that can be extremely harmful. Considering they are used to dry people’s hands after they have washed them means there are some chemicals stuck to them as well.

Overall, these are the only towels we recommend not using in your compost bin at all, as you cannot control how they are used, you cannot easily measure what they were used for, and the risk of spreading disease is much too great. Rather have these disposed of by a company that can handle it, as having them recycled would mean they are cleaned and reused properly without doing damage to the environment. 


Paper towels are usually quite safe to be used in your compost bin and will add quite a few things to ensure that you are happily composting away. To ensure that you are not adding too many towels you should ensure that they are still decomposing. However, apart from that, it should cause little to no issues if you start adding the towels to your compost bin to make everything dissolve. 

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