12 - 2010

A Clean Fresh Towel To Throw Away Every Time

Trash the environment, one hand-washing at a time!

Have you seen the commercial for the new Kleenex Hand Towels? You’ll recognize it if you look at the Web site here.

Has anyone else had that sinking feeling in your belly when you look at that ad, feeling as if all your conservation efforts are about to be undone as the Kleenex company works to unravel the thread you have been using to knit a feeling of concern about environment and waste into your community?

The campaign for these towels — basically like disposable towels used in public restrooms, but now you can have them at home! — focuses on the idea that using the same towel more than once is filthy, unhygienic and disgusting. The commercial is meant to create a visceral “eww!” reaction in the viewer.

But … really? Do you really want to puke when you think about your spouse and children washing their hands (with soap) and then drying their clean hands on the hand towel? So much so that you want to spend $3 for 60 towels to throw away? I mean, just think how much more often you’ll have to empty the garbage, if nothing else.

The Kleenex Web site quotes “hand drying facts from the CDC”:

  • Even if a hand towel is not visibly dirty, it does not mean it is clean.
  • Regular washing of cloth hand towels does not ensure cleanliness.
  • One-time use towels have been shown to be more hygienic.
  • Drying your hands with disposable towels can help prevent the spread of germs.

Well … those points are technically true. Also, the Centers for Disease Control’s job is to keep an eye on all types of infectious disease and let us know how to prevent it. And potentially infectious agents are everywhere!

Let’s say you have a family of four, and each of you washes hands three times per day. Assuming you use one Kleenex hand towel per wash, you would go through one box every five days, or six boxes per month. That will create 19 pounds of waste annually from throwing out 4,380 towels per year. You would also spend $216 annually on those towels. You would be responsible for cutting down almost half a tree, just to dry your hands, each year.

Is it necessary? If your family is battling a serious immune condition or other issue that causes you to be extremely vigilant, you might need disposable towels — but then, you probably already knew that without Kleenex trying to make you uncomfortable.

If your family is normally healthy, think about this: You’re already likely to be sitting on the couch together, sitting at the table together, touching the same doorknobs and light switches, hugging and kissing each other, and maybe even spending eight hours breathing the same bedroom air together. Odds are good you’re already passing germs back and forth through many other means.

At our house, we solve the towel dilemma by using cloth towels. And I won’t lie — I’m a little bit of a germaphobe, which might be why this ad struck a chord with me. So I dry my hands on my bath towel. One hand towel hangs on the bathroom door; Mlle. Cheap dries on that or her bath towel. And Mr. Cheap dries on another hand towel that hangs on a towel rod. If we have guests, well, I don’t know where they dry, but we wash the towels weekly (and live in a dry climate, so the towels dry fully between uses — if your area is prone to mildew, you might have to wash more often). We don’t get sick very often. This is supported by a 2000 Mayo Clinic study that found no appreciable difference in bacteria after drying with paper towels, warm air dryer, cloth towel on a roll or air drying.

If you are really concerned about germs, you might believe a 1991 study that showed warm air drying reduced germs the most. Rodale also gives hand dryers the nod for environmental friendliness over disposable towels.

In that case, you can invest in a warm air hand dryer for your bathroom for anywhere between $50 and $1,000. (Find out how long it will take to repay itself using this calculator for the Xcelerator, a powerful hand dryer that costs $500 — but could repay itself in two years compared to Kleenex hand towels!)

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