Can you put paper towels in the compost?

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Can you put paper towels in the compost?


Someone contacted Rolypig.com and asked about putting paper towels in compost. Everyone uses paper towels, they are highly convenient and relatively cheap. Whenever there’s a spill it’s so easy to grab one from the roll to mop up and you’re done.

But where do you dispose of it? All to often people throw it out to add to the landfill trash-collection. The answer is: Yes you can put used paper towels in the compost. There are, however, exceptions. If you’ve been mopping up non organic materials, then, this should go to landfill. It would depend on what substance is being wiped up. If you are mopping up any extra-strong cleaning chemicals, you need to think twice before adding it to the compost. Most of the time, due to the small quantities involved, there won’t be a problem but you need to give it some thought.  

Things to think about:

1. Paper towels soaked in food-waste or spilt drinks

This can go straight into the compost bucket to be taken to the compost bin.

2.Paper towels soaked in oils, fats or grease

This is safe to go into the compost. These substances are a high-energy feed in the microbial world. They will break down very quickly when enough of the required microbes gather around.

3. Paper towels soaked in washing up detergent

Some say that detergents will break down, over time, into harmless compounds and that it won’t adversely affect compost. It will depend on how much detergent is involved but if we’re considering a small amount, then, for convenience, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if it goes in with compost.

4.Paper towels soaked in spilled paint

You definitely need to keep this out. There are no paints that would be welcome among the microbes that are trying to turn ‘green’ kitchen waste into compost.

If you feel confident about the subject and you know what you are doing you may feel that the quantities involved will have minimal effect. If so, then go ahead. For most of us it’s usually better to play it safe and keep anything that’s a possible contaminant out of the compost.



Paper towels are like any other paper product. Most of the paper products in our lives originate from wood-fibre. This is ground down, turned into a pulp and then bleached white before being rolled out to make the thin paper that we recognize.

Originating from wood they can be categorized as a carbon ‘brown’ when adding to compost. It makes no difference if the paper towel is wet or dry. Paper towels will become soggy in the compost if they go in dry.

Most compost heaps that are made up of kitchen waste tend to be high in nitrates, ‘greens’. Given this, it’s unlikely that you will over do the number of paper towels going into the compost, when you get into the habit. It’s quite likely that you will need to add even more shredded paper or cardboard to provide enough carbon ‘browns’.

What else would you like to know?

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Can I put cooked food in the compost?

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Is it OK to put onions in compost?

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Can I put banana peels in my compost?

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