Best Paper Towels of 2021
The Bounty Quick-Size Towels top the charts when it comes to exceptional performance. It's absorptive, soft to the touch, and strong. Even when scrubbing down our tubs, hot tubs, counters, and cast-irons, it proved to be one of the strongest, requiring fewer sheets for each job. Of all options, it has little shed and maintains its strength even when wet. Each roll is massive, with approximately 9,438 square inches of surface area, making it one of the largest rolls you can buy. The diameter of each roll is six inches, with thick sheets that'll absorb wet spills in a pinch.
The price is high when comparing contenders, but because you get so much absorbing and cleaning power from one square, it still offers exceptional value. If you're seeking the best performance with large rolls and fewer squares used for any mess, look no further.
We love the versatility of the Brawny Tear-a-Square brand. It features different sized square options for different types of messes. With a big spill, tear off two regular sheets, or for a small task, tear off just half a square. Fold them half for a napkin at any pizza dinner and enjoy its soft, plush surface. If your hands are dry, this is a top choice, as it doesn't feel scratchy to the touch. We also appreciate that it's strong both when wet and dry. Feel free to tackle stuck-on messes or absorb puddles of water on the counter with ease.
We do love this roll, but it fewer sheets per roll than the largest contenders out there. This is best for those seeking an option with soft sheets and an option to choose different square sizes.
If you're looking for a great deal, the Amazon Brand - Presto! Flex-a-Size is hard to beat. One roll has a whopping 10.42 square feet per roll and measures 5.65 inches in diameter. The roll itself looks about average, but the sheets are thinner, so it packs more into a smaller area. Its absorption performance is average, absorbing 0.4 ounces of water weight and diffusing 2.4 inches up the strips in our tests (a little above average). When spilling water on the table and picking up foodstuffs while cleaning, it offers similar performance to the highest-scoring contenders. The material is soft to the touch on both the upper and lower side of each piece, and we love the cute designs and patterns it comes with.
While we love its value, if you find yourself scrubbing on a countertop, you might notice it falling apart. In our scrubbing tests, it blew more holes through the material when both wet and dry, and sooner than other higher-end brands. While it does shed and fray, it's still a great deal if durability isn't your biggest concern.
The Scotts Essential MultiFold is our favorite napkin. It's a multifold option designed to wipe your face and sit under your cutlery at the dinner table. The one-ply design folds into three-sections, opening up with a large surface area to easily clean your face and fingers. It'll do the trick for cleaning, but the performance isn't nearly as good as a traditional, absorbent towel. Of the multifold napkin options, it presents an outstanding value that is on par with the highest value contenders.
As a one-ply napkin, it's not very absorbent and doesn't clean up things nearly as well as other traditional towels. During our water tests, it only absorbed 0.3 ounces of water and diffused only 2.1 inches up the strip, which is poor on the performance scale. While cleaning, it picked up some sauce but smeared more of it. While it held up its strength when dry, it fell apart after scrubbing just 15 times on a rough surface when wet. Overall, it's not very strong when wet or absorbent. While its performance features can't compete with a traditional paper towel, this is our favorite napkin for its soft feel and nice look.
If you're looking to buy in bulk, the Pacific Blue Basic Recycled Hardwound Paper is your best bet. This enormous roll is 7.5 inches in diameter and offers over 800 feet of paper. Recycled paper is an environmentally conscious way to buy, and its lack of bells and whistles makes it practical and inexpensive. You'll find it stocked in public bathrooms and classrooms.
Unfortunately, since it's only one-ply and lacks porosity, it's not very good at absorbing water or cleaning up messes. With big spills, the water eventually is picked up, but diffusion is slow and thus less absorbent. Cleaning has similarly poor performance, and it's not nearly as strong as other multi-ply options. If you simply seek a roll that you can buy in bulk and will do the job, this is our recommendation.
When we measured the absorbance time for the Viva Multi-Surface TaskSize Towels, we were impressed. Matching and almost surpassing our top scorers, it took the least number of sheets (only two) to absorb a half cup of water poured on the table. The upper portion of the sheet is relatively soft, feeling good on the fingers, and it does decent work while cleaning up messes like spills, sauces, and more.
Unfortunately, it is expensive and isn't the strongest when wet. At the same time, you can wet it down and scrub on a surface; if it's textured or cloth, it'll shed. When dry, it doesn't shed at all and performs to the level you might expect. Also, the underside feels a little scratchy. It stands out for its above-average absorptive performance and is an excellent option if you deal with wet messes all the time.
If you're an environmentally conscious consumer, the Seventh Generation uses recycled paper in its construction. In our testing, we used the dyed fiber to test comparative performance across the board. During our water diffusion tests, we were astounded to see how quickly water moved through the towel. It picks up water fast (moved up 2.9 inches in our diffusion strips), and has average performance when it comes to water absorbency and clean-up. If you deal with small wet messes or need a fast absorber, this is one to consider, and it's a great deal.
While we love the recycled nature of this brand, the rolls are smaller than most (only 8,470 square feet, five-inch diameter), even though the value is still good. Its strength is subpar. This is one of the only brands that wore a hole through in our dry rubbing tests. In our wet strength tests, there were holes after rubbing it on the carpet just ten times! When we cleaned around the kitchen, we noticed the scrubbing required more sheets than other top brands. That said, we appreciate that it never did flake on us. If you're an environmentally conscious buyer, this is the brand to consider if you're okay with the performance issues we note above.
Of the traditional rolls, the Sparkle presents a value that is middle of the road with a performance that does the trick. It'll pick up spills and help you in your cleaning. It offers excellent absorbency, picking up the most water in our water tests, and doesn't shed, even when you're scrubbing a textured surface hard. While these are more generic than high performance, they cost little per square. We used them for wiping down our hot tub, cleaning the bathroom, and scrubbing the fridge clean.
While it does the trick, it's not very strong. In our tests, it rubbed a hole after scrubbing at a cast iron pan (the only one that didn't stand up). In our wet tests, it rubbed a hole right through after just fifteen rubs (the worst performance comparatively). Also, the rolls are quite small and feel scratchy to the touch. This is far from our first recommendation, but if you need a roll that'll absorb water, look no further.
The Kleenex MultiFold Napkin is a napkin that is thick in construction. The larger fibers absorb a good amount of water while its rate of diffusion is faster than other options on the market. During our clean-up, it did a good job of picking up sauces on the counter and water spilled on the table. It does well in our dry strength test, keeping intact after rubbing it 50 times on a cast iron pan and carpet, which we found to be quite impressive.
For the bundle, you, unfortunately, get fewer sheets and the materials aren't very soft on the skin. While it does a decent job absorbing water and messes, the one-ply construction still can't compete with traditional brands. During our wet-tests, it fell apart after just 15 pulls across the carpet and let fibers all over. Overall, it's best for those seeking a durable multifold napkin, but far from our top recommendations.
Why You Should Trust Us
Amber King brings you this in-depth paper towel review. She's been a science teacher for over five years and a professional cleaner intermittently throughout the years. In both jobs and her daily life, she uses them constantly. She's also been reviewing over 30 categories of gear for seven years, putting together objective tests for other items such as cookware, clothing hangers, outdoor gear, and more.
Our testing for this category first starts by selecting nine of the most popular traditional rolls and multifold bundles on the market. After reviewing these options for over two hours, we select a few to test side-by-side. When all the boxes arrive at our testing location, we get to work. We scrub windows, floors, tubs, fridges, hot tubs, countertops, etc. over the last four months. We use them as napkins, noting which are nicer to the touch and which feel dry. We also subject each to a number of tests to look at relative absorption, water diffusion, strength (when wet and dry), and overall versatility.
Analysis and Test Results
We chose the best paper towels and multifold napkins on the market to test side-by-side. Our objective testing regime allows us to see which performs the best across important performance indicators including Cleaning Ability, Wet & Dry Strength, Absorbency, and Enjoyment of Use. We rate performance based on each, then discuss how they compare.
Not only did we clean our house from top to bottom including dusting, polishing, scrubbing, and drying, but we also performed objective tests to see how each performs. Our objective comparative cleaning "spread tests" involve taking a tbsp of mustard, BBQ sauce, and sweet sauce, dolloping them onto the countertop, then wiping each once with each brand to see which has the best single swipe pick up performance. Those with nothing left behind perform the best, while those leaving streaks don't score as high. We were sure to apply a consistent level of pressure and effort for each test.
In general, two-ply construction that is thicker and more porous leads the competition in cleaning ability. Most perform rather similarly, with subtle differences. It's no surprise that our two favorites for cleaning ability are also top scorers. The Bounty and Brawny brands lead the competition. In all our tests, the softer fibers captured rogue dust, ate away at tough caked-on grease, and polished up faucets with ease. The thicker construction of both (with Bounty being the thickest) were both able to pick up all the materials in our spread tests.
The Viva Multi-Surface is another notable mention with fibers that are a bit more coarse than other top contenders, making it less effective at dusting. However, it did just as well as the others in all other tests. The Amazon Presto brand did almost as good as the Viva but left a little smudge behind. Other traditional brands follow.
Wet and Dry Strength
How long does it take before one sheet is of no use? Some brands are thicker and offer better resilience and strength than thinner options. We subjected each to a variety of tests to look at the relative strength of the paper while cleaning. We also look at whether they shed when rubbed against a surface. In addition, we washed dishes and regularly cleaned up tables, floors, and countertops with each to see how they compare in performance.
To test dry strength, we performed two tests. The first set is designed to test dry strength. First, we take a dry sheet and rub it 50 times (with even pressure) on a cast iron pan. Then, we rub a new sheet 50 times on a coarse carpeted surface. We note the number of holes and the number of rubs it takes to break the surface of the paper.
The best performer in this test is the Brawny Tear a Square. While most options punch at least two holes after 50 rubs, it had only a teeny tiny hole. This is largely attributed to its thicker and well-reinforced construction. The Bounty Quick Size is second, showing two small holes. The rest of the showed at least three holes or were completely decimated. All products showed signs of shedding in this test except the Sparkle, Scott Essential Multifold, and Pacific Blue Recycled Hardwound Paper.
To test this metric, we wet a sheet from each brand, folded them over twice, and performed two tests. First, we rubbed it on the cast iron, then the carpet. However, in this test, we evaluate how quickly the paper rips a hole through the surface. We also note if any shedding occurs. If you like to wash your dishes or scrub at a surface with a wet towel, this is good information to have!
Once again, Bounty and Brawny Tear A Square reign king for wet strength. During these tests, we notice little wear with the Bounty Quick Tear squares while Brawny Tear A Square shows a bit more wear comparatively while rubbing it against the cast iron. On the carpet tests, the Bounty Tear-A-Square hardly tore through, with the Brawny tearing just a tiny hole. Most others like the Viva Multi-Surface took 20 rubs before busting a hole. Thinner options like the Sparkle and Pacific Blue blew out after just 10 rubs on the carpet while wet!
Of all options, the only ones that didn't shed were the Amazon Brand Presto, Bounty, and Brawny. Some materials flaked off but didn't leave a mess as we observed with the Kleenex MultiFold and Pacific Blue.
How much water can your paper towel take? How quickly does water diffuse across the fiber? How well does it pick up wet messes? While this metric might seem hard to test, we concocted three different objective tests including water absorption, water diffusion, and to look at absorbency. Turns out (not surprisingly) that the paper sheets that are the thickest with thinner, finer fibers are better at absorbing than others. We also noted that those with a softer and finer fiber do better than those with a coarse or thicker fiber.
In this test, we cut a 4X4-inch piece of paper from each towel and soaked it for 20 seconds. We weighed the weight of the water before and after to determine how much water was picked up in this time period. This test proved to have similar results across the board with differences that weren't that significant. The Brawny Tear-a-Square and Sparkle brand absorbed 0.5 ounces of water, earning it a higher absorptive score than most. Bounty, Presto, Seventh Generation, and Viva Multi-Surface absorbed 0.4 ounces of water. Both the Kleenex MultiFold and Scott Multifold only absorbed 0.3 ounces while the Pacific Blue absorbed only 0.2 ounces. It turns out that the thicker and softer, the more water it absorbs.
Water Diffusion Tests
In this test, we cut out strips of equal length and placed the bottom of the strip into a glass of water for 20 seconds. We observed the rate of absorption and measured the length at which the water diffused up the strip. This told us how well the fiber of the material could transport water. The materials that transported the water the furthest in this test did the best.
The Seventh Generation offers the fastest rate of water diffusion, transporting water 2.9 inches up the cut strip. Bounty and Viva both transported it 2.5 inches. The Amazon Presto was fourth (2.4 inches) followed by Brawny Tear-A-Square(2.35 inches) and Sparkle (2.25 inches). Of the multifold options, the thicker Kleenex Multifold (2.41 inches) outperformed the Scott Essential brand (1.9 inches). It's not surprising that the super-thin and lower-priced Pacific Blue Basic Recycled only transported water one inch on the strip.
While this shows the Seventh Generation as the clear winner in this test, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the best at picking up water. It just picks it up faster than any other brand in our test fleet.
Water Pick-Up Tests
Finally, we look at how many sheets are needed to clean up a mess. To test this objectively, we spilled a ⅓ cup of water on the table and cleaned it up with each paper towel, noting which took the least and most number of sheets for clean-up. We made sure the sheet size was the same.
In this test, thicker products with a higher moisture capacity did the best. Of the competition, the Viva Multi-Surface and Bounty were clear winners. It took only two sheets of towels to completely clean up the spill we made on our counter. The Brawny Tear-A-Square was super close, using only about 2.5 sheets. This was followed by Seventh Generation (2.75 sheets), Amazon Brand Presto (3 sheets), and Sparkle (3 sheets).
Of the multifold napkins and recycled paper rolls (only one-ply), the thicker Kleenex Multifold performed the best, using only four sheets while the Scotts Multifold used six sheets to pick up this wet mess. The Pacific Blue Basic Recycled unfortunately, required about three feet to clean up this mess. It also pushed around a lot of water, showing that it couldn't absorb nearly as well as other one-ply or two-ply competitors.
Conclusion from Our Absorption Tests
While there were a variety of winners throughout our tests, the Bounty Quick Size proves to be the one that keeps coming up. It scored in the top two or three throughout each test. In addition, when observing absorption, this paper towel looks to absorb more water than most. Other highly absorptive competitors include the Brawny Tear-a-Square, Seventh Generation, and Viva Signature brands.
Enjoyment of Use
Finally, we assess how much we like to use each. How does it feel on the skin? Can you fold it nicely into napkins? What about the patterns? We also consider the square size and options for each. We test this while using each day in and day out for a variety of tasks while cleaning and serving food.
The clear winner of the traditional rolls is the Brawny Tear-A-Square. Not only does it have the softest fibers that feel paper-soft, but you can choose the size of square you use for the job. It doesn't feature any fancy patterns like the Bounty or other brands, but we appreciate its versatility. We like that if you don't have traditional napkins, you can tear off a smaller square (which yields a nice clean line) that can easily be used at a pizza party amongst friends.
Other options with a softer exterior include the Amazon Presto, which is similar in softness to the Brawny brand, but also comes with a unique pattern. The Bounty Quick Size and Seventh Generation have a decent level of softness but feel more coarse than the above competitors. The Viva Multi-Surface has a soft upper, but a coarse, dry side that we didn't love, while the Sparkle Brand doesn't feel at all good on dry hands, comparatively.
Of the multifold products, we prefer the Scott Essential Multifold to the Kleenex Multifold. It is much thinner and relatively softer than the Kleenex brand, making it a better option than a napkin at a pizza party. That said, neither are as soft as other options mentioned above.
Our in-depth and objective reviews are designed to help you identify and sort through the best items on the market. With our comparative and objective hands-on testing, you can trust our results, which have been conducted by our seasoned reviewers. For whatever job you seek, we have great recommendations for the paper towel for your needs.
— Amber King