Reviews You Can Rely On

The 5 Best Paper Towels of 2023

We tested paper towels from brands like Bounty, Brawny, Scott, Viva, and more to determine the best products
Best Paper Towels of 2023
A look at the sizes of the paper towel selection from the largest (right) to the smallest (left). We selected both rolls and packages to test side-by-side and comparatively in our home.
Credit: Amber King

Our Top Picks

By Amber King ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 3, 2023

Our household experts researched over 25 of the best paper towels before purchasing 9 to test. In this update, we selected the best options and put each to work. Comparing performance side-by-side, we scrubbed countertops, polished appliances, cleaned up messes, and absorbed puddles of water. We assessed fraying, softness, value, and relative strength to determine which products are high-quality performers. After months of testing each roll, we offer you our insights. From relative absorption rates to more tenacity per square, we've got the information to help you find the best paper towel for your needs.

Cleaning messes and tidying up your humble abode often requires a long list of cleaning supplies. Whether you are looking for a top-rated trash can, the trash bags to go with it, or the best cleaning gloves, our reviews can help you find the right tools for the job.


Best Overall Paper Towels

Bounty Quick-Size

Number of Sheets per Roll: 143 | Roll Diameter: 6 inches
Absorptive and strong
Soft to the touch
No shedding
More expensive

Our favorite paper towel for kitchen and outdoor chores is the Bounty Quick-Size. Anytime we had a tough job that required a tough towel, this is the one we reached for. We tested it while scrubbing down our tubs, hot tubs, counters, and cast irons, and it always required fewer sheets for the job than other contenders. It shed the fewest fibers and maintains its strength, even when wet. Each roll is massive, with approximately 9,438 square inches of surface area, with a diameter of six inches, making it one of the largest rolls you can buy. It's also soft to the touch and feels good against the skin.

With high performance comes a higher price. This is one of the most expensive rolls that we tested. That said, it offers more absorption and cleaning power from one square, so really, we have no complaints. If you're seeking the best performance with large rolls and fewer necessary squares for any mess, look no further.

best overall paper towels
The Bounty Quicker Picker Upper is a big roll with powerful performance and our overall favorite.
Credit: Amber King


Best Bang for the Buck

Presto! Flex-a-Size

Number of Sheets per Roll: 158 | Roll Diameter: 5.65 inches
Excellent price per square
Larger rolls
Average absorbance and diffusion
Lacks strength when wet
Sheds when dry

The Presto! Flex-a-Size is hard to top when it comes to a high-performance budget paper towel. One roll has a whopping 10.42 square feet and measures 5.65 inches in diameter. The total thickness of the roll looks about average, but the sheets are thinner, so it packs more into a smaller area. In our tests, it absorbed an average amount of water (0.4 ounces of water weight) and diffused 2.4 inches up the strips (a little above average). It offers similar performance to the highest-scoring contenders when wiping up water on the table and picking up foodstuffs while cleaning. The material is soft to the touch on both sides and we love the cute designs and patterns.

Though we love its value, you might notice that it falls apart if you find yourself scrubbing on a countertop. In our scrubbing tests, it blew more holes through the material when both wet and dry — and sooner than other higher-end brands. Despite its shedding and fraying, it's still a great value, so long as durability isn't your biggest concern.

paper towels - best bang for the buck
The Presto brand is an excellent value; the price is hard to beat for the level of performance.
Credit: Amber King


Excellent Versatility

Brawny Tear-A-Square

Number of Sheets per Roll: 128 | Roll Diameter: 5.25 inches
Super soft
Different square size options
Excellent absorbency and strength
More costly

We love the versatility of the Brawny Tear-A-Square. It features different-sized square options for different types of messes. With a big spill, tear off two regular sheets; for a small task, half a square will do. Fold one in half for a napkin at any pizza dinner and enjoy its soft, plush surface. This towel is also a top choice for those with dry skin since it doesn't feel scratchy. We appreciate it retains its strength both wet and dry and facilitates easy cleanup, tackling stuck-on messes or absorbing puddles of water on the counter.

Though we love this product, it has fewer sheets per roll than the higher-capacity contenders in the category. This product is best for those seeking soft sheets with different square sizes.

paper towels - excellent versatility
The Brawny sheet is soft and versatile.
Credit: Amber King


Best Multi-Fold Napkins

Scott Essential Multifold

Number of Sheets per Roll: 250 | Package Width: 6.5 inches
High value per bundle
Decent strength
Great for use while eating dinner
Poor clean-up performance
Poor water absorbency

The Scott Essential Multifold doubles as a napkin. This multi-fold option is 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 does the trick for cleaning, but the performance isn't nearly as good as a traditional, absorbent towel. The multi-fold napkin options present 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 relative to other towels. While cleaning, it picked up some sauce but also smeared quite a bit of it. Though it retained its strength when dry, it fell apart when wet after scrubbing 15 times on a rough surface. Overall, it's not very strong or absorbent when wet. Its performance features can't compete with a traditional paper towel, however, this is our favorite napkin for its soft feel and nice look.

paper towels - best multi-fold napkins
The Scott's Brand Multifold napkin is plain and simple. Its performance isn't bad either.
Credit: Amber King


Best for Commercial Use

Pacific Blue Basics Recycled Hardwound

Number of Sheets per Roll: 800-foot roll | Roll Diameter: 7.5 inches
Lots of sheets per roll
Tear off the sizing of your choice
Recycled non-dyed paper is environmentally friendly
Excellent value for bulk purchases
One-ply construction lacks absorbency and pushes water around
Clean-up performance is sub-par

If you're looking to buy in bulk, the Pacific Blue Basics Recycled Hardwound 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 no-nonsense design 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, it eventually soaks up water, but diffusion is slow, and the towel is less absorbent overall. It has similarly poor cleaning performance, and it's not nearly as strong as multi-ply options in the category. If you are looking for a simple bulk roll that can do the job, this is our recommendation.

paper towels - best for commercial use
The Blue Basic excels in commercial uses, such as an office, restaurant, or school.
Credit: Amber King


Great for Wet Messes

Viva Multi-Surface TaskSize

Number of Sheets per Roll: 143 | Roll Diameter: 5.65 inches
Efficient and fast absorption
Excellent cleaning power
High price
Lots of shedding when wet

We are impressed by the speedy absorbance time for the Viva Multi-Surface TaskSize. Matching and almost surpassing our top scorers, it took the fewest number of sheets (only two) to absorb a half cup of water poured on a test table. The upper portion of the sheet is relatively soft and feels 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. It will also shed when wiped on a textured or cloth surface when wet. When dry, it doesn't shed at all and performs to the level you might expect. Also, the underside feels a little scratchy. Overall, the Viva Multi-Surface TaskSize stands out for its above-average absorptive performance and is an excellent option if you frequently deal with wet messes.

paper towels - the viva signature is soft and absorbent.
The Viva Signature is soft and absorbent.
Credit: Amber King


Perfect for the Eco-Conscious

Seventh Generation 100% Recycled 2-Ply

Number of Sheets per Roll: 140 | Roll Diameter: 5 inches
Very fast water absorption
Recycled paper is ideal for environmentally-conscious consumers
No shedding
Good price
Smaller rolls
Not very strong

If you're an environmentally conscious consumer, Seventh Generation 100% Recycled 2-Ply is manufactured with recycled paper. In our water diffusion test, 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 content of this brand, the rolls are smaller than most (only 8,470 square feet, five-inch diameter). The value is still good, but 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 noted above.

paper towels - this recycled paper option is lovely and a great purchase for the...
This recycled paper option is lovely and a great purchase for the environmentally conscious.
Credit: Amber King


Generic and Highly Absorbent

Sparkle Pick-A-Size Plus

Number of Sheets per Roll: 126 | Roll Diameter: 5 inches
Reasonable price
Performance that does the trick
Excellent absorbency
Poor strength
Small roll sizes

The Sparkle Pick-A-Size Plus is a middle-of-the-road value with performance that does the trick. It'll pick up spills and cleans up well. It absorbed the most water in our tests and doesn't shed, even when you're scrubbing a textured surface hard. While this towel is more generic than high-performance, its per-square cost is relatively low. We used it to wipe down our hot tub, clean the bathroom, and scrub the fridge clean.

Though it does the trick, it's not very strong. In our tests, a hole developed 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 of the bunch). Also, the rolls are quite small and feel scratchy to the touch. This is far from our first recommendation, but if you need a towel that'll absorb water, this one is solid.

paper towels - the sparkle brand is lower value but still a good price.
The Sparkle brand is lower value but still a good price.
Credit: Amber King


A Thicker Multi-Fold Napkin

Kleenex Multifold

Number of Sheets per Roll: 150 | Package Width: 6.5 inches
Thicker design feels durable
Better cleaning power than other napkin options
Poor wet strength with shedding
Scratchy feel

The Kleenex Multifold is a napkin with a thick construction. The larger fibers absorb a good amount of water while the 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 did well in our dry strength test, remaining intact after 50 passes on a cast iron pan and carpet, which we found to be quite impressive.

For the bundle, you get fewer sheets, and the materials aren't very soft on the skin. Though 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 left fibers all over. Overall, it's best for those seeking a durable multi-fold napkin, but it's far from our top recommendations.

paper towels - the kleenex multifold is a durable napkin-towel option with a...
The Kleenex Multifold is a durable napkin-towel option with a patterned fiber. Unfortunately, it's a little scratchy and not the most absorbent.
Credit: Amber King

Why You Should Trust Us

Our testing for this category first starts by selecting nine of the most popular traditional rolls and multi-fold 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. Over the last four months, we scrubbed windows, floors, tubs, fridges, hot tubs, countertops, etc. 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.

Amber King leads 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 paper towels constantly. She has also reviewed over 30 categories of gear over seven years, putting together objective tests for other items such as cookware, clothing hangers, outdoor gear, and more.

Analysis and Test Results

We chose the best paper towels and multi-fold 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.

paper towels - we extensively tested and compared the top paper towels.
We extensively tested and compared the top paper towels.
Credit: Amber King

Cleaning Ability

Not only did we personally use each brand of paper towel to clean our house from top to bottom — dusting, polishing, scrubbing, and drying — but we also performed objective tests to see how each one 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 condiment one time to see which brand 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.

paper towels - not only did we use these paper towels for cleaning and polishing...
Not only did we use these paper towels for cleaning and polishing our bathrooms, but we also subjected them to an array of objective tests.
Credit: Amber King

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. The softer fibers captured rogue dust in all our tests, 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.

paper towels - the bounty roll does an incredible job of picking up foodstuffs -...
The Bounty roll does an incredible job of picking up foodstuffs - without streaking. Here we perform a one swipe test to see how well it picks up these three sauces.
Credit: Amber King

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 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 one sheet last before it 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.

We comment on shedding (i.e., fibers flaking off on surfaces as you use the product), as this is one of the chief complaints about a poorly constructed sheet. Because let's be real, nobody wants to create a bigger mess in the process of cleaning up a small spill.

paper towels - a look at the results of our dry rub tests. we rubbed each on a cast...
A look at the results of our dry rub tests. We rubbed each on a cast iron pan for 50 scrubs. As you can see, some options held up, while others simply aren't that strong.
Credit: Amber King

Dry Strength

To test dry strength, we performed two tests. 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. All products showed signs of shedding in this test except the Sparkle, Scott Essential Multi-Fold, and Pacific Blue Recycled Hardwound Paper.

paper towels - testing dry strength with the viva premier.
Testing dry strength with the Viva Premier.
Credit: Amber King

Wet Strength

We wet a sheet from each brand, folded them over twice, and performed two tests similar to the dry strength metric tests. First, we rubbed it on a cast iron surface, then on carpet. In the wet version of these tests, we evaluate how quickly the paper rips a hole through the surface and note if any shedding occurs. If you like to wash your dishes or scrub at a surface with a wet towel, this metric is for you.

paper towels - in addition to our objective wet strength tests, we also see how...
In addition to our objective wet strength tests, we also see how well each cleans. Here, the Bounty once again triumphs in our testing.
Credit: Amber King

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. The Bounty Tear-A-Square hardly tore through on the carpet tests, 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.

Of all options, the only ones that didn't shed were the Presto!, Bounty, and Brawny. Some materials flaked off but didn't leave a mess like we observed with the Kleenex Multi-Fold and Pacific Blue.


A number of factors come into play when testing for absorbency. How much water can a 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 measure objectively, we concocted three tests to procure hard data: water absorption, water diffusion, and absorbency. Unsurprisingly, the thickest paper sheets 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.

paper towels - we take the time to measure the absorbency of sheets of the same...
We take the time to measure the absorbency of sheets of the same size. We measure the water before and after and note how much water is absorbed.
Credit: Amber King

Absorption Tests

We cut a 4X4-inch piece of paper from each towel and soaked it for 20 seconds in this test. 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 Multi-Fold and Scott Multi-Fold 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 up the strip did the best.

paper towels - pictured here are our diffusion tests. we qualitatively note how...
Pictured here are our diffusion tests. We qualitatively note how fast each absorbed water. Each strip starts at the same strength and is cut to the same length. It's held in the water for 20 seconds and then measured. The ones with water line furthest up the paper scores higher, as it moves water more quickly. This tells us which are the fastest to absorb...but not the best.
Credit: Amber King

Note that the results should only be considered for comparative purposes and not as actual rates of diffusion. Testing conditions might change depending on altitude, temperature, and relative humidity if you try and replicate this test at home.

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 Presto! was fourth (2.4 inches), followed by Brawny Tear-A-Square(2.35 inches) and Sparkle (2.25 inches). Of the multi-fold options, the thicker Kleenex Multi-Fold (2.41 inches) outperformed the Scott Essential brand (1.9 inches). It's not surprising that the super-thin and lower-priced Pacific Blue Basics Recycled only transported water one inch on the strip.

paper towels - a look at the results of one of our diffusion tests. as you can see...
A look at the results of one of our diffusion tests. As you can see, there's a big difference in results.
Credit: Amber King

While this test shows the Seventh Generation as the clear winner, 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, while making sure the sheet size was the same during each round. 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), Presto! (3 sheets), and Sparkle (3 sheets).

paper towels - in this test, we note how many paper towels are required to clean up...
In this test, we note how many paper towels are required to clean up our spill on the counter. Here we see Brawny in action, sucking up water with ease.
Credit: Amber King

Of the multi-fold napkins and recycled paper rolls (only one-ply), the thicker Kleenex Multi-Fold performed the best, using only four sheets, while the Scotts Multi-Fold used six sheets to pick up the wet mess. The Pacific Blue Basics 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 option. 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 tear options. We pay close attention to these features and evaluate while using them day in and day out for a variety of tasks, including serving food and household cleaning tasks.

paper towels - outdoor dinner parties and pizza family nights call for paper towels...
Outdoor dinner parties and pizza family nights call for paper towels and napkins. Here, we test their performance while hosting an outdoor birthday party with our pod of friends in Ridgway, Colorado.
Credit: Amber King

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 relative versatility otherwise. 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. We also feel that it is less wasteful than using a full-size sheet when you don't need the whole thing!

Other options with a softer exterior include the Presto!, which is similar in softness to the Brawny brand and 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, but may be better for cleaning purposes. The Sparkle Brand doesn't feel at all good on dry hands, comparatively.

Of the multi-fold products, we prefer the Scott Essential Multi-Fold to the Kleenex Multi-Fold. 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 the other options mentioned above.

paper towels - which paper towel option will you buy? there are lots on the market...
Which paper towel option will you buy? There are lots on the market, but we've done the dirty work to figure out which will clean up your messes and which could be left on the shelf.
Credit: Amber King


Our reviews strive to take a deep dive into the functionality of various items and provide an objective, results-based lineup of the best products on the market. With our comparative and objective hands-on testing of paper towels, you can trust us to help you find the brand that can tackle whatever messes you are faced with throughout your day. No matter your needs or budget, we have great recommendations for the paper towel for you.

Amber King

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