Best Paper Towels of 2021
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 least 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 on the skin.
With high performance comes a higher price. That said, you do get 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 squares used for any mess, look no further.
For value seekers, Presto! Flex-a-Size is hard to top. One roll has a whopping 10.42 square feet 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. In our tests, it absorbed an average amount of water (0.4 ounces of water weight) and diffused 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 a 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.
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. Despite its shedding and fraying, it's still a great value, so long as durability isn't your biggest concern.
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; tear off just half a square for a small task. Fold one in 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. 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.
Though we love this product, it has fewer sheets per roll than the higher-capacity contenders out there. The Brawny Tear-a-Square is best for those seeking an option with soft sheets with different square sizes.
Accolades for our favorite napkin go to the Scott Essential Multi-Fold. 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'll do 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 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 soaked 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 do the job, this is our recommendation.
We were impressed by the absorbance time for the Viva Multi-Surface TaskSize. 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 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. 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. 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.
If you're an environmentally conscious consumer, 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 middle-of-the-road value 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 to wipe down our hot tub, clean the bathroom, and scrub 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 Multi-Fold 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 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 multi-fold 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 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, tubs, 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.
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.
Not only did we clean our house from top to bottom — 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 one time 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. 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.
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 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. All products showed signs of shedding in this test except the Sparkle, Scott Essential Multi-Fold, and Pacific Blue Recycled Hardwound Paper.
We wet a sheet from each brand, folded them over twice, and performed two tests to test this metric. 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. 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 while wet.
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.
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 objective tests: 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.
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 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 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 Basic Recycled only transported water one inch on the strip.
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. 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), Presto! (3 sheets), and Sparkle (3 sheets).
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 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 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, while 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.
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