The world's most in-depth and scientific product reviews

Best Paper Towels of 2020

By Amber King ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 9, 2020
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Seeking the best paper towel? For this 2020 update, we spent over four hours researching the best options before selecting 9 to test side-by-side. Not only did we spend time dusting, polishing, scrubbing, and washing with each in hand, but we performed an array of objective tests to find performance differences. We scrubbed at carpets, cast iron pans, assessed absorbency, and rubbed it on our skin to determine softness. We even compared square size, number, and value. Our in-depth and unbiased review truly tests the limits of each brand so we can develop trustworthy recommendations for your next paper towel order.

1

Best Overall Paper Towel


Bounty Quick-Size


Editors' Choice Award
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$39
List Price
See It

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

The Bounty Quick-Size Towels tops 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 hold up in our tests. Of all options, it sheds the least 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 that you can buy. The diameter of each roll is six inches, with thick sheets that'll absorb wet spills in a pinch. If you seek the best performance on the market, alongside a decent value, this is the one to buy.

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 massive rolls, look no further.

The Bounty Quicker Picker Upper is a big roll with powerful performance and our overall favorite.
The Bounty Quicker Picker Upper is a big roll with powerful performance and our overall favorite.

2

Excellent Versatility


Brawny Tear-A-Square


Top Pick Award
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$35
List Price
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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 brand. Its stand out feature is the different square sizes you can choose from. With a big spill, tear off two regular sheets to get excellent absorptive action. If the task is small, or you wish to make mini napkins before a big planned dinner event, tear off just half a square. We also love that this product is super soft and feels good on the skin. If your hands are dry, this is our top choice, as it won't feel scratchy or uncomfortable to the touch. We also love that the strength holds up when wet and dry. Feel free to tackle stuck-on messes with this "burly" contender.

Paired with its soft to the touch feel, it's hard to find any caveats with this excellent contender. The rolls, however, have fewer sheets than others with higher numbers per roll. If you have a preference for soft sheets with excellent absorbency that crushes our water tests, this is the one to buy!

The Brawny sheet is soft and versatile.
The Brawny sheet is soft and versatile.

3

Best Bang for the Buck


Amazon Presto! Flex-a-Size


Best Buy Award
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$28
List Price
See It

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

If you're looking to buy in bulk or you seek a great deal, the Amazon Brand - Presto! Flex-a-Size is hard to beat. One roll offers 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-oz 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 food stuffs while cleaning, it offers similar performance to our highest performers. 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. The price is unbeatable for the performance it offers, which is less than the price of the top performers we tested.

While we love the value of the Amazon Brand Presto, if you find yourself scrubbing your countertop, you might notice it easily falling apart. In our scrubbing tests, it blew more holes through the material when both wet and dry, and sooner than other top brands. It did shed when we rubbed it against our carpet at home (when dry), but it stayed intact when wet. Aside from these small caveats, we believe this is one of the best deals out there.

The Presto brand is an excellent value. The price is hard to beat for the level of performance.
The Presto brand is an excellent value. The price is hard to beat for the level of performance.

4

Excellent Multi-Fold Napkins


Scott Essential Multifold


Top Pick Award
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$37.99
(5% off)
at Amazon
See It

Number of Sheets per Roll: 250 | Package Width: 6.5 inches
High value per bundle
Decent strength
Napkin goes well with dinners
Poor clean-up performance
Poor water absorbency

If you're seeking a versatile option, the Scotts Essential MultiFold is our favorite. This is less of a paper towel and more of a napkin, 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 a very good value that is on-par with our 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 contenders. During our water tests, it only absorbed 0.3-oz of water and diffused only 2.1 inches up the strip. While cleaning, it picked up some sauces from the table but smeared a lot of it around. While it held up its strength when dry, when wet, it fell apart after scrubbing just 15X on a surface. Overall, it's not very strong when wet or absorbent, but if you're seeking a napkin that feels good on the face, doesn't shed, and can also clean a table, this is the one to buy.

The Scott's Brand Multifold napkin is plain and simple. Its performance isn't bad either.
The Scott's Brand Multifold napkin is plain and simple. Its performance isn't bad either.

5

Best for Commercial Use


Pacific Blue Basics Recycled Hardwound


Top Pick Award
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$29.72
at Amazon
See It

Number of Sheets per Roll: 800-foot roll | Roll Diameter: 7.5 inches
Lots of sheets per rolls
Tear off the sizing of your choice
Recycled non-dyed paper is environmentally friendly
Excellent value for bulk purchases
1-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 Basic Recycled Hardwound Paper is your best bet. This enormous roll is 7.5-inches in diameter and offers over 800 feet of paper. The recycled paper is an environmentally conscious way to buy, and its lack of bells and whistles makes it utilitarian and inexpensive. You'll find this stuff stocked in public bathrooms and classrooms across the United States.

Unfortunately, since it's only one-ply and lacks porosity throughout, it's not very good at absorbing water or cleaning. With big spills, the water eventually is picked up, but diffusion is slow, and it takes a lot of paper. Since it is thin, it doesn't hold much water per square inch. Cleaning has a similar performance. Also, it's not nearly as strong as 2-ply options easily tearing and fraying when wet and dry. That said, if you simply seek a roll that'll go a long way that you don't need to change too often, this is the one to buy!

Commercial uses? Bathroom  office  restaurant  school? The Pacific Blue Basic Recycled Hardwound Paper is the one to buy.
Commercial uses? Bathroom, office, restaurant, school? The Pacific Blue Basic Recycled Hardwound Paper is the one to buy.

6

Ideal for Wet Messes


Viva Multi-Surface TaskSize


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$27
List Price
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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

When we measured the absorbance time for the Viva Signature TaskSize Towels, we were impressed. Matching and almost surpassing our top scorers, this contender 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, this contender 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 scratchier than other options out there. It stands out for its above-average absorptive performance and is an excellent option if you deal with wet messes all the time.

The Viva Signature is soft and quite absorbent.
The Viva Signature is soft and quite absorbent.

7

Excellent for the Eco-Conscious


Seventh Generation 100% Recycled 2-Ply


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$46
List Price
See It

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, the Seventh Generation Paper Towel use recycled paper in their construction, with the option to buy a natural fiber that isn't dyed. 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 that we note above.

This recycled paper option is lovely and a better purchase for the environmentally conscious.
This recycled paper option is lovely and a better purchase for the environmentally conscious.

8

Generic and Highly Absorbent


Sparkle Pick-A-Size Plus


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$42
List Price
See It

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

Of the traditional rolls, the Sparkle Paper Towels presents a value that is middle of the road with 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). In addition, the rolls are quite small and feels really scratchy, not nice to the touch. This is far from our first recommendation, but if you want a roll that absorbs lots of water, this is one you might find value in.

The Sparkle brand is lower value but still a good price.
The Sparkle brand is lower value but still a good price.

9

A Thicker Multi-Fold Napkin


Kleenex Multifold


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$30
List Price
See It

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 Napkin is another napkin/paper towel option that is thicker in construction. The larger fibers absorb a good amount of water while its rate of diffusion is faster than other napkins 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, keeping intact after rubbing it 50 times on both carpet and a cast iron pan! If you're seeking a napkin that'll also clean up a mess well, this is the one to buy.

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 1-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.

The Kleenex Multifold is a durable napkin-towel option with a patterned fiber. Unfortunately  it's a little scratchy and not the most absorbent.
The Kleenex Multifold is a durable napkin-towel option with a patterned fiber. Unfortunately, it's a little scratchy and not the most absorbent.

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 professional cleaner for one year. In both jobs and her daily life, she uses paper towels constantly with an odd but particularly helpful critical eye for differences in performance. 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 9 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, counter tops, and more over the time of one month. We use them as napkins, noting which are nicer to the touch and which feel dry. We also subject each to a number of test to look at relative absorption, water diffusion, strength (when wet and dry), and overall versatility. In the end, we have used these products for over 60 hours before choosing which is the best and which should be left at the Amazon warehouse.


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.

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.
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.

Cleaning Ability


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 counter top, then wiping each once with each paper towel 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.

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.
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.

In general, a 2-ply paper towel with a thicker and porous construction 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 facets 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 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.
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.

The Viva Cloth Performance 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 Cloth 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 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 note shed because one of the chief complaints for a poorly constructed paper towel sheet is fibers that flake off onto a surface you're trying to clean.

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.
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.

Dry Strength


To test dry strength, we perform 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 one 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.

Testing dry strength with the Viva Premier Paper Towel roll.
Testing dry strength with the Viva Premier Paper Towel roll.

Wet Strength


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!

In addition to our objective wet strength tests  we also see how well each cleans. Here  the Bounty once again triumphs in our testing.
In addition to our objective wet strength tests, we also see how well each cleans. Here, the Bounty once again triumphs in our testing.

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 Signature Cloth took 20 pules 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 like we observed with the Kleenex MultiFold and Pacific Blue Hardwound Paper.

Absorbency


How much can your paper towel hold? How quickly does water diffuse across the fiber? How well does it put up wet messes? While this metric is 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, more 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 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. While there wasn't a huge amount of differences in this test  it did support our suspicions of the best performers.
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. While there wasn't a huge amount of differences in this test, it did support our suspicions of the best performers.

Absorption Tests


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 Signature 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.

Our diffusion tests! Here we note qualitatively how fast each absorbed water. Each strip is cut to the same length and started at the same point. 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.
Our diffusion tests! Here we note qualitatively how fast each absorbed water. Each strip is cut to the same length and started at the same point. 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.

Note that the results should only be considered for comparison and not as actual rates of diffusion, as the testing conditions might change if you try and replicate this test.

The Seventh Generation offers the fastest rate of water diffusion, transporting water 2.9 inches up the cut strip. Bounty and Viva Signature Cloth 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 Hardwound Paper only transported water 1-inch on the strip.

A look at the results of one of our diffusion tests. As you can see  there's a big difference in results.
A look at the results of one of our diffusion tests. As you can see, there's a big difference in results.

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 Signature Cloth 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).

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.
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.

Of the multifold napkins and recycled paper rolls (only 1-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 Hardwound 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 1-ply or 2-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 each paper towel. 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.

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.
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.

The clear winner of the traditional paper towel 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 Signature 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 as a napkin at a pizza party. That said, neither are as soft as other options mentioned above.

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.
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.

Conclusion


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 science based 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