Paper towels are useful for cleaning up spills, keeping herbs fresh, and lots of other kitchen tasks, but they’re pretty wasteful. It takes a lot of water and trees to make single-use rolls that will go straight in the garbage. There are lots of eco-friendlier paper towel alternatives available, though, and one of the more popular styles is the Swedish dishcloth.
What is a Swedish dishcloth?
This Nordic wonder is kind of a hybrid between paper, sponge, and cloth that’s machine-washable and reusable but also compostable when it’s worn out. Made from a combination of cellulose (aka wood pulp, the same stuff that makes up paper) and cotton, Swedish dishcloths are stiff like cardboard when dry but soften into the texture of a regular paper towel when wet. They’re as hard to tear as cloth and can be reused dozens of times.
Was it actually invented in Sweden?
The Swedish dishcloth is indeed Swedish: According to original maker Wettex, an engineer named Carl Lindquist invented the material in the 1950s by running a sponge through a meat grinder and then mixing it with cotton. Wettex and similar brands have been commonplace in Sweden ever since, but the Swedish dishcloth has only become popular in the U.S. in the last few years. Despite that, there are now lots of options available, in all different sizes and formats, with countless fun colors and prints to choose from.
Wettex Swedish Dishcloths, 10-Pack
If you want to try out Swedish dishcloths, you can’t go wrong with the Swedish brand that sold them first. The 10-pack comes with four different colors so you can designate separate cloths for dishes, counters, bathroom, and other uses. Plus, if you know any expatriate Swedes, the sight of Wettex will make them homesick. The cloths are on the smaller side but still big enough to handle most any mess.
Price at time of publish: $20 for 10
Size: 6.7 x 7.9 inches
Swedish Wholesale Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths
The top-rated Swedish dishcloth in our testing of paper towel alternatives, the Swedish Wholesale brand is basic but effective. Each super-absorbent cloth can replace up to 15 rolls of paper towels, meaning this 10-pack will last you a year or more. You can get the cloths in a four-color assortment or any of nine single-color packs, so you can even match your kitchen decor.
Price at time of publish: $25 for 10
Size: 8 x 7 inches
Lola Products Wowables Reusable and Biodegradable Paper Towels
If your liquid-absorbing towels just have to come on a roll, Wowables makes rolls of 30 perforated Swedish dishcloths that will fit on any paper towel holder. These sheets are huge, each one good for soaking up lots of spills or wiping a big section of countertop (or, heck, washing your car). They’re also available in nine different colors.
Price at time of publish: $24 for 30
Size: 10.6 x 9.8 inches
Sweetgum Popsicles Swedish Dishcloth
All Swedish dishcloths are made of essentially the same material. Where Sweetgum stands out is its cute prints. (Ironically, these cloths are printed in Finland.) There are dozens of designs available, from florals and cartoon animals to an old-fashioned Volkswagen Bus. The company even works with several artists and the Finnish National Gallery to print their work on dishcloths.
Price at time of publish: $7 each
Size: 6.8 x 8 inches
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Jason Horn has been writing about food and drinks for more than 15 years, for publications from Wine Enthusiast to Serious Eats to Playboy. He rigorously tested more than a dozen paper towel alternatives for a story a couple years ago, which is when he discovered the Swedish dishcloth.