All You Need To Know About Paper Towels

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If you stand two paper towel rolls next to a toilet paper roll, it looks like they’re a family. “Who wants to go out for a wipe?” Now that’s an astute observation, the first among many I will be making about paper towels. No time for small talk here.

Let’s examine the words “paper” and “towels.” Whoa, those are two completely different words! How did they put egos aside and come together? I can’t use a paper towel at the beach, nor can I use a beach towel to pick up dog shit, so clearly some sort of perestroika took place.

In case you don’t know the history, we once lived in a world with only toilet paper and towels (though paper towel holders did exist), and this satisfied people, humble as their desires were (suckers!). But then, as society became more complicated (thanks a lot “liberals”), so did our spills and oozings. Toilet paper was too delicate and towels were too strong. “There has to be a better way!”

Scientists and futurists from all around the world were brought together (not necessarily the best ones, but those who were available), and it was their task to map the future. Diagrams were drawn and measurements were taken and experiments were conducted to find a fiber fit for all the middle of the road wetness.

Extremes were explored. One man was forced to wipe up lava with tissue paper, another was made to blow his nose with jagged rocks, but eventually, as the possibilities were whittled down, a fabric began to emerge. One hundred men standing in an airport hanger were instructed to spill a modicum of grape juice, given one paper towel sheet, and told to wipe it up. Forty-seven of those men successfully wiped up the grape juice, thirty-four slipped on the grape juice, and nineteen burnt themselves alive. The results however were clear, and a giant Hollywood premier was held to debut the product (though the only celebrity who showed up was a drunken Spencer Tracy).

We’ve come a long way since then (we’ve come “along” too, if I may engage in wordplay), and now find ourselves with enough paper towels to soak up the Dead Sea. The aisles of grocery stores are filled with them, some thicker than others, some with patterns, and some sold in packs of two or four or six, but never three, never three. Why the other day I saw something called “Choose-A-Size” paper towels! Choose-A-Size! I spit out my drink, dropped seven monocles, and fainted (which didn’t hurt, as I fell against the paper towels).

Like you, I too had the feeling the standard sheet of paper towels was too much for the average spill (in fact when I spill, I spill thousands of tiny drops, not pools of liquid, like everyone else). I always tried to rip off smaller segments, but the roll was unforgiving and the paper tore away in oddly shaped undignified pieces. Those nightmares however are a thing of the past (long eaten by the Langoliers – anyone?), as one now has the option of tearing a half sheet, the traditional full sheet, or a sheet that is as long and full as your imagination (why you can run with that paper towel to the end of the rainbow!).

Of course as impressive as these innovations are, I feel there’s room for improvement (sometimes there isn’t, so you build a bigger room). I think in addition to Choose-A-Size paper towels we ought to have Choose-A-Shape paper towels (like Fruit Rollups), because often, I’ll spill something in the exact shape of an octagon, or a parabola, or Prince’s symbol, and need a corresponding paper towel sheet to soak it up. Sure the standard square shape covers them all, but why waste all those unused edges and corners?

So many options are possible. What about two ply paper towels? What about an automatic dispenser that asks you what was spilled, and then doles out the necessary amount? What about paper towels that contain the day’s headlines? What about…just hold on…what about a paper towel roll that could literally wipe out poverty, especially if you spilled it on the floor? These ideas have more gravity if you imagine me slamming my beer on the table with every one.

Yes sir, the paper towel roll is one of the great inventions of our time, or any other time for that matter, including that good for nothing Renaissance. Is there a downside to this wonderful product? Perhaps. It devastated the napkin industry, put trees on the run (some can run), and clogged up countless toilets in dorm rooms when the toilet paper ran out.

But we must never look back, and understand that one single paper towel sheet can be the difference between savage chaos and regal civilization. So roll away my friends, and when you find yourselves at the end of the line, with one sheet glued to the cardboard roll, think how lucky you are, how far we’ve come, and then take that cardboard roll and use it to scratch your back. They’re very good for that. TC mark

image – Ged Carroll
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All You Need To Know About Paper Towels is cataloged in , ,
  • miles barney

    How do you feel about Sham-Wow?

  • Beresford Brooke

    What… What did i just read?

  • Milly Gadd

    you’ve got some mad writing skills to get me to read through a whole post about paper towels and enjoy the entire thing

  • Guesticles

    I did not finish reading this article.

  • guest


  • Bethanie Marshall

    I thought this was going to be about how paper towels are destroying the Earth and we are a lazy society who can’t be bothered with reusing a regular towel (which is all true), but it was a pretty funny and clever little diddy that I enjoyed. 

  • Maureen

    Ummmm… not to burst your bubble, but I just bought a 3 pack of Bounty. (the quicker picker upper) Can’t wait to read your observations on toilet paper!

  • guest

    choose-a-size <3

  • matt good

    Your style reminds me of the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  • Frida

    Love the last couple of paragraphs.

  • daisy

    juan sheet

  • Joeparreno


  • Joeparreno


  • kady

    its been four months and this is still my favorite thing on thought catalog

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