Swedish dishcloths, reusable paper towels that can be rinsed or washed repeatedly, are a solid choice to reduce your kitchen’s environmental impact. We tested Cloud Paper’s Swish Cloths, which can lower the carbon footprint of wiping counters and spills by more than 80% compared to traditional single-use paper towels, making them a Greener Shopping Difference Maker.
Swish Cloths, available in 3-packs for $17.99, are attractive and tough enough to hold up for six weeks or more of daily use. We tested a set of three and, except for the one we tested for compostability, we haven’t worn them out yet. Made with 30% cotton fiber and 70% virgin wood fiber, they endured repeated cleanups and washing in the dishwasher and washing machine. They stay fresh-smelling because they dry quickly, and can be sanitized by microwaving for a minute or two.
Three Swish Cloths should last at least three months, though we found they migrated to other rooms and the garage so that all of them were in use simultaneously. That durability is important to the environmental impact improvements compared to the paper towels.
Cut Down on Cutting Down Trees
While Swish Cloths do use wood and cotton fiber, they make far better use of these materials, and the company told us it is “actively exploring various manufacturing techniques and fiber blends to ensure we bring the most sustainable Swedish DishCloth to market.”
Cloud Paper suggests that a Swish Cloth can last for four to six months. Based on the typical use of 1.5 to two paper towels a week by a family of four, one Swish Cloth can replace between 24 and 32 rolls of 128 paper towels. Although the company does not provide a carbon lifecycle assessment for Swish Cloth, the carbon impact is obviously much lower. Let’s look at the details.
According to a 2011 MIT study, two paper towels account for approximately 15 grams of CO2 emissions, so a standard 128-sheet roll produces about 2.1 pounds of CO2. Consequently, a family of four using two rolls of paper towels a week is creating about 219 pounds of CO2 emissions a year, or about the same as burning 11 gallons of gasoline.
Swish Cloths are denser than regular paper towels. Without a certified carbon claim from the company, we decided to use the carbon footprint of a full roll of traditional paper towels (2.116 pounds) as the basis for comparing a three-pack of Swish Cloths with the single-use alternative. If the carbon footprint of one Swish Cloth is 0.7 pounds and it can replace six weeks’ worth of paper towels, switching will lower your kitchen cleanup impact by about 92%.
Over the course of a year, we estimate that the typical household can eliminate almost 200 pounds of CO2 emissions. And compared to the leading brand of paper towels, a year’s worth of Swish Cloths will save you about $220. Forget paying a green premium, that’s a sustainable deal.
Use and Compostability
Swish Cloths perform best after being wetted and wrung out. We found that when they dry, the cloths are a bit stiff for dusting or other uses, so a damp one worked better. They absorb liquids effectively, and messy spills like ketchup rinse out completely.
Although we didn’t find Swish Cloths became stinky after a lot of use, we washed them repeatedly, both in the washing machine and dishwasher, allowing them to air dry. They stood up well to the wear and tear. But when a cloth gets torn it does start to break apart. Other Swedish dishcloths we’ve tried have had holes punched into them so that they can hang from a hook. Those tore easily, which shortens the useful life of the towel because it starts to tear in the washing machine. If you get a tear, the best way to wash a Swish Cloth is in the dishwasher.
We tried composting the Swish Cloth in our home compost pile and found it did not break down quickly during our six-week test — they’re tough, so that made sense. But they broke down completely using industrial composting temperatures in our Lomi home composter on the “Lomi Approved” setting. A few fibers were recognizable after the Lomi finished and we’re confident that with sufficient time the Swish Cloth would have decomposed in the compost pile.
Packaging and Shipping
Swish Cloths’ packaging is compostable, too. They arrived in a paperboard envelope with no plastic, which we applaud. More companies should recognize that plastic doesn’t add any value to a non-perishable item.
Cloud Paper double-offsets the emissions generated by shipping Swish Cloth, which is made in Sweden. It partners with the CarbonFund to support reforestation, forest preservation, and renewable energy projects. It reports having retired more than 1 million pounds of carbon to date through the program.
The company also supports community programs near its headquarters, providing toilet paper donations to Food Lifeline of Western Washington. It also asks customers to suggest recipients for future donations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To be awarded our “Difference Maker” designation, a product must reduce impacts by at least 50%. The next highest award is “Transformative Product,” which recognizes a product that lowers emissions and impacts by more than 90%, and outwardly the Swish Cloth qualifies. But without the additional details in a comprehensive lifecycle analysis, including more information about sourcing, manufacturing practices, and water and other impacts, we will wait to give Cloud Paper Swish Cloths our highest rating.
Swish Cloths are an effective, attractive, and durable choice for the dirtiest kitchen messes. The company’s packaging is exemplary and we applaud the effort to offset shipping emissions. But the proof of the product’s sustainability value is in its daily use. Swish Cloths are an excellent choice to replace paper towels in any kitchen, at home, at work, or in a professional setting.