back view of woman holding cleaning supplies looking out window at sunshine

Keeping a clean home often means you have to throw out a lot of waste and rely on toxic chemicals that raise long-term health concerns from prolonged exposure and are hard to dispose of safely. You can make your own cleaners, but if you want pre-made alternatives for spring cleaning, we recommend you try CleanWell Botanical Disinfectant and the Papaya Reusable Paper Towel.

We tested these products for the past several weeks. Both performed well and we are more comfortable with the way the house looks and smells knowing that we avoided using chemicals.

The Papaya reusable paper towel is a novel approach to reducing single-use paper waste. A machine-washable, compostable Papaya towel purportedly replaces 17 rolls of paper towels and is available in a variety of designs. It’s a better alternative to traditional paper towels if you choose not to use a cloth towel you can wash repeatedly. We’ll get into the details of our test below.

CleanWell provides thorough cleaning for the kitchen, bathroom, and dining room using thymol, a plant-based antiseptic — it has a unique, thyme-like scent that leaves the room smelling clean. We tested CleanWell’s lemon-scented spray disinfectant and Disinfecting Wipes and found the spray to be very effective. As a result, we suggest using the Papaya reusable towel with CleanWell’s spray instead of disposable wipes.

Tough Towel With Potential for Improvement

The Papaya Reusable Paper Towel is made from tough paper that you can reuse over and over. We used a single Papaya towel for three weeks around the kitchen, to wipe oil spatter from the stovetop and, in the ultimate case, to wipe up after one of our dogs got sick. It performed like a champ and then we put it in our compost to test its biodegradability.

When you first use a Papaya towel, there is an extra step that isn’t required to use a regular towel — the stiff Papaya towel needs to be wetted. It arrives stiff and, while we found it could absorb a lot of liquid when dry, it worked best when wet.

Papaya Reusable Paper Towel, Squeeze the Day design
Papaya Reusable Paper Towel, Squeeze the Day design

The Pros

The towel washes easily in the clothes washer or dishwasher, but most of the time it was necessary only to rinse it. We chose to wash it in the dishwasher cups rack and it came out fresh each time. Papaya argues that the cotton (30%) and paper (70%) towel is anti-bacterial because it is quick-drying, but it is not intrinsically bacteria resistant. Over the three weeks we tested it, the towel did not develop a musty smell.

We found ourselves reaching for Papaya every time there was a spill or cleaning to do. Over the three-week test, the towel tackled 58 tasks, many that would have required multiple regular paper towels. We estimate that we avoided using 2.8 regular rolls. The company suggests replacing a towel after two or three months but says a towel can be used for up to nine months.

The Papaya towel was tough when wet; it can be wrung out without tearing. One holds about 20 times its weight in liquid. We found that a wet Papaya used with the CleanWell spray was more effective at removing food or oil than a dry paper towel.

Papaya towels come in 19 different designs, each featuring an artist’s work. Each Papaya towel comes with a punch-hole to allow hanging on a hook that comes with each two-pack. We hung the towel to dry over a bar and it was there that we discovered a shortcoming. When it was dry, we accidentally pulled both ends of the towel and tore it.

Areas for Improvement

As mentioned, the Papaya towel is tough when wet. After it tore, we tried several ways to tear it again. When doubled, it was tough but unfolded it was easy to tear. The hole for the hanger also proved easy to tear when dry. We will treat our second towel more carefully.

The 6.6” x 7.8” Papaya towel is smaller than a standard paper towel and there were times when we wanted a full-size alternative. We also note that paper towel makers are introducing sheets that can be torn into smaller squares, so this may simply represent a personal preference. We surveyed several people about what they thought the Papaya was used for; half of them mistook it for a napkin. A larger size would also have supported doubling the towel to prevent tearing.

Papaya’s cardboard package also strikes us as overkill. Two towels and a plastic hanger come in every box, which weighs more than the contents of the package. It is clearly designed for retail display, so we urge the company to reduce its e-commerce packaging — the cardboard box is not necessary for home delivery.

UPDATE: Papaya responded to our packaging suggestions, saying they are doing almost exactly what we recommended: “We’ve redesigned our packaging to a very thin, envelope style package that reduces the amount of cardboard used for each order. Plus, we will be rolling out that refill option for our subscription customers so they only receive the paper towels on their recurring orders, not the hooks.”

But these are small issues that can be improved. We rate the Papaya reusable paper towel as clearly Better than the traditional paper options. We also suggest offering a “refill” option that does not include the plastic hanger hook.

Botanicals That Clean Well

Plants contain everything we need to be sustainable, and cleaning is no exception. The active ingredient in CleanWell Botanical Disinfectant, thymol, has been recognized as a cleaning agent for centuries. It can be used in food preparation areas and is categorized as “Safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The product is not tested on animals and is certified cruelty-free by PETA.

We used CleanWell for a variety of uses, including the tough job of cleaning outdoor furniture after the winter. It performed very well in each application. As noted, we decided to steer away from the 35-count disinfectant wipe after looking at the potential waste; however, when we tested them they performed well. Unfortunately, they aren’t reusable.

Our lemon-scented disinfectant did carry a strong scent of thyme, an earthy odor that one person in our household initially found unpleasant but became used to it after a few uses. The benefits of thymol are extensive. The EPA has certified it as an effective substance to kill 99.9% of a variety of germs. It is also included on the EPA’s List N for use against SARS-CoV-2, the viruses that cause COVID-19. We typically let the disinfectant stand on marble, steel, enamel, and other hard surfaces for about 30 seconds before wiping but the recommended “kill time” for complete disinfection is 10 minutes, according to a company spokesperson.

CleanWell Botanical Disinfectant, lemon scent
CleanWell Botanical Disinfectant, lemon scent

The Pros

CleanWell lives up to its name. We found it effective on a stovetop, it removed grease and oil spatter and worked best when allowed to soak. Outside, CleanWell helped us clean up the grime on our patio furniture. We also found that the lemon-thyme scent freshened our Papaya towel but did not leave a noticeable residue on surfaces after cleaning.

Areas for Improvement

CleanWell’s plastic packaging is a concern, and the company does not offer refills for either the spray or wipes package. The #1 plastic (PETE) spray bottle should be refilled instead of thrown away. We strongly urge CleanWell to rethink its packaging and introduce a low-plastic refill option for people who re-order.

Cleaning With a Conscience

The old ways of cleaning, which too often involved using harsh chemicals that have no place in the home, are on the way out. CleanWell has eliminated the volatile organic compounds and bleach that are common in familiar cleaning products, and Papaya has a solid concept for reducing paper waste. Together, they made our home cleaner and safer, lowering our environmental impact.

Consider trying this winning combination when you start your spring cleaning.

SHOP: CleanWell on Amazon

SHOP: Papaya at PapayaReusables.com

By Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch is the publisher at Earth911.com and the sustainability leader at Metaforce, a global marketing firm. A veteran tech journalist, Mitch is passionate about helping people understand sustainability and the impact of their buying decisions on the planet.