If you've never seen a roll of paper towels (aka kitchen roll) then obviously you don't help much in the kitchen and this entry isn't for you. However, if you're interested in learning about them, do stick around, because you never know when you'll be asked questions about them.
Paper towels are sheets of thick (sometimes patterned but plain is cheaper) paper supplied on a handy cardboard inner tube; you peel the serrated sheets off just like toilet paper. No self-respecting cook or chef would be without a plentiful supply of paper towels when they're busy cooking. Cheap supermarket own-brand paper towels work for minor spills, but go for the more expensive, embossed options1 for the really messy jobs, as these will soak up much more.
Before you can even think about stain removal you have to soak up the excess spill and this is the job of the paper towel, especially on work surfaces and the kitchen table because they're more hygienic than the other favourite, the disposable dishcloth. Tests have shown that re-used dishcloths2 contain more germs than reside in the toilet bowl. Paper towels are instantly disposable and more or less sterile, so they don't make a situation worse by spreading bacteria all over the place.
Paper towels are biodegradable, which makes them planet-friendly; and you can also purchase rolls made from recycled paper. Some paper towel manufacturers specifically state that their product should not be flushed down the loo, presumably because they become a stodgy mess which blocks the pipes. So if you're using that type, please dispose of responsibly.
The cardboard inner tube, which is about twice the length of a loo-roll inner tube, is called a derder. This is because when you give it to a child they will always put it to their mouth like a megaphone and march around the kitchen yelling 'derderderderder...' (ok, so it's not only children who do this... anyway, it's great fun for rainy days.) The inner tube can also be used in a small rodent cage as a play tunnel; they don't last long though, as the animal tends to chew them up.
Such is the popularity of the paper towel/kitchen roll that holders have been invented just for them. A base with a central pole is ideal as this can be transported to anywhere in the home in an emergency. Wall-mounted holders are no good at such times so it's best to keep a spare roll of paper towel for just such occasions.
So Just How Useful Are They?
Ha! That got your attention. Sorry, but if you need to be told how useful paper towel is while enjoying a roll in the kitchen, then you just aren't doing it correctly - that, or you haven't yet figured out what 'it' is. Of course, not all sexual activity takes place in the kitchen, so be sure to keep some in the bedroom, (don't forget, paper towels are much more durable than loo-roll), and always remember to pack some paper towels when planning to indulge in outdoor activities.
If you are having a boiled egg in your pack-up, wrap it in a sheet of kitchen towel. This is useful for collecting all the bits of shell which are an inevitable byproduct of this lunch item. A spare sheet in the lunchbox is useful for wiping the face after consuming said lunch; that's after it has been used as a napkin of course.
Cleaning lunchboxes is recommended of course, but if yours or your child's is covered in personalised stickers then you won't want to totally immerse the lunchbox in soapy water. Spray the inside with an anti-bacterial spray and use a paper towel to wipe it thoroughly.
Cleaning and Polishing
Internal windows and mirrors need to be kept clean for safety's sake, so always keep a roll of paper towels either in the boot or under the driver's seat, where it fits quite nicely. It will be nice and handy if you fill up the petrol tank and the garage hasn't supplied their own roll beside the pump. You'll also need a few sheets to wipe the dipstick after you've checked the oil level.
The only way to get oil and gunk off the rear wheel of a bike is to use copious amounts of washing-up liquid and a plentiful supply of paper towels.
Everyday items which get used, well, every day, generally 'gunk-up'. Sometimes the toothpaste lid just won't screw back onto the toothpaste and leaving it off just isn't an option because the whole thing would gunk up and you'd be so lacking in oral hygiene that you'd lose all your friends. So give the squeeze-out-end of the toothpaste a good wipe with a paper towel at least once during its lifetime and it'll be as good as new.
The same basic treatment works for sauce bottle necks. Remember to clean the inside of the lid as well.
There are many uses for WD-40 and it's always wise to wrap the tin in a sheet of paper towel before using it, to catch any drips. Wipe up any excess oil with the paper towel as well.
In the absence of a proper polishing cloth, spectacles and sunglasses will benefit from a rub with a sheet of paper towel. As will the lens of your binoculars, telescope and camera; compact mirrors; and the screen of your mobile phone and laptop or monitor.
Discs, CDs and DVDs
These need to be kept in pristine condition or you're heading for a knackered player. Wipe the delicate discs with a single sheet of paper towel, the fingerprints will be gone and they'll be dust-free.
After washing and rinsing, polish wine glasses with paper towel, before they're allowed to dry. They will then be smear-free for your next tipple.
Fruit purchased commercially has most probably been treated with insecticide, so if you're eating the skin then this must be washed and polished before consumption. Don't expect your child to remember to do this, so give their delicious apple a rinse under water and buff it with a paper towel before packing it in their lunch-box.
Separate easily-bruised fruit (like tomatoes) from each other with folded paper towel; also wrap fruit (like apples) which you are storing for later use.
Uses Around the Home
This human effluvia is really disgusting and needs cleaning up because it won't go away on its own, and you shouldn't expect anyone else to clean up your mess unless you're too ill (a hangover is no excuse). Paper towels are the best way to deal with vomit. You really don't want to use your mother's best linen tea towels. Yes, they wash, but you'd have to put them into the washing machine and vomit doesn't filter away through the wash-cycle. If there's a really big pile of vomit which is too much for the size of the sheets of paper towel, find a supermarket carrier bag and place that over your hand. Using the same hand, gather up as much as you can and shove it straight into a (lined) bin. Then you can get the remainder with paper towel. Dispose of all evidence immediately, that means remove from the house, as it will smell awful. Deodorise the area when you've finished.
Sheets of paper towels folded twice length-ways are an easy way of collecting condensation which forms at the base of windows. This should be replaced daily if you have a really bad problem or until you can afford an ioniser. Otherwise, change the paper towel when it's wet.
The Fridge and Freezer
The door sections which hold bottles (milk, juice, etc) could do with a lining of paper towels, it will catch drips and is easily removed and replaced. When you are storing fresh fruit or vegetables in the fridge until they are required, wrap them in a sheet of paper towel rather than a plastic bag, which would cause the fruit to 'sweat'.
Wipe out the fridge when cleaning; and the freezer after defrosting.
Emergency Coffee Filter, Coaster and Hanky
Paper towel as a filter paper for making coffee? In truth, it's a poor replacement, but when there's nothing else about, what are you going to do? (if it does come to that - try not to use the scented variety.)
Fold paper towel to use as emergency coasters for glasses (and cups, but remember it won't be as heat-resistant as cork-backed coasters).
A sheet of paper towel makes a good substitute hanky for sneezing, nose-blowing, and cleaning the orifices.
When the wind is in a certain direction, is there anything more annoying than hearing it whistle through the front/back door keyhole? Simple solution: a strip of paper towel, twisted and shoved into said keyhole, leaving enough 'end' sticking out your side so you can pull it out next time you want to leave your home.
The Microwave Oven
Place your baking spud on a sheet of plain paper towel, half-bake it, then remove the hot potato, pop another sheet over the top, turn it over and replace in microwave for the rest of the cooking time. Sheets are handy for cleaning the microwave after baking potatoes as there's a lot of moisture to soak up.
Cover a plate of beans, scrambled-egg mix or bowl of spaghetti with a sheet of paper towel before microwaving. This will save a multitude of splashes.
The strong paper towels can be used to wipe and clean the top of the oven, and soak up the gunge after you've sprayed cleaner in the inside of the oven.
There are many tips listed in the h2g2 entry on moving home. Sheets of paper towel are invaluable for wrapping delicate items which have to be stored together but you don't want them touching. Fragile ornaments can first be wrapped in the paper towel, then placed in a plastic bag or roll of newspaper before a final layer of bubble-wrap.
For those who still indulge in such pastimes, paper towel can be a godsend. Use the plain variety to wipe surfaces you've accidentally splashed with paint, before it has a chance to dry. You can lay a paintbrush on a sheet of paper towel while you are up a ladder, or just need somewhere to put it while you move said ladder. Lay sheets (this may take the whole roll but it'll be less expensive than a new carpet) on carpet under where you're painting. Use paper towel to remove excess paint before cleaning the brush in an appropriate solution (some need white spirit; other paints wash off in soapy water, but make sure you rinse thoroughly).
When (if) you ever attempt to build a flat-pack, you would be well advised to place all the screws, washers, nuts, and other small fiddly bits, on a sheet of paper towel, near where you're assembling. This can make the job a bit less frustrating, as anyone who has ever tried to find a minuscule screw in a shagpile carpet, already knows.
There is an h2g2 entry on handy grooming tips, so if you use cosmetics (make-up) you'll already know how handy the paper towel is. If you don't use them yourself, there are times in life when you may need to apply them to someone else, like helping a bride get ready for her big day, or backstage with a nervous first-time Elvis impersonator.
Some people put their make-up on first, then deal with the problem of getting dressed without spoiling the artwork. Others apply the slap after dressing, which presents new problems, like blusher falling onto your nice crisp white shirt. If you don't have a bib, you can get away with using paper towels (a strip of two is sufficient). Attach the top two ends to your clothes using something which will not leave an imprint, like a hairgrip. Then apply the make-up. When you're done, carefully remove the paper towel and dispose.
Excess lipstick can be blotted off with toilet paper, but really manky jobs like cleaning the end of your mascara wand requires sturdier stuff. Paper towels are handy for wiping out your make-up bag as well, plus you can store some cotton wool buds/pads in a sheet3, wrap it up and pop it into the bag for emergency use.
Use paper towels, separated into layers, for papier-mâché - newspaper for the first six or seven layers, then if it needs to be white, or painted, use two layers of paper towels. It gives a lovely matt finish, and is easy to paint. Also, because the squares are so big, it's nice and quick.
Paper towels are an essential tool in making successful gyotaku (Japanese fish printing) projects. After washing the fish and patting it dry with paper towel, it's recommended that you stuff the nostrils, gill slits and anus of the fish with paper towel to prevent any leakage onto your chosen fabric.
Making your own cards is a useful hobby which usually involves tricky substances like glitter. Children like to play with this sparkly stuff too. The problem is, it comes in a neat little tube and you always pour out more than you need. Which leads to another problem, how to return the unused glitter back to the neat little tube for next time.
Spread the working surface with peeled-off sheets of paper towel. Demonstrate to the child how to put the glitter back so they understand there will be other times to do this fun thing if they're not too messy. Glitter on the carpet is not a good thing. When the activity is over, pick up the paper towel and fold in half, gently dipping one end into the opening of the neat little tube. The excess glitter will pour back where it belongs.
Pack a roll for your annual jaunt away from home. Use strips of paper towel to protect your clothes/swimwear when you apply suntan lotion. They are priceless in situations such as car-sickness (when the wet-wipes aren't sufficient) and useful for mopping up spilt sun lotion and brushing off sand from delicate places such as in between the toes.
Parties, Picnics and BBQs
Paper towels make great napkins when having picnics, barbecues or children's parties, or even adult parties where there's finger-food. Then there's the slice-of-cake send-off, which should be wrapped in a sheet before placing gently into a plastic bag.
Not a subject anyone wants to delve into in great detail, but it's worth mentioning how handy paper towels are when dealing with things such as used sanitary items which you can't risk flushing because you're at the mother-in-law's and you just know it'll float; you can't bin it because the bin is white, smells of lavender, is lid-less and has no liner. So you're stumped, but don't attempt to flush the lot in desperation, you'll only clog mother-in-law's pipes. Search your handbag for a plastic bag and carry the offending article home for disposal.
Breast-feeding mums find paper towels extremely useful in times of leakage. They double-up nicely to cover nipples, soak up left-overs, and sit comfortably between breast and nursing bra. Yes there are 'breast-pads' available commercially but new mothers can't remember everything on the shopping list and with a new baby, the mother's needs are generally secondary.
The paper towel is recommended for pregnant women for the same use - because sometimes the milk glands start to work before the baby is born; not enough to require breast-pads as it's only colostrum4, but it still seeps through underwear and stains clothing.
Cut flowers are very delicate objects. Technically they're dead as soon as they've been cut, but they will still look and smell beautiful with a bit of TLC5. If you are transporting cut flowers, give them a good drink of water then wrap the end of the stalks in paper towel. Hold this in place with an elastic band and then place a small plastic bag over that, and re-band. Your blooms should be nice and fresh and in perfect condition when you reach your destination, provided you don't hurl them in the boot of your car before the travel bags.
Not everyone washes their hands after visiting the toilet, sad to say. If you and your family or friends are intending to play a game of ten-pin bowling and you don't all own your own personal bowling ball à la Fred Flintstone, you should think about who last used the equipment and treat it accordingly. Not all establishments steam-clean their equipment even if the facility itself is pristine. Clean the bowling ball before you use it, by giving the inside of the finger-holes6 a wipe with a wet-wipe (or a squirt with anti-bacterial spray if you want to look like Anthea Turner) and then a final polish with paper towel.
Cleaning up after your dog made easy: An h2g2 Researcher reports that a sheet of paper towel to cover the mess up, then a polythene bag pulled inside-out over your hand, used to pick the whole lot up, is much better than just a polythene bag.
One researcher uses paper towels for cleaning her cats' paws after she's been out in the rain and muddy garden. Also, dry cat-food bowls with paper towel so you're not using the family tea towels.
There are times in life when living things need to be transported somewhere and you can't always trust the thing that is being transported to behave itself, especially if it's a visit to the vet. No doubt Cane Toad disposal in Australia requires delicate handling, and a paper towel lining in the bottom of your container of choice is essential for preventing excess leakage.
For pet rodents (mice, rats, hamsters, etc) strip paper towel (not the scented type) in pieces lengthways (if you try to tear it the other way, it doesn't work). The animals will love stripping it more, making it perfect for their bedding.
If you feed your tropical fish on live fish-food like sea monkeys and daphne, then no doubt you have a problem with water snails. Removing them is a fiddly job and you have to make sure the removed snails don't crawl off while you're fishing out the others. Place a sheet of paper towel over a small bowl, and dump the snails straight in - they won't be able to move, and when you've finished you can gather up the towel and dispose.
Giving up Smoking
You are probably sick of hearing tips on how to give up smoking. The following can help, but makes no promises. When you have already decided to give up being a slave to the dreaded weed, just tear off a sheet of paper towel and shred it slowly. By the time you have finished, (it can only be torn so many times), you have taken your mind off what was essentially, just a habit. If you can retrain yourself to form a new habit, you're well on the way to kicking an old one. The only problem you have then is how to wean yourself off paper-shredding. You could always try origami!