Stocking up on paper towels, especially when you buy them in bulk at a discounted price, may seem like a smart move. But do paper towels expire?
If stored properly, paper towels do not expire. To maximize the lifetime of paper towels, keep them in their original plastic wrapping or in a sealed waterproof container. Also store paper towels away from humidity, potential water leaks, dust, or mice.
If you find this surprising, or even if it confirms what you expected, keep reading and we’ll cover why paper towels don’t expire, and how you can get them to last as long as possible.
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Table of Contents
Do Paper Towels Expire?
Paper towels are, despite their cloth-like texture, made of the same material that books are made of. Paper towels can degrade over long periods or get damaged when they’re in the wrong environment, just like an old book, but they technically don’t “go bad” on their own.
Paper towels are made when paper is shredded and combined with water to create a soft pulp, which is then filtered, pressed dry, and bleached to remove anything that could make the paper towels decay.
Here’s a great video that shows the process.
They’re also treated with a chemical strength agent to keep them from falling apart when wet.
Between their strengthening agents and the natural durability of paper, you can keep paper towels stocked up in your home for years at a time – if they’re in the right environment.
What Will Keep My Paper Towels Fresh?
Even though paper towels won’t go bad like food or medicine, you can’t put them just anywhere in your house and come back to them, expecting a usable product.
You need to make sure paper towels are protected by both their packaging and their environment. Let’s dig into both of these factors in more detail:
If you want to avoid mold, dust, and pests (e.g. bugs or mice) from destroying your paper towels, then keeping them packaged appropriately is critically important.
Some brands of paper towels wrap each roll individually, while others pack several rolls into one plastic package.
If your paper towels are covered separately, you’re almost set; sometimes, there are gaps in the plastic where things can get inside so you should check for before storing them.
If your paper towel rolls aren’t individually wrapped in plastic, you’ll need to store them in sealed containers, which we’ll discuss later on.
The environment where you store your paper towels is extremely important in keeping your paper towels fresh.
And you’ll need to particularly avoid the following environmental factors:
The biggest enemy to a paper towel’s shelf life is moisture. If your paper towels are exposed to moisture, it’s like they’re being used by their environment.
Moisture can come from more obvious sources, like water leaks, or from extremely humid environments. If they aren’t sealed properly, even small holes can ruin entire packs.
Paper towels that get wet can accumulate mildew and mold, which can cause health problems.
Paper towels that aren’t appropriately stored are also susceptible to getting dusty. While you can technically still use them to absorb liquids, you might be adding to the mess as you do.
Dust doesn’t just come from something not being touched. If you do a lot of projects, like woodworking, near where you store your towels, lingering dust could also get into the paper towels, again creating messes when they’re supposed to clean them.
Exposed or improperly stored paper towels are at risk of being nibbled on by mice. Even though they’re not food, they’re perfect for mice to shred and build their nests.
Once mice get in, your paper towels should not be used; this is because mice can transmit diseases like salmonella and hemorrhagic fever.
Mice also love cluttered spaces to burrow and hide in. Those cluttered spaces are often the places where you might store extra bulk goods, like a basement or a closet, so you should take extra care when putting your food or your paper towels in those areas.
Long story short – if your paper towels get exposed to anything that they would be used to clean, then they’ll destroy your paper towels before you can use them.
How Can I Make My Paper Towels Last Longer?
Besides using them sparingly, you can help your paper towels (and toilet paper) last longer by storing them in the right packaging and in the right environment, as mentioned above. But how do you do that properly?
1. Put Them in a Dry, Leak-Proof Place
Certain areas of your home are more susceptible to humidity and potential water leakage, and those areas just happen to be the places where people tend to store things.
Your basement is likely damp and humid if you live in a warm climate, so if you need to store paper towels in that type of area, then you’ll need to use water tight containers (see below).
Water leaks are also a potential problem when storing your paper towels. Be mindful of places that could spring a water leak, such as:
- Under a sink
- Near your water heater
- Near your toilet
- Your ceilings
Pay really close attention to your choice of storage location – you don’t want to stock up on 10, 20, 30+ rolls of paper towels, only to have them all get ruined because of a big leak.
But, you can also protect yourself from these environmental factors, using good containers.
2. Seal Them Up
As mentioned before, some paper towel rolls are individually wrapped in plastic, while others aren’t. If they’re individually wrapped, you could just put them in a dry place and call it a day.
However, the plastic wrapping on paper towels is often a bit loose, which can leave room for moisture (and other things) to creep in.
You might still be fine if you have a good storage space that stays dry throughout the year, but if you don’t want to risk it, you can also use watertight containers like this one on Amazon (FYI: we get commissions on qualifying Amazon sales).
And, of course, if you leave your paper towels in their plastic packaging AND put them into water tight containers, then you should be very well prepared.
3. Keep Spaces Clean
As mentioned before, your paper towels can also get dirty from dust.
You probably won’t be frequently dusting the area where you store your bulk goods, but make sure you do occasionally dust the areas where you keep your paper towels.
That will help prevent dust from getting into the packaging. This mostly applies if you are just using the original paper towel packaging, and not a watertight storage bin.
Keeping your storage space clean can also prevent mice from making your paper towels into their new home. Remove any sources of water or food that mice could eat, like trash or improperly sealed foods, to prevent them from taking over. Also, get rid of clutter that they can nest in, too.
Paper towels are a great item to buy in bulk. With some careful storage, you can keep them for years at a time without the need to restock.