paper towel
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 1, 2024 ·  4 min read

Facts About Paper Towels That May Alarm You

Paper towels are a common household item that most of us use on a daily basis. They are used for cleaning spills, wiping surfaces, and drying hands. However, did you know that paper towels contain harmful chemicals that can have negative effects on our health and the environment? These surprising facts will make you second-guess using them in your home.

Chemicals Found in Paper Towels

The two main chemicals found in most paper towels are Chlorine and Formaldehyde. Chlorine is used to bleach the paper, giving it a white appearance. Formaldehyde is used as a binding agent to make paper towels strong and durable. Both of these chemicals are known to be harmful to human health. (1)

While the amounts in paper towels may not be that high for the consumer, those involved in the production of paper towels are more heavily exposed. Chlorine is a highly toxic chemical that can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and even cancer. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause cancer, allergic reactions, and respiratory problems. Exposure to these chemicals can be particularly harmful to children and individuals with pre-existing health conditions. The chemicals used to bleach paper towels can also be harmful to the environment. Chlorine is a water pollutant that can cause algal blooms, which are responsible for dead zones in lakes and oceans. Formaldehyde is toxic to aquatic life when it enters rivers and streams. (2, 3)

Other Chemicals

In addition to Chlorine and Formaldehyde, paper towels also contain Chlorodibenzofurans (CDFs), Triclosan, and bisphenol S (BPS). These chemicals all can have health complications, depending on how and to what extent you are exposed to them.

CDFs are a group of chemicals that are produced during the bleaching process of paper products. They are known to be toxic and can cause cancer and other health problems. Triclosan is a chemical used to prevent bacterial growth. It is also toxic to aquatic life, and has been linked to endocrine disruption and hormone disruption. (4)

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that is added to some paper towels to prevent the growth of bacteria. However, it has been linked to hormone disruption and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (5)

BPS is a chemical that is used as a substitute for BPA in some paper products. It is also known to be a hormone disruptor and can have negative effects on human health. BPA is a chemical used to make plastic products. It can be found in many food and drink packaging materials, such as bottles, cans, and cups. BPA has been linked to hormone disruption and is potentially dangerous for human health. (6)

Environmental Impact

The production and disposal of paper towels also have a significant impact on the environment. The bleaching process of paper towels releases harmful chemicals into the environment, polluting water sources and harming wildlife. The production of paper towels also requires a significant amount of energy and resources, contributing to deforestation and climate change.

In addition, paper towels are wasteful. They end up in landfills, taking up valuable space and contributing to the growing waste problem. If you use 5-10 pieces of paper towel in a day, after one year your it would generate the equivalent of 109-219 pounds of carbon dioxide. Therefore, the use of paper towels contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions and leads to unnecessary paper and plastic waste. By reducing our use of paper towels, we can help reduce our impact on the environment. (7)

Alternatives to Paper Towels

Fortunately, there are alternatives to paper towels that are safer for our health and the environment. One option is to use cloth towels or rags for cleaning and drying. These can be washed and reused, reducing waste and the need for harmful chemicals. Make sure that you are washing them frequently. If not, bacteria and fungi can build up, which can also cause health complications.

Another option is to use eco-friendly paper towels made from recycled materials and free from harmful chemicals. These can be found in most grocery stores and are a great alternative to traditional paper towels. The most important thing is to be conscious of your actions and how they affect the environment. If we all make small changes in our daily lives, it will add up to big difference for our planet.

The Bottom Line

Paper towels may seem like harmless household items, but they contain harmful chemicals that can have negative effects on our health and the environment. We can protect ourselves and the planet by reducing our use of paper towels and opting for safer alternatives.

Keep Reading: New Method Can Break Down 95% of Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Water in Just 45 Minutes


  1. Chemicals in Pape r Towels: Are There Nontoxic Alternatives?Ruan Living. Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée. January 10, 2018.
  2. ATSDR
  3. Chlorine: Exposure, Decontamination, Treatment.” CDC
  4. ToxFAQs™ for Chlorodibenzofurans (CDFs).” CDC
  5. Triclosan Exposure, Transformation, and Human Health EffectsNCBI. Lisa M. Weatherly and Julie A. Gosse.
  6. What Is Bisphenol S (BPS) & Is It Safe?Milion Maker
  7. Goodbye paper towe ls, hello zero-waste alternative!ACAPSJ. Bethany Reinhart. February 16, 2021.