Dear Sara:

I need a paper towel replacement. I've used coupons and taken advantage of sales, but paper towels are still too expensive. I'd like to replace them with a really absorbent cloth. (Back when I could buy new dishtowels, I hated how nonabsorbent they were until they were "broken in.") I guess I would buy a covered diaper pail or some such thing to throw them in until washing. Can you point me in the right direction? -- Mary, Michigan

Dear Mary:

You'll have to figure out what you like to use. I place a stack of cheap washcloths on the kitchen countertop and use them for cleaning and drying hands. You can color code them for their various uses. For example, white for cleaning the kitchen, yellow for hands, etc. I use microfiber cloths and paper towels, too. You could put the cloth rags in a plastic pail or bin with some bleach water after you use them, or simply rinse, wring and hang them to dry or place them in a mesh bag hung from a door knob until laundry time. A small baby-wipes container can hold a few folded, and it's compact. The important thing is to not keep using the same cleaning rag in your kitchen without laundering -- it can harbor bacteria. And don't store damp used rags for long before washing them, or they'll stink and grow moldy. You can use cloth diapers, T-shirt or towel scraps as rags, or cut cotton flannel squares, too. All are absorbent.
Instead of trying to eliminate paper towels completely, simply try to keep paper towels put away and not easily accessible. Put your alternative cloths in their place and you'll automatically use less, but you'll still have some paper towels in the house if you discover a task you prefer to use them for. If you continue to use paper towels, look for ones that are higher in recycled content, or use the select-a-size rolls.
Another suggestion is to fold your paper towels for better absorbency rather than wadding them or wrapping them around your hand when you dry your hands. Here's a video to watch: As the speaker in the video suggests, shake your hands after washing and fold your paper towel when drying your hands to use less.

Dear Sara:

Musty smell in carpet? My husband accidentally tipped over a three-gallon bucket of water in the bedroom. It was intended for the fish tank. Fortunately, nothing was ruined and the carpet is drying quickly. It's the rancid moldy wet-dog smell that's bothering me. Any idea how to get rid of it? I hesitate to put baking soda or vacuum powder down while it is still damp. -- C.H., Missouri

Dear C.H.:

You really want the water, padding, flooring and possibly drywall on the walls to dry completely within 48 hours or you'll have mold. If you haven't already used a shop vacuum to extract the water, pulled up the carpet and used a large fan (this can take a few days, running it nonstop), it's probably too late. I would have called a professional water extraction, drying and cleaning company. From what you're describing, it sounds like you already have a mildew/mold issue.

photo by Steve Johnson