Composting Info: Paper Towels – Are they Compostable?


In this Video, Lars answers a question from Lynn, one of our readers, concerning paper towels and compost piles. Lynn asked us the following:

It would be very nice if you can add information about paper towels that are compostable. You mentioned that brown material is good for adding to your composting, would the commercial brown paper towels used in washrooms can be considered as brown material as well? I was told by an Environmental company that the paper towels are also used to be spread on landfill to prevent the smell.

Thanks for your question, Lynn! To clarify, when we say “brown material” we aren’t necessarily talking about the color, we are talking about carbon-rich material. To answer the question though…yes, you can definitely recycle and compost paper towels – be it white ones, or even recycled, brown paper towels that you sometimes see in an office washroom.

You don’t want to compost any paper towels that you’ve gotten wet with chemicals, because this can harm your compost. But if it’s just a normal paper towel that you’ve gotten wet at some point, you can totally use it with your compost, that’s no problem at all!

Thanks again for reading, and thanks for your question! Hope this is a big help!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Annemarie July 5, 2009 at 1:41 pm

hi – I saw the question about composting paper towels and your answer (making sure not to compost paper towels that had chemicals on them) but what about the organic and earth-safe cleaners? We only use natural cleaners in our house and most are plant-based.


Yes, I think that would probably be okay, as long as you checked the products to make sure they didn’t have anything dangerous, or anything that is going to kill all the microbes that are breaking down the compost.


abbey kletz July 6, 2009 at 7:02 pm

i have a compost bin started. can i add worms directly into that bin? it is 3/4 full of brown and green.


Worm composting and regular composting are two different types of composting. You don’t want to add worms to a regular compost bin, because the compost heats up in a regular bin as it breaks down, and it will kill the worms.

With a regular compost bin that has an open bottom, sometimes earthworms will crawl up from the ground into the bin naturally. But they will stay away from the hot part of the compost, or escape back into the ground when it gets too hot.


Sandie August 7, 2009 at 10:02 pm

New composting, I turned mine today and discovered an ant’s nest. Is this a problem that needs solving and if so what do I need to do?




I’m going to move your question over to the “Got Composting Questions” page in a few days.

If you have ants, that usually means that your compost is too dry. Soak it down with your water hose, and add more nitrogen rich materials to help the compost get hotter, and that should solve your problem.

Unless they are fire ants, it’s really not that big of a deal to have some in your compost anyway. But keeping your compost moist enough and hot enough typically drives them away regardless.


Jen September 9, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I have an Envirocycle tumbler composting bin. I have 2 questions:
1) At what point should I stop adding materials (both “green” and “brown”) to let it all do its composting thing? Is there some point at which (beyond literally overloading the bin) that I’ve overloaded it with materials? Is there a point at which the materials just need to settle in? (I know that was way more than 1 question, but it’s all related…)
2) I found a bunch of flies and even some maggots (yuck) in the compost bin. I was told that it was too wet and I needed to add more “brown” materials, which I’ve done, and since then have added generally more browns than greens. However, I still see flies around. Is this bad?



There are two ways to approach composting with a tumbling bin. (Either the Envirocycle, or any other tumbler model.)

You can batch compost, where you fill the whole thing up at once, and then tumble it and leave it alone until the entire batch is finished, and then empty it out and go again.

Or you can continuously compost, where you keep adding and adding and adding to the bin over time. If you do it this way, some of the material will be fully broken down, and some will still be breaking down. At a certain point, you can either stop adding and let the rest of it break down until it is finished, or you can dump it out, run it through a screen and throw the unfinished parts back in the tumbler and keep going.

For convenience, most people continuously compost.

Batch composting is where you get faster results, and that’s what they always use when tumblers promise some incredibly fast time that isn’t realistic for most normal people.

That sounds like you got good advice about adding more carbon rich (brown) materials. A lot of people end up adding too many kitchen scraps, and not enough browns, so that’s a common issue.

And some bugs and even larvae in your compost is normal and nothing to worry about. They won’t hurt anything. Flies are usually the result of a lot of fruit. In a regular bin or pile, you can bury the fruit deeper and it will solve that problem. In a tumbler, you might try tumbling the bin so that the fruit is on the bottom.


monique November 10, 2009 at 2:07 am

can we use paper as conpost? I know you said that paper towels can be used as compost now that you said so but i am intrested in your show but i would really like it if you could tell me thank you very much!


You can compost newsprint and other regular paper.

Don’t compost slick, colorful paper, because the ink might cause problems to your compost pile.

Paper should make up no more than 10 or 15 percent of your compost pile, max. Small amounts is better than large amounts. It doesn’t break down quickly enough if you add to much.


Ryan February 13, 2010 at 1:56 am

I have a wood shop and produce a fair amount of sawdust. Can I compost this, if so, what would the ratio be?


lars March 11, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Sawdust is extremely high in carbon content, and can very quickly overwhelm your compost.

Just a coffee can’s worth can be enough for 20 or 30 gallons’ worth of other materials.

It’s okay to use, but don’t overdo it.


Mike August 31, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I have a compost bin that I made myself at my home in Florida. My compost bin has recently became the home to a bunch of decently sized bugs. Whenever I go stir my compost bin, they all start moving around (they look pretty scary). Do you know why those bugs could be in my compost bin? Are they a good thing?


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