If you ask me, the paper towel is one of the greatest inventions ever and I think too many of us take them for granted.
They are absolutely invaluable for cleaning up spills and other messes, and I even use them for tough jobs like cleaning my kitchen stove.
According to Wikipedia, paper towels were first made by Arthur Scott from a cartload of rejected toilet paper. (I know. Go ahead and insert your own joke here.)
Today, the United States is the biggest consumer of paper towels, consuming 50 percent more towels than Europe and five times more than the folks in Latin America. I believe it too. After all, I know when I go to the grocery store, an unbelievably large portion of the paper products aisle is devoted to paper towels.
But with so many brands of varying price and quality to choose from, how could we reasonably know which paper towel offered the best value?
Well, that depends on which factors you consider to be the most important when it comes time to evaluate them.
In 2009 Consumer Reports evaluated paper towels based upon absorbency, scrub strength and wet strength.
But for me, when it comes to paper towels I know I’m most interested in the following three factors: 1) cost; 2) absorbency, and; 3) scrub strength. And so with that in mind, I decided to perform my own experiment that would compare a host of paper towel brands based on those three criteria.
How I Conducted the Test
The first step was to hop on down to my local grocery store where I bought six different brands of paper towels: Sparkle, Bounty, Bounty Basic, Scott, Shoppers Value, and Kleenex Viva. I also went to my local Costco and bought their Kirkland Signature brand.
Next, I had to devise a couple of tests to measure absorbency and scrub strength.
To measure absorbency, I dipped a paper towel into a large glass full of water. Once the towel was saturated, I removed it and squeezed the water into a beaker and measured it (in milliliters). To ensure an apples to apples comparison when testing for absorbency, I used 11 x 12 inch samples for all brands being tested.
To measure scrub strength, I wrapped a wet paper towel around a sponge and then scrubbed it back and forth over a laminated counter top. I then counted the number of scrubs before the paper towel tore.
For each paper towel sampled, I conducted three separate absorbency tests and three scrub tests. The results were then averaged.
Scores were then assigned to each of the towels. The top-performing towel was given a score of one hundred and the other towels scores were then scaled appropriately.
The final ratings for each brand were simply derived by averaging the three scores for cost, absorbency and scrub strength.
The results of the testing revealed that no one brand excelled in all three categories, but it was the Kirkland Signature and Scott brand paper towels that were shown to provide the best overall value. As such, they have been given the coveted “Penzo Pick!” designation. (Please stop snickering and just play along.)
When it came to absorbency, Bounty was the undisputed champion, sopping up the competition. It soaked up an average of 65 milliliters of water, far outdistancing its closest rival.
Not surprisingly, Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand was the least expensive paper towel at just a hair under two cents per square foot. Despite the low price, it performed very well in my absorbency test; at 40 milliliters, it absorbed almost as much water as the Viva brand although not as much as the Bounty.
When it came to durability, it was the Scott brand paper towels that came out head and shoulders above the rest. In fact, it was really no contest at all. The test results showed Scott to be more than twice as durable as Viva, which was its closest competition.
Here now is a complete summary of my test results:
- If price is your most important requirement, then the Kirkland Signature brand from Costco is by far your best bet. Kirkland’s price-to-performance ratio is unmatched.
- If you buy paper towels primarily for their absorbency, then Bounty is your best bet. However, keep in mind you are going to pay for it, as Bounty was the second most expensive brand on a cost per square foot basis.
- For those who think a paper towel should first and foremost be able to stand up to tough cleaning jobs, then the Scott paper towels are the only way to go.
- The two bargain brands tested, Bounty Basic and Shoppers Value, ended up being nothing more than, ahem, paper tigers. They both performed so poorly that unless you were using them as over-sized napkins you’d probably be better off spending a little extra on a better quality paper towel.
- Viva was the most expensive brand surveyed, however, its price-to-performance ratio was quite poor.
So there you have it – my great paper towel test. Hopefully you learned a few things from this little experiment. I know I did!