Paper Products Per Dollar- Napkins vs Toilet Paper vs Paper Towel


The math is in! We studied the most Efficient paper cleaning product. For decades I’ve been frustrated every time I had to clean up a spill, wash down a counter-top, or got food on my face.

Should I be using a napkin to wipe my face? A paper towel? Did I just waste money?

Should I be toughing it out and using toilet paper for everything?

Designing Test Methods + The Math

There were three areas we wanted to investigate:

  • Meters Of Material Per Dollar
  • Water Absorption Per Dollar
  • Strength Per Dollar

Meters Of Material Per Dollar

Objective math. Multiply Square Meters Per Package by number of ply and divide by the cost.

Seems simple enough until you spend 2 hours recording notes of various toilet papers while Walmart employees keep a close eye on you.

Water Absorption Per Dollar

Shout out to Christopher B. and Jacob R. for the measurement method, I think I saw this on TV Commercial.

      Fill bowl with water
      Set on scale, tare to 0g
      Put paper product in water, lift and wait for drips to stop
      Record weight delta

I used the microwave popcorn method, 4 seconds without a drip = stop dripping.

Strength Per Dollar

We clamped one end of the paper product to a piece of wood, and let the other end hang. We then attached clamps to the other side. Each clamp weighed 160g. Once it teared, we used the quantity of clips it successfully held as our metric.

This is attribute data because we only could test integers of weights.


The Data

Paper Products don’t seem to spend the effort to brand themselves much. There were multiple types of generic, for instance- paper towels labeled “Paper Towel”.

During the test phases, we bought 17 popular products for testing, for science! (I feel like these studies could be the subject of Portal 3)

Highlighted denotes top 3 of one of the categories.

Material Per Dollar

1 ply items seem to win this category. But… if you ever used 1 ply toilet paper- You will understand why we decided we needed to continue to test.

By pure length alone, here are the top products:

meter per cost

Water Absorbed Per Dollar

Now this was interesting, 1 ply toilet paper topped the list if you are trying to absorb on the cheap. Although I’d probably recommend a towel for water spills.

water per dollar

Low cost paper towels and napkins are an honorable mention.

Strength Per Dollar

Since these are based on attribute data(0,1,2,3 clips) the data should be used more like a Yes/No. Consider that anything above 30,000 is strong ‘enough’.
strength per dollar

The weirdest thing was that Great Value Premium napkins held a 2.5lb weight. Nothing else could claim that accomplishment.



Based on the Grams of Water Absorbed/ Dollar and strength, we will be cleaning up our disposable messes with Brawny. Honorable mentions to Great Value Quilted Napkins, Great Value 2 Ply Paper Towels, and Bounty Select Prints.

Major water spills can be cleaned with towels, but if you are cleaning up a gallon spill of milk, 1 ply toilet paper is the most cost efficient.

Facial tissue was consistently the most expensive.

Side Notes

During a strength test, we tried adding water to the center of a paper towel and it didnt affect strength significantly. As soon as the water hit the clamp, they would often rip.

Wadding up 3 sheets of single ply did not increase strength. Mass of water absorbed was negligibly similar.

Misses Efficiency got super excited for the Frozen Printed Paper Towel. She has never seen Frozen, but she wanted to use that type first. Marketing is a real thing.

The volume of hundreds of paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper occupying our home is- Not Negligible 😛

Website Update

We have gotten feedback to test specific products, but I know I’m missing your favorites. I wanted to only email when I have a high quality article but I’ll be occasionally sending a “Request For Feedback” email about future topics. Goal is to get the data you are looking for. I’ll label it in the subject so you know its not an Efficiency Is Everything article.

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11 thoughts on “Paper Products Per Dollar- Napkins vs Toilet Paper vs Paper Towel

  • February 4, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Can you take more pictures of the experiment?

    • February 10, 2017 at 3:44 am

      Yes! We took a bunch, didnt know how many to post. I’ve been asked to add some more brands. I’ll have an update in a few weeks.

      Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  • February 8, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Need to add Costco Kirkland brand

    • February 9, 2017 at 1:00 am

      Will do, I dont have a membership but I’ll hitch a ride with a friend sometime this/next month!

  • May 14, 2017 at 3:29 am

    Looks like both of you are not working in wet labs. In addition to the fancy brands you list, Kimberly Clarke and Georgia-Pacific manufacture the sort of big paper cylinders you see in company / university restrooms. Those are cheaper and more efficient than anything you find in retail stores – hence the “fancy” epithet on what you think are probably cheap and mundane. You can buy them from Amazon or Ebay at prices comparable with those paid by the “professional” users.

  • June 19, 2017 at 3:28 am

    How many samples per roll?

    • June 19, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I usually take individual pieces. I’ll have to upload the sheets per dollar.

      I also had requests for Costco prices. Big update to this later this year.

  • December 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    which is more economical select a size paper towels or napkins?

    • December 17, 2017 at 11:32 pm

      Unless you are getting a fantastic deal on napkins, I’d go with brawny.


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