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


Efficiency- Michael:

This problem has stumped me for decades but we finally studied the various absorbent materials.

Should you be using a napkin to wipe your face? A paper towel? Did you waste money?

Should you 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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