Shop Towel Service vs. Disposable Wipes
Get the Facts
Should your company choose disposable wipes or a shop towel rental program for your facility? Here are some facts to help you decide.
Reusable shop towels save energy, improve air quality and reduce waste. This translates to a better bottom line for industrial rag users who choose reusables over disposables. While shop towel laundering uses water and energy, the resources required for manufacturing a new rag are far more substantial than those required for the laundering process.
According to TRSA, using a shop towel service has these sustainability benefits:
Energy: Reusable towels need dramatically fewer fossil (non-renewable) resources.
- 62% less primary energy demand
- 81% less crude oil
- 17% less coal
- 4% less natural gas
Air Quality: Reusable towels reduce the discharges that foster low-level smog, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
- 59% less smog
- 89% less carbon monixide
- 57% less carbon dioxide
Waste Reduction: Reusable shop towels require less packaging waste and significantly less total solid waste.
- 76% less packaging
- 69% less total solid waste
Health and Safety
Rental shop towels have come under attack in recent years by the big name corporations selling disposable wipes, claiming that reusable shop towels and rags are unsafe for users because of residual metal being left on the towels after they have been laundered.
This claim is not true. Rental shop towels are regulated by the EPA so that each wash removes enough soil to eliminate any risk to human health in their reuse. An independent research study commissioned by the TRSA provides conclusive evidence that laundered shop towels do not pose a safety risk to users and are a safe choice for industrial wiping. You can read the study here: Independent Study of Heavy Metals in Shop Towels.
Be sure to ask your shop towel rental provider about how they process their towels. Ask specifically what steps they take to ensure metal chips are removed from the towels. If you are a printer, ask if printer towels are processed separately from shop towels and what precautions are utilized to reduce the amount of foreign matter.
You will find that some laundry service companies do an exceptional job with removing the metal and other foreign matter, while others do not.
In contrast, paper industrial wipers that contain hazardous wastes are often thrown away without regard to disposal laws, imperiling landfills and solid waste handlers. In addition, paper towels soiled with potentially flammable or otherwise harmful fluids can remain on worksites longer than reusable towels picked up each week by a launderer.
Bottom line: Rental shop towels are safe for end users. Do your due diligence in choosing a rental partner that will clean the towels according to your high standards.
As you would expect, you need more disposable wipes to get the job done compared to a laundered shop towel.
We conducted absorbency testing on two of the leading brands of disposable wipes and compared the absorbency to our Ultra™ Red Shop towel. Water was introduced to the towels in 1/4 oz. to 1 oz. increments until total saturation was achieved. The maximum fluid absorbed ranged from 66% to 233% more for the Ultra™ Red laundered shop towel compared to a variety of disposable wiper alternatives.
Using these absorbency numbers, here are some approximate conversions:
5 rental shop towels = 8 – 17 disposable rags/wipes
5 rental shop towels = 1 lb. disposable rags/wipes
Anytime a shop towel can be used more than once for a wiping task is far more economical than using disposables. For example, for a 1-disposable wiper task that a shop towel handles five times before washing can cost up to 66% more.
Reusable shop towels also reduce solid waste disposal expenses (typically $2.50 per roll) and can help improve worker productivity.
For more cost information, please read How much does a towel cleaning service cost.