Depending on the type in use, paper towel dispensers can prove a costly and wasteful feature, especially in public restrooms that see a lot of foot traffic. If you are looking for a way to reduce the amount of paper towel usage in your facility restrooms, keep a few comparisons in mind.

Consider Ditching Folded Towels

If you currently have dispensers that house folded paper towels (in their various forms), stop using that dispensing method. While users may perceive those towels as softer and of better quality than brown paper towels, they also tend to waste them without even thinking about it. People often grab more than they need, whether to use on the spot or to take with them, and in many cases only use a small portion of the actual towel before disposing of it.

In addition to the expense of the paper towels themselves, such high usage also leads to more maintenance and, in turn, higher labor costs, with the paper towel stock in constant need of replacement.

Hard Wound Roll Towels

Consider replacing your folded-towel system with a roll-towel dispenser. Speak to distributors about extended contracts or leases and universal dispensers (that any roll will fit) to help make the switch as easy and cost-effective in the long run as possible.

While using a dispenser with a crank or knob will help reduce the amount of paper towels users grab, you should see even more cost savings with a combination of hard wound roll towels and controlled-use, touch-free dispensers. If you use such a combination, nonprofit environmental group Green Seal estimates that you should enjoy a 25 percent to 35 percent decrease in paper towel usage (as users will not take as many as they would easier-to-access folded towels).

Hard wound roll towels require 80 percent less packaging, according to Green Seal, and usually contain more square feet than other standard rolls, select roll towels measuring 800 feet or more.

Using this method will save on labor and maintenance costs (not to mention waste accumulation), as the dispenser restricts the amount of paper a user grabs at once. In turn, you refill roll towel dispensers far less often than folded-towel dispensers, and you receive fewer customer complaints about lack of supply.

If you use an automatic dispenser, you need batteries to operate the unit. However, nowadays batteries last longer and, depending on the amount of use in your facility, you should only need to replace batteries every one to two years.

Make the Right Choice

Potential cost savings from using roll towels over folded towels will vary by facility and location. Talk to your distributor/vendor to get an idea on cost savings, which will depend on usage patterns and labor and paper towel costs.

You could save in excess of 58 percent in labor costs by using roll paper towels over folded towels, according to a 1996 study by consultant Nancy Vandenberg, for the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board in California. For more information on that study, visit

Whatever towel-dispensing method you decide on, make sure that the method best suits your facility, and that it will result in long-term cost savings. If your facility does not see a huge amount of traffic and use, you may not need to upgrade to a touch-free dispensing unit.