Rental Shop Towels the Green Alternative?



Offset printers and machine tool operations more often than not turn to laundered cotton shop towels because they feel shop towels offer a green and lint free alternative to recycled disposable wipers. Rental shop towels are also considered to be the less expensive option as well. It is time to seriously point out the flaws in the above statements.

Let us examine the facts from 4 vantage points: Environment, Health, Cost and Quality


An in depth study was commissioned by the EPA to study the environmental impact of laundered towels, task engineered wipers (non wovens) and recycled textiles using the expertise of Lockheed Martin Energy &Environmental Services.

It has been determined that all of the toxic heavy metals and hazardous solvents typically end up in the local sewage treatment plant in waste waters or can end up in the washer sludge which is dumped into the local land fill!

Industrial laundries discharge 563 million pounds per year of pollutants, 13 million pounds are toxic such as lead,zinc,toluene, xylene, and many other heavy metals dangerous to aquatic and human health. Laundered shop towels represent approximately 80% of the above mentioned 13 million pounds.

Local sewage treatment plants can not deal with difficulties of processing discharges from local laundries. Most commercial laundries use their waste water pretreatment programs but very few can actually remove the toxic substances that the EPA labels as a cause of surface water contamination. Water washed sludge contains approx. 22 percent water which could increase the mobility of these pollutants into the soil and water table.

Laundered shop towels contribute 30% more waste to landfills than non woven wipers and recycled wipers

Recycled wipers and textiles have had many life cycles before they become a wiper (hence the term recycled). Recycled wipers contribute less than 1 cubic foot for every 1000 cubic feet of landfill volume. That is less than 1/10th of 1%.

Would you rather use the services of an industry that is truly recycling materials or an industry that is polluting our waterways and land fills.


You would assume that a freshly laundered shop towel is clean but commercial laundries can not always 100% remove the metal shavings, oil and chemicals that become embedded in the towels. Your employee dirty and sweaty from a hard day of labour wipes his face or his hands with his trusty red shop towel and exposes himself to the dangers of skin rashes from chemical contamination to scratches and possible eye damage from the metal shavings.

The result is lost time and possible worker compensation claims and reports.

These heavy metals and toxic chemicals can also be transferred to the mouth or lips and become ingested.


The very reason offset printers choose shop towels is that they are supposedly soft, lint free and will not scratch or harm their expensive equipment. More and more plants are actually moving back to engineered non woven wipers or one of the many polyester lint free alternatives used in the automotive OEM plants and aerospace industry.

The reason being that embedded metals left in laundered towels do damage the equipment. The towel they are using today did not come back from the laundry in a closed cycle ( only their towels being recycled back to them) Chances are it was used at Bill’s Machine shop previously.

A frequently asked question in our industry is ” can you supply me with a lint free cotton wiper”?
The answer is always no as cotton is not lint free even with surged or sewn edges. Surged edges just eliminate the possibility of snagged fibers coming loose and increase the number of washings before deterioration. Slots spel gratis.


Of all the information presented this will surprise and amaze purchasing agents who utilize the rental system the most!!

A typical laundry contract contains terms like contracted rental price per wiper, circulating inventory, minimum p/u levels, shrinkage and env. surcharge. A typical invoice looks like this:


p/u del min contract price extension
283 314 500 .11 $55.00
10% shrinkage 50@ .21 ea = $10.50
Env sur charge = $2.20
Total = $67.70

An analysis of the above invoice reveals that you paid .21 per wiper delivered or used that week ( $67.70/314) yet your contracted price was .11 ea.

How can that be you ask? The answer is in the circulating inventory and minimum del and pick up mumbo jumbo in your fine print in the contract. You pay a minimum each pick up regardless of usage quantity and the laundry picks an arbitrary % for what they assume you will lose through unauthorized theft or disposal and they call it shrinkage. It is costly to treat the toxins contained in the wipers and you get an env. charge as well.

Compare those figures to a typical hydro entangled or spun lace engineered wiper @ .08 to .10 ea or a recycled textile polo wiper @ .07 ea


After examining all the facts it is obvious that end users should be aware of ” the big picture” prior to making the decision about which kind of wiper to use. The total environmental impact of wiper usage occurs throughout the life cycle of the wiper, not just at the landfill.

Make the Smart Choice...
Disposable Wipers

  • Environmentally safer
  • No waste water sludge
  • Made from recycled materials
  • Consume less energy
  • Safer for employees and equipment
  • Cost Effective