When frying food, what's a good alternative to paper towels for soaking up/draining excess oil?

  • We prefer to use lightly woven undyed cloth.
    – laura
    Jan 21, 2014 at 0:46

9 Answers 9


Personally I use a wire rack over a cookie sheet to drain fried or greasy foods. The oil drips to the pan below and I can pour the oil into a container or dispose of it however I need to.


I like to use wire cooling racks, brown paper bags, and cloth dishtowels dedicated to this endeavor would work for draining. Paper towels you do use might be compostable.

  • Composting the oil-soaked paper towels will be more complicated, yes?
    – LShaver
    Dec 19, 2017 at 16:13
  • @LShaver small amounts of oil compost without problems, so it's fine for occasional use, but rather less so if this is a daily habit. Even then, dripping off as much as possible for reuse, before using paper to soak up the last bits will help
    – Chris H
    Sep 6, 2021 at 9:47

I have not found much of an alternative to paper towels, but you could at least try the following:

  1. Drain food that has been deep fried on a wire rack. Only after this use paper towel to soak up excess oil.
  2. I keep paper towel that is soaked in cooking oil and use it as a fire-lighter later on. Of course, that only works if you have a wood-fired stored.
  3. To minimise the use of paper towels in cleaning, I make use of our local food waste scheme, which accepts cooked food. For greasy pans: used teabags, or vegetable peelings that seem to be sufficiently absorbent, are used to wipe the pans before washing them. I then compost the oily teabags This saves a large amount of detergent and water.
  • Storing the paper towels also requires a fireproof storage container: oily rags are notorious for spontaneously combusting.
    – Mark
    Aug 6, 2021 at 19:55
  • @Mark that depends on the oil. The spontaneously combusting oily rags are those soaked in linseed oil, which oxidises and polymerises rather quickly (that's what makes it a good wood treatment), releasing heat. Common cooking oils don't behave like this, though I'd still use a glass or metal container with a closed lid, on a surface that's not easily damaged by spilt oil or heat. Incidentally I've tried to get linseed oil soaked cotton rags to spontaneously ignite (well contained with concrete bricks or a metal bucket), and haven't succeeded
    – Chris H
    Sep 6, 2021 at 9:51

Not a 100% alternative, but a reduction:
Use only one layer of paper towel and used newspapers under it.

  • @ Jan Doggen, newspapers contain carbon and chemicals that trigger cancer. Even if underneath, it may be risky.
    – J. Chomel
    May 10, 2016 at 7:12
  • That is the way we do it at home. But think I will check out J. Chomels answer
    – J Bergen
    Dec 21, 2017 at 22:26

Slices of stale bread are a good alternative. I keep crusts / the ends of loaves in the freezer and place 4 to 6 on a tray to cover the tray. You then just place your fried food on top to drain. The bread is fine to go in the compost afterwards.

  • If there's too much oil in the bread, won't this make composting more complicated?
    – LShaver
    Dec 19, 2017 at 16:13

Use woven/organic undyed cloth piece, and then wash it along with other clothes. Keep this piece only for draining food.

Example: https://www.amazon.com/Reusable-Organic-Cheesecloth-ColorGrown-Ubleached/dp/B07622VQVM/

  • This sounds like a good idea, but it would seem hand washing might be better -- depending on how oily the cloth is, it could take a lot more soap or stain the other clothing you're washing.
    – LShaver
    Dec 19, 2017 at 16:14

Actually the salad spinner is not a bad idea at all. It will require washing up after - detergent/water/time costs. Whereas the cloth /tea towel is pretty simple.

On the rare occasion I fry anything that needs draining I just let it drain on a warm or even hot plate. The heat will keep the oil flowing and the food warm, cold will congeal oil and cool the food.

I degrease pans etc. with old teabags or newspaper before washing. It really helps cut down detergent and washing time. We Brits always have teabags about.


My company Green City Living addressed this in 2014 when I invented the Bacon Sponge. It’s an absorbent towel that releases the grease when soaked in hot water and a degreaser soap like Mrs Meyer or Dawn for 15 minutes. Then it can be washed in the laundry with towels. It’s 100% cotton and biodegradable. https://greencityliving.earth/products/bacon-sponge-unpaper-towel-for-grease

  • Hi Kathy, thanks for sharing and welcome to the site! This answer is a reasonable use of self-promotion because it's directly relevant to the question and you disclosed your affiliation up-front. I look forward to seeing more questions and answers from you here. :-)
    – Nic
    Aug 6, 2021 at 15:10

I have no clue at all if this would work or if it would damage the plastic possibly yes but if you could ever find a metal one of these a Salad spinner may do the trick. enter image description here

  • 4
    This is not an answer, this is rather a strange idea that you did not even try.
    – J. Chomel
    May 10, 2016 at 7:15

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