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Paper towels are household MVP

Paper towels lead a brief and unglamorous life, absorbing spills, wiping away messes and substituting for napkins and tissues. Bounty’s DuraTowel cleaned up in Consumer Reports’ latest tests, but there are several far less expensive options for everyday use.

Sponges are the most frequently used item for kitchen cleanup, but unless they’re kept scrupulously clean, they can become germy and smelly. Ditto dish towels.

A fresh paper towel is a better choice. With an overall score of 96, the Bounty DuraTowel was three times as strong when wet, held at least twice as much water and lasted three times as long before falling apart in Consumer Reports’ scrubbing tests, compared with paper towels that scored Fair in the tests. But it costs almost twice as much as many others, making it better suited for bigger messes and scrubbing.

Here’s what else Consumer Reports’ tests and reporting found:

• Save with the right store brands. Sales of store brands have increased 26 percent in recent years as families tighten their spending. Wal-Mart’s Great Value came close to making the Recommended list, offering impressive absorbency, scrubbing and strength. It’s also among the lowest priced paper towels.

Target’s Up & Up was very good at absorption and strength, but not as good for scrubbing. But paper towels from Home Depot, CVS and Family Dollar were no bargain, despite their price, ranking dead last in Consumer Reports’ tests.

• Online merchants push paper., and the websites of many walk-in stores sell paper towels, tissues and toilet paper touting low prices and convenience. Bulk purchases are usually required to avoid shipping costs.

• More select-a-size towels line shelves. They have “pick a size,” “choose a size” or “right size” tacked onto their name. They have more perforations, so you can choose a smaller piece for sopping up small spills or a larger one for big messes.

The select-a-size rolls Consumer Reports tested cost about as much as regular paper towels, on average. You can save if you really do use less paper per pull. Though two-ply towels top its tests, not all of them are more absorbent or durable than the one-ply brands that were tested.

• Green towels still lag behind. There’s little or no governmental regulation of many of the green claims on paper towels, though recycled claims have some merit. Seventh Generation Right Size, which the maker claims is made from 100 percent recycled paper, wasn’t very good at absorption, scrubbing or strength, and it’s a bit more expensive. The company that makes Scott Naturals Mega Roll Choose-A-Size says that it has 60 percent recycled fibers. It costs less and was stronger when wet, but it’s not very absorbent.

You probably know you can prevent cross-contamination after handling raw chicken and meat by using paper towels and hot, soapy water to clean kitchen countertops and cutting boards. But here are five “aha!” uses for those handy helpers.

• Wash and dry fruit and vegetables with paper towels before peeling to help keep dirt and bacteria from transferring from the knife to the produce.

• Wrap food in wet paper towels to steam-cook in your microwave, creating healthy meals and snacks.

• Cover bathroom door handles with a paper towel before turning them to reduce exposure to germs during cold and flu season.

• Make a tight pad from two folded paper towels, add some vegetable oil and use tongs to drag it across your grill’s grates just before cooking to prevent food from sticking.

• Clean the rubber edge of your car’s wiper blades with a paper towel dampened with glass cleaner or water and a little dish detergent to extend the life of the wipers.