We purchased six paper towel holders, priced from $13.00 to $24.99, determined to find a sturdy holder that would make tearing quick, precise, and tidy.
Published Sept. 1, 2015. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 17: Cast Iron Staples
We could put a roll of paper towels directly on the counter, but a designated paper towel holder aids with tearing and protects the roll from wet spots and spills. We purchased six models, priced from $13.00 to $24.99, determined to find a sturdy holder that would make tearing quick, precise, and tidy. All consisted of a center pole set on a metal base, sometimes with an arm to provide resistance for tearing. After checking that towel rolls of all styles and widths fit on the models, we tore off sheets in small and large increments (using one hand and two) and made note of which models were easy—or not—to handle and move.
For a full large roll to be able to fit and spin, it requires at least 3 1/4 inches of clearance between the holder’s center pole and any helper arm, and we quickly eliminated one model with just 2 inches of space. Angled, hinged arms also automatically adapt to accommodate rolls of any size. Not only did these arms make one-handed tearing more precise, but they also prevented sheets from drooping and kept rolls looking tidy. (Straight, stationary arms become useless once a few layers of towels have been pulled off.)
Countertop stability is also crucial, and we quickly learned that heavier models are better. Anything under 1 3/4 pounds felt flimsy and slid across the counter, while the suction cup base on one lightweight model was difficult to activate and had to be released each time we wanted to move the holder. Tall, easy-to-grip center poles also helped with mobility, but testers balked at models with oversize twist-on knobs that had to be removed each time a roll had to be replaced. A few models had additional features intended to hold the rolls in place, like flexible fins on the center column and textured silicone pads on the base, but these simply weren’t necessary.
After narrowing our lineup to three front-runners, two with arms and one without, we subjected them to a month of near-constant use in the kitchen to evaluate long-term durability and stain resistance. All three cleaned up easily—even when we deliberately stained them with yellow mustard, oil, and minced garlic and left them over the weekend—but one model in particular won us over. Not only did its angled arm ensure precise and even tearing, but it was also stable and featured an easy-to-grip knob atop its center pole that didn’t have to be removed when changing the rolls.
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