The question is based on a TEDx video, where the speaker claims that folding a paper towel before using it creates interstitial forces which help dry your hands faster.

The question:

Does this effect actually occur? If it does, then why, and how significant is it?

In addition, would there be a significant difference between folding the towel once (i.e. in half), versus folding it twice?

  • $\begingroup$ Great video, thanks. I shake, but usually , on wiping, the first towel is totally saturated, I'm not sure how it could hold more water. Maybe H-bonding between water on the two halves allows the towel to hold more. Did he actually mean "interstitial"? It sounded like something else. $\endgroup$
    – bpedit
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @bpedit: based on the video, it sounds like he meant to say "interstitial" but ended up stuttering a bit. $\endgroup$
    – Thredolsen
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ Why did you delete your answer? It is better than mine. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 11:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @sammygerbil I've now restored my original answer. $\endgroup$
    – Thredolsen
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 8:05

2 Answers 2


The speaker actually claims it works by "interstitial suspension". I think he is referring to capillary action, which you are aware is involved here. He does not claim this method is faster, only that it is more environment-friendly. Shaking before wiping is a crucial factor.

Folding has 2 advantages : it reduces excess towel at the edges which is not used, and it makes the towel thicker so that the paper between the hands does not become saturated, when it will have no further drying capacity.

Yes, folding twice might be even more effective, depending on the size, thickness and quality of the towel. However, excessive folding leaves paper in the folds usused (ie dry) while the outer surfaces are overused and become saturated. So a single fold might be optimal.

Why not do some personal research and report your findings? (Be quick, or Floris will beat you to it!)


After searching more for an answer to this, I found the following:

It appears that folding does allow the paper towel to absorb more water, due to the fact that the water is stored between the folds of the paper towel (what the speaker refers to as "interstitial suspension", I mistakenly called this "interstitial forces"). Because of this, the amount of folds does appear to play a role (i.e. more folds is better, to a point). There also appears to be an increase to the rate at which the towel absorbs water, but this is not related to the aforementioned suspension.

Other factors are also at play as mentioned above, such as that more liquid is absorbed at each pass, reduction in wasted edges, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ It would be cool if you would share the source of where you found this piece of knowledge (worth an upvote for me, at least). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 5:07

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