Consumer Reports tested 21 paper towels, including ones from Viva, Bounty, and Scott, as well as those claiming to be made from recycled paper.
In an absorbency test, testers measured the amount of water each paper towel holds, adjusting for sheet-size differences so that each paper towel faces the same challenge.
"Our tests found the best paper towels held almost three ounces of water, but the worst performers held just half an ounce," said Kim Kleman, Consumer Reports.
In a wet-strength test, Consumer Reports measured how much weight a wet towel can support before it breaks.
In another test, a paper towel is scrubbed against a tile surface until it starts to shred. One of the sheets started to shred after 25 passes. And after 50 passes, it came apart. Meanwhile another brand still held up at 50.
When it came time to test green paper towels, Consumer Reports found most using recycled paper were not up to the job.
"Practically every green paper towel we tested scored at the bottom of each of our tests," said Kleman.
The clear winner was Bounty Extra Soft. It wiped up the competition.
For good performing and less expensive paper towels, try Walgreens Ultra Quilted or Viva Kleenex. They are Consumer Reports Best Buys.