cress seeds germinating on a paper towel

Germinating Seeds On Paper Towels: Complete Guide

cress seeds germinating on a paper towel
One of the my favourite childhood memories from school is a science project. What was that science project? Germinating seeds on a paper towel. It was cress to be exact. Little did I know at the time how often I’d end up following this method during adulthood, with more success than my adolescent attempts!
Anyway, I’ve written up my exact method so you can sprout seeds on paper towels just like I did in my childhood, with a few tweaks improving the method. But before that, let’s check out why I usually opt for the paper towel method over sprouting them in soil.

Paper Towel vs Soil, Which Is Best?

My friend always ask me why I tend to germinate my seeds on paper towels instead of soil. There’s quite a few reasons why I choose this method, most of the time anyway as I do sometimes opt for using heating mats. So, let’s compare the benefits and drawbacks to both methods. If you don’t want to read the full break down, here’s a quick summary so you can skip to my paper towel growing guide!

If you’re looking for somewhere to get your own seeds or samples, then I can highly recommend Seeds Now, they’ve been supplying me all my seeds for a few years now.

Paper Towel

  • Visible Seeds
  • Greater Control
  • Mess Free
  • Satisfying To Watch
  • Transport Seeds


  • Natural Environment
  • No Transporting
  • Messy
  • Seeds Hidden
  • Potential Disease

cress seeds germinating on a paper towelseeds sprouting in soil

First of all, let’s get into the paper towel method. My personal favourite point about germinating seeds this way is that you can see exactly what stage they are at. Much like you can with home hydroponic farms, check them out here. They are completely exposed (which can also bring some drawbacks) so I can keep a close eye on them.

Another benefit to this is that you know if the seed has failed or not, saving time and effort. As everything is exposed, this also makes it easy to monitor the moisture levels and gives you greater control. It’s pretty much impossible to over water them with this method.

Also, paper towels are sterile so there’s little chance that your seedlings will become diseased early on. So, we’ve covered the positives, are there any drawbacks to the paper towel method? Unfortunately yes, but they’re not too bad. It’s not my preferred method for no reason! 

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The first drawback is the exposure (which is also a positive as I mentioned earlier). Leaving your seeds exposed means they are a little vulnerable, even the slightest of touches can send them into an early grave. However, you shouldn’t really need to touch them anyway until you’re moving them into a planter, but you can just use tweezers for that. This also leads us onto our next drawback.

Transporting your seeds can be a pain as they’re so sensitive. With paper towels, once your seeds start to sprout you need to transfer them into some soil, this is the only thing I prefer about the soil method, no transferring! They’re the only two drawbacks in my opinion though, so let’s take a look at germinating seeds in soil.

seedlings germinating in soil

To be quite frank, there’s not much positive about starting them in soil in my opinion. The main benefits are that it’s a natural environment for your seedlings, but as with any natural environment it’s not the most sterile place. With that in mind, here’s the first drawback. Without a sterile environment, there’s always a chance that your seeds will become damaged by pathogens in the soil before they’ve even begun to sprout.

The next positive to the soil approach is that you don’t have to transport your seeds once they’ve sprouted. This is the main advantage this method has over paper towels as it’s less effort. On the flipside though, as it’s already in the soil, if it’s packed too tight your seed will never be able to sprout. As you can’t see how your seed is doing, you wont know if it’s packed too tight or you’ve planted them too deep until it’s too late. 

So, if you do opt for the soil method, ensure you don’t pack the soil down. You also need to make sure that you choose a well draining potting soil. Oh and one last thing, be prepared for the mess that soil brings everywhere!

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Step by Step Guide to Germinating Seeds On A Paper Towel

So, here’s my preferred method on germinating seeds on paper towels. You don’t necessarily have to use paper towels, there are a few other household items that work just as well with this exact method. For example, you can use: coffee filter papers, newspaper or cotton wool pads. Anyway, let’s get into it.


  • Container (Plastic food containers are my preferred option here)
  • Paper Towel
  • Seeds
  • Zip-lock bag
  • Tweezers (For later use)


  1. First of all, take your paper towel and moisten it. Make sure the paper towel is saturated, then cover the bottom of your container with it.
  2. Spread a few seeds across your paper towel. Ensure you leave a few cm between each seed so they don’t come into contact (this can help prevent diseases spreading).
  3. Cover your container with the zip lock bag. Essentially this help create an environment similar to a greenhouse, helping your seeds sprout a little quicker.
  4. Place your new mini-greenhouse anywhere that will consistently stay around room temperature, and also out of direct sunlight.
  5. In around a weeks time you should start to see your seedling sprouting. When you see this, it’s time to move them into a soil pot. Take your time with this and use the tweezers, try to avoid touching them with your bare hands as it can cause them to die.
  6. Congratulations, if you’ve followed all the steps correctly you should now have successfully sprouted seed with a paper towel.

Now you’ve got that done, there’s a few common questions that we’ve covered below, check them out. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know in the comments below and we’ll respond asap to help you out.


How Long Does It Take To Germinate Seeds On A Paper Towel?

Germinating seeds on a paper towel can vary in time depending on the quality of the environment. If the conditions are ideal then you can expect your seeds to germinate in any time up to 7 days. If you can’t provide good conditions then it can take a little longer than that.

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When To Transplant Your Seeds From The Paper Towel

You can transplant your seeds to soil as soon as you see them start to sprout. Bear in mind that when you pot them in soil, you must not pack the soil down. If it’s packed, the seedlings will not be able to reach the surface and will subsequently die. 

Can You Germinate Seeds…

There’s various materials that people often wonder if they can germinate seeds in. We’ve covered each of them here.

…In Toilet Paper?

Yes, toilet paper is an effective material for germinating seeds. It works nearly as well as paper towels but the only issue is that it can tear easily. When using toilet paper, you might want to use a few sheets to avoid this problem.

…In Rockwool?

Rockwool is ideal for germinating seeds. The method is a little different to when you do it with a paper towel. Check out this video for an in-depth tutorial on how to germinate seeds with rockwool.

…In A Glass Of Water?

It’s quite easy to germinate seeds in a glass of water and one of the quickest methods. However, you have to keep a close eye on your seeds as they can quickly drown. Place your seeds in the glass with water and as soon as you notice them crack open, transport them into soil.

…In Peat Moss?

Peat moss is ideal for sprouting seeds. If you decide to germinate them with this material then you have no need to transport them. Ensure that you leave the peat moss loose around the seed so it can easily reach the surface.

…In A Plastic Bag?

Plastic bags provide your seed with a greenhouse effect. These are a great way to speed up the germination process. However, when using this method you will still need something to put your seeds on. Unless you just fill the plastic bag with water and place the seeds directly into them.