I recently switched over to using cloth in my bathroom, instead of toilet paper. The guest bathroom and Joshua’s bathroom still have toilet paper, but I’ve been enjoying cloth in my own. Like the switch from paper towels to washcloths in the kitchen and the switch to reusable menstrual products, switching to bathroom cloth has been equally satisfying. Here’s a little 101 on the whole idea.
The basic idea is that instead of using toilet paper, you use small pieces of fabric instead, toss them into a container after use, launder them, and reuse them. That’s it – a pretty simple idea, although the details can vary based on personal preference.
If you want to go Googling around for more information after reading this post, it’s usually called “family cloth” instead of bathroom cloth. My guess about the reason is that a lot of the online “crunchy” blogging comes from mothers. There’s cloth diapers for the baby. Then there’s cloth menstrual pads for mom, which are often called “mama cloth”. Then the cloth in the bathroom gets called “family cloth”. I don’t like using “mama cloth” – not every menstruating woman is a mother, by a long shot! And for the same reason, I don’t like saying “family cloth”. You don’t have to be in a family to use it, and the whole family doesn’t have to be on board. “Toilet cloth” and “bathroom wipes” are other terms used, but I think “toilet” and “wipes” are weird words, so I go with bathroom cloth.
Why do it?
I’ve replaced a lot of disposable paper items in my home with reusable, washable cloth, so using cloth in the bathroom makes a lot of sense for me, personally. If you’ve not switched over to cloth in other areas, bathroom cloth might not be the ideal starter move! Replacing paper towels in the kitchen is a comfortable place to start.
All of my decisions to switch to cloth begin with environmental concern. Here are some stats from this article, via Crunchy Chicken: Americans average out to using 57 sheets of toilet paper a day, 6 times the worldwide average. We like the fluffy kind, too. One and a half million tons of office paper and newspaper are thrown away yearly, even though it could be recycled into toilet paper. No one likes recycled toilet paper, though. We can’t even stand one-ply. It’s gotta be fluffy. Using cloth reduces the resources used to make the toilet paper, though it can’t do anything about office paper and newspapers (that’s another post!)
Environmental stats can never be the end of my thought process, though, because “helping the environment” is a huge topic with lots of interwoven aspects, and I’m not usually up to the math. In my Washcloths in the Kitchen post, I said, “The truth is that I don’t know for certain how this single choice stacks up environmentally. For example, am I wiping out all potential environmental benefits of reusing by washing them in hot water? I don’t know.”
I do know a few things, though. I know that I want to spend less money, which reusable products help me do. I know that I value simplicity, and having the things I need right on hand instead of having to continually shop for them brings simplicity to my life. And while for any individual action it may be hard to count the environmental costs, I strongly believe that over the course of all our small decisions, reusable is infinity better for the health of the planet than disposable.
Isn’t It Gross?
That depends entirely on you. I don’t find it gross at all, but I’m a dirty hippie, so your mileage may vary!
As far as touching body parts goes, using cloth doesn’t get your hands any closer to anything than they were before, unless you’re one of those giant wad of toilet paper people. 57 sheets a day! When Joshua used the cloths I made, he thought they were awkwardly small, but they seem just right to me. Picking the right size might matter for your comfort level.
The other concern some people have is that now there’s a container of soiled cloth sitting in your bathroom. Some people choose to use a non-airtight container, like one of those little trashcans with the flipping lid or a hanging bag (which you can hang from the now empty toilet paper holder!) Using a non-airtight container means that the cloth isn’t in there collecting an increasing smell in the container. Since many people use cloth only after urination, I’m not sure if those using it for defecation as well are using this method. Cloths used after urination have very little liquid left on them, and it seems reasonable to me to just toss them in a non-airtight container.
The other option is using a container that’s sealed. I prefer this method, since I use cloth for both urination and defecation, and I don’t personally like the idea of that sitting out. I use a container that’s easy to sanitize – a large re-purposed pickle jar. It has a wide mouth and is easy to screw the lid off, put the cloth in, and put the lid back on in the space of a single breath. If I had to hold my breath because of collecting smells, either at the time of use or when dumping the cloth into the washer, I would consider that an acceptable trade-off to having the used cloth sitting out. However! I have noticed that the jar doesn’t actually smell. It seems like it would, but mine doesn’t. When I’m washing the cloths, I rinse the jar and then spritz it down with a light bleach-water mix to sanitize it.
Like other cloth products, I’ve found using cloth in the bathroom to be a much nicer experience for my body. I’ve always used economy, one-ply toilet paper, just because the rolls last longer and I didn’t have to buy as often, so comfort has never been my priority in this area. However, even compared to the extra-fluffy variety of toilet paper, cloth is a better experience for me. It’s very, very soft. After defecation, the cloth cleans more efficiently than paper. Plus, there’s no chance of paper bits being left behind.
For use after defecation, some people have a spritz bottle on hand to spray the cloth with before use. Some use water. Some use home-concocted mixes with things like lavender and Dr. Bronner’s stuff in the mix. I put a little spray bottle near my toilet in the beginning, but I found that it was an unnecessary step for me. The cloth cleans fine on its own.
A Little or a Lot
I’ve read several other people online who want to switch to cloth or they have switched, but they have other family members who aren’t behind the idea. I hear, “I want to switch, but my family never would,” or, “I made everyone switch, but they’re all mad at me about it.” Everyone in your household doesn’t have to be on board in order for you to switch yourself. If you have multiple bathrooms, you can switch just one bathroom in your house, like I did, and leave the others with toilet paper. You can have both available in the bathroom – cloth for you and paper for others. With both of these options, you still have toilet paper on the shopping list, but you are still getting the other benefits, like comfort and reducing some paper usage.
Also, please don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing enough. Do what works for you. It might work for you to only use cloth for after urinating. You might try it for awhile, not like it, and give it up. You might use cloth sometimes and paper other times. The idea may not appeal to you at all! I always try to talk about these things from the perspective of what seems useful and fun to me, but nothing more.
My preference for making the cloths is to use discarded material that I already have on hand and re-purposing it. Others use material from thrift store items. There are some options available for buying pre-made cloth just for this purpose, but for me, that’s the least attractive option.
I use cotton knit shirts that have been eliminated from my closet due to a hole or stain. I simply cut them into rectangles, set them near the toilet, and that’s it. You could use old blankets or any number of other discarded material choices. Thicker materials that have a tight weave are better, but you probably don’t want fabric that’s stiff. Choose something soft. Also, I prefer something with a little bit of texture, like flannel or cotton knit, as opposed to something like cotton sheets or dress shirts that are very smooth.
As far as size, I’d recommending just cutting up a handful, seeing how you like it, and then readjusting as needed. You could try starting somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter the size of a washcloth.
Don’t forget you need to find a container for the used cloths. I delayed my switch a few days as I searched for something we already owned that I could use, before finally settling on the pickle jar. Also, some people recommend having a pair of tongs nearby when you first start out. Given the lifetime of previous habits, you might very well drop some in the toilet the first few times!
When it’s time to wash them, you need to use a wash method that sanitizes. Hot water or bleach are the two that I prefer, and I alternate between them. There may be other good sanitizing methods that I don’t know about.
How About You?
Have you tried using bathroom cloth? How did it go? Do you have any other questions? Let me know in the comments.