Family cloth: would you go toilet paper-free?

That's not a box of tissues on the back of the toilet -- that's FAMILY CLOTH! Photo courtesy of Penniless Parenting
Ok, we've talked about all sorts of eco-friendly home hacks, but let's try the final frontier of reusable toiletries: FAMILY CLOTH. The concept is pretty straight-forward: rather than wipe your butt with paper that you then wad up and flush into the septic system, you use small squares of soft fabric that you then wash and reuse.

It makes sense, right? People use cloth diapers all the time. What's the difference? You can even do like the folks at Penniless Parenting did here, and make a nice little Kleenex-like dispenser that goes on the back of your toilet tank, and then a nice little hamper with a lid next to the toilet. Line it with an old pillow case that you can lift out and toss in the wash and VOILA: you never even have to SEE the poopy fabric. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! Makes perfect sense, right? Plus, some people claim that you get cleaner — no bits of toilet paper left behind in MY butt crack, no ma'am!

Aww, lookit this adorable bundle of pre-made Family Cloth wipes for sale on Etsy!
In my head, I say YES. Yes, this makes perfect sense, and I am totally going to hop over to Etsy and buy some adorable Family Cloth wipes and start using them on my butt TODAY! In my head, I am completely on board with Family Cloth.

But somehow, deep in my belly (…in my bowels?) the idea just squicks me out. How clean is clean enough? How many times would I have to run the clothes through the wash to feel ok with it? (Two times, with really hot water?) Then you get into the whole "If it uses that much water, is it REALLY eco-conscious?" debate. Then I'm just like EW SHIT STREAKED FABRIC SITTING NEXT TO MY TOILET GROSS! and clutch at my familiar rolls of toilet paper (so soft, so clean, so flushable) and coo "It'll always be you and me, T.P. Together forever."

I feel like this makes me a eco-weakling and like I'll eventually get over it. I mean, maybe if it was just pee?

But what about you: would you ever consider switching to Family Cloth?

  1. Here's the icky thing, unless I am on my period, I do not wipe after I pee. Its a waste. I spend enough time on the toilet anyways checking facebook, reading or playing a video game that I drip dry. As for my but, that makes up for all the tp I save from not wiping.

    1 agrees
  2. Nope. I have friends that use family cloth and it doesn't bother me, but it's outside of my comfort zone :)

    I tried to tell my husband about it and his eyes were about to pop out of his head. He didn't even say a word….. I don't think I've ever rendered him speechless before!

    3 agree
  3. This is one I really feel the need to weigh in on. We've been VERY slowly (in my opinion) working toward going as paperless as possible.

    Right now we've got cloth napkins & use cloths in the kitchen as paper towels/ "sponges"/ hand towels.

    I switched to the Diva Cup & am working on cloth pads as well (mostly for those days when my cramps just won't allow for anything but pads). So far, so good, yeah?

    My next adventure is going to be handkerchiefs. Less gross than family cloth–sort of the next step on the spectrum.

    The thing is there's only 2 of us for now, & we have to wait for a full load of laundry to accumulate. We use all white cloth napkins & almost all white rags in the kitchen, so we're adding to our smallest load (whites) in hopes that it'll accumulate more regularly.

    BUT… my husband still doesn't change the dang kitchen rags frequently enough (I am CONSTANTLY realizing how nasty the rag near the sink is & going, "WHY is he USING this?!! HOW is anything getting CLEAN?!?").

    I know he'd want to do loads of family cloth every freaking day of the week *IF* I could ever get him on board with it (as the Magic 8-Ball would say: Outlook Not So Good). Except at this rate, we'd NEVER accumulate things fast enough.

    Plus, there IS that squick-factor– no matter how bizarre. WHY is it different than baby poop?

    And then there's the baby poop discussion:
    We're both leaning, once again, toward being pretty close to pretty sure that we want to invite baby poop into our lives… *EVENTUALLY.* We're 24 & 22. We don't feel the need to rush. BUT, I've basically already decided that cloth diapering & cloth diaper wipes with homemade solution will be the method in our house. Cloth diapers rule these days. I've seen the math worked out: it's TONS cheaper AND it's more eco-friendly. Plus, we make our own laundry soap now (thanks, Offbeat Home!), so we're frugal in that respect as well.

    So, it's looking like this for us:

    –Already cloth napkin-ing
    –Diva cup happening
    –making own laundry soap

    –Work on frequency of rag changing
    –handkerchiefs
    –cloth pads
    –cloth diapers in 5-10 years when we're ready to do that
    –cloth wipes w/ homemade solution
    –Family cloth!?

    I figure by the time we amass all of these cloth things that need washing, plus add to the population of people using all this stuff, plus we'll be ridiculously desensitized to the amount of poop in our lives. If we just start doing it when the baby starts doing it, there'll be so much poop involved that we'll barely notice how gross it is anymore.

    And that's my theory. I'll get back to you in 5-10 years if it fails because grown-up poop is gross. lol

    0 agree
    • I'm not sure I'd want to wash the napkins/dishrags in the load with the diapers/family cloths :-/ Even if it ends up perfectly sanitary… poo stains. And stains mean there are tiny particles left behind. And you'll KNOW that. Ack.

      7 agree
    • Handkerchiefs! They're the best, for real. I've been using handkerchiefs since I got back from Japan, because everyone there uses them and they are SO CUTE OMFG. Everyone else in my group was running around buying clothes and stuff, and I ended up with a giant collection of adorable handkerchiefs.

      And it turns out, there's a lot of random times in the day where you need scrap cloth and there usually isn't any. Spilled your coffee? Water ring on the wooden table? Forgot a napkin? No paper towels/air dryers in the public bathroom? Got a cut and don't want to drip blood all the way to the bandaids? These things used to happen to me all the time, and now I don't even notice, 'cause I always have a cloth.

      My favorites are the terry cloth ones, because they're great for sweat and tears and drying your hands (if you haven't used it for other stuff already, obviously) as well as sneezing and stuff. I have three Totoro-themed handkerchiefs and they're the best ever. I mean, look at this: http://www.flutterscape.com/product/no/18640/studio-ghibli-tonari-no-totoro-handkerchief-towel

      So good.

      1 agrees
  4. I used to use cloth diapers on my kids, but we had a diaper service that washed the diapers in scaldingly hot water that was much hotter than what anybody has in a private home. I'm not convinced that most homes can get their water hot enough to sanitize diapers or family cloths at home.
    I'm sticking to flushable wet wipes. (Now available in large quantities at Costco in their Kirkland brand.)

    2 agree
    • You could always boil water in a kettle, although you'd probably need multiple loads. Alternatively I've never used it so I don't know for sure it's right but my washing machine has a 90 degree celcius setting. To get it much hotter than that you'll need pressure to stop it boiling, but I would have thought 90 degrees would be enough for killing most things.

      0 agree
  5. I use cloth for pee, but can't get past the whole BLEARGH factor for poo. I did use cloth dipes for my kiddo, but paid a diaper service to pick up the gnarly ones and wash/sterilse them for me. Because… bleah. No. Anyway. I have a nifty glazed ceramic pot that I line with a cloth drawstring bag sitting next to the toilet to gather them in. I wash my cloths with towels (not kitchen ones though), and use a strong vinegar solution in that load. The vinegar seems to kill any unwanted smells or whatever. Haven't had any problems with this system so far (been doing it for a year or so).

    1 agrees
  6. For the sake of laundromat karma (if I don't do it, neither will the person using the machine before me….please, universe?), I'm gonna say nooooooo. :P

    1 agrees
  7. When I first read this, my initial reaction was: Eeeeeekkkkkk! Maybe if I lived alone, but not with the both of us!
    But the more I think about it the more it makes sense. We use wet rags to clean up after a bedroom session and sometimes, if it's been raunchy, that means cleaning up more than just his contributions so we're basically doing it already. And yes the rags do get stained, but we're careful and I've never had a problem in the microbe department. So if we colour coded I don't think I'd have a huge problem with this, the big question would be storage of used ones in the bathroom and that is entirely dependent on the size and shape of your bathroom and your container. And then there's getting the SO to think along these lines and go along with it which is a whole other ball of wax.

    0 agree
    • Excellent point: if you have a cum rag, you've basically already done family cloth.

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  8. Truthfully I really want to convert to cloth in many areas of our lives, but it is really hard to get the habit rolling. Our son is now 8+ months and my diapering with cloth failed miserably (just didn't have the system set up ahead of time and our second hand dipes leaked…).

    I would be okay with rinsing with a sprayer/bidet type setup, then wiping with cloth. Many people have mentioned stains, and I know that sun drying gets baby poop stains out, so does it work for adult ones too? Color coding would be necessary for us, as we don't share undies, lol.

    But come on, I guess many people probably don't want to admit that they are wearing the same undies they put on this morning (cloth), despite numerous trips to the toilet and TP wiping that doesn't get you as clean as washing with water anyway… >_> and that doesn't even touch on bodily functions such as gas or leaks.

    I believe this year I will try this. I do a laundry load almost every day as a request of my husband (he works in healthcare and we have to sanitize his clothes frequently). We make our own laundry soap that works great too. And HE machines save on water, not just electricity, so we really are doing the environment a favor instead of flushing that TP.

    Finally, those of you who feel secure with "green" or recycled TP need to consider that the manufacturing/recycling of said product takes chemicals, machinery, and water, and produces byproduct in general. It is all some kind of exchange in the bigger picture.

    2 agree
  9. While the logical part of me knows that germs are everywhere in a bathroom (seriously, don't even think about your toothbrush right now or you'll gag) the less logical part of me thinks that I just wouldn't want to do anything to increase the possible spread of serious bacteria. For example, my husband was diagnosed with c. diff after he had some surgery, but it took 3 hospital stays and extensive testing to figure it out. I know that c. diff is everywhere, but if I can avoid leaving it sitting around my bathroom, then that's the option I'm going with. The fact is that so many of us are carrying around so much bacteria that _can_ become problematic for someone even a little immunocompromised – young children, old people, sick people, etc.

    You're likely pooping out MRSA, or c. diff, or some unknown virus – do you really want other members of your family wiping themselves with that same rag, no matter if it's been washed on hot? I suppose that you could color code, or only use for pee, but honestly, I have to believe that buying earth-friendly TP and only using a little bit would come out even given the increased washing and/or bleach.

    2 agree
  10. We use family cloth. There's two of us (both girls) using it and we also chuck them in the laundry with nappies, and towels we use instead of cat litter. Just all goes on a very hot wash (with home-made washing powder of course!).

    We only use it for pee, we always have toilet paper to hand for poos! And also make sure we have enough paper in for when we have visitors (we don't expect them to use the cloth, obviously!).

    My partner actually made us a couple of little mini wetbags – so there's always a spare one for when the other is in the wash. We probably wash 1-2 times a week and you can kind of turn the wetbag inside out inside the machine and not even have to touch the cloths!

    The cloths themselves – we just bought a few cheapo packets of washcloths, cut each one in 4 and sewed them round the edges to minimise fraying.

    We also do use cloth nappies (as mentioned), cloth wipes, cloth pads, kitchen reusable wipes / napkins (instead of kitchen paper) so this was only really the next obvious step.

    Been doing it probably about 2 years now. Can't see why we'd ever change back. I feel much cleaner using cloth somehow and actually resent having to use paper when using a loo elsewhere!!

    1 agrees
      • Hi Fiona….I'm Carly's partner. We have been using towels for cat litter for a couple of weeks now.

        We use old tea towels, cut up old beach towels and old muslins. Usually only change it once a day in the morning. I pick the poo off the towel with a shame-on-me plastic bag – I want to get in the habit of picking it up with toilet paper and putting it in the toilet. The used towels get put in a black bag (if we continue this long term I'll prob make a wet bag that can be thrown in the washing machine with the dirty towels).

        We usually wash the towels once or twice a week. We put them on a hot wash and usually throw other things in with them like more towels, cloths, etc.

        One down side is that we have to lock our cats in the living room at night (one can open doors and the other chooses to race around the house like a lunatic at 2am, both of these activities wake us and our daughter). Our living room is a large open plan living/dining room, so it can get a bit smelly because the tray is left in the middle of the room. It usually sits in a little nook in our kitchen so we don't get much smell from it out there.

        I definitely want to keep doing it, not sure about how money it's saving what with the extra washing vs the cost of cat litter but it's better for our fluffy ones and for the environment (no chemicals or whatever else they add to cat litter, just our own towels washed in home made washing detergent)

        Wow, that was a ramble.

        1 agrees
  11. I use cloth menstrual pads, and I use family cloth for pee (TMI: I use wet wipes for poop, because I have a chronic disease and I poop a lot, and my bum gets sore). I live alone in a small apartment with a very small washer/dryer, so I use a large wet bag (like for cloth diapers) and it fills up fast enough that I wash it in time. I used to have chronic UTIs and yeast infections, and I haven't had a single one since I started using family cloth. I love it. I bought mine at the lunapad store. I like that I can use it for anything–cleaning up spills, kleenex when I'm sick, etc.

    Even if I only use it for pee, I figure it saves paper and money. I still buy toilet paper, but it lasts longer, and I never run out, because I always have family cloth around.

    0 agree
  12. Okay, so TMI warning.

    I once spent 3 months on an Outward Bound trip. It was loads of fun.

    If you leave your pee rag to dry in the sun between uses, it doesn't smell. Even if it's a week between resupplies. (The two caveats: One, I'm not talking "shove your nose into it" doesn't smell. Two, after six weeks with no showering you get used to smelling… very human.)

    And yes, there are many things you can wipe with that aren't toilet paper. However, after three months of evaluating sticks for poop-wiping capabilities….. well, I always have room in the budget for TP. (The fancy quilted kind even!)

    1 agrees
  13. I have two more words for everyone: FLUSHABLE WIPES!

    I think I would stick with my wipes for my butt, and maybe switch my TP use (for #1) to Family Cloth.

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  14. If one's GI tract is working properly, there is little to nothing to wipe after a number 2! :)

    6 agree
    • That is what I found, too. If there are intestinal 'malfunctions' so to speak, I do use paper just because it's not worth it getting super messy. But normal bowel movements usually leave very, very little to actually wipe.

      2 agree
    • And if your GI tract ISN'T working properly, no toilet paper in the world will get you clean without rubbing you raw. No paper is that soft. I'll choose grossness over interminable suffering any day.

      2 agree
  15. "Then you get into the whole "If it uses that much water, is it REALLY eco-conscious?" debate. "

    I took a course in Product Life Cycle Analysis while doing my B.Sc in Environmental and Resource Science where we addressed the issue of cloth vs. disposable diapers, which is quite comparable.

    Basically, there is no way to determine which approach is over all "the best". Both choices have environmental costs, but comparing the two is like apples and oranges.

    Therefore, it makes sense to look at your local situation. If you live somewhere where there are water use issues (for example, anywhere that draws water from the Colorado River) then toilet paper might be a better option.

    4 agree
  16. I can honestly say I don't feel the need to go paper free in that area. Cloth diapers? Sure. Toilet paper is easily biodegradable though so I feel no guilt flushing it.

    0 agree
    • It's not just where it ends up, it's also how it gets there, and where it comes from. It takes resources to manufacture TP, and it takes resources to run water processing plants to clean the water.

      2 agree
      • The same kind of resources needed to process wash water no?

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        • I meant having to filter out solids (clumps of paper) from the water being processed, I assume that takes more steps than merely filtering particles and sanitizing the water.

          1 agrees
  17. I use cloth for pee, as well as cloth pads (and am working on learning to use a diva cup). I made cloths by cutting in half a bunch of extra washcloths I had.

    They really don't smell, and pee is basically sterile, so it's not a sanitary issue to save them up til you have a full load.

    Using for #2 isn't something I think I can do though. If/when I have kids, I'd want to do cloth diapering, but that would be a queasy-ness issue too.

    0 agree
  18. Here's what I'm thinking…I wash my face with a washcloth. It could have been the one my husband previously used to wash his butt. Its clean. It looks clean, smells clean, generally doesn't ever bother me…yep, I could totally do family cloths…

    4 agree
  19. Nope, not for me. I don't think I will be cloth-diapering, either. No matter how eco-friendly it is supposed to be.

    (My sister tried cloth-diapering, and her duaghter actively refused the cloth diapers. What does this say about the kid? She's one trashy chick. ^^ )

    0 agree
  20. I don't think I could do this. Mainly because of the storage factor. There's only 2 of us here, we're both out of the house most of the time and I'm pretty sure there is no way in hell my husband would even consider it.

    Based on the amount of toilet paper we use it'd take at least a month to collect enough of these to fill the machine. And I'm not really sure washing a load of laundry on high heat with bleach or another disinfectant every month is really better than using an equivilent amount of recycled, biodegradable toilet paper.

    I could throw them in with other stuff so they're not sitting around as long but then thats even more hot, chemical filled washes when most of it won't need that.

    If you can get enough people in one home on board it'd probably reach a tipping point where it would be more eco friendly but for us I can't see the benefits outweighing the downsides.

    0 agree
  21. Like a lot of other folks, I think I could try this for pee, but the mental block re: poo is too much for me!

    And, obviously, I would keep some disposable TP around just in case/for guests. I use cloth towels in my kitchen but I keep some paper towels for backup, too. Sometimes you need something you can throw away (or you're gonna have to toss the occasional cloth, life is messy)!

    1 agrees
  22. I share a lot of the same concerns as everyone else, but also..the name "family cloth" is super weirding me out right now. Why is it called that??? It's the weirdest euphemism ever!

    5 agree
    • A commenter up-thread explained that back in the ol' days, each member of the family had their own cloth. Makes sense that this could then become "family cloth." No idea if this is true, but it makes sense to me.

      0 agree
      • My dad's family had an outhouse, so did my Nana and my great grands on that side back in the day (Yes, we're Appalachian Americans) and nobody used any cloth hanging on a nail. They used newspaper and catalog pages, with a bucket of sawdust and lime that you sprinkled down the hole afterwards for your leavins. I'm not saying that it never happened anywhere, just that it probably wasn't common. I agree that the term "family cloth" somehow skeeves me out even more than the idea of a hamper full of dookie rags in my bathroom does.

        I use cloth for cleaning, and we try to not be wasteful, and I would LOVE a bidet, but without a bidet I don't see this being an option we could use. My old washer does not get hot enough and I do not use bleach, so I'd always be worried that some nast was slipping through the cracks…

        1 agrees
    • I mentioned it to my husband and he agreed- He said the mental block was all about the name. He suggested "your very own person ass-rag" instead

      1 agrees
  23. I've wanted to switch to family cloth for a while. I cloth diaper my daughter (though my older one is in pull ups at night time–haven't found cloth ones that fit her well enough to not have leaks :( ), use mama cloth and a diva cup for myself, and am working on getting rid of the paper towels and paper napkins in the house (I had gotten rid of them for a while, but the hubs got pissy at me and that's the first thing he did, went out and bought some, then I got lazy again–we were paper free for like 3 months though, hehe). My husband freaks at the idea of family cloth, though, so I'd end up instituting it while he was deployed so he'd come home to a done deal, with the option to use TP for himself. I've talked to enough people who have done it–including one friend who gets easily squicked out by potty stuff–and I'm convinced I could handle it.

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  24. Ahem… attention world:

    Get over it!

    2 agree
  25. I'm adding to the "pee only" commenter list.I actually did a version of this for a month or two last year. My partner and I were sleeping in an unplumbed outbuilding on a country property. We went inside for everything else, but sometimes it is 3am and you have to pee and staggering the hundred yards to the house is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN without a terrible pee based accident and/or falling into a groundhog hole. So we peed outside. Now you female types may know where I am at here. I only have penis envy when it comes to peeing outside. People with male plumbing can just shake and be done with it, but people with female plumbing, well…I have a little song: "No matter how you wiggle, no matter how you dance, the last two drops always end up in your pants" Not fun when it's 3am and snowing! So I gathered up a big pile of worn out socks and used those to make the outdoor pee excursions much more pleasant. because urine is mostly water anyway, it was no problem to wash those out and reuse them. Not gross, and they can even get a first rinse-out with the hose if you're really freaked out.

    1 agrees

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