Family cloth: would you go toilet paper-free?

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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.

Aww, lookit this adorable bundle of pre-made Family Cloth wipes for sale on Etsy!

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!

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.”

Family cloth from etsy seller moocowmomma as seen on offbeat home
Family cloth from etsy seller moocowmomma

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?

Comments on Family cloth: would you go toilet paper-free?

  1. I don’t know about Family Cloth… I don’t think I would want to used cloths sitting around long enough to accumulate a full load’s worth!

    In some parts of the world, people have “bum guns” – little sprayers installed by the toilet to give your bum a spray down after bowel movements. It takes some time to master the perfect spray that gets you clean without creating a giant wet spot all over your clothes, but it could be a good alternative.

    And of course, the tried-and-true eco-friendly approach is a basin of water with a dipper in combination with a hand! Although it sounds “unhygienic,” it really isn’t when you have soap and hot water to wash up afterward!

      • That’s what I’ve been using in Tanzania! Water is a required part of the cleansing ritual for Muslims (they’re required to wash with water and be clean in order to pray) so they’re very common in Muslim countries/homes. They’re awesome, and actually *quite* nice and refreshing on hot days.

    • My husband and I bought a “bum gun” type bidet about a month ago, and we are LOVING it. It’s such a pleasant way to clean yourself, and I definitely feel a lot cleaner using it, too.

      Plus, this style of bidet can double as a diaper-cleaner when we have kids. And to rinse out any particularly yucky things we discover when we do our bimonthly fridge clean-out.

      We’re planning on having what basically amounts to very clean versions of family cloths in the bathroom, for the purposes of drying off after using the bidet. But right now we still have most of a Costco Lifetime Supply of Toilet Paper package under our sink, so we haven’t been in a huge rush.

    • Waiting too long for a full load is one reason why I haven’t made the switch yet. However, when baby comes in the fall it’ll be easy to throw the cloths in with the diapers and wipes!
      We’ll also likely attach a “bum gun” for cleaning diapers, so we’ll see if we can work that into toilet routines for the rest of the household.

    • Actually most toilets in the Middle East, even public ones, have either a bidet or a “bum gun” sprayer to use. Frankly, I think using the sprayer leaves you cleaner than using TP alone. And if you sprayed first and used family cloths afterwards, you’d only be getting water on the family cloths. I’d still wash them in the washer before reusing, but if you’re squeamish you can eventually get a washer with a sterilyze function. It’s great for baby diapers too.

      Hubby and I bought a sprayer (Hubs grew up in the Middle East so he’s used to it) intended to use as a diaper sprayer. We figure that we’ll get double use out of it when we have babieezz. πŸ™‚

      • Unfortunately, you can’t use the sterilize function on your washer with cloth diapers. The water gets too hot for the PUL fabric and would damage their water-proofness.
        However, you can use eco friendly “bleach” once in a awhile that gets everything squeaky clean!

  2. Like Imba, I was going to suggest a bidet. Apparently there are special toilet seats with bidet sprayer things attached. This would result in using much less toilet paper. It would also use less water than washing those cloths (and no need for any soaps/etc. either.)

    I’m sorry, but I would not use these cloth wipes. Just would not happen. For the most eco-conscious among us, there are probably many, many other things we can improve upon in our daily lives before turning to a washing machine full of poo. But that’s just me. More power to anyone who can do this…

  3. I knew a lady who lived in a motorhome part time, and there are certain issues with that (dumping the tanks, paper clogging up the dump tube, etc.) She did this, but ONLY for pee. Poo got regular TP. It kept her from having to dump her tanks as often, and kept them easier to dump with no excess paper. I thought it was pretty smart.

    • Use it just for pee! That’s brillant! And I agree with Cat — I would just throw it in the regular wash. I’m not squicky about pee.

      But I still won’t do this overall. LOL. TP will be the last thing I give up. You’ll have to tear it from my cold dead fingers.

    • I bought some cloths for this purpose about 5 or 6 years ago (these days I would make them myself, I think), with the intention of using them for pee only — which I did for awhile. I threw them in with some of my other wash (doesn’t seem like it would be THAT much worse than underpants), though I doubt I’d want to do them if I used them for poo, too. I also lived alone at the time, so I didn’t have to try to convince anyone else whether it might be a good idea or not. I haven’t used them for their original purpose in awhile — they make very nice, soft hanky substitutes when I’m sick, though (they’re flannel). The only reason I haven’t used them is because I got lazy about getting them all together after the wash (some ended up in my underwear drawer, some random other places) and putting them back in the bathroom. Every so often I think about putting them into that use again… though I’m married now and not certain how my husband would feel about it (for pee only purposes, he’d probably be fine with it, though).

      They were nice and soft and absorbant to use, though. Toilet paper has been annoying me lately, for various reasons, so this may be the impetus I need to get back to using cloth – at least part time.

  4. I cloth diaper my kid, but for some reason I can’t handle the thought of cloth wipes like this for the adults. I realize that doesn’t make sense at all, but I just can’t reconcile it.

    I will hold hands with my TP (for my bungholio!!) forever.

  5. I’m right there with you, Ariel. I switched to cloth pads because I did the mental, “If cloth is good enough for my baby, it ought to be good enough for me,” thing — and it was one of the best personal hygiene decisions I’ve made. And wouldn’t family cloth be great when you’re stretched between paychecks and run out of toilet paper? Intellectually, family cloth is brilliant.

    But I just can’t shake the squick factor. I’m not bothered by things that have been pooped on, nor am I bothered by small child poop. The second it becomes adult poop that I have to clean, my mind goes NO NO NO NO NO YOU KEEP THAT TO YOURSELF. Which is why I never became a CNA. (True story.)

    I can fall back on “My husband won’t go for it” for now, though. Totes not my fault, y’all. >__>; Right now, I just try to do my best to use as little toilet paper as I can. (Also challenging when my potty-training toddler wants to wipe every time he farts.)

  6. I’ve considered it, and to be honest I’m still considering it. I cloth diaper my kiddo and use cloth wipes with her, I use cloth pads for myself… it really isn’t a big step to move to washable “toilet paper”. My washer has seen lots of poop through the wash cycle, and cleanliness isn’t an issue (even with just one wash). Its more getting over the North American perception of clean that is the big issue for most people.

    Plus, living in a house with 100 year old pipes and hard water, cloth wipes would be nicer to my house and my pocket book (we have to pay someone to come and clear out our pipes once a year or so, with really harsh awful chemicals). We’ve been told only to use 1ply paper (anything cushier creates big problems in our pipes), so cloth would be so much nicer on my butt. And no harsh chemicals down my toilet would be a big plus.

    The only thing holding us back really is just getting up the gumption to actually do it. Now I’m inspired..I already have cloths ready to go. Might as well just grab a small hamper and put it next to my toilet this weekend. πŸ˜‰

      • We use these at home, and have for a few months. We have a bin to collect them next to the toilet and wash them every few days, and I have never noticed any odor issues from it, and we just do a single washing cycle with some bleach added in it. They go in with other cleaning rags and stuff like that, usually, and it’s never been an issue. It saves SO much money over the longer run. My wife actually made some herself from old cloth we did not need any more, and it is *much* more comfortable/softer to use than any toiler paper I have tried. I’m definitely happy with the switch.

        But we do keep regular paper for guests, as I don’t expect everyone to be okay with it πŸ™‚

  7. I would have used cloth diapers if I’d had a kid to use them on, I use a Diva Cup, I use dish towels more often than paper in the kitchen – but yech. I don’t think I could do it for anything more than pee.

  8. No, I can’t ever imagine doing this. I think it’s the reusing something that’s been next to someone else’s poo that grosses me out. I mean, underwear doesn’t always come off at the end of the day smelling fresh from the wash, but we reuse those so maybe if I lived alone I’d consider it. Maybe? I don’t know it just seems too gross to me. More power to those who’ve made it work though. (confession: I sometimes convince myself that it’s okay if I don’t do the most eco-concious thing because five people elsewhere are doing it and that must balance it out somewhere, right? Probably not.) Also the toilet paper in that picture is hung backwards.

    • “Also the toilet paper in that picture is hung backwards.”
      BWAHAHAHAHA I said the same thing to myself when I looked at that picture!!! That’s one of my pet peeves.

    • Ha, about the toilet paper being “backwards”. My mother always hung the paper this way because when kids or pets hit at it, it doesn’t all unroll, and for some reason, the particular TP we use unrolls toward the end of the roll to end up on the floor if hung “right”.

  9. I think I’d be cool with it for pee, but for anything else, I’d end up using just… SO much bleach. I had this crazy stomach bug last year that made me even more suspicious of having any sort of bodily anything hanging about too long.

  10. Couldn’t use family cloth for poop. Since we talked about this post, though, I’ve been thinking about using it for peeee! I’m sure I’ll take the plunge eventually.

  11. I think the ick factor for me, is that while you get used to cleaning one kids diaper. You’re talking about a whole family of BMs. Washing it all out, and reusing ones that someone else has used, seems a little unreal.

    I think it’s a multiplication factor. My diva cup is mine alone. I would never ever let anyone else use it- that just starts to get weird, for me.

  12. Most people who’ve written about family cloth (that I’ve read) stick with using it for pee. I haven’t made the leap yet because hubby has no use for it (as men tend to do their shake and move on) and it would take too long to get a full laundry load worth, but I definitely plan to start as soon as our baby arrives in September and I’m doing laundry more than 3 times a month anyway.

      • No, not that I’d need a full load worth of the cloth – just that I’d need a full load of laundry. I wouldn’t want them sitting around for more than a few days, and hubby and I don’t seem to go through that much laundry… I don’t think?

        • Most washers have a small load cycle. I will use for pee but not BM. I worked in Nursing Homes and they used washable diapers for the whole group of residents. They washed them and used them all from the cart. Everyone used everyone else’s. They finally moved to disposable diapers after we told them it was like if we all piled our underware in the floor, washed them, then just picked us out a pair the next day when we came to work….that didn’t sit well when we use that comparison.Definately toilet paper for visitors….

          • The answer is yes.

            For even moar awesome cleaning, put in a little baking or washing soda. But the ammonia is actually beneficial.

            Our house is definitely changing over to family cloth once we have:

            a- a baby, which means using cloth diapers
            b- a washing machine. I am NOT washing diapers or family cloth at the laundromat.

        • I had a cat who would pee on my stuff when he was stressed so I started getting enzyme cleaner and vinegar and it totally took cat pee smell out of everything! I’ve also used it when my daughter had accidents, it breaks down the proteins…that would work beautifully for family cloths

        • As I understand it, the ancient Romans used to collect urine in a cistern and wash laundry in it. Ammonia breaks down oils so the clothes would be cleaner.

          A healthy person’s urine is generally sterile, so no problem with using family cloths for urine. Depending on the fabric they’re made of, the cloths could be washed with towels, etc. using hot water.

          If you were using the cloths for feces, you would handle it as you would diapers – rinse the biological materials out and wash no less than twice weekly. I know diaper services wash once a week, but they use harsh chemicals and TONS of water.

      • I do use cloth menstrual pads, and after soaking the blood out of them in a pail, I throw them in with my black clothing load! So no, probably not weird. Unless I am also weird.

        I do get 100% recycled FSC-certified TP. That’s as far as I think I can go on this one.

        • The thing is, if you have a front loading machine (more energy, water, and soap efficient) there is no such thing as a “small load” setting…

          • My front-loading washer has a sensor that causes it to use less water when there’s a smaller load. And it’s about 6 or 7 years old by now; I’m sure it’s standard technology on newer models.

    • Sort of unrelated, but I had a health teacher in high school who tried to convince us that blow jobs were gross because “girls, boys don’t wipe after they pee!” I was absolutely flabbergasted that she thought this was a revelation and somehow a deterrent. I mean, seriously? Minute amounts of dried pee? And swiping it with paper was supposed to improve it?

      We just have the WEIRDEST notions of clean.

      • Hahaha, oh health teachers. Not that blowjobs ARE gross, because duh — they aren’t, but if they WERE, I think that would be the last reason I’d come up with. What a wackadoodle.

      • I have to admit there have been times when the thought would suddenly flash into my mind mid-blowjob that “hey, he pees through this!”

        It doesn’t stop me, but I do try to think of pretty much anything else.

        • Steven Merchant used to remark that he was extra diligent in shaking if we was on a date, because, hey, she might have her mouth down there later. haha.

          • OT: but I just want to note that the comment stream from this post perfectly encapsulates why I love the Offbeat Empire. I’m laughing myself to tears over here. Thanks!

    • Personally I could never do this. I can barely handle my own poop, let alone someone elses! Plus there’s that whole, “Someone has wiped their poop-butt on this” One time my sister took a pair of my underwear to borrow, washed it, then gave them back. I told her to keep ’em. If I can’t handle that, I can’t handle this.

      I use “green” TP. It’s recycled and it’s more biodegradable than other brands. So I suppose that counts for something.

      Although, honestly, I want a Japanese toilet. Those things are AMAZING.

      • My aunt has a Toto and it blew my mind/ass a few years ago — those things are SO FUCKING COOL. Too expensive to be realistic for most of us (my aunt’s was wholesale from an interior designer friend) but still: SO freaking amazing. Your butt will never be the same after you’ve had a remote controlled butt shower and then a heated blow dry.

        • Man, sounds like I missed out when I went to Japan and was too chicken to use the Toto properly. I was afraid it would splash up on my clothes and I’d have a wet stripe up the back of my shirt! For future reference–does this happen?

  13. Back in the old days, everyone had their own cloth in the out house and it was your responsibility to keep your out house cloth clean. If it wasn’t hanging on your nail then you couldn’t steal someone elses and you were screwed. I think I like the idea of everyone having their own rag and taking care of it for themselves. How many times can you poop and pee at home in a day? That’s how many cloths you need, make ’em dirty, then clean ’em and start over. I think I’d want to be doubley “anal” and have one color for #1 and one color for #2. πŸ™‚

    • all my older relative who used outhouses have never spoken of cloths. They all claim that they used torn out pages from the Eaton’s catalogue.

      • When I was a kid, I spent a couple of weeks at my family’s farmstead in southern Sweden. The farm didn’t have running water and we had to use an outhouse. Unless you brought your own TP, you just ripped a page out of an old news paper or old styled magazine. Exactly like your older relative mentioned.

        • Jax might be talking about older than your oldest relatives–like, rural 1800s and earlier. I know there was a very historically inaccurate TV show that portrayed this… Prairie House, or something? Back in the day/place where magazines and newspapers weren’t abundant.

  14. We LOVE our family cloth and even get irritated when we have to use paper in other locations…it seriously does not do as good of a job. For us, cloth diapers allowed us to enter the family cloth scene by realizing that it is A: simple to do and B: sanitary. We simply keep a “wet bag” by the potty, when it is full dump it into the washer w/ my pads or other household cloth…do a pre-rinse/wash w/ no detergent, then a full on wash w detergent and an extra rinse at the end. Then pop everything into the dryer. Easy peasy and so much more environmentally friendly than TP,disposable menstrual pads, paper towels etc. My hubby has his BS in both zoology and microbiology (he is super microbe conscious) soooo if he can hang w/ it and deems it “sanitary”…most everyone can get on board. I think it is more a mental block than an actual issue of cross-contamination or general sanitation.

    • Totally 100% agree that it’s a mental block. I really want to get on board, and my own intellect is like DUDE SERIOUSLY, GET OVER IT: IT’S REALLY SMART.

  15. I told my husband literally minutes before seeing this post in my reader that we need to switch to family cloth already. We use cloth diapers and I use cloth pads and I don’t know when the last time a paper towel was in our house.. It just makes sense that we’d switch over to family cloth.

    • I used family cloth for a while and I liked it so much more than toilet paper. Our sink is right in front of our toilet so it was easy to wet the cloth before wiping. It was soft and nice, way better than even the expensive TP. I want to get back into it, I just need to get a wetbag for the bathroom and make some more wipes.

      • I think I would definitely need to get a spray bottle. We have a water closet with no sink, just a good old toilet, so water isn’t handy.

        Did you use different colours for different family members? I was honestly just going to use what we have made, which is mostly off white. It all gets washed together, I guess I’m just not too worried about it all.

  16. I want to get a sprayer, and I have some flannel sheets to cut up for this, but I have the can for the and I’m all set mentally to make the switch. We wash a load of towels at least once or twice a week, so I have no problem throwing a lingerie bag full of wipes in with them.

    But then, I switched to cloth pads 6 years ago. It has taken me this long to mentally prepare for this switch, and part of that process was accepting that I will, indeed, be cloth diapering my future children. I don’t really care what anyone else in the family does, although I suspect my Other Half will probably get on board eventually. He’s gotten pretty good about humoring me on these types of things and at least giving them a try.

  17. Since we are already cloth diapering this is not a huge stretch for me. I would just wash them with my cloth diapers, since those are covered in poop and pee too. Hubby has a harder time coming to terms with this thought, but like I say to him, if you were out of tp would you rather use a wash cloth or nothing.

  18. I consider myself an eco-friendly person for the most part… but I would rather single-handedly end the earth with my wastefulness than have a bucket of poopy rags in my house (let alone my WASHER, where I WASH MY CLOTHES. Nevermind that I don’t currently use hot water washes very often, and I never use bleach, and both would have to become regular parts of life if you were washing shitrags.)

    I can see how it might be easier to swallow if you’ve already done the cloth diapering thing… but still. I’m a total babyphobe who finds baby poop super gross and even *I* know that adult poop is still way grosser somehow. (And luckily I don’t want kids, because I’d never make it through cloth diapering either.)

    • A, I think you and I are secretly the same person. I just can’t get there, and if all the other reasons I don’t want children suddenly disappeared there’d still be the obstacle of knowing that somewhere, somehow, I’d have to change a diaper. I have cats and a dog and that doesn’t bother me…but the WIPING and the DIAPERING just…ewwww. Skeevy.

      As a side note, I’m not sure if anyone’s already said this or not (I left the page and came back so I think I missed something in the comments), but I know a couple people were saying their biggest problem was with sharing them. Why not color code them? Husband gets blue, you get pink, etc? I mean, if that’s your biggest beef, color coding should be an easy way to make sure your poop cloth is yours alone. πŸ™‚

  19. Maybe if you were only eating raw this could work well. Much less squick factor to contend with then! But I still would like to see a factoid on washing laundry vs. toilet paper usage for the environment.

    As for bidets, I got to try one on my honeymoon, and I only wish they were more common here!

  20. Yes! I am all for it, although pee only for me so far. I just throw my wipes in the babies cloth diaper bucket. I don’t know what I’ll do when he toilet trains…

    My husband is not on board, but is fine with whatever I choose to do in the bathroom πŸ˜‰

  21. From reading these comments I think the ideal solution would be having a bidet to rinse off the poo and then use the cloth to dry after. Of course only cloth for pee. I’d also want a garbage can with a tight seal with a foot release and durable wet bag. This would of course be best for a family who does laundry daily. Just toss the family cloths into the napkin/dish towel/hand towel/diaper load and wash em up. I mean, we put our underwear (even the more heavily soiled ones from our oops moments) in with our regular clothes loads, there is no reason to think that putting family cloth with other cloth cleaning items wouldn’t be sanitary. I do know that human poop stains pretty bad and with cloth diapering after solid foods you have to rinse the diaper before you wash it. This is why rinsing with a bidet first seems more appropriate. However a bidet by itself seems no more comfortable than peeing and attempting to drip dry without toilet paper.

  22. NOPE. As long as you can get toilet paper made from recycled paper and it’s still cheap (Come on, you can’t tell me that cheap toilet paper costs that much more than running load of these through the wash with hot water and soap) I will stay on the toilet paper train. I am eco concious but there is no was I’m keeping shitty cloth in my bathroom! what about the squick fctor for guests alone!?

    • That’s a good point, if I went into someone’s bathroom and realized that that stack of (clean) rags on the toilet meant that the hamper next to the toilet was full of nasty ones, I’d probably gag a bit. And if you don’t notice, and go to throw away a tissue in the wrong bin or something…..aaahhhhh!!

      (I also can’t quite believe that it wouldn’t smell like poo all the time, even with a tight lid. Our compost bin has a lid, but it’s still stanky when it’s full, and always lets out a belch of rotten air whenever you open it momentarily.)

      • Anecdote: In Greece, you can’t flush toilet paper, you have to put it in bins beside the toilet and then throw it away later. Often, these bins do not have lids.

        So, I’m in Greece, during August, and I’m thinking: you’ve got to be joking! It’s a hundred degrees outside, and there are about 15 of us sharing two bathrooms… it’s going to smell awful!

        But it really didn’t. I think, ultimately, there’s not normally that much poo on the toilet paper you flush, so there’s not much to get smelly. Even after a whole weekend’s worth of toilet paper gathering there, it was fine. Go figure.

        • At my place of business we have a lot of employees who are not originally from the US. In the bathrooms, there is a sign that says not to put used toilet paper in the trash can, but rather to flush it. For the longest time I have been thinking “what sicko would leave their poo in the can??”
          And I now realize how ignorant I have been of the perfectly logical scenarios of pooping in other countries. Wow. Thanks for the info!

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