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. As someone else mentioned, I think you have to have your own washer/dryer for this… I’d feel pretty weird washing such intimate articles at a laundromat. Or by hand (bleh).

  2. My family and I used this system for quite a while and LOVED it! After that, some living situation things changed and we’ve been using TP again, but I really miss the cloth. It was simple, worked SO well for bum cleaning, and was of course eco-friendly. I’m looking forward to getting back to it! I just made my own wipes out of ollder and fraying towels, t-shirts, etc. The lightweight terry fabric (kitchen-rag-like material) seemed to be everyones favorite, followed by the inside of light hoodies (i sewed two pieces together so both sides were the hoodie inside material.)

  3. Ok, so, takeaways from the comments:

    1. First get a bidet/bum gun.
    2. Start taking fiber supplements and upping my probiotics intake.
    3. Start using “family cloth”!

    If we did 1 and 2, I’m sure we could do 3. But until then…. maybe I should work on decreasing my paper towel usage first….

  4. I’ve been in a recovery care center in Costa Rica now for several weeks healing after surgery. The recovery center is actually a ranch on the edge of the rainforest, volcano right outside my window. So, while the electricity is 99% and there is wifi and running water a plenty, the plumbing is something else to be considered.

    The ranch provides toilet paper, but they ask residents to please not flush the paper. There’s a special rubbish bin in the bathroom into which one is encouraged to deposit used paper. At first, I was pretty squeamish about the idea. Mostly, my hesitancy was rolled up into my own acknowledged OCD issues. The idea of having paper, even just pee paper, sitting there in a basket … just sitting there. Well, no.

    Walking into the bathroom the first time, considering the quandary of respect for my hosts, their property, and my need to be far away from biological dilemmas, I was at a loss about what to do. I wanted to honor my host’s septic system, but I also have certain criteria and conditioning in mind when it comes to personal hygiene. I’m the sort who not only uses toilet paper, I use too much. I also am Charmin Freshmates key demographic. I always follow up my routine with a baby wipe because I am loath to the idea of ever having a “smell”. (note: I said Freshmates, but I actually buy the cheapest baby wipes because they’re cheaper.)

    Cue Western showdown music: Confronting the toilet for the first time in a stand-off I surely could not win, I suddenly realized, “Hey, now, wait a minute, there’s a sink right there at my elbow!” So, I tossed a washcloth into the sink and ran the hot water over it before having a sit-down. As soon as I , ahem, finished my business, I grabbed the warm, wet washcloth and tidied up. I then tossed the washcloth back into the sink while I re-situated myself. As soon as I was all put back together, I immediately washed the washcloth with antibacterial soap. Heck, I’m washing my hands anyway, right? I wrung out the washcloth and hung it up for the next go-round, already clean! The next time, I did it again… and again… and again. I have to say, I’ve never felt cleaner and I plan to take this idea back home with me, not only because I do feel cleaner, but also because it saves me money and I hope to never deal with a clogged toilet ever again.

  5. We (two of us) have a sprayer attached to the toilet (the “bum gun” that was referenced earlier), and we have our own individual cloths that we use to dry ourselves after. We wash them every other day or so, with regular towels. We’ve been using it for about 4 years now (after a trip to India where the dipper + water left us feeling MUCH cleaner than TP), and it’s awesome. We keep TP in the house for guests, though.

    I can’t get down with the family towels without water first, though. That just feels icky to me.

  6. I poop at least twice a day, and I use two or three biodegradable wet wipes per poop. I tend to wrap these in some normal TP/a biodegradable nappy sack and stick them in with the usual household waste rather than flush them so they don’t go all clumpy. These cloths appear to be the same sort of size as a wet wipe, so I’d end up with minimum four poopy cloths hanging about after a day, and a good six or seven pee cloths. That’s 20 cloths for two days, which would probably merit a wash, more if i lived with someone else, at least double if there’s a babby around. That’s doing a load of laundry every other day.

    I can’t help but think that’s a) a whole bunch worse for the environment and b) inevitably HUGELY expensive?

    Bum guns are definitely the way forward, however. Although if I got one I’d just spend hours washing my gross bits every day. So refreshing!

    • Keep in mind, you probably wouldn’t use two per number-two.

      I have 110 cloths (I folded a queen flannel sheet in half, made 6x6inch squares and sewed the two layers together around each square), and I use about half of my stash a week. That includes using them when I am out and about. That’s for just me, and I have a pretty active bathroom life. That’s all I’m saying about that lol.

      Anyway, half of my stash fills the little tiny lidded trash bin I use for them, and they don’t smell funky sitting around for a week. Sometimes I feel I need more than the dry flannel, and so I have a spray bottle of homemade baby wipe solution (for a 12 oz bottle: 1 tbs your choice of liquid soap, 1 tbs mineral/any kind of oil, 1 tbs witch hazel which is totally optional for most people, a couple drops of essential oil if you want, fill the rest with either distilled water or boiled & cooled water). That being used for 1/3 of visits or so means that the bin smells like soapy lavender and nothing else. I sprayed a clean wipe and put it in a freshly cleaned bin for two days without adding more at one point, and it smelled exactly the same when I got back to it. Don’t really know why I did that. I think I was just testing to see if it was gross? Anyway because I talk about using them I figured I would test it for science lol.

      For washing: I soak the wipes overnight in a pail that came with cat litter. Any pail that’s twice the size of your dirty wipes bin will do. Pour in the amount of laundry soap for one load of laundry, a scoop of oxy-clean or store-brand equivalent (it’s peroxide in a solid state rather than a liquid one, you can use a half cup of hydrogen peroxide if you want), then the wipes, then hot water. I mush it around with a plunger (because they often get folded in use before going to the can), and let it soak overnight. Wash the next day with towels in hot water, just dump the entire tub of water and all right into the machine, and since it has the soap already they’re all clean clean clean. I’ve had no issues with them not getting clean this way (if you put them in a lingerie bag, they don’t always unfold, which can be an issue with popcorn. *ahem*). No problems with odors on them or the other towels or anything, either. I don’t use fabric softener, and I haven’t noticed any issues with the towels or the wipes being water repellant from the oil in the spray which was something I was concerned about happening.

      I do spray the bin with vinegar when I empty it, maybe once a month or so since my partner usually soaks the wipes and I know he doesn’t spray it. Not because it actually has had any issues, mostly because OCD and trying to prevent issues before they crop up.

      Uh yeah so there ya go… gosh now that I’ve typed all that out I feel like I should have put it in as a submission but uhh… yeah. Probably best to just be buried here at the end of the comment section where the only people who will see it are people who are really interested or morbidly curious!

  7. My husband is from India, and after moving in with him, I found out he never uses toilet paper… NEVER! I was shocked.
    Even after I traveled to India, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with using water only to clean after the toilet.

    I am looking to install one of these “bum guns” because I prefer that set-up best. My husband prefers a simple cup of water though.

    No offense, but I do not like the family cloth idea. With the array of easy-to-install bidets out there, water seems like the better alternative. Perhaps you could use the family cloth for drying after using the bidet.
    I would love to see an article on bidets for the bathroom. The whole concept is still little offbeat for Westerners.

    • I’m from the U.S. and I can’t imagine using a bidet. The thought of water blasting up my butt sounds so uncomfortable. And how do you tell if you’ve missed a spot?

      • It is actually very similar to taking a shower, except you don’t have to take all your clothes off. You can adjust the water pressure so that it isn’t spraying you too hard.

        As for knowing how you’re clean, I would recommend trying the bidet a few times, and then using TP afterward. You can see if you’re clean or not. After a few tries, it becomes intuitive and you know when you’re clean.

  8. My sister’s family switched to cloth a while back. She had a ton of old t-shirts, so she cut those suckers up and used them. She used a stainless steel bowl to hold the used ones and the smell was very low even though there wasn’t a lid or other form of deodorizer – and come to think of it, I never smelled poop, just slightly ammonia-y urine.

    Speaking of, and this may have already been mentioned – be cautious in going the “wash with bleach” route for cleaning them. Urea converts to ammonia which when combined with bleach converts to chloramine. Advice from a lady who once thought to clean a litter box with bleach. However, hot water will clean it.

  9. Honestly? I’d rather use my hand. Surely this is much more hygienic than having buckets of crap-covered cloth hanging around and then… going in the washing machine???

  10. Did it. Love it. Not going back.

    We used cloth diapers & wipes for the babies. It was a natural switch. We chopped up the receiving blankets, sewed them up and voila! Free toilet wipes for life.

    They’re more durable, more comfortable, and cuter. Also, no plastic wrapping, no cardboard tubes, no cutting down trees just to wipe my bum.

    We use them for all types of bathroom icks, though we do keep conventional in the house for company.

    As far as getting a full load, our entire house is cloth so we wash our cleaning rags, any sheets my toddler had an accident on, and the wipes on a HOT, HEAVY SOILED but no soap pre- or quick-wash. It gets nearly all the gunk out, then I just top up the load with towels, etc to get a full one and wash as usual. I do this only once or twice a week. If there should be any lingering stains, throw them up on the line outside and they are good as new. We have been doing this for nearly three years.

  11. Am I the only one thinking the bathroom would REEK until it’s time to do laundry? I mean think about it. Even if it’s just pee, it’s going to stink. You can smell when a kid wets his pants and he’s in it for a few minutes. Can you imagine how it would smell being there all day? And that’s if you accumulate enough to wash daily! Sounds like a nice alternative (I’d much rather wipe with a soft cloth than crumbly paper), but not with how much it would stink.

    • We use the small-sized wet bags, like you might have anyway if you use cloth diapers while out. We used it like a liner for a small, lidded trash can that sat next to the toilet. The waterproof bag keeps in the wet and the smell.

    • It hasn’t stunk for me, and I have an open plastic ice cream bucket in my shower that I keep my used cloths in. No smell which really surprises me. Today is the 3rd day and still no smell. I have a very sensitive nose and so does mom and the occasion she goes into my bathroom she doesn’t notice anything. I am far happier using cloth and much healthier too! I am apparently allergic to the chemicals in paper products which caused ulceration of my labia and perineum and that is healing very quickly since switching to cloth! It is no longer very painful to use the restroom, or clean myself. So for me, this was a necessity.

    • True, washing is the most effective way to remove that from your skin, but we use cloth so we don’t have to jump in the shower every time we use the bathroom. We still wash our hands with soap and water after using the bathroom. Yes we have poopy and urinated cloth to wash but at least we don’t have to shower 3-5 times daily. So that removes the vast amount of water used, which is eco-friendly itself.

      If you were referring to a bidet and using soap with that, sure, that’s great, but for those of us who prefer not to have to use soap so freakishly often and the expense that goes along with it, using cloth wipes is far more useful and less costly. πŸ™‚

  12. Oh Lord.. NO. Just, no. I work in a hospital and I can’t wrap my head around this idea.
    I can’t stand the thought of letting dirty ones hang out in a hamper, and, after they have festered for a while, then tossing them into my washer.

    Hot water or no…
    Oh the GERMS! Oh the HORROR! Oh the nasty diseases!
    There is not enought Lysol in the world….

    • We live with germs on and in us day in day out. So what that you have a germ cloth (or 10) hanging out in a “hamper” even though I would put them separately from other dirty clothes…)?? I use a small ice cream bucket (the plastic kind) to put them before they are washed. I am allergic to the chemicals used in paper products, and I have found that switching to cloth that I wash with my own soap (pure castile soap) and rinse with ACV my privates are healing quickly! No more severe pain, no more ulcerated labia, no more broken skin, bleeding, stinging from my perineum and anus. I am so much happier using cloth! It’s healthier for me, too! So there are germs everywhere, just because you work in a hospital doesn’t mean that the amount of germs in your home anywhere equates to the amounts and TYPES of germs in your home. I think it’s best to think “outside the box” when it comes to our health and well being. It’s worked for me!

  13. Lol I was already wiping my baby’s cloth diapered butt with cloth wipes. I was already sewing “momma cloth” for myself and my eldest. I just sewed some more cloth wipes and we’ve been using them ever since. For EVERYTHING poo included. They are SO soft and so NOT TEAR-ABLE!!! And you can wet them in the sink like a baby wipe when needed. I just throw them in the bucket and wash when I wash dipes (which is sooner now as we run out of wipes before I run out of dipes) I’ll NEVER go back to paper. Paper SUCKS!!!! πŸ™‚

  14. I am completely intrigued by this concept. Does anyone know of a good material to use that DOES NOT need to have the edges sewn? Something that will not fray in the wash.
    And I have a question… What in the world is a Diva Cup???

    • My whole life was tied up in “stomach issues” or “bathroom issues” as I call it. I have eliminated foods and additives I found to be the cause of them (all allergic responses for me) and my bathroom issues are pretty fixed for now. I do still have diarrhea due to a medication I am on to heal my gut of candidiasis, but switching to cloth has been an amazing adventure! Even with the diarrhea it appears to be MUCH LESS on the cloth than on the TP! It’s crazy! And you can always rinse it out in the tub or a bucket before putting it in the wet bag or trash can (specifically for the used family cloth) or wherever you would put them for your own bathroom. I have been doing that on the occasion I have a messy one. It might help your stomach problems to use them. The gastrointestinal tract starts at your lips and ends at your anus. It’s all connected. Perhaps you are having an issue simply due to the chemicals in toilet paper and related products?

  15. I am surprised that throughout all of the comments only one person uses fabric and places that used fabric in the household waste. We already place our shit in potable water as opposed to composting toilets to close the nutrient cycle as nature intended. No need to place our shit rags in potable water as well, and use extracted gas or coal fired electricity to heat this potable water.

    I am about to begin using cut up non synthetic materials and throwing them out with the trash. Hell they come once a week anyway and I can never fill up that giant container. I will wet the material first, which seems like the best option for my comfort and health. If I was living in a more rural area, I would start a compost pile specially for these items.

    • Might as well flush your rags too. It’d save you trouble. Where do you think regular toilet paper winds up? Barscreens pull up large objects (toilet paper, fecal matter, bicycle handle bars) and it ends up filling up the landfills. From my POV, reusable toilet rags are great. And if you do not like using potable water, get a grey water system or a toilet with a sink on the back that fills the bowl (costs about $1,000 right now but it’s a great investment).

      • I agree with your mood here. It is all about “trouble” isn’t it? The ick factor, the washing, the possibly touching used rags, etc. I am allergic to chemically treated paper products like toilet paper and paper towels and only just figured out why my private area was raw and bleeding and super painful. I switched to cloth 3 days ago and wham my bits are healing!! I am not keen on the idea of washing them but I think for now I will hand wash them in a bucket and add ACV to the rinse portion. I really have no other choice and that is what gave me the push to do it. I did not want to use recycled and non bleached TP because I tried it before and it left bits everywhere, worse than non-recycled TP and was thin and just didn’t have the cleaning factor I needed. Plus the whole chemicals in the recycled paper such as BPA and other cancer-causing agents put me off of them completely. I’m sticking to cloth I wash myself with soap I know doesn’t harm me. It may be a little more water per week used, but I needed this for my health and sanity.

  16. I am really sorry, They used cloth diapers on us when we were small. As I grew up, I saw how it is with little one and those cloths. To Clean them was the hard part. No thank you. I love the toilet paper. Companies are more environmentally conscience that what they used to be. Not totally there but baby steps.

  17. Something no one mentions when this topic comes up: I have very old pipes, and after the second $200 visit from the plumber to unclog TOILET PAPER from my pipes (and I am a single woman living alone. I don’t shit THAT much; this is a pipe problem), I made the switch because I didn’t have another option short of replacing all the pipes, and I definitely can’t afford that. It takes some getting used to, but I use cloth menstrual pads, and have helped cloth diaper my niece, so it’s really not that big a deal. I wouldn’t probably do it if I didn’t have to, but oh well.

    • I can understand your hesitation. I really was like “NO WAY” when I saw an episode or two of the frugal show on TV a year or so ago but now that I HAD to switch due to apparently a giant allergy to the chemicals used in TP and paper towels I am loving it! It feels so luxurious and actually leaves me much cleaner than paper ever did. Since I have “bathroom issues” on occasion I do wet one of the cloths to make sure there is nothing left there and it does an amazing job! I will no longer have to buy baby wipes (Seventh Generation – no chlorine) as One wipe that is damp works better than the baby wipes where I would have to use multiple wipes to make sure no residue was left back there! I am sold on this and even though I only just started 3 days ago I can see the huge upside in using them instead of paper products. I can’t tell you how good I feel getting rid of that allergen for me. I rarely now touch paper towels and only use hand towels now.

      We have a puppy so picking up doggy doo from indoors I will have to use a paper product but that is rare these days. Go cloth, for the win!!

  18. I had to switch to family cloth as I realized that my whoo-ha has been so very sore, sore enough to bleed all the time (not from my vaginal canal but my labia and perineum! I saw I had eczema on my right thigh right on and above the knee and figured it out that I put my hand with the TP on my right knee as I readjust it in my hand before I wipe. I said enough is enough and after reading a lot about family cloth I found 2 receiving blankets I had that were very soft and perfect for this and cut them up and started using them right away. This is now my 3rd day (technically less than 3 days due to starting at night) and my bits are healing dramatically! My perineum is no longer raw and doesn’t sting when I sit down on the toilet or even feel sore when I wipe with family cloth. And my front part is much less sore and is no longer bleeding. It is healing all because I switched to family cloth.

    Yes, the poopy aspect of it is kinda gross, but if I had to choose between chronically raw, sore, bleeding nether regions and pain that goes along with it or washing a small bucket of soiled cloth every few days or once a week, I’d go with the cloth every time. I plan on hand-washing my cloth at first to see how often I need to wash them as I am the only one in my family using them. I don’t go through a lot of them, so I will get a bucket and get super hot water from my bath faucet and put it in there an pour in a good amount of my liquid castile soap and use a clean plunger to plunge away at them. Rinse and repeat. Rinse finally with some ACV (allergic to white vinegar) and rinse then hang or tumble dry. For me, I have no choice but to use family cloth now that I’ve found it. Thank you, Lord! *muah*

  19. Hmm… Seems like a pretty great idea to me. Realistically, it’s not unlike folks that cloth-diaper their babies and, unlike babies, we don’t have to keep the used material next to our skin until such time as we get our moms to change us. LOL! *shudder* Ugh… bad mental image.

    Anyway, this is actually something I’d consider doing, provided that I could convince my soon-to-be husband. The lack of little, paper leftovers might do the trick… *giggle*

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