Extremely Crunchy: Reusable Toilet Paper

The author's family cloth and used cloth bin. You think I’m totally gross, right? I know, I get it. “Wait, reusable WHAT?” is probably how your thought process went.

When I first heard the term “family cloth”, it conjured up such a lovely image, like a warm snuggly blanket that’s big enough for the whole family. But no. It’s actually where you use cloth toilet paper, and then put it through the wash, and then use it again. Which is, you know, . . . different.

My initial reaction was the same as most people’s, something along the lines of, “Ew gross!” But then my second thought was: “Well wait. Maybe that kinda makes sense?” See, I was raised by hippies – all burning sage and dancing drum circles in dry river beds and the like – so I guess my psyche is primed for that outside-the-norm, super green lifestyle sort of stuff. For those with a more conventional bent, please just bear with me a moment.

Okay, much like forgoing traditional roofing for a living roof, the concept is alarming at first (our cultural conditioning does run deep), but really, it’s actually just a matter of common sense. We don’t wear disposable underwear, right? And we do accept cloth diapers for babies, and many of those cloth-diapering parents choose to use cloth wipes as well. Some people even use cloth menstrual pads. Each of these is a sociopolitical decision, which factors in issues like finances, environmental impact, and individual values.

For me, this one was an eco-conscious no-brainer. I mean, of course! Cloth can be washed and used again and again. It’s less resource intensive than toilet paper, it keeps tons and tons of waste out of landfills and waterways, and bottom line, the “reusable” model is almost always a more sustainable choice than the “disposable” alternative.

Just think about toilet paper: Made from trees. Chemically-treated for “sanitation,” and bleached for “beauty.” Stark white antiseptic. Wrapped in plastic. Mass-produced in factories. Shipped across continents. Endlessly.

Then think about family cloth. Homemade. Cut from an old cotton sheet, a flannel shirt, a terry cloth towel. All up-cycled. And so soft. Washable. Reusable. Again and again and again.

For me, my choice was pretty clear.

And with that I was off. I cut up a stack of my husband’s old shirts, using pinking sheers so the edges wouldn’t fray. I displayed my cloth wipes neatly arranged, in a basket atop the back of the toilet. Some people choose to keep their cloth in a easily-to-reach drawer, or a covered container. It’s really just a matter of preference.

To be clear, I use my wipes for #1 only. This helps keep things cleaner and I don’t worry quite as much about germs. I drop my used wipes in a lidded plastic wastebasket next to the toilet. When it’s full, I take them downstairs to the wash, and clean them well.

Since I only use wipes for #1, I always have toilet paper available. It’s great for guests, and my husband. No one else ever has to deal with my wipes. Nobody, not even my Portland plumber, knows what’s going on. 

In the end . . . well, may I be blunt? I mean, the environment is awesome and all, but honestly? Cloth really just feels better. I’ll take warm soft cotton over scratchy paper any day. Maybe I’m just a born-and-bred hippie like that.

Sayward Rebhal writes for Networx.

Updated October 3, 2018.

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