Family Cloth?! Yup, Reusable Toilet Paper is a Real Thing. Get the lowdown here on how to get started, tips, and FAQs.
Originally published February 2014 || Last updated March 2020 to reflect the fact that I no longer use family cloth in my current day-to-day, but wouldn’t mind starting up again if necessary. Thanks to our current global state of affairs, this post started heavily trending, and I wanted it to be as accurate and helpful as possible. That, or provide you with something to mock on the internet instead of succumbing to despair. 😉
When I stop to think about it, I realize that I have peed in quite a few places over the course of my life thus far. Let’s see: if I’m counting by country, we’ve got Canada, USA, Bolivia, England, France, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda.
I’ve used the fancy, shiny facilities in a very expensive hotel in Banff, and I’ve squatted precariously over a disgusting hole surrounded by falling-apart wooden walls in the middle of a dusty African village.
I’ve bought a roll of purple toilet paper from the woman on the side of an African road, and I’ve used luxurious quilted 6-ply TP at homes where I had to check twice to make sure I hadn’t accidentally grabbed the hand towel.
I’ve awkwardly squatted behind a three-foot pile of bricks while the rest of my tour bus waited their turn in the hot African sun after we broke down on the side of the road.
Some people use bidets. Some use squatty potties. Some people wipe their butts with one hundred dollar bills.
I’ve used my own bathroom eleventy bajillion times in each of my third trimesters of pregnancy. I have, no doubt, peed in the woods a time or two, and maybe, just maybe, a lake. Definitely the ocean.
I’ve also gone tent-camping with a group at 37 weeks pregnant where the only “toilet” was a rickety wooden chair with a hole cut out, perched over a dug-out hole in the ground, surrounded by a tarp on only two sides. I’ve peed in quite a number of teeny-tiny airplane toilets while hurtling through the sky…
(If that’s not an odd string of memories to recall, well gosh, I don’t know what is.)
What exactly is the point I’m making here, you might ask? Well there are a few things:
- Everybody in the entire world has these bodily functions. All 7 billion or so of us.
- There are many (so many!) variations in toileting style and setting depending on location, preference, and cultural norms.
- SO. MANY. VARIATIONS.
With that in mind, I’d like to finally talk about one of my crazy crunchy hippie ways that often elicits a strong reaction: family cloth. I mean – I’ve tried more crazy things than most people, and if you’ve been around here for long you know that I’m a contrarian by nature. I don’t like to follow the crowd, and I enjoy going against the grain just to see what it’s like.
I cook from scratch nearly every day, use cloth napkins, reusable snack bags, and cloth towels, tried the no-poo method (baking soda and vinegar instead of shampoo), do a ton of natural DIY body care products (dry shampoo, eyeliner, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, and I hard-core LOVE my reusable menstrual supplies and sea sponge tampons. I also love homeschooling our four kids here on our 4.5 acres out in the country.
(Yes, I acknowledge that most folks think I’m totally nuts, but hey – I love my life. What can I tell ya?)
Most people call me crazy based on a partial list of these things alone, so telling you that I previously used cloth toilet paper shouldn’t be all that shocking, really.
Want the lowdown? Here we go:
Family cloth is a phrase used for washable, cloth toilet ‘paper’. I’ve used it, and I survived. ??
Cloth Toilet Paper: Supplies Needed
1. Clean wipes
You can make them out of old rags, be fancy and sew them yourself, buy them on etsy, or just buy a few packs of cheap baby washcloths and designate them for this purpose. You could also buy a pack of cloth baby wipes like these ones. Lots of options! (I opted for cheap baby washcloths, since that’s what I was also using with cloth diapers on my babe.)
2. Something to hold the used wipes
During the year or so that I was using cloth TP, I was also cloth diapering my third child. We had a diaper pail in the main floor bathroom, so I just tossed used wipes in there, and they got washed with the diapers. It was super convenient. Honestly, part of the reason I stopped using it was because we stopped cloth diapering eventually.
If I had wanted to continue I would have just needed to use a small lidded container, or a wet bag – the same type that you use for cloth diapers. Travel sized would be ideal because you’d want to launder every couple of days, at least. This style with two pockets would be ideal – one for clean wipes, and one (waterproof) for used. You can wash the bag along with the wipes each time.
3. A washing machine with hot water and detergent.
Pretty simple – if I weren’t washing with a load of cloth diapers I’d just wash them on their own in a small hot cycle with vinegar as a rinse aid, then dry on extra hot to help kill germs.
Cloth Toilet Paper (aka Family Cloth): Routine
Step one: walk into the bathroom and grab a wipe. Use dry or wet with water (your choice).
I recommend dry for #1 and wet for #2. In either scenario, I feel immensely cleaner than when I use paper. The cloth wipe is just… sturdier and more substantial for those purposes.
Step two: use your wipe as needed, then toss in the appropriate sealed bag or container until wash day (a couple of days max is my recommendation.)
Done! It’s not difficult, technically speaking. Most people simply have a cultural ick factor about, which is fine. Just remember that if you ever find yourself in a situation where you run out of paper toilet paper (ahem, panic buying… sigh), this is an option, and you can totally survive it.
Family Cloth FAQ’s:
How did you get started in it?
I cloth diapered my first baby from the get-go (as soon as his teeny little legs beefed up a little to fit the diapers I had bought). We didn’t want to buy expensive cloth wipes that are sold by the cloth diaper companies for a million bucks, so we marched ourselves down to the big-box store and got a pack of cheapie baby washcloths.
I think it was around $6 for 10 of them. We got a couple of packages, and those were our designated baby wipes. Then one time a few years ago I read a post about family cloth somewhere. Probably from this wise friend. And then my curiosity was piqued, and it was just a matter of time.
Isn’t it super gross?
I fear I’m overstating the obvious here, but bear with me. We cleaned all three of our kids’ poopy bums off with those cloths, washed them in our washing machine, and used them over and over again.
Got that? We wiped poop and pee… washed them… and reused them. The only argument that is usually left standing after getting the basics out of the way is simply the ick factor. People think it’s just gross.
Of course, that’s a totally subjective judgment, right? I personally don’t think it’s really any grosser than cloth diapers. And cloth diapering is becoming way more mainstream than it used to be (since disposables came on the scene.)
Can I be a part-timer?
Absolutely, 100% yes. I was a part-timer at best since I didn’t have a system set up in my upstairs bathroom. I used the main floor one all day long and it’s where my diaper pail was (and it’s close to the laundry room).
And of course, it’s advisable to keep regular disposable toilet paper on hand for guests (and resistant spouses).
Some people also like to use it for just #1 and not have to deal with #2. Personally, I love it for both. I find it so much more comfortable and luxurious feeling. I feel cleaner. I also use it for ‘that time of the month’ which is extra-awesome. We ladies tend to feel icky in those days because it’s tough to get totally clean with just paper. With a warm, wet cloth, I feel like I’m actually getting 100% clean.
Full disclosure: sometimes I tag team it and use a bit of paper to wipe first, then a wet cloth for a more thorough clean. What’s that? TMI? I think we crossed that line back in the title of the post, amiright?? And yet here you are. 😉
For laundry as a part-timer: I would throw them in with my regular laundry if it were just #1 wipes. For #2 I prefer to use hot water. For #1 I’m ok with just a warm wash, considering that’s what I do with any clothes or bedding that have been accidentally peed on. #momlife
Doesn’t it smell bad in your bathroom?
Nope. Not if the container or bag is sealed/zipped and the contents washed every 2-3 days.
Save money (a negligible amount once you factor in laundry costs, but I think it’s still possible). Save the environment. Those are big enough reasons for me. You may make a different choice for your family, and that’s cool too. I just wanted to give you a rundown on how we do it because people have asked.
I ultimately didn’t stick with it more than a year or so, as I explained above, but I’m super glad I tried it. Family cloth is way easier than you think, and really – you might even enjoy it.
Oh, and one last reason why you might want to give it a try? Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a global pandemic and everyone has panic-bought all the dang toilet paper in the city. Maybe a clean, soft cloth is better than leaves. Maybe. Your call.