Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cloth Toilet Paper, Revisited

Our bathroom. I know- odd looking toilet-
it's more water efficient than the standard
one you see in the US
Of all the hundreds of posts on my blog so far, no post has received more hits, gotten more feedback (both negative and positive), and inspired more discussion than my post on family cloth- reusable toilet paper.

Bathroom habits are really kept hush hush in modern, proper, and polite Western society. People don't want to know details about other people's WC habits- not exactly what went on in there, nor how exactly people wipe themselves, and I broke that taboo by writing about using reusable toilet paper.
In real life, anyone who comes to my house wouldn't notice anything different about our bathroom. It has a toilet, a sink, a bathtub/shower, toiler paper, etc... The only difference you might be able to pick up is that there is not just one garbage can- there are two. And there's a tissue box that's not quite a tissue box- it holds little cloths instead of tissues.

I don't announce to the world, especially not to visitors or anyone I know in real life (especially not my mother in law- she'd probably have a heart attack!) that we use reusable toilet paper, because I know the immediate thought that comes to mind is "Ewww! Gross! Unhygienic! Unsanitary! Breeding grounds for diseases!" and things along that vein.
Modern society has made such a disconnect between humanity and it's bodily functions to the extent that some people eschew nursing, because breastmilk is "bodily fluids", and people over sanitize their lives, making sure that they come no where near any microorganism, to the extent that their immune system looks for something, anything to fight off. Washing with water and soap isn't good enough anymore- now everything we touch, smell, see, or consume needs to be sterilized with antibacterial products or pasteurized to death so that there's no way on earth any microorganism could have survived.

Luckily, our bodies have a good, strong immune system designed to keep out malevolent organisms.  Our bodily openings are protected in many ways (specific pH's, nose hairs, saliva, etc...), and  even if those bad bacteria manage to make their way into our bodies, our white blood cells and other parts of our immune system work to keep us safe. So long as you keep your immune system strong by eating nourishing foods and living a healthy lifestyle (and don't have any auto-immune diseases or are taking any immunosuppressant medication), you don't have to fear from most pathogens in the vicinity.

Of course, you can't rely entirely on immune systems to keep you from getting sick. Washing your hands after touching anything germy, including using the toilet, changing diapers, washing the laundry, as well as being careful around other people's bodily fluids is also important to prevent diseases from spreading.

But none of these have anything to do with reusable, cloth toilet paper.

Cloth toilet paper grosses quite a few people out. (Extreme understatement.) People change babies diapers, and deal with their excrement. Of course, most people don't extremely love doing this, but they're not about to run away screaming, being too grossed out to do this task. They realize that it's necessary, so they've adjusted their mindset to view this poop as "acceptable to deal with", but yet for some reason, the second someone is older, that poop becomes some horrid, disgusting, bacterial breeding ground that will, according to one commenter, spread "cholera and hepatitis."
Human waste is human waste. They're one and the same; society just conditions us to think that one is disgusting and the other is totally fine (if a bit stinky). From the time that a baby starts eating solid foods, their poop is exactly the same in makeup as that of an adult, not "cleaner" or "more hygienic".
Human waste may not be the most pleasant thing in the world to handle, but so long as you wash your hands properly, reusable toilet paper is no more likely to spread disease than, say, handling raw meat. Especially with something like cloth toilet paper, which shouldn't be covered with excrement- you use it to clean up only after you've defecated; in a healthy person, there shouldn't be much to clean.

Another thing- now that family members of his, and friends in real life have read about us using family cloth, my husband has asked me to please mention that he doesn't use family cloth. For the most part, it's just me, and my two boys, but as a girl, obviously I use it the most.
People on message boards somewhere got so grossed out because they thought that family cloth was ONE cloth that the WHOLE FAMILY reused again and again to wipe themselves with after using the facilities.
No way- that is highly unsanitary and disgusting. Each cloth gets one use, and then into the designated trash can it goes. When that can is full, it gets dumped as is into the washing machine and washed with our cloth diapers.
Does it get sterilized? Probably not. Does it get clean? You betcha! Soap (detergent) and water work quite well as cleaners and eliminate germs, even for things such as cloth toilet paper. Vinegar in rinse loads acts as a further antimicrobial, and once the cloths are dried, either in direct sun or in a hot dryer, even more potential pathogens are destroyed.
Would I eat off of these cloths? Probably not.
Do I mind using them to wipe my bottom? Absolutely not. They're clean!
Do I think you can get sick from touching the cloths? Most likely not, but even if that were a possibility, that would only be if I touched my mouth after touching the cloths, but, like most normal, sanitary people, I wash my hands after using the facilities and using the cloths.

Why do I use family cloth?
I've gone into the reasons in depth in my previous post, so I won't repeat them all. But there's no way I'd switch back to disposable toilet paper, even if I became a millionaire overnight, because cloth toilet paper is so superior. Among its benefits are:
Money saver. We used to go through a 32 pack of toilet paper rolls at least every month and a half, sometimes more frequently. (What can I say- I like feeling clean and dry!) In the past 17 months since we started with cloth toilet paper, we've gone through 3 packages of toilet paper rolls and one 2 pack of toilet tissues.)
Cleaner, better. Cloth toilet paper can be used wet or dry, as needed. If desired, you can wash your bottom off with water first and dry off with a cloth and not worry about it tearing or disintegrating, as would happen if you used regular toilet paper.
Greener. No trees cut, no gas wasted and air polluted in the processing and shipping of the toilet paper, and not even any water wasted, because no extra loads of laundry need to be done as they get washed with our cloth diapers. (All our cloths altogether take up the space of two t-shirts.)
Softer. Because flannel or cotton are easier on the skin than even expensive and environmentally destructive quited and ultra soft toilet paper like Cottonnelle or Charmin.
Healthier. There are all sorts of chemicals like bleaches and dyes and other things in toilet paper. In cloths, there's only what remains of your detergent, and if you use homemade laundry detergent, you know your bum is safe from those potentially harmful chemicals.
(For a more detailed list about the benefits of cloth toilet paper, check out the previous post on the topic.)

If the concept of cloth toilet paper intrigues you but you can't get past your squeamishness, you can:
1) Use cloth toilet paper only for pee. Since people tend to pee much more often than they poop, and because people tend to be a lot less grossed out by pee than by poop, just using cloth toilet paper then can make a big difference in your toilet paper consumption, especially if you have many girls in the family.
2) Wash off first. Either use a bidet (hand held sprayer) or a squeeze bottle to clean off any fecal remnants, and just use the cloth to dry off, so you don't have any really dirty cloths going into your machine.
3) If the concept of using the same cloths as other family members skeeves you out, you can make different cloths (and possibly garbage cans) for different family members. Color coding could work.

And again, I must reiterate, this is just for our family (and more specifically, myself and the kids)- we don't share bum cloths with anyone who enters our house. That's why we buy toilet paper; family cloth is exclusive for family, not for strangers or even friends.

If you know me in person and worry about eating at my house because of germs, have no fear, we have no more germs flying around our house than anyone else. And don't worry, we make sure to wash our hands always after dealing with family cloth.
And for the record- my kids, if given the choice, will also take family cloth any day over toilet paper. Why would anyone want to wipe their sensitive tushies with scratchy paper when you can use soft fabric instead?

Have you read my previous post on family cloth, or is this your first time hearing about the topic? What are your thoughts- totally doable, or totally not your thing?
Are you a germ-o-phobe and bodily-fluid-o-phobe, or are you the other end of the spectrum?
Is there any possible way you would  ever implement family cloth in your home, or no way, no how?


  1. THANK YOU FOR THIS SECOND EDITION to your other site! Let me say I had LAUGH OUT LOUD moments reading this!! I am sold on "family cloth" (lavipads as I named them). I will NEVER go back to flimsy, polluting, scratchy, TP again! I also commented on using "LOTA", an Southeast Asian method of cleaning on the toilet. I posted on the other site you had about this. But, I feel I wasn't very clear as to "how" to do "lota". Basically, you fill up a pitcher with water while on the toilet. You can use a wet family cloth to wipe away the poo. But, pour the pitcher of water over your unspoken region (2 or 3 times if necessary ). Dry your lower region with a separate towel. This method is good for #1 and #2. It is a blessing when you are on your period. LOTA is the Southeast Asian version of a bidet. I learned this as a little girl from my Scottish mother! It cost really nothing and you are clean ALL DAY LONG! I keep my fingernails short so I do not scratch myself or have bacteria under the nails in food prep. LOVE THIS SITE! And family cloth is NOT unsanitary! A good read from the library is "The Dirt On Clean-An Unsanitized History" by Katharine Ashenburg. It is about the extremes on hygiene in the West!

  2. I want to thank you for writing this article and having this site. It's really got a lot of good information. I've heard of other people taking a spray bottle along with them and a wet bag and using family cloth when they are out to limit exposure to "TP", and also to limit exposure to the toilet seat, I've heard of women using a special device to pee standing up such as a Pstyle. Anyway, I already use cloth pads every day instead of those harmful paper pads. I heard that those are designed with bleached paper as well and extra chemicals that cause a woman to have heavier more painful periods. Seams to be true. My periods are lighter now, sometimes only 3 days long (and I used to have to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night to rush to the bathroom and let out a HUGE gush of blood and pieces of tissue that hadn't broken down). Anyway, I got off topic again. I was wondering if you also use cloth wipes while out and about and just put them in a wetbag?

  3. I read your original post, not long after I discovered your blog (and followed ever since). I started using family clothes, just for me, when I pee. I'm an older female and can go through a lot, in one day :). Then, our household changed and it was just too much. Now, we're back to normal and I'm back to my family clothes!Sooo much better than t.p.! Like your sweetheart, mine won't hear of it. Oh well.

  4. I am new to this, but find the concept fascinating. Thank you for this informative article. I'll tell you, Pinterest has changed my life. I have made my own laundry soap, makeup remover and face wash. I think family cloths are next.

  5. Started using cloth wipes about 3 yrs ago and would never go back to tp even during the day for pee i take a hankie size piece of soft cloth to wipe with and it lasts all day!

  6. Penny, I was just thinking about this topic. I even got on the Internet about it, but didn't get much--maybe I didn't have time. I also am very, very frugal. I like to eat edible weeds. That's how I find this site. I hope to read more of what you have to say. Thank you!

  7. Do you have a specific way of cleaning the clothes?


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