Why use reusable cloth toilet paper (family cloth)

by Angela Davis on May 21, 2013

Homemade reusable cloth toilet paper

Reusable Cloth Toilet Paper

We have hit the one-week “using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper” mark and we haven’t died. Nor have I given up shaving my armpits. So win-win.

Many of you, after throwing up a bit in your mouth, wondered why people go the reusable toilet paper/cloth wipes/family cloth route. Here’s a big list of reasons why one might ditch the tp and use homemade wipes instead. To be clear, we switched to reusable wipes as an experiment. Some of the reasons listed below are personally compelling to me, some are not.

ENVIRONMENTAL

Most modern toilet paper in the developed world is designed to decompose in septic tanks, so there’s no information I could find indicating it messes with our sewage. I’m assuming there’s little to no environmental concern with tp once it is flushed, but I could be totally wrong and the stuff could be causing fish death or the increasing growth of female facial hair.

The environmental issue comes from the manufacturing and delivery of the toilet paper. The average American uses 50 pounds of tissue paper per year which is 50% more than the average of Western countries or Japan. We use more toilet paper because much of the world use bidets or spray hoses to clean off the poop and we wipe it.

Toilet paper requires trees and Americans like their soft, fluffy toilet paper. From a NY Times article:

Fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.

Customers “demand soft and comfortable,” said James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia Pacific, the maker of Quilted Northern. “Recycled fiber cannot do it.”

Our wonderfully soft, white toilet paper requires using standing trees, and oftentimes it’s old-growth forests.

Recycled toilet paper is certainly a better environmental choice, given that it doesn’t require cutting down trees, but there is still the manufacturing that uses natural resources and I think it’s naive to discount the amount of energy, water, chemicals, and fuel it takes to make the toilet paper.

Using reusable wipes means:

  • You’re not using trees to make the toilet paper.
  • You’re not using the chemicals and resources required to manufacture the toilet paper.
  • You don’t need the packaging to keep the rolls together (plastic shell and the paper covering individual rolls in some cases).
  • You don’t need the fuel to transport the resources to the toilet paper making plant and the product from the plant to the store.

PERSONAL

Homemade reusable cloth toilet paper

Every single person out there reporting on their experience with reusable homemade wipes rave about how it feels. After the first few uses, everyone sees the wipes as an actual upgrade from toilet paper, even the fluffy three-ply stuff.

  • Wipes are soft.
  • They clean your parts better (and don’t leave bits of paper behind), partly because you’re using a wet cloth for #2.
  • No chance of “finger break-through” that puts you in contact with feces (urine is sterile, so you’re good with that type of contact).
  • They help prevent hemorrhoid irritation (you know that wiping paper on those things makes it worse, right?).
  • Toilet paper creation requires chemicals. Wipes means no bleach, BPA, BPS, or other processing chemicals coming in contact with your body.

FINANCIAL

Many, many, many of you commented that washing the wipes would negate any savings over buying toilet paper. Wrong. It’s actually much cheaper to buy and wash reusable wipes.

Cost of using toilet paper:

Americans use an average of 20,000 sheets of toilet paper a year. Here’s the math for my family of 6 (I’m not counting Baby Lucy), using the average sheets per person:

20,000 sheets x 6 people = 120,000 sheets used by our family per year

120,000 sheets / 264 sheets (the # of sheets in an Angel Soft double roll — the Amazon deal we often promote) = 454 rolls

454 rolls x $.50 (the most I’d pay for a double roll) = $227 per year

I don’t like paying $.50 per double roll — I shoot for $.30, so that would be $136.20 per year spent on toilet paper for our family.

Cost of using reusable wipes:

SUPPLIES

$21 for 7 yards of cotton flannel fabric at JoAnn’s to make the wipes

$2 for 2 plastic garbage bins

$4 for 2 sweater-sized laundry mesh bags to line the garbage bins so I don’t have to touch my husband’s wipes

WASHING

Our entire wipes supply fill up about one-fifth of our front-loading washing machine. I end up needing to wash them about three times a week and they do get washed with other clothing in hot water. I used the calculator here to determine it costs about $.50 per load using our equipment (washed with hot water and dried on hot, including detergent costs).

0.6 loads per week x $.50 per load = $.30 per week to wash the wipes

$.30 per week x 52 weeks = $15.60 per year

YEARLY COST COMPARISON:

Toilet paper = $136.20

Reusable wipes = $42.60

Obviously, the price of wipes in the second year will plummet because you’re not factoring in the cost making them. Also, you could just cut up an old towel, shirt, whatever to make the wipes for free.

Still fascinated? Be sure to read why we tried out using reusable cloth toilet paper and our big reusable cloth toilet paper FAQ post.

Reusable toilet paper not your thing? No biggie. Here are the best deals on toilet paper and baby wipes — all of them are cheaper than Costco:

Angel Soft

Quilted Northern Ultra Soft & Strong

Huggies Simply Clean Baby Wipes

This post may contain affiliate links. See the disclosure policy for more information.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Edward Smith May 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm

So may people make things so complicated. I stop using TP a long time ago other than in my guest bath which is not used all that much. For my private bathroom in my bedroom I got a simple little covered plastic trash container with a removable plastic liner. Then I bought two dozen cheap white wash cloths. About a foot square. I fold them twice so they are nice little hand size squares. Stack them under the sink right next to my toilet. When needed I take one out, set it in sink and run water on it. Ring it out and open it so its only folded once. Now you have a double thickness moist soft wiping cloth. Use the first two inches for wipe one. Fold that toward you. Now you have fresh material for wipe number two. Fold again, wipe, fold, wipe. FOUR comfortable, wet, effective wipes for one cloth! For ladies using it for a number one cleanup, just wet it, ring it and leave it folded as was. Using one side, then open and fold back the other way and you have moist side two. Amazing! The just drop the used cloth into the bucket and close the lid. No smell in the least. Remember they are folded up now with the worst parts in the middle. When the bin is full, usually in a week, I just dump the load into the washer, add bleach, soap and set for the sterilize cycle and walk way. Two hours later I have a load of clean, fresh clothes that I just dry, fold twice and stack back under the sink to start all over. Super simple. Works like a dream and have all but eliminated buying TP. Why doesn’t everyone do this? SO much better than harsh, dry paper, irritating paper. Who thought paper was a good idea anyway? This does a WAY better job, feels amazing, and costs next to NOTHING. Get smart!

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lynne b March 2, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Good post. I have just started into my family cloth foray though i was grossed out by it for at least a year. Then, i ran out of tp one day and didnt have enough funds to get any and so grabbed one of the babies wipes. I have 3 kiddos (one is potty training, the others are still in dipes) and we cloth diaper and wipe which made me second guess my gross out factor since it doesnt make sense to feel gross about it with me but not with the baby. The reality is, i have a diaper sprayer attached to my toilet that i never use as a diaper sprayer but i do use it as a sort of bidet. I quick spray down then use the wipe to dry. Minimizes the mess, keeps me feeling fresh, and very rare to get much of anything on the wipes. Then at least while ive got little ones in the house i throw in with my cloth diapers and there you go. Hubs is not on board but isnt fighting it either.

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Manuel January 30, 2014 at 9:31 am

I stopped using toilet paper some 15 years ago, because of my hemorrohids problems. I usually wash in a bidet, sometimes with “green soap”. I recommend it to anyone. Manuel from Spain

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Angela Davis January 30, 2014 at 11:06 am

Green soap? Meaning the color is green or it’s easy on the environment? I’m totally curious!

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Randy January 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Almost 20 years ago I stopped using paper towels and use small cloth towels that I usually get at an auto parts place. ( I am a guy, that is where I seem to live ) They are not very expensive but would be cheaper if I learned how to sew again and make my own. Washing costs nothing as they go into what ever is being washed. If you use the red one they bled like mad. I now use white ones meant for washing cars. Also use them instead of tissues.

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Andrea January 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Very interesting topic I never heard about before. I´m glad some people are mentioning bidets here. When it comes to using the bathroom, what might be normal for some people might shock others. Nevertheless, just wanted to let you know that in North African countries, people mostly only use water for cleaning themselves after the toilet. As I am not used to it, I always take my kleenex with me, but yes, this way most people there can go comepletely toilet paper or cloth free!

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Barbra January 21, 2014 at 9:54 pm

I got here after doing a Google search on “cloth toilet paper,” so I’m on board! I’ve been thinking about trying it for a while and there are some great ideas here. Definitely won’t be “sharing” with guests, at least at the beginning, and there will always be TP back-up. I live in an apartment so I have yet to see how this will affect me, laundry-wise (I have to pay $1.75/wash). In any event, thanks!

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dlee January 10, 2014 at 5:38 pm

I’m past this problem at this stage, however, in younger years it would have been an issue with menses. I flowed extremely heavily and it was a relief to flush everything used to clean up. Seems with family cloth this would be a big deal cleaning up rigamarole making biology breaks longer than they already were. For me this aspect was messier than poop. . .just saying.

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Heather January 9, 2014 at 7:18 pm

At some point in my life we had no money and had to use soapy washcloths to clean our potty parts. I was actually happier doing that. It was so much cleaner…That experience made it a no-brainer on the decision to ditch the toilet paper.

We have been using cloth wipes (we call them toilet rags) for about 3 years now. I’m so happy not to have to worry about TP or the expense of it. My husband is the “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it” kinda guy (I love him). My boys literally go with the flow, it’s rare for them to resist change. The boys were 15 and 11 when we started our trial run. I had recently bought a bag of microfiber rags at Costco and thought I’d start with those since it’s what I had on hand. I folded each one in fourths and cut them up. Some of the quarters I took and quarted again so the boys could have something small to wipe the dribble off their boy parts, and come to find out, it works fantastically for dribble on girl parts! I hate using the restroom at work or in public, I have to use TP…gross… We are all happy with the change, no one wishes to return to TP. I have a storage pail in each bathroom along with a spray bottle of water. Never has a stinky smell come forth. But we also eat more organically and try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. I don’t know if that’s the difference but we don’t have an icky smell in the bathrooms. We have guests. LOTS of guests! LOL I do the same thing anytime someone new to our “weird ways” comes over. “We don’t use toilet paper we use toilet rags. There’s a spray bottle of water next to the commode to mist it with. Don’t soak it just dampen it. When you’re done there’s a bin with a lid for you to toss it in.” A few people have freaked but then came around after they have used it. It’s always the same questions about why we do it. That list is long I’m thinking of printing it out and handing it over when they ask. :)

I wash them in a load by themselves with hot water, homemade detergent and vinegar. They are nice and soft and fresh smelling when they come out of the dryer.

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Grandma Betty August 23, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Why go to the trouble of making special cloths? Why not just use soapy washcloths? I raised my kids before disposable wipes came along, and I washed their little bottoms. Sorry, girls, I did not toss that used washcloth in the diaper pail (too much extra laundry!) but washed it out on the spot and hung it to dry. No odor.

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Emily Grosvenor August 9, 2013 at 9:44 am

We thought about trying it and had this ridiculous conversation about it. We decided it just wasn’t for us. http://pioneerperfume.com/2013/08/09/cut-from-the-family-cloth/

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Monica January 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm

I don’t know if you can say you ‘decided’ if you didn’t even try it. Your anecdote reinforces the typical American view that if something is a little out of the norm, it’s too weird and not to be tried. Too bad!

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Amy May 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I’m very intrigued! please include links to all products used, e.g. mesh bags, specific type of material for cloths, etc. Thank you! :)

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Kat May 24, 2013 at 11:17 am

You Go Girl! I’m in awe! My husband and I are thinking of getting a bidet seat that will attach to our toilet and starting there – I’m not sure I can get him behind reusable wipes… So glad you’re sharing your experience with us :)

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Jan May 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm

My husband and I average about a double roll of TP each per week = about $30 per year for our household TP. I know that we could save that $30 by going to cloth wipes, but it is not a big enough budget item to overcome needing a container in each bathroom to hold used wipes and to set up a dispenser system for clean wipes and the laundry. However, I am very interested in having a better quality product that gives a cleaner wipe and softer on the tender skin tissues.

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kim May 22, 2013 at 11:49 am

haha, I was just reading all the comments to my husband. This is an interesting post; and I’m surprised that 1. I never thought about it (we cloth diaper) 2. I was a little grossed out at first too. We have the whole set up for our cloth diapers, so I’m sure it would be easy to switch. Still not sure if we will, but interesting! thanks!

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Nicole May 22, 2013 at 11:44 am

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We are a hybrid TP-Family cloth family. Husband won’t go there – but frankly, he only uses TP for bms. I tend to only use cloth for #1; for a woman, however, that is a significant amount of TP savings. The kids will only proclaim themselves ‘clean’ after a bm IF I wipe with a damp cloth; I think it is a a holdover from cloth diapering. And we always have a roll for guests.

Because we are a cloth diapering family, right now everything just goes in with the diaper laundry. But when we were through with diapers for the big kid and still pregnant with the littles, I just just threw it in with the whites laundry (laundry bin in bath) which I wash on hot. I’ll bet that you have more ecoli on your kids undies from junky tp wiping than you have with just pee cloth.

Regarding smell – I have more problems with staying on top of the the boys ‘missing’ than with the family cloth. Because cloth wipes tend to be more substantial, the cloth never gets ‘soaked’ and thus dries before it becomes stinky.

Finally, I started our family cloth for way less than $30. Scrap pieces of flannel, doubled, around 5×8 size works well – get a flannel sheet from Goodwill. I just zigzag stitched around the edges. Even if you are a novice sewer, it is a really easy project.

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Erin May 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm

You are totally right, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I admit, I use way too much tp and all of these posts have given me ideas on ways I can cut back and use less.

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charolyn May 22, 2013 at 9:59 am

I would like to say, I have learned so much from frugallving in general -in many areas of life & the comments are part of that-keep it coming :-)

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charolyn May 22, 2013 at 9:56 am

Joyell may have a great idea for sanitation-adding the vinegar to the wash. I am a home care nurse & that is what we use to sterile medical equipment in the home-we let it soak for 1/2 hour in diluted vinegar solution-could let it soak for awhile in the washer too (I do that routinely with my wash-pause it for awhile to let items soak).
Another idea for the smell-when my son was a baby & we used diaper service, I had some drops that neutralized odors-really worked too with just a couple of drops.

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Miss Steph May 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm

That’s what I do, too, Charolyn, with my stinkier stuff (pause the washer and let it soak in vinegar for a while). What about using those extra-fine baby washcloths as an alternative, and rinsing them in hot water at the bathroom sink to knock off the “solids” before putting them in the “to-wash” bucket? Just an idea. I love the discussion. The very thought of tp coming from old-growth forests is making me seriously consider alternatives.

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Erin May 22, 2013 at 9:15 am

I don’t think people are being negative, just honest about what will work for them. I love learning about new ways of doing things, but I’m also realistic and know what will work for my family and what won’t. I think that’s what this is all about, learning and trying what will work best for you and your family. I’m interested to learn about how you can keep things sanitized with just hot water. I have a top loader and I’ll be honest, the thought of poop in the washer throws me off too. :)

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Abby May 22, 2013 at 7:47 am

Good grief at the Negative Nellies.

I have two questions:

1. This has been asked, but I’m wondering about the smell in the bathroom from the used wipes and what you do to help with that.

2. Your husband. Was he on board from the get-go? Did he need to be convinced?

And I guess I’d also love to know if this is something you see your family continuing on a long-term basis. Thanks for braving this territory that I’m as of yet too chicken to tread myself :)

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liz May 22, 2013 at 7:25 pm

I agree with Erin’s comments as well.
The post was put up here for us to comment on how we felt, Not everything will work for everybody Abby. A difference of opinion is not negative.

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HeyCupcake May 21, 2013 at 11:50 pm

How many more ways can it be said that this isn’t for everyone

I appreciate the Q&A, definitely liking the upgrade from tp factor; better quality, less dependence on a product considered a necessity…It’s definitely interesting!

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Ruth May 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Interested to read about how you wash them. I just can’t imagine putting it with other clothes. (I’m reading these posts for entertainment purposes only, since I couldn’t even convince my husband to use cloth napkins at the table! Ha! But for the record, I don’t think I could get past the disgusting factor of these bathroom cloths.)

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Laurel May 21, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Sorry, but “disgusting” is a deal-breaker for me. It would probably save me even more to dig a hole in the backyard or just take a dump in the compost bin…still not going to do it.

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Kristina May 22, 2013 at 11:53 am

Like!

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Heidi May 21, 2013 at 10:01 pm

I wouldn’t be mixing them with my regular laundry! My top loader would have a healthy amount of bleach in it. Just like last week in my house when 3 of the kids had stomach flu, everything the got sick on was separate and bleached. And with our water bill that is over $160 a month, and it is set to go up again this month, (and no, we don’t water our grass or have a pool), that would be more spend-y than .50 cents a load.
On the other hand, if you like the cleaner feel and you feel good about doing it, good for you. I totally get that.. I just don’t think that the cost is going to be quite that low for anyone in an expensive water district with a top load washer.

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charolyn May 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Prevention of the dreaded “finger breakthrough” does appeal to me-(and cracks me up-thanks), and no little bits of paper left behind :-)
Adding more wash -as I don’t keep up so well, is what would hinder me.

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Kate May 21, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Cool!

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Jess May 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm

The ideamakes sense…but I think I’m with the majority who will pay for disposable :) im frugal most definitely! But 4 kids around a basket of poopy wipes? Ill pass. :) maybe ill try this when theyre all out of the house and its just us 2!?

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Heidi S May 21, 2013 at 9:35 pm

In addition to the above questions about smell and fabric softener, I’m curious about the pattern for the wipes. I think you mentioned on facebook there was sewing involved?

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Guest May 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm

This seems pretty extreme in general, and extremely gross. Maybe it would work for some folks but definitely not for us or anyone we know.

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Andra May 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Very interesting. I am also curious about smell. I am a mom of 4 myself, and would be concerned about how sanitary my kids would be with using them :). Looking forward to hearing more.

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Ashley May 21, 2013 at 8:49 pm

As someone who lived in Japan for five years and just recently got back to the US… People do love using electronic bidets in Japan, but the seats are also used for warming and other functions. Therefore, one also has to consider the electricity that goes into that–I’m not sure if that’s “greener” than toilet paper, especially as in Japan there is an issue right now using electricity considering the shutdown of most of the nuclear plants. Just want to add this in as something to consider when you try to decide what the “greener” choice is (and this may also vary depending on the country you’re in, etc.)

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liz May 21, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Can’t see putting poop in my washing machine; no matter how good I was at getting the ‘big stuff’ off first. There’s enough e-coli out there already.

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Judyb May 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm

I also did cloth diapers and wipes with my kids and know of other cloth mamas that did cloth wipes some of the people on boards I was on also bought the sprayer to attach to the toilet for spraying down diapers I though to keep less poop on diapers maybe help with less stains. Cloth wipes in our house if I tried them not sure my kids would use them I would not have a problem with it I used wet bags in my diaper buckets and for traveling with diapers and wipes with kids I would like the wipes to be warm. I say that is money well saved to pay off debt or bills or save. I donated a ton of all my diapers wipes covers to my EX-SIL would be ready to try if I did not have to make them

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Blair May 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

This is a interesting experiment, and thank you for sharing your experience.

I wonder how much the cost of growing the cotton (lots of pesticides), processing it, manufacturing the fabric, and shipping it to and from wherever, would affect the overall cost (price and environmental)? Advanced math, and probably wouldn’t affect one’s decision yes or no.

Also, do you use fabric softener with these wipes? I didn’t use it with cloth diapers because it ruined the absorbancy, but do they end up too scratchy without it? That’s one of the jobs I dislike the most about laundry- separating out from the wash load the things that need softener vs the things that shouldn’t.

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charolyn May 21, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Similarly I don’t use it on towels-I too notice it decreased absorbancy-don’t notice increased scratchiness.

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Joyell May 21, 2013 at 10:45 pm

I use vinegar in place of fabric softener. Does that have the same effect on the absorbency? If not, you might try that. I find that it works wonderfully. Plus it’s a natural cleaner to help out the detergent and hot water.

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Crystal May 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I wonder if it would be even better if you did get a bidet to use first. They have ones you can buy and attach to your existing toilet easily enough. It would give you a cleaner feel and probably reduce the need for wipes- or at least reduce the grossness factor on them.

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Doaa May 21, 2013 at 11:37 pm

We have three bidets installed in our three toiletes. $35 on sale on Amazon.com. We still use TP for drying.

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B. May 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Concerned about the smell . . . diaper pails are notoriously stinky. And what happens when you have company? Do you hand them a cloth wipe or ration them with 2 squares of TP?

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Amanda M. May 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Our diaper pails only got stinky after 2 days, and you can sprinkle baking soda on it to cut the smell. Lol on the ration question!

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tanya May 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I totally think you can wipe with whatever type of cloth/tp you want too. I just want to let you know that TP is really a bi-product of trees. So trees aren’t being cut just for TP.(husband is a forester) Proud of you for all your effort in your green challenge.

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Amanda M. May 21, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Alright- I admit that when I read your teaser I was totally grossed out about it. Not anymore. My gut reaction was weird since we did cloth diapering (and wipes)- and not the type with the flushable liners, the good old poop bucket type. Not much difference.

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