How to make your own reusable toilet paper
A few years back, my family took a 10-day adventure to make our own cloth toilet paper (reusable cloth wipes). The response varied between milk curiosity to downright ANGER. Who knew that people cared so much about how strangers wiped their privates?
If you’re also curious or perhaps even interested in giving this reusable toilet paper thing a shot, here are answers to your cloth toilet paper questions:
What is a family cloth/reusable toilet paper/reusable wipe?
A piece of cloth that is used in lieu of toilet paper that can be washed and used again.
How do you make reusable wipes?
You can buy cloth baby wipes off Amazon, etsy, a wholesale site or make them yourself. The cheapest option is cut up an old t-shirt, bath towel, flannel bed sheet, or something else, or you can make some out of fabric from the fabric store.
I went the sewing route. I purchased about seven yards of soft flannel from my local fabric store, washed it a couple of times, and sewed them double strength (two layers). Total overkill — the two layers were actually too thick for most situations.
If I did it again, I’d just cut up the fabric with pinking shears so the edges wouldn’t fray. If a double layer was needed, just fold the thing in half. I made each wipe about 7 x 5 inches finished (similar to the size of a baby wipe).
Actually, if I did it again, I’d just buy a pack of cloth baby wipes off Amazon. I don’t suggest you use regular washcloths — they are way to thick for this business.
I selected a patterned design just because I could. If you’re concerned about staining, buy brown or another dark color.
I seriously spent WAY too much time researching the size, material, and construction of these things. I suggest you just cut some and see how it goes because, come on, you’re wiping yourself with these. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
How many wipes do you need?
I suggest you have a 3-4 day supply for your family. If you have less, you’ll be annoyed with how much laundry you have to do. If you have more, you won’t do laundry often enough and stuff will start stinking.
So, if you’re stocking for men and boys, you don’t need so many, right? The ladies will need a bunch more.
For my family of six, I should have about 100 wipes to have a four-day supply. Ideally, I’d want to wash every three days.
Where do you store the clean wipes?
- In a drawer next to the toilet
- In a basket on the toilet tank
- In a re-purposed baby wipes tub on the toilet tank
- In a drawstring bag hanging from the toilet paper holder
How do you actually use them?
Just use them dry for urine and wet them a bit in the sink for the other stuff. I did put a bunch in a plastic wipes container and wet them down to save the “wet one in the sink” step, but they started smelling mildew-y within a day or two.
You can also keep a spray bottle filled with water by the toilet to wet them down. I knew our bathroom would experience significant water damage if I gave my boys a water bottle while pooping, so we went with the “wet before you sit down” strategy.
You could use a bidet, a spray hose installed in your toilet, or even a peri-bottle to clean off after poop, then wipe with a dry cloth if you’re super concerned by the mess.
Do you use the wipes again or do you wash them between uses?
This question cracked me up. Sorry. Obviously you wash them between uses. “Reusable” means you don’t throw them away, but they are washed between uses.
Where do you store the used wipes?
Again, a few options.
Obviously, in a container of some sort. Most people instinctively want to throw them in a bucket-o-liquid (like water, water + baking soda, water + bleach), but there are a number of problems with this. Buckets with liquid pose a drowning risk for small children and obviously buckets with bleach pose a danger, especially for, say, boys with diminished brain capacity (read: all boys under 12).
Another problem is that throwing them in water actually breeds bacteria growth. I realize that most people a few decades ago threw the dirty diapers in a pail with some liquid solution, but that’s pretty much not the recommended method anymore.
So, no water soak.
You can put them in a “wet bag” made for dirty diapers or a plastic garbage can or a sweater-sized mesh laundry bag, which is what we did. I purchased a small can with a swinging lid from the Dollar Tree for each bathroom and they worked perfectly.
This drawstring mesh laundry bag from Amazon should work well if you want a liner.
Do the stored used wipes stink?
Eh, not really. If you’re washing them every few days you’ll catch them before the urine smell gets too toxic. And honestly it’s the urine you’ll smell before the poop. Weird, I know.
How do you wash the wipes?
Again, I did some serious research into this not because I personally cared (I am not a germ-a-phob) but because I knew some of you were going to freak on me over the washing of these things.
There’s not a ton of information out there about how to properly wash reusable wipes. Most of the directions are on washing cloth diapers which is close, but not exactly the same.
Cloth diaper washing techniques are concerned with preserving the cloth diaper itself (shape, absorbency, pH balance, color) as the thing is on the baby’s bottom for a couple of hours, so this stuff actually matters. We really don’t care about all of this with wipes because they are touching our skin for 1-2 seconds and keeping the shape and absorbency on a small piece of cloth isn’t worth the extra washing care involved.
These factors pushed me to the conclusion that most of the “wash separately, add certain detergent, soak for a certain amount of time, add an extra rinse cycle, do a final vinegar rinse” routine was unnecessary.
I was concerned with two things:
1. Washing the wipes in hot water and drying them in the dryer on hot to kill feces germs (urine is sterile).
2. Washing the wipes separate from kitchen towels in the rare case of contamination.
Yes, I washed the wipes with other stuff. And no, I wasn’t worried about poop touching the other clothing. Seriously? I’ve been accidentally touching other people’s poop ON MY SKIN for almost a decade. Direct contact, people. Washing wipes with my clothes isn’t a big deal at this point.
Some factors to consider: Most of us with children just throw pee-clothes and poop-streaked underwear in the wash with everything else. We don’t bust out the haz-mat suits. This is the same. Plus, all of our undies contain some amount of germs and we are assured that the washing/drying routine gets them clean enough to wear again without killing us. Again, a similar situation with the wipes.
YES, I know it’s not exactly the same, but it’s not as bad as some of you are imagining.
If you use a mesh laundry bag or a wet bag, you just pull it out of the garbage can and dump the contents into the washer along with the bag. This keeps you from any direct contact with the soiled wipes. If you have a top-loading washing machine, it’s super easy to just dump the contents into the washer without needing a bag.
You’ll probably want to rinse out the bucket and let it air dry every couple of days to avoid mildew issues.
Do you use fabric softener or a vinegar rinse or bleach?
No. The flannel I used for the wipes is soft and actually gets softer with use so I don’t think any softener is necessary. And bleach is so 1977, right? I just used regular fragrance-free laundry detergent (that’s what we use on everything).
How did you convince your husband to use wipes?
Really? You must not know the man. He hasn’t used toilet paper in 15 years and calls toilet paper “sand paper.” He’s been using baby wipes for his wiping purposes since 2000 and was the first one to fist-pump this experiment.
Do you make guests use the wipes?
Of course not. I want to keep my friends. I had toilet paper available right there on the roll for their wiping pleasure.
Will you be making this change for the long term?
No. But, rest assured, my husband has is a full-on reusable wipes convert. I have switched to the one-ply toilet paper in an effort to use less natural resources.
Still fascinated? Be sure to read why we tried out using reusable cloth toilet paper and the reasons why one might use reusable cloth toilet paper.
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So interesting! Thank you for sharing this experiment and results!
Urine is NOT sterile. BTW it also doesn’t sooth stings. Please people, don’t use TV shows as your source of medical knowledge.
Love this article! You’re so down to earth and REAL!! Some bloggers are either too pretentious, preachy or just trying too dang hard. Love your sense of humor.
Kevin Lindgren says
I consider myself very frugal, but I would have to be at the depths of despair to resort to this.
And after the work to make, store, wash, I dont see how much is really saved.
“Buckets with liquid pose a drowning risk for small children and obviously buckets with bleach pose a danger, especially for, say, boys with diminished brain capacity (read: all boys under 12).”
Wish I had a photo of my husband and his brother borrowing champagne glasses from their mother’s cupboard, filling with bleach “it must be champagne, it looks just like it” but — thank goodness Mom walked in before the glasses reached their lips. Yes, they were pre-12. It lasts longer than age 12 though, admit it.
Loved this article!! You’re awesome!
Carol L says
People frequently leave ‘non human’ items outside in the sun to sanitize them…like towels, rugs, etc. non living things can’t get cancer! So, there is little danger putting these wipes outside in the sun to sanitize them! It won’t carry the “cancer causing” elements once out of the sun.
I found this article while reading about methods for reusable bathroom wipes. The whole topic came to mind while reflecting on the hysteria over toilet paper at the onset of the pandemic. “If you didn’t have toilet paper”, I thought, “couldn’t you just use a cloth and wash it? It wouldn’t be the end of the world”.
I read elsewhere that bacteria is the main concern, particularly e-coli. Maybe leaving the cloth under an ultraviolet light would be a good way to eliminate the bacteria. UV is very effective at killing bacteria and disinfecting. You can buy intense UV bulbs for not much money.
Regarding eco friendliness and the need to ‘pre wash’ the excess – It’s kind of gross, but maybe instead of rinsing a cloth under a stream of water, you could scrape it, with a knife or file. Then the only water you use would be from the main wash.
Good Ideas, but please keep in mind that UV is carcinogenic, please use necessary precautions. Does anyone have feedback about those expensive toilet seat bidets that warm-water-wash and dry you? They are really expensive but if they work well why not?
All sunlight is carcinogenic. That doesn’t mean we don’t go outside. Using a UV lamp or wand safely would be just fine. It’s important to never look right at it and not leave it on constantly.
I love how this thread is still going after all these… years!
Years ago, I installed a “toilet hose,” actually more akin to the functionality of a bidet, and knock on wood have had no issues with it at all, no upgrades or replacements, even. All has been well. Thank God for youtube, which helped me through the installation process.
I continue to use family cloth and I continue to like it. I still have not found a labor unintensive way to deal with it all. I’ll explain.
First, my family cloth lasts three weeks, at least. Meaning, after use, drop it in a cloth laundry back next to the toilet and IT IS FINE to sit there three weeks before washing. Then I wash it. The labor intensity comes with the folding. I’m so tired of folding it all, and I long for an easier but still attractive way to manage the clean cloth seamlessly, so to speak. I live alone and I dislike clutter in my bathroom, as background info.
Carol L says
Why don’t you use smaller cloths? I purchased Under the Nile from Amazon, and they are about 5 x 7. They are perfect, and I store them without folding. I actually plan to cut them in two, as I find even they are a bit too large. Those are a bit spendy, so I purchased some bamboo ones which are square and after washing, feel they, too, will be too large so plan to make 4 out of each of those.
I’m liking the bidet option, and have been thinking about it for #2, as I use TP for wiping it mostly clean and then using FC for the final) always using a witch hazel/aloe based spray with added calendula and comfrey to moisten the area so the cloth doesn’t cause issues.
The only reason I haven’t done the toilet bidet is I have a well, and in the winter, the water is SOOOOO COLD!
I, too, leave my FC for a reasonably long time. I find that without any water in the small step can I use, there is NO smell and NO other issues with it.
Like with diapers, I only wash these by themselves, using a small load option on my washing machine.
I actually bought a non electric washing machine (uh…several, in fact! PLUS a TINY electric one that would work as well to save water) Purchased mostly for long term power outages.
Do you connect hose to sink faucet, can you get warm water?
You definitely can, as long as your sink’s pipes are easily accessible. If they’re covered with a cabinet, you’ll need to be okay drilling a hole in the cabinet for the tubes to come out of, which can be a deterrent for a renter.
I didn’t hook my bidet to the hot water, because I don’t mind cold, but I did connect it to my sink, because my toilet’s model prevents me from hooking it up there. With my pedestal sink, it works great.
Try rolling instead of folding, stack the rolls into a small bin.
Still didn’t do it yet… ok, this week. Tomorrow.
Installed a $25 toilet sprayer in the 2020 T.P. shortage, this was a move I’d been contemplating for a while, so it was the final impetus to take the plunge. Not only was it easy to install, and required very little behavior adjustment, there was an added, unexpected benefit: one family member with a relatively minor but chronic hemorrhoid issue which had persisted for decades experienced quick relief, to the point that no medication was required. When we were away from the sprayer for a month, the condition returned–toilet sprayer FTW!
What? $25? I have been looking at toto washlet for $$$$, tell me more about the $25 toilet sprayer please!
This made my day, so real, and by the way frugal too. Still afraid to do it, encourage me. I sew, so it’s not the wipe, it’s the poop part. I would not leave pooper ones around for a second, so I will handwash the poopy ones? (don’t want to think about it.)
I would like to use them at work, but wondering how to manage that. I’m worried about dioxins in TP.
Use a wet bag that can discreetly travel to and from with you.
With a bidet, our cloths are basically butt-drying towels. Rare is the moment when the swipe comes up with anything but a wet spot. We have been using a bidet for 16 years but only in the last 3 did we swap from TP to Reusable wash cloths.
People are VERY weird about it. We actually had a neighbor friend find out about it and she told her kids to stay away from our kids, and she thinks that what we are doing is against god somehow.
Anyway, for three bidets we spent $47 each, and bought 2 $14 12-packs of wash cloths for all our bathrooms. $178 to never buy TP again. $208 if you include the bins we got for the dirties. Sure, there are running costs associated with using them (whatever the price is for water and detergent for an extra load of laundry every week), but those are so negligible we can’t be bothered to calculate them. We did a rough estimate and figured we spent about our startup cost every year on TP, and our kids were in diapers at the time. So we probably save about $400 a year. I doubt 50 loads of laundry costs anywhere near that… maybe close to that if you use a coin laundromat.
This is the most stupid idea I have ever heard! I’d sooner purchase wash cloths, cut them in half and wrap used ones in tin foil to avoid odor!
Carol L says
I have been using reusable TP for many years now, and I can tell you, if you DO NOT add water, there is no odor. I have a small step trash can next to my toilet, and put the used ones in there. I have purchased about 5 sets of under the nile cloths and when those are all used, I wash them. They last quite awhile. there has NEVER been ANY odor! I know it is a personal preference, but I really like this idea. I often use a homemade solution to soften the cloth, sort of like a wet wipe, but only used occasionally. There is STILL no odor.
I also know that to some this is an unpleasant thought. That is fine. But some of us have tried it and really like it. I’m one who was sold the first time I tried it. I find most toilet ‘paper’ to be harsh and won’t absorb liquid well. (plus, like the commercial, there always seems to be “residue” left over! ugh!) Cloths, if you don’t use fabric softener, will absorb quite well, and won’t leave tissue behind…sorry for the pun!. I find this to be better than TP in almost all cases. It works better in my opinion.
Honestly, they don’t stink. I was afraid they would because I have a really sensitive sense of smell and I’ve never noticed an odor. I keep my used wipes in a cloth bag so they can air out. I think dirty underwear can smell worse and no one thinks reusing those is weird. Just saying.
Brandie Jo Frazier says
I just started using reusable tp. We installed a bidet on each toilet. We love it and it’s way cheaper than buying toilet paper.i was just looking on here for ideas on wear to put the used wipes when done before washing. Thanks for the information.
Brook Gray says
Thank you so much for putting out a comprehensive article about the TP alternative. With all the TP hoarders out there, I was trying to find alternatives if I ran out. I shared this on facebook so my friends, who are also finding it hard to find TP, know they have other alternatives. And it’s environmentally friendlier, to boot! Thanks again!