Alternatives to Toilet Paper: Switching to Family Cloth or Bidet Use


Could you live without toilet paper? How to ditch toilet paper and save money. Learn to make and use reusable family cloth (cloth wipes). Check out current options for bidet use!

DIY family cloth made from two layers of flannel.
Cloth wipes stored in a basket. Flannel makes for some fun options for prints!

Could you live without toilet paper? How to ditch toilet paper and save money. These easy alternatives to toilet paper are easy to use, ecofriendly, and affordable. 

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You don't need toilet paper. It is NOT a necessity. I was reading a survival site and they were trying to estimate how much toilet paper you should save up for the apocalypse and I had to chuckle because toilet paper is not the item I'd recommend trying to store for the (relatively unlikely) imminent collapse of our society. Can you imagine how much you'd need?! Perhaps I'm an optimist, perhaps I'm just conscious of our storage space, or perhaps it's because I'm a realist- but if there's an apocalypse, I'll be okay if toilet paper is the item I run out of.  Let's talk about why.

About Toilet Paper

First, the use of paper for toilet hygiene is a relatively new concept and the modern toilet paper wasn't invented until the late 1800's. There is record of paper being used in medieval China, however, as early as 6th century A.D. The United States uses much more toilet paper than other countries, something that is thought to be due to the more common use of bidets in other countries. 27,000 trees are used daily to keep up with the world's toilet paper use. Considering the transportation and production costs of toilet paper, you can imagine the difference that could be made by cutting down on our use. 

Family cloth and/or bidet use are a great way to reduce your use of paper products.

Historical alternatives to toilet paper included corn cobs, a communal sponge, old newspaper and catalogs, and leaves.

Toilet paper is designed to break down in modern septic tanks, but depending on where you live and your septic system, some people still throw toilet paper away in a garbage can instead of disposing of it in the toilet.

An Alternative to Toilet Paper: Family Cloth

We began using cloth wipes and cloth diapers on my first son in 2011. I liked the idea of the soft fabrics of cloth diapers against my son's skin instead of plastic. At the time, I was super grossed out by the idea of cloth wipes as an alternative to toilet paper for the whole family. Eventually, after reading other peoples' experiences with cloth, I became curious. Now I'm a convert.

Cloth wipes are often called "family cloth" and they are like using a washcloth to wipe yourself. They're comfortable, they're clean, and they're affordable.

DIY Cloth Wipes

Yes, it seems gross when you hear it. But consider it. You launder soiled underwear. Most people don't just throw their underwear away. And if you have children, then you've likely dealt with a diaper explosion before- and you probably didn't throw those clothes away. You just deal with it and launder the clothes. Laundering cloth wipes is no different.

By using cloth wipes, you can save money and decrease your impact on the environment.  We still buy toilet paper for guests and occasional use, but we have been transitioning more and more to using just cloth. We've noticed a significant decrease in how much we spend on many disposable products. And once you switch to family cloth, using regular toilet paper is akin to using the cheapest toilet paper on the shelf. "Ew, toilet paper."

How to Use Cloth Wipes

Wetting the wipes with water first is the most comfortable option. Wipe as usual.

Dirty wipes are put into a wet bag and then laundered together after a few days. Very simple.

And the best part is that it's a much cleaner option for your body than toilet paper.

It's also a lot easier to use than disposable wipes or toilet paper when potty training a child. Unlike toilet paper, fabric doesn't leave "residue" behind on your body. It also seems to do a better job cleaning you than toilet paper does.

A wet bag can hold all of your dirty family cloth until you're ready to launder them.
This is a small wet bag, often used to store dirty cloth products such as family cloth.

Laundering Cloth Wipes

To wash family cloth, I usually put them through with our cloth diapers when we have a child who is being cloth diapered. But you could wash them by themselves or with towels, depending on your preference. I run my wipes through the washer on a quick cycle with NO detergent first- this is just to rinse the diapers and wipes with cold water. Next I put them in for a full "heavy soil" cycle with high heat, my cloth diaper friendly detergent, and a bit of white vinegar. My current washing machine offers a steam clean option which I often like to use on cloth products as an extra option to sanitize the wipes.

You don't want to put any "solids" (if you know what I mean) through the wash. This really shouldn't be an issue. If this is confusing, think of it this way- if you would launder your clothes with the degree of soiling, then it will be fine in the wash. But you probably would shake out anything loose on your clothes to avoid having it stay in your washing machine. For example, I've found that mud washes out, but if I launder sand then I end up with sand throughout my washer and dryer. Similarly, food particles tend to hang out in my washer and dryer. And poop. Poop will stay in your washer.

Curious what happens when your child has an accident in their underwear and it goes through the washer and dryer? Yeah, look no further because I wrote a post on that and explain how to clean the washer and dryer after. Click here to read more on "How to Clean Poop Out of the Dryer." But this has only happened once in over five years of using cloth and it had nothing to do with my use of cloth products. Pssstt... It was my husband's fault. 

When you launder cloth products, don't use any detergent that has fabric softener in it- fabric softeners tend to decrease the absorbency of fabrics so they're not a good option for cloth diapers or wipes. I use method Free & Clear which I like because it's less messy than other detergents, I can subscribe and save the refills, and I can buy refills for the pump.

If you don't want to deal with #2, then you can use the cloth wipes for #1 and save your toilet paper for #1.

How to Make Cloth Wipes

Sewing cloth wipes is very easy. You just use squares of flannel. I use "two ply" or two layers and serge them together. They're cheap to make, easy to sew, and easy to wash. If you don't sew, you can just buy cloth wipes to use (or use thin wash cloths). I recommend picking up flannel when it's on sale. Some people just cut up old towels or other scrap fabric and use them until they break down. No sewing required.

I wrote all about using reusable cloth products and other products that save me money in my book, "The Complete Guide to Using, Laundering, and Sewing Reusable Cloth Products." The book includes more information on cloth wipes for family cloth and baby, sewing cloth diapers, unpaper towels, reusable snack bags, and more!

Buy a book all about sewing and using ecofriendly products like cloth diapers, wipes, family cloth, and more.

An Alternative to Toilet Paper: Bidets

While this hasn't taken off in the United States yet like it has in other countries, bidets are a wonderful alternative to using toilet paper and cloth wipes. And consider how clean you get if you wash those areas each time you use the toilet, rather than just patting your areas with dry toilet paper. 

It's really much cleaner. And there's no laundry involved so that's even better. And it's an absolute blessing post-partum or if you have any other issues, surgeries, etc. 'down there.' 

Eventually I'd like to replace our toilet seats with bidet seats. In the past, you would need to replace your whole toilet, but now you can just replace the seat or add a sprayer to your current toilet. 

There is some plumbing required if you want to make the water warm, but cold water isn't as uncomfortable as you might expect and sticking with cold water makes install much easier (and more of a DIY project). Some of these seats offer heating and other perks too. Kind of awesome and the prices on them have gotten much, much more reasonable.  

You have four options for bidet use:
  1. Handheld sprayer: If you plan to cloth diaper, these are nice because they double as a cloth diaper sprayer. Upside? They attach to the side of your toilet and you can target the sprayer in whatever direction you wish. Downside? You can target the sprayer in whatever direction you wish. If you have a toddler, you can probably guess the potential problem with that.
  2. Attached toilet seat sprayer: These appear to install under your current toilet seat and shoot water up at your wipable areas. Make sure you're sitting over it when it goes on, haha.
  3. Separate bidet toilet: These are the separate bidets you see at fancy homes and in Europe (and Asia maybe?). I find them intimidating, even though I think bidet use is awesome. I also don't like that they take up extra space which makes it difficult to install in most American homes (unless you customize your bathroom space so one will fit).
  4. Bidet toilet seat: These seats can get pretty fancy and they include a sprayer for use as a bidet, some have the option for heated toilet seats and air drying your tush. I think it's neat and my stepmom has one like this, but I don't spend so much time on the toilet that I want to invest in the electrical and plumbing work required to make all of those features work.  Also, I don't want to sit and wait for my butt to dry. I get impatient with hand dryers at the public restroom too. These are probably less expensive than getting a whole separate bidet, but more expensive than a sprayer or hand sprayer. 

Here are some of the options available online. I'm going to link the particular product shown but if you want the whole list so you can pick your favorites, check out this search on Amazon for Bidet (purchasing using my links helps support my blog so thank you!). I just wanted some photos to show you, but I don't own one of each and Amazon lets me use theirs. 

Sprayer only that attaches to your current toilet seat.

Handheld Bidet Sprayer: These work great for rinsing cloth diapers too. I used something similar for our cloth diapers.

Bidet toilet seat with heat and drying function.

Seeing the prices on some of these bidets, I may have to pick up one or two to try them out. They're much more affordable than they were in the past! We have special toilet seats for our children to potty train so I need either the handheld bidet sprayer or the toilet seat attachment sprayer. 

If you don't want to buy the attachment that dries you, you can always use cloth wipes for drying only, but to my understanding it's not absolutely necessary.

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How to live without toilet paper: Saving money and the environment by switching to reusable cloth wipes.

Ditching toilet paper for more ecofriendly options.

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DIY Danielle: Alternatives to Toilet Paper: Switching to Family Cloth or Bidet Use
Alternatives to Toilet Paper: Switching to Family Cloth or Bidet Use
Could you live without toilet paper? How to ditch toilet paper and save money. Learn to make and use reusable family cloth (cloth wipes). Check out current options for bidet use!
DIY Danielle
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