Cloth Around the House

admin January 24, 2010

I’ve mentioned in other blogs that another way to save money is to use cloth instead of paper towels, toilet paper, and other products around the house. But WHY?

First, you can use cloth around the house to replace these products:
*Paper towels
*Toilet paper
*Disposable “dish cloths” (made from really cheap fabric for only a few uses)

It might seem weird or gross to you to use these items. But think about all of this:

*In a fancy restaurant, you use cloth napkins. Which have been washed many times and used by tons of strangers! But this is considered upscale, not gross. Why not do the same at home?

*50 years ago, handkerchiefs were the norm, not Kleenex. We can still use them, just make sure to wash after use so bacteria can’t grow (I’ve never had a problem though).

*Dishcloths are only breeding grounds for bacteria if you ball them up and leave them wet. Spread them out and let them dry and there’s no problem!

*Un-paper towels are meant for one use (typically) before washing, so there’s no mess to spread around and no time for them to get yucky!

*Family cloth (i.e. “toilet paper”) can be thrown into the wash with cloth diapers if you use them, or with dirty bath towels if you don’t (meaning no additional washes, and it doesn’t have to touch your clothes or anything).

There really is a significant environmental savings to be had here. First, there’s all that paper you’re not using. The soft, cushy toilet paper that most consumers demand is 100% new wood pulp, causing a serious deforestation problem. An average tree can be made into up to 1000 rolls, and the average family of 4 requires 100 rolls per year. Toilet paper also can’t be recycled (although it CAN be made from recycled material, thus saving trees initially AND saving that paper from going into a landfill). The making of toilet paper is a serious problem, and causes more ecological impact than driving SUVs or eating fast food. According to this source, we could save 470,000 trees, 1.2 million feet of cubic landfill space, and 169 million gallons of water if everyone in the US traded one roll of regular toilet paper for a recycled roll. Since the average American uses about 24 rolls per year, if we switched to ONLY recycled paper, we could save 11,280,000 trees, 28.8 million feet of cubic landfill space, and 4 BILLION gallons of water PER YEAR!!

Toilet Paper World also says this:

In the early 1970s, an EPA study for Congress concluded that using one ton of 100% recycled paper saves 4,100 KWH of energy (enough to power the average home for six months) and 7,000 gallons of water. It also keeps more than 60 pounds of pollution out of the air and saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, which is increasingly important as many local landfills near their capacity. Paper industry representatives have estimated that one-ton of recycled paper saves approximately 17 trees.

This is a HUGE deal, everyone! The environmental impact of toilet paper isn’t just what happens once it’s used and flushed. It’s what happens when it’s produced! We could save even MORE by not using any toilet paper at all, but we need to at least use 100% recycled!

There is also the harmful effects of the bleach used to produce the white toilet paper that most people typically use and want. According to Pollution Issues, “Between 50 and 80kg of chlorine is needed to bleach each tonne of pulp of which approximately 10% will go on to bind with organic matter to produce furans, dioxins and other organochlorines.” That’s bad for the environment, and bad to press against your very absorbent skin!

Annual cost of toilet paper is around $140 (for a family of 4). If you make your own wipes, it’ll cost about $12 to make 30 2-layer, 8 x 8 flannel wipes. That’s a HUGE savings just in the first year.

Approximately 3000 tons of used paper towels end up landfills each year! That is a lot. Using cloth can help to stop that. It’ll also save you a lot of money. The average household uses about 2 rolls of paper towels per week, and with costs around $1/roll, that’s $100 per year. Cloth shouldn’t cost more than $10 to buy, and probably less to make.

I could keep convincing you about the environmental impact, but as you can see, it’s huge. Most paper products are produced in a similar way and we, as Americans, use WAY too many of them. The easiest and best thing to do is to make your own cloth to use at home. Here are some (mostly no- sew) ideas for doing it yourself:

*Cut up old terry cloth towels in 8 x 8 squares to use as rags, toilet “paper,” etc. No hemming necessary.
*Cut up old beach towels to use as napkins
*Cut old sheets
*Buy flannel and sew it together (right sides together), leaving a small part unsewn. Then turn it and sew it closed.
*Cut any fabric and “hem” the edges with an iron and finishing tape

You can also buy these re-usable items at various stores. Many good (and reasonably-priced) items are on Etsy.

We’ve replaced some our tissues with cloth, and I’ve used cloth “toilet paper” before (right after Daniel was born). It was a LOT softer. I really preferred the cloth. I’ve used cloth instead of paper towels too and it’s fine — I keep a laundry basket in my kitchen so I can toss used ones there along with my kitchen towels (and downstairs bathroom towels). They get washed every couple of weeks. Bathroom wipes go in a special bag then get tossed in with diapers or bath towels. If they don’t have their own wash, then they really don’t increase water usage at all.

I thought up a great kitchen project (a year ago, that I have yet to try): making 12 x 12 cloth towels, and making it so they can snap together and get rolled up! Of course, you can just set your towels in a small basket, they don’t really need to get rolled, but it would be kind of cool.

Finally, since I haven’t tried everything myself, I’ve provided some resources from people (mainly other bloggers) who have tried this cloth in their homes.

Going Green with Family Cloth (in the bathroom)
Family Wipe Experiment
Family Cloth
Benefits of Cloth Wipes
Cloth Napkins
Un-paper Towels

Did you learn anything new about the environmental impact of disposable items (I did!). Will you consider changing some of your family’s habits?

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  1. Not sure hubby would be on board with the family cloth idea, but I'm certainly interested to see the types of comments you get on this. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I don't know that I could do bathroom family cloth, but we cloth diaper (as you know) and use cloth napkins on a regular basis. We keep a basket of them on the table and I throw them in the wash when they look dirty or we can't remember who's was who's! No extra wash as they get thrown in with everything else and there's only a handful of them per wash day.

    I use some coth tissues, mainly for Liea, in her room. Her bum wipes double as tissues in this instance. It's convienent there since that's where the diaper pail is. They are homemade flannel, some are 2 layers and some just 1 layer that I cut with pinking shears.

    I suppose we also do some un-paper towels. We have a basketful of cheap white washcloths that I use for cleaning purposes- dog's feet, kitchen spills, etc. The main thing is getting my husband to stop using so many paper towels! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I will certainly look into recycled toilet paper now though. Thanks!


  3. Maybe cloth for #1, but sticking to toilet paper for #2!


  4. We use some of Cam's older diaper inserts (the microfibers) for cleaning rags. They are super dusters, have some scrubbing power and soak up spills like NO OTHER! Well, except maybe a ShamWOW, lol. They are our go-to cleaning cloth. We try to remember to use cloth wipes for Cam's diaper changes (just use baby washcloths and wash them with the diaper laundry). We also use an old-fashion sponge mop as opposed to the Swiffer disposable types.


  5. Liesel,

    Thought you might be interested in what we are making and selling. Our countertop "towel house" dispensers evolved first out of wanting to save money by using cloth towels, but also knowing my family (read: my dear husband) would probably not make the transition away from paper towels unless it was totally convenient. ๐Ÿ™‚ You can check them out here:


  6. I bought some cheap washcloths to use as family cloth. But they were too big so I cut some of them in half. They still seem to be too big. So I bought some terrycloth fabric and cut them smaller and serged the edges.

    I started out being the only one using these….but I have noticed my husband has started using them too! We have a bidet so it makes the cleanliness 'issues' for certain messes a little easier to handle!


  7. kai-
    Thanks for the idea! It's on our list of goals to implement!

    Susan b-
    I was thinking about bidets last night and it would make it so much nicer!



  8. Great article! You really make a good case for the environmental benefits. What has sold me on cloth is the aesthetic/practical benefits–it's just better than paper for pretty much everything! I have some articles you could add to your Resources if you like…but I can't figure out how to post links here, so I'll just put my handkerchief article as the URL connected to my name.

    We cut up old, soft, cotton knit garments like T-shirts and underwear to make little cloths that we keep in an empty tissue box next to our bed. They're great for anytime we need a tissue in bed–so soft and absorbent! I also use them instead of toilet paper for pee when I'm at home, and they are MUCH BETTER than TP for getting dry and fresh, and they don't fall apart and leave shreds all over me! But I work outside the home and can't quite face carrying a bag of little cloths to the restroom every time.


  9. I'm so enjoying your blog! Adding you to my reader! (and thanks for the congrats! ๐Ÿ™‚ )


  10. I'm so enjoying your blog! Adding you to my reader! (and thanks for the congrats! ๐Ÿ™‚ )


  11. I'm so enjoying your blog! Adding you to my reader! (and thanks for the congrats! ๐Ÿ™‚ )


  12. I'm so enjoying your blog! Adding you to my reader! (and thanks for the congrats! ๐Ÿ™‚ )


  13. I'm so enjoying your blog! Adding you to my reader! (and thanks for the congrats! ๐Ÿ™‚ )


  14. I'm so enjoying your blog! Adding you to my reader! (and thanks for the congrats! ๐Ÿ™‚ )


  15. I can honestly say I've never thought about using family cloth. You make a strong case, but I'm wondering how you deal with the logistics of it after you've wiped. Do you soak them in a bucket or something until you have enough to wash? I don't have a very big bathroom and I have to pay for laundry so logistics are a big deal for me.


  16. Meghan,

    I just use a small, zippered waterproof bag. Some do use a bucket but that would be big, heavy, and stinky. The bag doesn't smell and can be tucked out of the way easily. You can soak the wipes just before washing them, once or twice a week. It really doesn't have to be complicated. ๐Ÿ™‚


  17. Great post! I pick up kitchen towels in the clearance section at HomeGoods. I love pointing out that you don't need an occasion to use real napkins. Of course, I cloth diaper – I've tested each one in my store, and they really work better than disposable diapers!


  18. We use cloth here most all the time, except for when there is meat, eggs, etc.. involved. The older inserts from the boys' diapers, make great dust rags and such. I'm all for the "family" cloth thing as well.

    I know it sounds weird, but I've never bought maxi pads, when I occasionally use them. I actually make my own. Just store the "used" ones in a shallow bucket filled with cold water (also has a lid) and throw in with the diapers when I wash. I drain the "used" water and water the houseplants with it. The plants love it.

    LOVE CLOTH and plan to keep on using until it falls apart. ๐Ÿ™‚


  19. LKoh-

    I may be reading your comments incorrectly, but are you stating that you water your plants with leftover water from soaking your cloth menstrual pads? Unfortunately, I'm picturing you(my face pinched with disgust!) carrying the bucket throughout the house to water the plants and wondering how much bacteria you are spreading. Ever think you might be carrying this recycling thing a bit too far?


  20. Judy-
    Yes, I do use the leftover water for the house plants (not in the garden). The water can be used to water house plants because they like all the extra vitamins and minerals. If it's really bad, I usually flush down the toilet.

    I do know that a lot of people are grossed out about it, but that was the way I was raised. Now I do use disposable diapers and such when we travel and stuff. Not much for carrying the mess around with me.

    Just a little history – Disposable pads didnโ€™t become common in America until after WW II. They were originally used as for bandaging wounds and such during the war. Among rural and low-income women they didnโ€™t catch on until the 1960โ€™s. As with diapers, there have always been people who prefer cloth to disposable. Disposable pads do not biodegrade very quickly. Plastic diapers and sanitary napkins are likely to be two of the most common artifacts that future archaeologists will find when excavating landfills from the 20 and 21 Centuries.


  21. Judy, click my name for an article about reusable menstrual gear. Menstrual flow is sterile until it leaves the body; it is NOT full of bacteria! I actually had a dramatic reduction in urinary tract infections when I switched from disposable tampons to a cup that I don't even wash every time I empty it. Disposable pads and tampons are not sterile, so you never know what's on them (from people sneezing in the factory or whatever) that you are introducing to your body.

    However, I do feel creeped out by the idea of feeding my plants my own blood; it sounds like the opening premise of a bad horror movie! So I stick with feeding them coffee grounds. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Meghan, if you switch to "family cloth" just for pee, that will cut your TP use by about half without any complex laundry logistics. I put my cloths in one of those zippered mesh bags for laundering "delicates" and keep that on top of the laundry in the basket. As long as the cloths are allowed to dry quickly, they don't smell or stain. (I've never tried leaving them a long time, though…I do laundry every other day.)


  22. The best way to clean cloth diapers is to pre-rinse them off in the toilet using a Hand Bathroom Bidet Sprayer. So convenient and if you are trying to help the environment (and your pocket book) you can give it a double whammy by virtually eliminating toilet paper use at the same time as you benefit from using it on the diapers, by using it on yourself. I'm not sure how many people know this but that is what they were originally created for. I think Dr. Oz on Oprah said it best: "if you had pee or poop on your hand, you wouldn't wipe it off with paper, would you? You'd wash it off" Available at they come in an inexpensive kit and can be installed without a plumber. Now we're talking green and helping the environment without any pain.


  23. I would like to recommend a bidet for the toilet. We have inexpensive ones that attach to toilet, and are great for washing bottoms, then using cloth "toilet Paper" is not at all gross! We learned this from Japanese exchange students. The bidet can also be used to rinse diapers in the toilet.


  24. I've been using family cloth (tp and pantyliners-both homemade) for several years now, and I love it!! I keep a basket of clean cloths in a basket under the sink and a canvas tote bag under the sink for the soiled ones. When the bag gets full I just dump it out in the washer and toss the bag in too. I wash on hot on a long cycle w/natural laundry soap and some oxi clean. Almost never get stains, but when I do I soak the stained ones in oxi clean for a few days, and voila! The bag of soiled cloths never gets stinky and I use them for all kinds of wipes ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Mine are made from t-shirts and washcloths w/serged edges. They hold up so well, and they're so much more comfy than paper. I do provide a roll of paper tp for guests, but it's always the recycled, non-chlorine bleached kind. I don't have munchkins yet, but when I do they'll have cloth dipes and wipes.


  25. I have been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.


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Iโ€™m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben. ย I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. ย Iโ€™m also a big fan of โ€œfancyโ€ drinks (anything but plain water counts as โ€˜fancyโ€™ in my world!) and I canโ€™t stop myself from DIY-ing everything. ย I sure hope youโ€™ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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