If you would have asked me a while back if I’d ever consider using family cloth—AKA: reusable toilet paper—I would have laughed out loud! Of course not. Toilet paper is cheap, sanitary, readily available, and, well, not yucky.
But then two important things happened that changed my tune. First up, I had a baby, and we cloth diapered that baby. Nothing like becoming a parent to get you used to dealing with other people’s bodily fluids.
And then came the toilet paper shortage during the COVID-19 quarantine. While news articles left and right declare that the supply chain will catch up and toilet paper will soon be back on the shelves, that promise does little to help those who are watching their toilet paper supply dwindle by the day. I found myself wanting a more sustainable option so I could stop stalking the toilet paper supply levels online. Enter reusable toilet paper—AKA: family cloth!
I have to be honest, I was highly skeptical beforehand, but using reusable toilet paper is super easy and comfortable—especially after having years of cloth diapering experience under our belts. Wiping with soft cloths has been, dare I say, even enjoyable! Will we use family cloth forever? I’m not sure. But it’s nice to know we have it as a sustainable, self-reliant, comfortable option if we ever need it again. Let me show you how it works in our house.
What do you use for family cloth?
Reusable toilet paper are small pieces of cloth that you use to wipe instead of paper. You use, wash, dry, and reuse the cloth over and over again.
What’s the best fabric to use to make reusable toilet paper?
So the fabric you use for family cloth is the same stuff you’d use for cloth baby wipes: flannel. I think flannel is the very best option because it is incredibly durable, soft, thick, and has excellent cleaning power. Another great thing about flannel is that it’s very affordable to buy and you can find many options in your home to upcycle into family cloth wipes—old flannel sheets or baby blankets, flannel pajamas, flannel shirts—they all make for excellent reusable toilet paper. I made our reusable toilet paper out of a destined-for-donation flannel blanket scarf and a flannel flat sheet.
We personally like one-ply flannel wipes for both baby wipes and family cloth. Two-ply wipes are nice for reusable cleaning cloths, but we find them to be overkill for bum-cleaning.
If flannel isn’t available or you want to try something else, some folks use old t-shirts or other cotton material for family cloth, but flannel is really our fabric of choice here—the absorbancy is top-notch.
How do you make the wipes for family cloth?
We’ll follow the same method for making family cloth wipes as we do for making cloth baby wipes. The process is very simple:
- Cut flannel into 8″ x 8″ squares—you can tweak this size to be larger or smaller if you prefer, but we’ve had good luck with this size.
- Finish the edges of the wipes by either sewing them with a serger, using an overlock stitch on your sewing machine, or just cutting around the edge with pinking shears.
That’s it! Your family cloth is ready to use.
How do I make the rounded corners on the reusable toilet paper?
If you prefer, you can optionally round the corners. I just like the way this looks, and I find it makes sewing the edge closed easier—no stopping and pivoting at corners while you sew, you can just do it in one fell swoop with the rounded corners.
To round the corners, fold the wipe in half, and then in half again, and then use your scissors to cut off the corner of all four layers of fabric.
What’s the best way to finish the edges of the wipes?
There are four ways you can finish the edges of the wipes to avoid fraying from repeated washing. We cover all four in depth in our cloth baby wipes post, but here’s an overview:
- Finish edges with a serger. If you have a serger handy, it’ll make quick work of finishing the edges.
- Finish the edges with an overlock stitch. Many modern sewing machines have overlock stitches (which literally “lock over” the edge of a piece of fabric so it doesn’t fray)—check your machine’s manual. You’ll probably need to use a special presser foot that came with your machine to help do this stitch.
- Finish the edges with a zig-zag stitch. If yours doesn’t have an overlock stitch, a zigzag stitch run near the edge of the wipe will do the trick.
- For a no-sew option, cut around the edge of the wipe with pinking shears. It won’t last quite as long this way, but it’ll definitely slow the fraying.
What’s the process for storing and using reusable toilet paper?
You can use your family cloth either wet or dry—or both. Many folks like dry wipes for #1s and wet wipes for #2.
If you’re using your family cloth wet, I recommend storing the wipes folded in a wipes warmer next to the toilet—your bum will thank you for the warmth. You can use either just plain water or you can actually make a wipe solution. We discovered this wipe solution when we were cloth diapering, and it works just as well on grown-up bums! Depending on how quickly you go through your wipes, wet wipes tend to get mildewy after a few days—especially when it’s hot and humid. Adding a couple drops of tea tree essential oil helps. You can also only make as many wet wipes as you’d typically use in a day or two at a time.
If you want to use your wipes dry, you can just fold them and place them in a small basket next to the toilet. When you’re ready to “go,” you just use the wipes like you would regular toilet paper.
Okay, so what do you do with used wipes?
Now you have a dirty wipe, and you obviously aren’t going to flush it down the toilet, so where do you keep those soiled wipes? Well, there are numerous options, but my favorite is using a zippered wet bag hanging in the bathroom. During our cloth diapering days, we used these large hanging wet bags, but those are bigger than necessary for just family cloth use. We now use these small swimsuit wet bags that hang right next to the toilet on a hook in our bathrooms. We actually had hooks on the sides of our toilets leftover from when our daughter needed a potty seat, and they work out perfectly.
The best part about using a wet bag to store soiled family cloth? You never have to touch a soiled wipe! Used wipes go into the bag, and then when you’re ready to wash, you dump the bag—wipes, bag, all of it!—into the washing machine. Crank your washing machine to the sanitize setting, add your laundry detergent, and you’re good to go—your fingers never even go near a dirty wipe. You do want to wash your family cloth separately from any other laundry to keep things nice and sanitary.
I will note that a wet bag doesn’t contain smells very well—it works just fine for 2-3 days, but any longer than that and your bathroom might get funky. Just as long as you get on a regular schedule of washing your family cloth, your bathrooms will stay nice and fresh smelling.
What’s the best way to wash family cloth?
Most modern washing machines have a sanitize setting that’ll do the trick for getting your wipes clean. If yours doesn’t, a good hot water wash with your regular laundry detergent should do the trick. You can then either air dry your wipes on a clothesline or dry them in your dryer on high for extra sanitation.
Um, my wipes have stains on them. How do I get them out?
Bodily fluids happen, and sometimes those bodily fluids stain. If you’ve washed and dried your wipes and you still see stains on them, sunshine is your best friend! Place your wipes out on a clothesline (or just lay them on a flat surface) in bright sunshine for a few hours. The sunshine not only helps remove the stains, but it’ll also be an extra layer of disinfecting power.
How many pieces of reusable toilet paper do I need for my family?
It’s hard to estimate how many wipes you need, because the amount will depend on your own personal bathroom schedules, how often you are home, and how often you want to do laundry, but a good starting point is six wipes per day per person in your family. So if you want to go two days between washing loads and you have four people in your family, you’d want to have at least 48 wipes on hand. I would recommend a bit more than this for small children with small bladders, or grown-ups who drink a lot of water.
Okay, this is great, but couldn’t I just install a bidet?
You sure can install a bidet! But here in North America, bidets aren’t a common part of our culture, and it can be a little hard for people to adjust—so reusable toilet paper might be an easier change. But bidets will also do the cleaning for you if you’re short on TP.
Do you make guests use family cloth, too?
Well, we’re currently under quarantine, so there are no guests in our home, but if there were, we would absolutely have regular toilet paper available for them to use (if it was, you know, in stock). There is a reason it’s called family cloth—it’s for use in the family.
Is family cloth actually better for the environment than regular toilet paper?
I’m not an environmental impact expert, so I can’t weigh in on this, but I assume that the water and energy needed to wash reusable toilet paper would counteract quite a bit of the benefits of using a reusable product from an environmental standpoint—feel free to share any reputable sources of information you have on this topic in the comments.
Beyond this, there are also quite a few environmentally-friendly toilet paper options available nowadays that might be a better option if you are concerned about your bathroom habits impacting the planet. Here, we’re promoting family cloth as a self-reliant alternative to standard toilet paper instead of focusing on any environmental benefits.
I know that family cloth isn’t going to be for every family (or even most families), but along with basic gardening skills, basic food preservation skills, and basic herbalism skills, I think knowing how to tackle your family’s basic sanitation needs is a self-reliance skill that everyone should have. And who knows? You might just end up loving family cloth and never need to stock up on TP ever again.