Gallery: Family Cloths: Reusable Toilet Wipes, Gross or Great?


Many of us who try to lead eco-conscious lifestyles are likely already using many reusable, washable fabric items for both household and personal use; cotton dish cloths, washable baby diapers, handkerchiefs, and Glad Rags-type menstrual cloths are growing in popularity, but there’s one area in which we may all be eco-offenders: the ‘loo. The fluffy white toilet tissue that most of us use to dab at our nether-regions is usually made of virgin tree fiber, unless we’ve gone for a brand that uses recycled materials. Using TP with recycled content is better for both trees and the planet’s water supply, but there’s still a lot of processing that’s required to create it, and there’s likely to still be some old-growth forest wood pulp in there too. If we’d like our personal care habits to be as eco-friendly as possible, what other options can we look into? Short of keeping a pile of mullein leaves or a bucket of water and a ladle beside the toilet, there aren’t too many alternatives that don’t involve something disposable.

Enter “Family Cloths”

There aren’t many of us who would truly balk at the thought of using washable cloth diapers for babies and toddlers, but the thought of wiping away our own excretions with strips of flannel cloth and then washing them later seems to be an entirely different story. Most people seem to go a bit green and twitchy at the mere thought of these cloths, so actually using them would be out of the question — despite how much better they are for the environment (and our bodies) than toilet paper is. Have we always been so squeamish about our bodily functions? Would switching over to washable fabric wipes really be that disgusting? Most pro-cloth websites do a good job of dispelling the hideous imaginings that many may have about whether the practice is sanitary or not, and advocates have described a variety of methods that they use for keeping things clean and tidy.

It appears that the standard method of using these cloths is to keep a pile of clean cotton flannel strips near the toilet (apparently a facial tissue box is great for storing them), and something akin to a diaper pail with a lid nearby for the soiled wipes. Apparently these pails are half-filled with solutions made with either vinegar, peroxide, or essential oils to stave off bacterial growth and unpleasant odors once the used cloths have been tossed in, so that pail can just be up-ended into the washing machine every other day to swished everything clean again. That doesn’t sound terribly impractical, but it does seem to add up to more laundry being done, and that’s another source of wasted water.

Pros and Cons

Let’s take a look at some of the positive and negative aspects of these washable wipes.


  • They’re reusable and eco-friendly
  • They can be made from old sheets and t-shirts, so no purchase is necessary
  • Using them reduces water waste/pollution from the paper industry
  • No trees get chopped down to create them
  • They can last for years before being replaced
  • They’re softer and more gentle on skin
  • There’s that “ick” factor, and it’s a significant one
  • Textural differences might be an issue (both clean and soiled)
  • If dropped in the bowl, they have to be fished out so they don’t clog anything
  • They need frequent laundering
  • Not all stains will disappear in the wash, so they’ll get manky-looking over time
  • Cross-contamination in case of yeast infections or illness if not washed properly


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  1. Violetmaid November 25, 2014 at 4:52 am

    While my family don’t use cloth wipes, I have a friends who’s family does.
    They all have their own patterned wipes which are washed together, then separated into different patterned (made with same material/pattern as wipes) drawstring bags. These then hang on hooks on the bathroom wall.
    Sadly my family can’t get past the “ick” factor.

  2. MadRecluse July 26, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve been using them for 3 weeks now, and I love them. However, I only use them for urination. I absolutely cannot stomach the idea of using them for #2. No way, gross..IMO. The reason I chose to use cloth is not for environmental reasons – it’s to save money – pure and simple. My cloths are single layer, white. I just bought 2 metres and then used pinker scissors to cut the squares. There is a little fraying when washed, but it’s not too bad and it only happened after the 1st wash. I don’t have a sewing machine and was not going to spend $20 for 20 wipes (plus shipping) from people who sell them online. The pinker scissors cost me triple the price of the flannel, but that’s a small price to pay when considering I’d need about 100 squares to last me a full week. I’ll probably replace the flannel wipes every 6 months – which is a cost of just $13 for 2 metres. All in all, I’m very happy I’ve switched and they feel so much better to use than paper. Oh, and I live alone so there is no sharing (I wouldn’t share these with anyone else).

  3. annetteabu February 28, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    You can get bidets throught Dr Mercola or the company he buys them from. We have one and it works great! :) We love the cloth wipes too! :)

  4. Kay Smith November 6, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Forgot to mention that a good sunning removes almost all stains…especially if you SUN them BEFORE putting in the dryer.

    Have a great echo-friendly day, & thanks for all your efforts for a greener planet.

  5. Kay Smith November 6, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    I’ve been using cloth wipes for over five years & definitely recommend them. I live alone so don”t have the concern of sharing. I got a fabulous deal on baby washcloths…6 per pkg & 4 pkgs for $1. I bought $10 worth. Do the math…that’s a lot of cloths. Trust me…I shared. I think these baby wash cloths are a perfect size & I like that the edges are all secured in binding.

    I use TP for first “rear” wipe & then cloth. I do not soak my cloth – nor did I soak soiled diapers. Cloths are deposited in an open $1 Store basket. I wash only when I’m about to run out of clean cloths, about every 8 – 10 days.

    As I grab a clean cloth I fold it into fourths; after a simple dry, I fold it over & place it on toilet tank & use the clean side as needed next visit.

    On washday all are tossed into washer, one cold wash cycle w/no soap. Next cycle I use regular detergent & hot water & never bleach. Third is just a hot rinse. These are all run on low water level. Toss in dryer on low heat & they’re dry in 10/15 min & piled into the pretty little basket in the bathroom.

  6. Becca Grove-Foster February 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    If I didn’t share laundry facilities that I had to pay cash for I think I would. I doubt my husband would though! it would have to be just me!

  7. joy2b February 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I can see why someone who has cloth diapered would consider this, but unless I smelled bleach, I would be very concerned to see it in use. If they were simply used to dry off, there is some limit on the number of germs, but if they’re used to wipe, you’d have to treat dirty ones like they’re dirtier than raw chicken (salmonilla is killed by hand sanitizer, some common stomach bugs aren’t). You need to use a cleaning method that kills both bacteria and viruses.

    I’m more comfortable with using reusable cloth on infants, who haven’t had the opportunity to pick up stds, utis, or a particularly wide array of gut bacteria. Even there, I’ve learned that it’s important to be strict about immediately and thoroughly washing your hands, and everything you touched on the way to the sink. It only takes one case of norovirus (a really unpleasant stomach bug) to learn why people are reflexively grossed out by feces.

    Gwenny – It’s quite reasonable to install and remove a sprayer on most apartment toilets. If you search for diaper sprayers, you’ll find an array of choices under $50, easily available in the US.

  8. Gwenny February 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I would personally like a bidet. But they are damned rare in the US. If I ever own a house I will have some sort of water cleansing device . . like the Washlet, which is made in Japan, or some bidet attachment.

  9. Lori Bevilacqua February 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I try to be as eco-conscious as possible, but this is drawing the line. I do use recycled tissue and toilet paper. Green Forest is great and recently I discovered some made from sugar cane fiber! It’s pretty incredible.

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