When I mentioned cloth toilet paper* in the context of postpartum perineal care, I should have guessed there would be questions.
*Many advocates of reusable toilet paper refer to it as "family cloth." That phrase seems a little precious and euphemistic to me somehow. I prefer "cloth toilet paper," or even more simply, "wipers." That's what we call them around the house, as in, "Can you get the wipers out of the dryer?" But type "family cloth" into a search engine and you'll get all kinds of useful anecdotes and information about how, when, and why people made the switch.
If you have a question that I don't address here, leave it in the comments, and I'll update this Q&A to include it.
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You use cloth toilet paper? Really?
Yes, I really do. It wasn't a big mental stretch for me to make the switch.
I grew up with a mom who never used paper towels, opting instead for kitchen towels and old washcloths to do the clean-up. We always had cloth napkins and place mats on the table. And I started flirting around with cloth menstrual pads and sea sponge tampons in high school.
Yeah, but that's not the same as toilet paper.
Of course tabletop, housecleaning, and period-time needs aren't the same as toilet paper. I mention it because the idea of wash-and-reuse cloth stuff has seemed normal to me for as long as I can remember. In fact, as a child I was a bit scandalized by the ubiquitousness of paper towels despite their obvious waste.
Westley was cloth diapered for his entire diapering "career." It didn't occur to me to use cloth wipes on him right away, but I found disposable wipes so unnatural-seeming (even the "all-natural" ones). And they were pricey! Really pricey if a brand new package got left open by accident, and ended up drying out and needing to be replaced. So I started using cloth wipers on the baby.
When the baby turned into a boy who potty-trained himself but still needed help wiping, I moved the wipers to the bathroom. It honestly never occurred to me to start wiping him with toilet paper just because he was no longer using a diaper! And once the wipers were in the bathroom, I decided to try them out on myself.
What are the wipers made of?
Mine are made from two rectangles of cotton flannel surged together for extra thickness, and so there's no "wrong" side. I didn't make them, but if you're at all handy with a sewing machine, making wipers like this would be very simple—and a great way to upcycle some receiving blankets.
I also have a few bumGenius flannel baby wipes, but I don't like them as well.
How big are they?
The two-ply flannel wipes aren't all exactly the same size, but the biggest ones are about 6 inches square.
The bumGenius wipes are larger, closer to washcloth size. They're a little on the large in my opinion, and better suited to being used as handkerchiefs.
How long do they last?
Many of our wipers are almost four years old, and they're just now starting to wear out.
Where do you store the cloth before and after use?
Clean, dry cloths live on a plate on the bathroom counter, between the toilet and the sink. For a while, when we still had a diaper pail for overnight diapers, we were shuttling the wipers out to the diaper pail (in the garage) after use. Our house is small, but the trip still made using cloth seem like extra work. Now we have a thrifted ceramic cookie jar for used wipes.
How much more laundry is it?
Not so's you'd notice. You know how you can always squeeze a few extra socks and pairs of underwear in an already-full load of laundry? It's the same with cloth wipes. I wash them every two days, with the other "heavy duty" laundry (workout and play clothes, for example). I wash on hot, tumble dry on warm.
What about stains?
Nothing major. The flannel wipes are all busy prints, which hide stains well (even after four years of use). Also, I use Charlie's Soap for all of our laundry. It's diaper-friendly and gets everything really clean.
If the idea of staining is the only thing keeping you from using cloth, just get yourself some dark-colored wipers!
Is there a smell?
I haven't noticed any smell. The clean wipes smell like nothing at all. The used ones can be a little stinky when you're moving them from the jar to the washer, but nothing like an overnight cloth diaper! And the jar doesn't stink up the bathroom either.
What do guests think?
I have no idea. No one has said anything to me. (The idea of someone walking into our bathroom and being totally baffled by the cloth set-up always makes me think of the three seashells from Demolition Man.) Oh, and there is a roll of regular toilet paper on the toilet paper dispenser.
I've noticed that [Big Box Store] sells 12 washcloths for $4.99. They come in white and several cool colors! Can I use those?
You can, but it will hurt. Your butthole deserves better. Get something soft. Those cheap washcloths are great for kitchen clean-up instead of paper towels, though! (You're not still using paper towels, are you?)
I know you're all about loving Mother Earth, and that's great, but isn't this a little...over the top?
I'm not sure I understand what you're asking me. Toilet paper comes from trees, and each roll of takes water, heat, and chemicals to make. Yes, you're using water to wash cloth wipes, but you can wash them in loads of laundry you're already doing. If you've ever diapered a solid-food-eating child, you've dealt with way worse in terms of poop—
Yeah, about that...
You really want to ask me about poop, don't you?
I really, really, really want to ask you about poop. Do you...? I mean... It's POOP!
True. And thanks to Japan, we know that Everyone Poops. But everyone's poop and everyone's tolerance for poop varies. I get that.
In my experience, very little poop touches the wipers. It's nothing like the amount of poop that gets on a cloth diaper, for example. If you've ever washed a diaper (or a didn't-quite-make-it-on-time pair of toddler undies) at home, you've dealt with much worse, I assure you!
I've noticed that people who are really skeeved out by the poop aspect of cloth TP struggle with the idea of "adult poop." The difference between "kid poop" and "adult poop" is in our minds. If your kid eats what you eat, she poops what you poop. In fact, I think my child's poops are probably grosser than my partner's and mine. He's not as reliable about eating raw vegetables and drinking water!
Lastly, I'm not going to get all "Dr. Stool" on you, but if your poop is really, really foul, you might want to see someone about that.
Okay, if that's the way you insist on being, I can't help you.