Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pros and cons of family cloth

Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener and gentler. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I put out a poll for which natural family living experiment to tackle, and the people spoke:


(It was a close race, though! I might have to do some more experimenting soon.)

Family cloth is something I've been interested in for awhile, but I could never … quite … take the plunge. (Get it? Plungers? Prepare yourself for more toilet talk to come.)

Day 1, December 19

We've run out of toilet paper upstairs, so that's a good reason to start in on the family cloth, right? For those of you not in the crunchosphere, "family cloth" is a euphemism for reusable bathroom wipes, a replacement for toilet paper (or "bath tissue," as commercials inexplicably call it).

There are good reasons to switch from toilet paper to something reusable. It does seem astonishingly wasteful, when I think about it, to use non-recycled paper one time only and flush it to where it can never be used again. And then repeat that several times over the course of the day, using dozens of rolls just on my own toileting per year. Sam and I are perhaps toilet paper snobs, too, preferring the softest and most luxurious brand we could find. It's one of our least eco-friendly purchases, and we go through quite a lot of it.

Besides the qualms of cutting down old-growth trees and new forests, manufacturing that toilet paper takes water and fuel and produces waste. The bleaching process produces toxins. Flushing the paper requires further cleaning of the water. All in all, it's a mess.

About a year and a half ago, I started sewing up cloth napkins and hankies, trying to make the switch to more reusable products elsewhere. In the back of my mind was the idea, Someday I'll probably make the switch for toilet paper as well. Just before Alrik was born, I was buying a selection of postpartum pads from Lunapads and decided to try their baby wipes. I purposely threw in an extra dozen, thinking ahead to family cloth. I even asked Sam at the time, Is this a stupid idea? and he gave me the go-ahead. It remains to be seen, though, whether Sam will actually use them along with me!

Did I mention I bought a bidet toilet seat attachment at the same time? Ok, well, I love this thing, and I should really do a full review sometime. We installed one on each toilet just in time before the birth. (The bidets were awesome postpartum, by the way, even better than a peri bottle.) I figured being able to spritz away some of the yuck would make family cloth less objectionable.

I love you, Blue Bidet.

So, today, I pulled some of our cloth baby wipes out of the cupboard and brought them to the bathroom. I took our Planet Wise hanging wetbag from the doorknob in the bedroom and moved it to the doorknob in the bathroom so it's easily accessible. Since it has two compartments — wet and dry — I can put the unused wipes in the dry section of the hanging wetbag and the used ones directly into the wet, mere inches from the toilet. (We have a very small bathroom.) I've decided it's less icky the less I have to handle these dirty cloths.

How did wiping with cloth feel? It felt soft, and a little wet. I decided to spray myself with the bidet ahead of time so that it wouldn't be as dirty when I wiped. In that sense, then, it just kind of felt like cleaning myself with a washcloth in the shower. A quick swipe for my purposes (it was just #1, for those playing along at home), and I tossed the wipe into the wetbag. I looked at it as it went in, and you couldn't tell it was even dirty — it just looked wet.

Mikko peed this morning but used the very last of the toilet paper. I was about to offer him a wipe when he reached out to grab the TP, so I left it at that for now. I figure I won't try to make the boys do my experiment, just offer the cloths as an option.

My general feeling about this is excitement and contentedness. I don't feel anxious now that it's finally started.

Day 2, December 20

I'm feeling grumpy about this today. The novelty has apparently worn off, quickly. I had my first experience with dropping a cloth wipe into the toilet and had to fish it out, sopping and yucky. Just, all over, yucky.

I decided to try swapping out all my paper usages for cloth for the extent of the experiment: toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, napkins — to make things more interesting. Or, as my current mood would have it, miserable.

Now, don't get me wrong — we already use cloth for a lot of things, such as for cleaning up spills and children. But there are plenty of places to improve. I have a nice store of casual and formal cloth napkins, as well as baby wipes. Still, I find myself reaching for the disposable wipes when it's time to scrub off some poo. I know — why, when we cloth diaper? Since we mostly use a diaper service, (my) wipes need to be separated from (their) diapers, so mostly it's just convenience. But some of the reason is why we hadn't been using family cloth. It just feels weird to use cloth on poo. I've heard some people say, "Oh, I don't use [cloth wipes/family cloth] on poop, either."

But as a true scientist (not really), I needed to be thorough, which means: I have now tried out using family cloth on my poo. I tried to use the bidet to wash as much off as possible before wiping … but I have to confess it was still quite disturbing to me. I also had this sinking feeling of, I've ruined this wipe! Even though that's kind of silly. It seems gross to me to reuse family cloth for anything else, even though theoretically — and hopefully — they're nicely cleaned by the washing machine. I don't feel that same stigma when I use diaper service prefolds, which are pooped on by the dozens, even for things like wiping my baby's mouth. Then again, I know the diaper service prefolds we get are highly disinfected. I don't have the same confidence about my laundering routine. So, that's another strike in the ick column.

Mikko helped me sew up a bunch of simple cloth squares from sheets.

For nose functions, I have had to round up as many of my cloth square napkins/hankies that Mikko and I sewed out of old sheets, some flannel and some regular cotton. I have a few legitimate cotton handkerchiefs from Lunapads as well (same giganto pre-baby order), so I'll have to find those. I have a lot of nose congestion, and I have to say I've never liked using handkerchiefs in place of tissues. I'm giving it a try again, but I don't like it again. I feel like I'm blowing my nose into a sheet. Oh, because I am. I also feel like it's not getting me as clean. I hate to get too graphic here, but I can clean off the goopy bits better with a thin tissue than with the necessarily thicker cloth of a handkerchief. Maybe I just haven't found the type of handkerchief I like, though. I'm willing to try out the handkerchief thing again for a week at least to see if I can get used to it.

One of the many handkerchiefs I have that I don't like.

It felt soft and normal to use a cloth napkin, though, and I also have plenty of rags and dishcloths around to use in place of paper towels. I guess maybe just because I've used cloth napkins off and on since I was a child, it doesn't feel as weird to wipe my hands on cloth. Or maybe it's because we use hand towels and not paper towels at home. Wiping dirty hands on cloth seems normal, whereas wiping other dirty body parts still seems odd.

Day 3, December 21

Still feeling grumpy, and damp. I feel like I can't get as dry a wipe as I could with paper. My nose is stuffy, too, and I can't figure out how to solve this problem. I think I might need thinner wipes and kerchiefs, but then again, I don't want to get pee and snot all over my hands. I'm having paper envy, looking longingly at the box of tissues or the roll of toilet paper near me. I was excited when we went out to run errands, and I had to use paper in the public restrooms. I purposely went again before we left to go back home so I could get in one more hit. I must be going through withdrawal.

I washed my first load of wipes and snot rags today (same difference), along with some cloth pads (mine, worn during the medicinal phase of a yeast infection) and dirty undies (not mine, for what that's worth) that needed intensive cleaning. With the amount of wipes I have, I'll need to do laundry every other day or so if just I use them. If the whole family uses them … we'll need to get more wipes. If I regularly had cloth diaper laundry, I'm sure adding to the load wouldn't be a big deal. As it is, using a diaper service for most of our diapering, I feel I have to save up the dirties till I have enough to justify running the washer on "extra small." I did a cold soak to help with the poo staining (hope it does something), and then a hot wash and hot dry to get them less ickified.

Day 4, December 22

Today I had an opportunity to introduce Mikko to the idea. It's hard to know how new things will go with a four-year-old. Sometimes they can be hesitant to change up a routine. As it turns out, though, he was thrilled — with the wipes, with the two-compartment wetbag, all of it. He even asked to throw my wipe in when I was done, and then he went to wash his hands and asked if he could use a wipe to dry them off. Sure! At least someone's excited, right?

I told Sam he could try them out, too, but he seemed skeptical till I said, "Just for pee is fine." He seemed more accepting of that one, so we'll see. He's sick right now, so maybe it's not the best time for him to experiment with communal cloth.

The wipes came out of the wash smelling like nothing, which is to say, clean. There are little dim, splotchy stains on some of them, but nothing too gross (yet). I didn't have an idea of keeping our wipes pristine, so it doesn't much matter; I just would rather not have them turn me off (or turn my stomach) as I'm using them. If we had a clothesline and a place to hang it outside, I know the sun would help bleach the stains and any bacteria away. Alas, that is not an option in our shaded condo.

As I did the laundry yesterday, I realized something important: We need another wetbag, or a different container. I had to wash the one I was using with the wipes, giving me nowhere to put any I used in the meantime so I used (don't tell!) paper for the one time I went during laundry. I know some people use a hard container with lid. However, our bathroom is teensy tiny (as in, we can barely close the door past the toilet), and I have nowhere to put one.

Day 6, December 24

Merry Christmas Eve. I don't feel as damp in my nethers anymore. I think I'm getting the hang of wiping with the correct amount of pressure. I'm not a huge fan of our Lunapads wipes, though, because they persistently spring into long curlicues (you can see them in the first picture – they're the plain white ones), which makes it hard to do more than one swipe with them before they roll back up. It somehow seems wasteful to use a substantial cloth for such a weensy purpose.

I've been thinking about this, how I've calibrated down to a science just how much of any particular paper product I need to get a job done. Wiping a sheen of snot from the tip of my nose? One sheet of toilet paper. Blowing it heartily? That's a three-sheeter. Cleaning up a dot of a spill? I'll rip a corner off a paper towel. But with cloth, there's one size only; you can't tear your handkerchief or wipe into smaller bits for a particular job. It feels extravagant to use a whole wipe for one task only, but at the same time it feels gross to save it around in case another mess comes along. For instance, I still haven't gotten the hang of figuring out where on my hankie the clean spots still are. Every time I throw a barely used rag into the wash bag, I wonder if the paper usage for that task would have been less than the water and energy it will take to launder that particular cloth.

Day 8, December 26

It's nice that using family cloth has gotten normal for me. What isn't so nice is I lately seem to be doing a daily load of laundry. I don't know if it's just having Mikko double up with me, or if I'm using the wipes to blow my nose too often, but we keep almost running out after just a day. But it seems ludicrous to run the washer and dryer for such a small daily load. I'll need to make some more wipes, or figure out a different wash routine.

I'm making sure to include in the family cloth batches any other similarly soiled items: cloth diapers and covers, cleaning rags, napkins, dish towels, hand towels, kid-besmirched clothing. Anything that might benefit from a thorough wash. But it still seems wasteful.

Day 11, December 29

Now I'm sick, too, with Sam's shared gastroenteritis. To be perfectly frank, it's coming out that end, the family cloth end. At least I have something soft?

Day 12, December 30

My sweet baby is now sick as well, and has vomited all over me. Multiple times. Poor thing.

I also have my period, early. (My body's messing with me big time.) Yes, I'm using family cloth for that, too (the little that escapes my DivaCup). I figure blood's not any grosser than poo, and the cloth (plus bidet) does a better job cleaning me thoroughly than paper ever did.

I'm throwing everything in the washer on warm, so that nothing sits overnight. I'm a little concerned about whether family cloth gets clean enough on warm — but it's not like hot sanitizes anyway, right? I've heard the water's not hot enough. Does the dryer sanitize?

Great news, though: I received a shipment of beautiful, bright, handmade family cloth from Dionna of Code Name: Mama. I'm so excited to add it to my stash! First of all, it's pretty. Secondly, it's darkly colored which helps me feel more comfortable getting it dirty without worrying about stains (however irrationally I was doing so). Third, it's stinking soft and easy to wipe with. Fourth, I just needed more wipes, full stop! With the sickness, too, now, I've been doing laundry constantly.

Ah! Pretty. And so pampering.

Day 13, December 31

We're still sick. Happy New Year's Eve. I've allowed myself to use some paper for the nastiness, but it doesn't feel as good. I guess I'm spoiled now.

I've noticed the same thing for wiping my nose. I still haven't found the perfect hanky solution — I might try cutting up some old t-shirts — but I now find that blowing my nose on paper doesn't feel as good as it used to, either. Sigh.

Day 14, January 1

Well, I will officially end the experiment here. My take on family cloth? It wasn't as hard or yucky as I feared.

I definitely prefer the Code Name: Mama wipes over the others I have, and I don't want to do laundry as often as I have been, so I will need to make more of those if I continue on this path. Since I haven't replaced the toilet paper upstairs, I'm continuing for now!

It's an auspicious start to the New Year.

Update, January 5

Well, setback. I've just gotten a second yeast infection. As mentioned in passing, I had one just before this experiment started (my first in well over a year, though I used to get them frequently), which is one reason I actually started the trial later than I'd intended — everything was so goopy down there with the medication I needed to use. I did end up starting the experiment before the full course of medication had run, though, because I wanted at least a couple weeks to try out family cloth before writing my post. Now that I've gotten another attack from the yeasty beasties, it strikes me that family cloth might have reinfected me! (Eep.) So I'm stripping all my wipes with OxyClean and then vinegar to kill off all the yeasties. I'm reinstalling paper in the upstairs bathroom and will use it throughout the course of this infection, to be on the safe side.

Here's how all the elements stacked up:

Family Cloth (vs. Toilet Paper)

It was somewhat weird but not as odd as I'd feared, even for poo. (Using the bidet beforehand helped a lot there, though. I think I'd want paper on hand for particularly nasty outputs.) Since we were using the softest of soft toilet paper, the cloth is softer but not by leaps and bounds. It is scads softer than the one-ply recycled paper we should have been using. I prefer Dionna's flannel-and-jersey wipes for thickness and luxuriousness, so I'll have to give making more a go.

Things that concern me about family cloth: How clean do they get? Can I really wash them on warm or even cold (gasp!) in joint laundry loads, or do I need to keep them separate and scalded (if only for my own anti-ick reassurances)? Is using more laundry water and energy at home better or worse compared with whatever's used to manufacture the toilet paper I'm replacing? What horrifying things will happen to our plumbing if I accidentally flush a cloth wipe, as I've no doubt will happen eventually? Am I really spreading infection with my wipes (yipes)?

After this infection has run its course, I'd like to go back to family cloth, but perhaps only for pee (or even — um — can I call it "light" poop?). I might also try downgrading our toilet paper, though when we tried that before, it … well … it chafed. (Perhaps our family has special toileting needs. I wouldn't doubt it.) Now that we have a bidet, though, maybe it's possible.

Handkerchiefs (vs. Tissues)

I still hate handkerchiefs. I've gone back to mostly tissues since the experiment ended, although I've kept handkerchiefs in my pockets for when I'm out. However, I find ways around using them, such as co-opting napkins when we're at a restaurant. I need to find a handkerchief material that feels right for my nose. Maybe old t-shirts, or even the traditional fine linen. (But where to find such that isn't mondo expensive and too nice for the likes of my boogers?)

Dishrags/Washcloths/Sponges (vs. Paper Towels)

I actually had no problem not using a paper towel since the experiment started. Maybe it's because I don't cook or clean much, heh. But when I did clean, I used the microfiber rags I have for the purpose. When I needed to wash a little face, I went for the casual cloth napkins Mikko and I made. When I wanted to dry my hands, I used the kitchen towel. When I needed to clean up a spill, I grabbed the sponge. Easy peasy. Now just to wean the rest of the family off of them…

Cloth Napkins (vs. Paper Napkins/Tissues)

I have to interject that we never have paper napkins unless we've gotten takeout, but we do use tissues for that purpose. I don't have a problem using cloth napkins. I just have to make sure I have clean ones on hand and readily accessible. I'm thinking of setting up a supply in several locations, where our tissue boxes are now.

Yup, at one point I had cloth napkins/hankies folded handily into old tissue boxes and set around the living area. I got out of this habit but need to find the will again.

So that's where I'm at right now with cloth vs. paper usage. I'd like to continue this changeover to reusable products, and I think the most important steps will be to increase the amount and, in some cases, quality of the cloth substitutes I have available, and to put them in easily accessible areas so that everyone can find them when needed. And eventually I might also need to downgrade the accessibility of the paper products!

This guy would be happy to help me cut up some more wipes!

If you can answer any of my questions, I'd love your advice and opinions!

If I don't have a full diaper load, how often should I wash family cloth? Is it all right to wash it on warm or cold or with regular laundry, or is that just … gross? Should I dry it on hot to sanitize?

What can I use for handkerchiefs that doesn't blow? (Ha ha ha!)

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Make your own moisturizer! — Megan at boho mama whips up a winter skin-friendly moisturizer.
  • Cold Water Only — Brittany at The Pistachio Project talks about how you do not need hot water to wash laundry.
  • Family Cloth... Really?? — After lots of forethought and consideration, Momma Jorje finally decides to take the plunge with family cloth.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle : 5-5-5 Things A Day — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about decluttering her home in an attempt to create a gentler living space. She takes on a new project where she sets a goal of reducing, reusing and recycling every day.
  • Pros and cons of family cloth — Lauren at Hobo Mama would love to continue replacing paper products with family cloth … if she could only get over how damp she feels.
  • Craftily Parenting — Kellie at Our Mindful Life finds that crafting makes her a better parent.
  • Changes — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen couldn't choose just one area to experiment with, so she wrote a long post about all the fun changes initiated in her life!
  • Life without Internet: Not all it's Cracked up to Be — Adrienne at Mommying My Way tries to go a week without the Internet, only to realize a healthy dose of Internet usage really helps keep this stay-at-home mom connected.
  • My Progression to Raw Milk — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares her natural parenting progression all the way to trying raw milk.
  • mama's new little friend. — Sarah at Bitty Bird tries a menstrual cup to "green her period," and is pleasantly surprised when she falls in love with the product!
  • Before you throw it out, try homemade laundry soap! — Jennifer at Practical OH Mommy shows visual proof that homemade laundry soap is cheaper, easier, and works better than the store-bought chemicals!
  • Oil, Oil, No Toil, No Trouble — K from Very Simple Secret talks about her foray into the oil-cleansing method.
  • I Need a Hobby — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro couldn't decide which experiment to run, so she did them all.
  • 7 days of macrobiotics for a balanced family — The Stones make a [successful] attempt to release the "holiday junking" with 7 days of macrobiotic meals to balance their bodies and souls. Elisabeth at Manic Mrs. Stone includes an explanation of macrobiotics.
  • Chemical Free Beauty Challenge — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction turned to natural alternatives for her daily beauty and cleaning routine, with great results.
  • Greening my Armpits!? My Green Resolution — Shannon at The Artful Mama talks about how she decided to give up her traditional antiperspirant and make the switch over to crystal deodorants and definitely isn't looking back!
  • Going Raw (for a while) — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares her family's experience with raw food.
  • Do we get to eat gluten today? — Sheila at A Gift Universe has been trying to figure out if her son does better with or without gluten in his diet … but it's really hard to tell for sure.
  • Hippies Can Smell and Look Fabulous Too! — Arpita of Up, Down And Natural details her experience of going shampoo-free and overhauling her cosmetics to find the balance between feeling beautifully fabulous and honoring her inner hippie.
  • Our cupboards are full...but there's nothing to eat — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud takes on the challenge of chomping through the contents of her storecupboard rather than going shopping — but there's something that she just can't bring herself to do …
  • Elimination Experiment 3.0MudpieMama recounts the messy adventures of her baby daughter trying to be diaper free.
  • Family Cloth Trial — Amyables at Toddler in Tow talks about making and using family cloth wipes in the bathroom for the first time.
  • Taking a Hiatus — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares how her experience of much less internet interaction affected her family and how it will change her approach in the future.
  • Trying Out the Menstrual Cup — Lindsey at an unschooling adventure ditches the tampons and gives menstrual cups a try.
  • Managing Food Waste in Our Home — Tired of the holiday waste, Robbie at Going Green Mama takes a weeklong focus on reducing food waste in her home, and learns some lessons that can take her through the new year.
  • Going Offline, Cloth Tissues, and Simplicity — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses over her time away from blogging and social networking. In addition, she shares her newfound love of cloth tissues and simplicity.


VAL said...

Ah you are a brave woman. I don't think my family, specifically my teenage daughter would go for this. Its interesting all the same though. I never buy kitchen roll (I use washable cloths and a vinegar spray) and its funny how people visiting just expect you to have it. Imagine their little faces if we didnt have loo roll either lol.

I Thought I Knew Mama said...

I love all of your super honest feedback on this experiment! I have tried cloth wipes for diapering, cloth napkins, cloth instead of paper towels, and cloth for pee (but not for #2). The easiest ones are the cloth napkins and cloth instead of paper towel obviously, and that's what happens here the most.

Lindsay said...

I think a bidet would be a great investment to pair with cloth wipes-remove the mess a little first. Lol.

For hankies, Jo-Anns has thin handkerchief linen for like $15/yard usually, so if you wait for a half off coupon you can get an entire yard for under $8 & cut out a bazillion (I'd probably do 9 12" ones myself, but you could certainly do smaller)

And I really should sew some cloth napkins-thanks for the reminder!

Unknown said...

I love this candid report of your experience, thanks for being so honest.

I have been meaning to do family cloth for some time. We already do cloth everything else, I don't buy paper kitchen wipes, tissues, wet wipes etc.

Like your idea of using a bidet too... I just cant get my head around using cloth for #2's. Which is funny considering we only use cloth for all things related to my sons #2's.

What is it going to do to my marriage when I have to clean my husbands cloth #2 wipes Lol.

Think Im going to start using it for #1's and see how it goes :)

Anonymous said...

Two things - 1) I can't believe that the family cloth reinfected you. I promise ;) Seriously - you're sitting in your undies all day, and THEY get clean in the laundry, right?? So how could family cloth be LESS clean than undies after being laundered? (that is my ironclad scientific logic, thankyouverymuch)
2) I cut up old cotton t-shirts for hankies, and lurve them. I've also used our cloth napkins (ahem - sorry NPNers who used our cloth napkins for eating with!), but I prefer the cut up t-shirts b/c, like you said, the thickness is more reminiscent of a tissue.

Also - sweet! I'm glad my wipes blew the other wipes out of the (toilet) water! ;)

Unknown said...

I had a similar feeling of realizing just how wasteful it is to wipe with disposable paper many times a day and then flush it forever. I think it seems even more marked since (like you) I live in a home with 3 males.

I throw my cloth in with the diaper laundry, which gets done every 2-3 days anyway, and the timing seems to work out pretty well. I don't know what I'll do with them when we're not doing diaper laundry anymore, but I suspect I'll throw them in with our kitchen/bath towel loads and wash on warm.

I don't have any answers to your questions, but I've been using the family cloth for pee and it's made me feel much better about my paper waste production. I now use disposable products only as much as the other people in the house, and I've definitely noticed a decrease in the frequency we're buying TP.

...sarah. said...

Oh Lauren, I love how candid you are! I've strongly considered family cloth as well, but it would be a hard sell to the rest of the family. I totally identify with the "pampered bum" sentiment. I recently bought some "naturals" toilet paper so I didn't have to feel SO bad about flushing all that perfectly good paper and... I have to be honest... it sucks. I hate it. Ah.... on to the next experiment!

bitt said...

Thanks for your honest assessment of this and for all your thoughts and horrors along the way. I'm so sorry you were so sick, that doesn't help anything. You got me thinking that I really should try to use handkerchiefs again, I had some that I cut from the softest and absorbent cloth that I used to use all the time. But I don't like the super thin kinds either. It was best for times where I was either just having allergies or runny nose from cold weather, not a full on cold. I think everyone has their line here. i personally do use recycled toilet paper and tissues so I feel better about that.

Laura said...

Sigh. You make me laugh... always. But this was so perfectly candid! I've often toyed with the idea of cloth for myself since I am prone to infections and when AF rears her nasty head, I've been having horrible reactions to the pads these last few months. Perhaps... if I keep reading these posts, I'll be brave enough to try next month?

Hankies. My family always used traditional linen hankies when I was growing up (I'm pretty sure we never had a "real" box of tissues until I was in high school.) I almost always had a raw nose from it. And colds with the mega snot, sheer nastiness. HOWEVER, jersey knit is something I can deal with now. I use it to clean my kids faces since it's softer and more malleable then a washcloth trying to dig out boogers. Mega snot is mega snot regardless of what you are blowing your nose into, but I've found a bit more comfort in the jersey material.

Also. What about a drop or 2 of tea tree oil in the washer? I put it in the wash with our diapers and wipes and so far my kids haven't passed anything between their diapers and my daughter hasn't had any sort of an infection. Just a little thought.

Brittany Thomas said...

Love how you gave a day by day account of FC. I never even thought about using a wet/dry bag. that just sounds genius! I'll have to try FC another try soon.

Oh and while hot water doesn't get hot enough to do any more cleaning then cold, they dryer does get hot enough to kill most bacteria/germs... however neither hot water or dryer will kill everything. Vinegar might help though. ;)

Syenna said...

This was a wonderfully honest and informative post. I am all for the bidet attachment thing - we had the same as I was growing up.
I had problems regarding yeast and reusable breast pads (nipple thrush) - I switched to disposable pads because I became reinfected even though I really tried to clean the pads well. Dionna makes a good point about the undies carrying the infection though... or in my case my bras!
I love how dedicated you were to the experiment, through illness too!

Unknown said...

Wow, I love that bidet! We might need to get one of those. I do agree about the poop. I have a stack of cloth wipes AND a container of disposable wipes on the changing table, and I usually reach for the disposable, feel guilty, stuff it back in the hole and grab a cloth wipe :)

Thomasin said...

As everyone else has said, you're funny. I don't think I've ever read "poop" in a post so often that didn't have to do with babies! But, way to go there!

As for hankies: I love mine, but they're the tranditional linen/soft cotton kinds. I buy them at St. Vincent's for something like $0.10/each, often with crochet or embroidered flair (certaintly some auntie once upon a time made these for her favorite nephew?) and they are absolutely awesome. And way inexpensive. And thin. I think the key to a hankie is the thinness (so, in this case, old and threadbare might be good!). Check with your local thrift stores and see if you can fine any? I'll never go back to (cheap) tissues. They leave fluff on my nose!

Lauren Wayne said...

@dionna-code-name-mama: Well, when I was having recurrent yeast infections (this was back when I was using antibiotics for acne, and I had a yeast infection every two weeks for a year — ugh), the nurse-midwife at my OBGYN's office made a big point of saying I needed to wash my undies (she assumed, correctly at the time, no cloth pads or family cloth) in vinegar to kill the yeast — that just washing them normally wouldn't necessarily do it. So when I said the family cloth might have reinfected me, I was including all reusables that touched that area — I rewashed my undies and cloth pads and family cloth in the OxyClean and vinegar. I'm saving out the undies/pads I use this week to do the same again. Because these stupid yeast can die a horrible vinegary death!!!!!!! Yeast is very pass-on-able, even to yourself. Sam and I were reinfecting each other (if you get my drift) for months before the same nurse-midwife clued me into condoms! ;)

I'm going to try cut-up t-shirts next for hankies!

Thanks again for the sweet wipes — I'd totally link to your store if you had one. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@African Babies Don't Cry: Oh, my gosh, that's why I was relieved my husband seemed interested in using it only for #1. Your own poo and baby poo are one thing, but other grown-ups' poo…or, to be honest, Mikko's, too! I still deal with it, but I don't have to like it. :)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Thomasin: I was thinking vintage might be the best hanky route but hadn't fully thought of where to find some — thrift stores, of course! It's funny, because my dad used hankies the whole time I was growing up, and I used to think it was so old-fashioned. Now he's converted to tissues, and what do I do? Go back to hankies! I wonder if he still has any left to gift me. :)

Inder-ific said...

As far as family cloth, I don't think we'll be trying that experiment any time soon, but I applaud your efforts!

However, I cut up my husband's old undershirts/tees for hankies, and they are so soft on a red, sore nose, I will never go back. I don't even buy tissues anymore. And as far as laundry, snot freaks me out a lot less than poo, and seems to wash out wonderfully. So yes, OLD T-SHIRTS. Try it!(I don't like anything too smooth for a hankie, so, like, you know, actual hankies.)

Lauren Wayne said...

@Crunchy Con Mommy: I was wondering what JoAnn's might have — thanks for the tip! I'd feel so swanky to have a real linen handkerchief. :)

mudpiemama said...

This was so funny! We do a lot of cloth for cleaning up the kids (we have a bidet too) but I have to say it would not fly in our house for the grown ups, Dh is the laundry wizard and there is no way he would agree to handling even more soiled stuff....nor do i want him to handle #2 cloths that are not from babies hehehe!
This has inspired me get some cloth napkins into rotation more often and also officially move to "snot" cloths as opposed to my kids using their sleeves instead of tissue;) they insist it is softer so we might as well make the official switch!

melissa said...

I love your honest take on all this, and I'm impressed you went *two* weeks! I'm sure you have read Terri/Child of the Nature Isle's post by now - the numbers on toilet paper manufacturing shocked me. 37 gallons of water to make a single roll of TP!? For me, that answers the question of whether more frequent laundry loads cancels out the "green"-ness of family cloth.

I use vinegar as a rinse agent in my laundry a lot, and always use it on loads for which the yuck factor is high. I would think that'd take care of any germs the water and heat don't kill. There are always different essential oils, too. I have heard bad things about tea tree, though - that it creates super bugs like many commercial antibacterials do.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post! You've nearly managed to convince me to try family cloth. This is the first CarNatPar post I've read, so maybe, by the time I finish all of the others, I'll be very convinced. We'll see!

As for finding hankie material that feels right... I have the same problem. Nothing is quite right. I have found one that works though, ant it is the old bandannas from the thrift store. Don't buy new, cheapo ones that have the designs silkscreened on - you need to find the ones that have the design stained on. They're more absorbent (the cheap ones allow you to smear snot all over your face - great look/feeling, let me tell you!)

Vanessa said...

Good for you! I've been waiting to read your post on this and hear how it went. We've been doing family cloth for a while now, just for #1, since I can't quite bring myself to use them for poo. I wanted to hear about someone else's experience to see if maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought! I'm a bit more convinced, but, still my problem is the washing. I have trouble throwing poopy cloths in with our clothes, and if I did them on their own it would be less than a grocery bag of laundry! I'll have to think on it a bit more.
We have moved paper pretty much entirely out of our kitchen - no napkins or paper towels, but we've been stuck on coming up with a good alternative for one little thing. When cooking bacon, we've always put a paper towel on the bacon plate so there isn't this puddle of grease for the pieces to sit in. Does anyone else do that? (Are we oddballs?) When switching to cloth what did you do instead? Should we just skip it all together? Any ideas from anyone?

Kat said...

Great post Lauren!
It was great to read all that you discovered and how to make this endeavor as easy as possible...I think one day we might try this out!

I love the idea of a bidet too!

Deb Chitwood said...

That was a brave experiment, Lauren! I love the bidet idea, but I think I'd have a hard time using family cloth rather than toilet paper. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can cut down on paper usage that way, though. Thanks for the fascinating read! :) Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

Momma Jorje said...

I've used "prefolds" (they're just single layer cotton) as cloth napkins, kitchen towels, "pat pat pats" (FC for Sasha on her BBLP), and handkerchief. They're thin. If I'm particularly ill or otherwise need to blow my nose a LOT, I prefer something softer (generally high quality paper product).

Arpita And Jonathan said...

First things first: I am so beyond jealous of your Blue Bidget. I want one. I need one... might even ask for it as a birthday present from hubs. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I've wanted to say that to you for ages.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way.... My jaw was dropped open this whole post!! I had NO idea family cloth meant all of this!!! I don't know what I was thinking it was... maybe a cloth pad here or there, cloth kerchiefs ofcourse. But Cloth TP? What?!??! I totally agree that I'd be skeezed out at first. I can't even get my head around cloth wipes for babe (even though I KNOW I'l cloth diaper) The first stain I got on a cloth pad ruined it for me and I went back to my Diva Cup. It's so great to see that something you weren't loving so much ended up being something that started giving you comfort. In theory it sounds like cloth should be more pampering and lush, but I cannot get over the skeeze factor. I may have to just stick it out like you did and see if I can cross over!

Great post!!

Luschka said...

Very interesting experiment, and fantastically honest too. I must admit that family cloth is just not 'my thing'. Added to which I don't see my hubby ever getting on board with it.

We get something here called 'cheeky wipes' which may be worth looking into, just to give you an idea. You have a two buckets, a clean one and a mucky one and you take your wet wipes (it's for cloth nappies, actually) and use them and pop them in the mucky bucket, which is lined with a mesh bag. When it's time to wash, you simply pop the mesh bag out of the bucket, and into the washing machine, never having to make contact with the poo again. They also do an 'out and about' bag set which has a similar concept - a mesh bag inside a zipped bag, unzip the bag, unzip the mesh, pop in the machine and walaa... clean wipes which don't need drying, since they go back into the wet bucket which has a solution of lavender and tea tree oil in water to keep it smelling nice and fresh and keep baby's bum yum.

Love the post. Well done!

Lauren Wayne said...

Thanks, everyone! I have to say, all this talk about how candid I was makes me wonder if I should have been less so, ha. :) I had even toned it down a bit as I was writing!

It was definitely an interesting experiment, and if writing about it even gets some of us (myself included) to reconsider how much toilet paper we use and try to reduce that if not eliminate it, that would still be a step in the right direction. I remember when I lived in Germany, I was at a sleepover and some of the girls were horrified at how much toilet paper I used. (Yes, their scolding still echoes in my head whenever I choose how many squares I need!)

It's funny, too, how I get un-embarrassed about things. I wonder if I will offer family cloth to guests. I thought I'd feel silly about our bidets when we had people over, but dang it, I don't. Because they're awesome. (And they cut down on TP usage, too, for what that's worth!)

Erin OK said...

I also tried this (but didn't get around to writing a post about it). We ran out of toilet paper, so I brought some baby wipes into the bathroom and our extra wetbag. I loooooove it! It's so much more comfortable than paper, and I find it works better.

I wonder too about when I'm not washing diapers anymore. I figure a wash every 2-3 days. I wouldn't put them in with anything else. Seems gross, though, if they are getting cleaned properly what's the problem. . . ? I'd definitely stick with hot washes (and hot drying, or sun-drying).

I plan on sticking with it. My husband is not interested. Whatever. When my son potty trains I'll teach him to use the wipes too.

Lauren Wayne said...

@melissa: I read the 37-gallons-per-roll figure all over the internet, too, but I didn't put it in the article because I'm just not sure. That seems really, really high, doesn't it? I couldn't find another source to verify it. The closest I could come was another widely bandied figure that says Americans use 36.5 billion rolls a year (!), which takes 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to manufacture, but if my math is correct, that's then 0.077 gallons a roll. (This is found in places such as this article, which quotes both with no resolution of the mathematical inconsistencies.) For a full load in a washing machine, I'm getting 40 gallons as an average, but let's say an extra small setting would be maybe 15 gallons (rough estimate!), and I needed to run loads every two to three days. The average time it takes a roll to be used — well, I'm getting anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks in a fast survey, so let's say a week. That would be 3 to 4 loads of family cloth laundry, or 45 to 60 gallons of water. This isn't taking into account the electricity, wastewater, soap, etc., used in either situation, as well as other energy/waste issues related with toilet paper, such as packaging, transport, chlorine, etc.

Hmm. I'm using a lot of water. Well, that's kind of what I was thinking: that it's potentially more wasteful to use family cloth if I can't combine it with some other laundry, and particularly if I'm using hot water and a hot dryer. Even if I had more family cloth, it's not the kind of thing you want to have sit around festering for more than a few days before washing. I suppose I could do some sort of wet pail setup, but that's dangerous around young kids and can breed bacteria in itself if you don't empty it frequently. If you're doing cloth diaper laundry, obviously extra water/energy usage is going to be negligible for throwing a few more cloths in, but what about when you're not (anymore)?

I like these types of questions, but I can never figure out The Answer. :)

I think what I'm leaning toward is using family cloth only for pee and throwing it in with other loads that are a little grody (with two little kids, we always have something!), plus the vinegar you suggested, but going with toilet paper for #2.

Thanks for letting me think out the math!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Lauren @ Hobo Mama: P.S. If anyone has the time and inclination to do better research and math, feel free!

sodaboat said...

I worry that you all got your gastro from washing your kitchen teatowels together with your family cloth wipes! In my mind those things should be washed separately.

Sylvia said...

I sooo loved this post! And so wish I had taken part in the experiment for this carnival. Weird, because I was really sick, too. Anyway....

I too am a big TP waster. Using the bathroom is definitely one of my least green acts so I really appreciate what you've shared here. Unfortunately, without a washer or dryer in our unit, I can't even imagine trying to switch to family cloth. The plethora of towels and rags I already wash is enough to contend with! I would like to try a cloth hankie, though. Especially if I can find (or make) one as small as 1 square of TP that I use now!

I also struggle with the questions you raised about how much less impact could reusable products have since they have to be laundered so intensely and frequently. It seems like someone must have crunched those numbers somewhere. Hmmm...

Thanks again for sharing so openly. Super informative!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thorough account of your experiment!

For hankies, I second the recommendations of old T-shirts or well-used bandanas. You know what's even softer than old T-shirts? Old cotton panties. If it doesn't squick you to be blowing your nose on what was once the back or front panel of your panties....

We have some scraps of knit fabric from assorted old clothes that we keep in baskets on the bathroom shelf and next to the bed. At first we began using these instead of tissues for in-bed clean-up, and we were so pleased that they don't turn into shreds stuck to our skin like tissues do, and that they do come clean in the laundry. Then we started grabbing them for nose-blowing if there wasn't a hanky in reach. (For official hankies to carry in our pockets, we prefer larger pieces of woven fabric that folds neatly.) We started keeping a zippered mesh bag in the bedroom laundry basket to collect these rags.

Eventually I tried using them instead of TP just for pee. I love them! Now we have a basket in the bathroom and another mesh bag hung (with a twist-tie) from the TP holder for the used ones; the mesh allows them to dry so they don't get yucky if I get behind on laundry. We use these for nose-blowing in the bathroom as well.

Because we aren't using them for poop, the sanitation and odor issues are much less of a concern. We just toss the mesh bags in with regular laundry.

However, we wash our kitchen towels and napkins separately from everything else. Not only would I not wash them with poop, not only do I not wash them with pee or snot or semen, but I don't wash them with socks and jeans and so forth that are covered in outdoor dirt and germs. We like to feel sure that the kitchen stuff is very clean.

Unknown said...

A bidet would be great, especially for someone with severe arthritis, drying would be difficult. Cloth wipes? it would take me quite some time to get up the nerve to try them, and i'm pretty sure i wouldn't have much luck with the 3 males in our family.

Lisa said...

@Lauren @ Hobo Mama
One of my teachers showed me a great way to do conversions, but it works well for things like this too. It involves horizontal and vertical lines, which I'm not sure will show up here properly... but let me try.
So lets start with a billion has 9 zero's,(ya figuring this out took me the longest) so 36.5 billion is 36500000000 rolls of tp a year.

473587500000 gal
36500000000 roll

(FYI.. my "cool" graphics didn't work, but this is the idea)

see how it converts to gal per roll. Anyway.... it's 12.975 gal per roll

you have 0.077 roll per gallon. It's upside down. it says 1 gallon of water will make .077 of a roll.

Now I'm not suggesting any of this is true, I could only find it on tree hugger.com or something. But I was reading on

"The pulp is mixed with a lot of water to produce paper stock (99.5% water and 0.5% fiber) "
It sounds like a lot of water, but hopefully it's recyclable water. (I'm an optimist) I also read on that site..."If every American household replaced just one toilet paper roll of virgin-fiber a year with a roll made from 100% recycled paper, approximately 425,000 trees would be saved annually." Jeez! Poor trees!

I also found a cool video, showing how tp is made. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrg_6dny6Po

Anyway, I've been using family cloth for over a year now, My daughter is out of cloth diapers now, and I wash the wipes when we run out. I'm not very daring about water temp, so I still use hot. I am still using tp, and one day hope to be free of this need. I also use mama pads, with I absolutely hate, I'm planning to try the diva cup soon. Also I just bought some cute flannel to make handkerchiefs, hopefully when I'm done it will cost less than the ones on etsy. Paper towels seem to have been the easiest thing to get rid of, I maybe use one roll every 3 months.

Unknown said...

My gyn suggested I use cloth to prevent yeast infections and assured me that the laundry soap would sanitize it enough even in cold water to kill yeast. I just got it. I may do uo some petir dishes to test.....

Unknown said...

What about this? Each household member has color-coded or initialed small flannel cloths, two for wiping, 2 for drying so that you are never out of one clean + one dry one per person. Then when you get up, you wash it in the sink instead of waiting for the washing machine.

Before wiping yourself:
What helps is a spray attachment next to the toilet to rinse off when it is only pee. You can also keep a mild soap if you like and wash/then rinse yourself off with that. Then dry.

I like the handheld sprayer better than the bidet for aim. In India, fancy restaurants and hotels and middle class families often have these handheld water sprayers attached to the water source where the bidet would go. It is stainless steel and has a lever to let the water out like a water gun. This would spare the build up of poop laundry to do later. Also children could be taught how to manage themselves in such a situation---when the child is old enough and open to the idea.

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