After all of the issues with toilet paper, I started researching alternatives, and I decided to give “family cloth” a try. Family cloth is a term used to describe using reusable fabric pieces to wipe yourself rather than paper, although we have changed the term in our house to “toilet cloth” (like toilet paper, but not). It is less harmful to the environment by killing fewer trees, and is guaranteed to be and remain isothiazolinone free, provided I make my own laundry detergent. Although it may sound gross to many North Americans, it is really no worse than using reusable cloth diapers or wipes for your baby. In fact, with the addition of a water spray to help clean you up, it’s actually much better. This still sounded gross to me, until I did more research. Here’s what convinced me:
- Many Middle Eastern people use a squirt bottle or sprayer to clean themselves after they go to the bathroom. It is normal for them, and they see using paper alone as being very dirty by comparison. It is even called out in Islam that they should wash themselves with water after relieving themselves.
- Bidets have been in use in many parts of the world for decades to up to hundreds of years, including parts of Europe, Japan, and South America. The “advanced toilet seats” and toilets out of Japan are so efficient that you don’t even have to touch yourself. They will wash and dry you with warm water and air with just the touch of a button.
- Healthy urine is sterile, so if the cloth is allowed to dry there should be very little smell and bacteria buildup. The only major concern is #2 (without water washing).
- The comment I read that, “You wouldn’t wipe a smear of poop off of your arm with a piece of tissue and call it clean, so why would you think your bottom is clean after just wiping it with paper?”
How can I argue with what is standard and healthy in other parts of the world, when it will also save me money and help the environment? I picked up some organic cotton flannel (not cheap, but with a chemical sensitivity, I wanted to go as chemical-free as possible), sewed it into doubled squares, and set it out in a basket above the toilet. We started with plastic squirt bottle, to try out water washing. We used the squirt bottle first, and wiped with the cloth afterward. My daughter loved it. She went from 20-35 sheets of toilet paper for a #2 to three sheets. For pee she used one square of cloth. My husband was hesitant to give up toilet paper, but after his first try, he tentatively stated that the water at least “makes it easier to clean up back there.”
Then we got a bidet seat, and everyone got more comfortable with the idea. Imagine something that keeps your seat warm, washes you with warm water, oscillates, and generally is like a mini, very specific shower every time you go to the bathroom. It even uses air to dry you if you want, but that takes a while, and it’s easier to wipe when it’s just water left. My daughter and I switched to one square of cloth per visit. By the time my husband had gone through a couple of packages of toilet paper on his own, he made the switch, too, and occasionally mentions that he should use the washroom at home rather than at work because it’s cleaner.
In public, my family still uses regular toilets and toilet paper, though I carry around a few squares of cloth and my travel bidet bottle. It’s trickier when travelling, but compared to sores down there, it’s worth the time. Everyone’s happy with the bidet seat, and although it’s unusual in North America, it’s totally been worth the investment for us.
I’m not quite sure what guests think. I think most ignore the function of the toilet seat and use the roll of toilet paper we have hung out for guests. Sometimes we forget to replace the toilet paper until right before a guest is coming over, because no one else touches the stuff. It is helpful to have around for picking up bugs, etc.
Facial tissues have the same issue as toilet paper. For this, the answer was easy: Switch to handkerchiefs. These were an easier sell for my family than toilet cloth, for the simple fact that my husband remembers his grandparents carrying them, as do I. I picked up some thin, organic cotton with a tight fabric weave, cut it into squares, and finished the edges nicely. Even though I promoted them as “one use,” my family tends to use them over the course of a day until they’re dirty, then throw them in with the toilet cloths for washing. My husband no longer has to worry about blowing holes through six plies of tissue in one blow, and the expense of facial tissue has gone down to zero.
Have you tried “family/toilet cloth” or a bidet seat? What were your reasons for switching? Comment below.