It’s Called “Family Cloth” and I’m About to Open Myself Up to Ridicule in the Name of Zero Waste
Hi! I’m Lindsay, and I’m the social media person behind The Apothecary in Inglewood. I don’t normally show my face, as I write using the “Royal We” most of the time, but here I am exposing myself, in potentially the most mortifying way.
I’m here to talk about what happens in my bathroom at home.
I’ve noticed that as I scour the internet looking for the latest news and best tips on zero waste living, there is one glaring omission from the offerings: an alternative to toilet paper. That’s not to say it’s never addressed. I’ve seen the question asked by #zerowaste hopefuls, and I’ve seen the gurus suggest “lower impact” alternatives such as recycled toilet paper or toilet paper made of materials other than wood pulp.
To be quite frank, I’m totally perplexed. The experts are missing an obvious, wonderful and totally zero waste alternative to toilet paper. It’s called Family Cloth.
What is Family Cloth?
Put simply, it’s just the practice of using little wash cloths (the type you would use for babies in the bath or as bum wipes) instead of toilet paper, storing them in a “dry bag” near the toilet, laundering them and using them over and over.
Sounds pretty gross, right? Are you cringing right now? I definitely did the first time I heard of this.
So How Did I End Up Here?
Most of the kids in our house (there are five and they now range from age 10 to 17) were cloth diapered. It was while I was potty training my daughter and also running a baby store that specialized in cloth diapers that I had a sudden realization — if I had cloth diapered my daughter for two years, and washable diapers and wipes were good enough for her, what was stopping me from using the cloths myself? Where was my hangup rooted?
I couldn’t answer that question. Any concerns of hygiene, storage or washing were answered by my experience cloth diapering, which was fantastic (you have to like something quite a bit to become an advocate and then open a store specializing in that thing).
What about bacteria?
We wash on hot and dry on hot, enough to kill common bacteria. But if we have a gastrointestinal illness, we either skip the family cloth during that time, or would bleach the cloths if we used them. We choose to skip them if we’re sick, since we bought really colourful, pretty cloths and wouldn’t want to ruin them (yes, I know how bizarre that sounds given what we use them for).
But do you get as clean?
Omigosh, yes! And then some! Here’s the key: if your sink is close to your toilet, you can run the cloth under warm water while sitting on the toilet, and wipe with a warm, moist cloth. Imagine that! You’ve never been so clean in your life! (Unless you own a bidet.) Truthfully, it’s rough going back to toilet paper after you’ve used family cloth.
What if the kids flush them down the toilet?
We don’t quite trust the kids yet not to drop them in the toilet and plug it up, so only my partner and I use them. So I guess that makes them… couple cloth? The whole family is totally not using them, and the teenagers would not even be on board with the idea at all. But it’s amazing how much of a dent even the two of us using them makes in our toilet paper consumption!
Where do you store them?
We store them in a dry bag, which is sort of like a big version of the snack bags we sell in the store — with waterproof lining and a zipper. In our bathroom, we hang this bag from a handle on the shower door, but it would just depend on how your bathroom is set up. You could also use a drawstring bag in a pail with a lid.
How do you wash them?
We wash them when the bag gets full — once or twice a week. We wash on hot and dry on hot. If you use white wipes and you’re bothered by stains, sun-bleaching is a great, natural, effective option. We use detergents like Nellie’s, Claudia’s Choices, Nature Clean or Ecos — the fewer additives, the better. Additives can cause stinkiness as well as irritation on your delicate nether regions. That said, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to wash them in blue, scented detergent. Just don’t blame me if you get itchy.
Don’t they stink?
Thanks to the waterproof bag and its zipper, no, we don’t smell them at all. Sometimes when you open the bag it might smell, if it’s full. Otherwise, never.
Do people ever laugh at you?
All the time. Rarely about the family cloth though. That’s mostly because the basket and dry bag are hidden in our ensuite bathroom. When friends do find out that we do this, they’re intrigued and a little grossed out, but I don’t think I’ve lost any friends over it yet.
As weird and “icky” as I know it sounds, I really love using family cloth. You couldn’t pay me to turn back to toilet paper. I was weirded out by the idea too, until I had that mind shift. And I can’t help but wonder… how are you “zero waste” if your manufactured waste is simply getting flushed? Toilet paper is still garbage, we just have the luxury of flushing it out of sight. Washing our family cloth each week uses far less water than it would take to make the equivalent amount of toilet paper, and these wipes have lasted us years so far. Personally, I feel great about this choice! I also feel really clean.