Overcoming the Toilet Paper Problem

So, we are most likely all aware of the current, almost global, it seems, penchant for panic buying due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Top of the list for far too long has been, of all things, toilet paper. Kudos to any country with better communication standards where panic buying has not occurred, or been short lived, such as Singapore. There’s a whole lot I could say about the way the various media outlets have fanned the flames of this public anxiety. The generalised need to behave like slavering wild dogs afraid of missing out sends them into a feeding frenzy at the first sign of weakness, or the first perceived governmental miss-step. If they have to wait too long, they’ll make up whatever they need to feed their own addiction to self aggrandisement and notoriety. I should stop there, because this article is about something else entirely.

I first heard about reusable toilet paper, also called cloth wipes, and family cloth, a few years ago. Having used traditional terry towelling squares as baby nappies (yes, I’m Australian, it’s a nappy!) for all of the babies in my life, it seemed like a reasonable concept. Back then, disposable nappies just weren’t considered. I do remember using a Chux wipe inside the nappy to make it easier to dispose of the poo. Even those were washed and reused, long lasting was preferred over throw away. Maybe it was the times, there was no pandering to any sense of an “ick factor” around dealing with wet or dirty nappies, it’s part of life and we just got on with it. Advertisers, politics, in fact anyone with a nefarious agenda, has come to use the concept of the ick factor to their own ends, manipulating the populace to their own agenda. Bodily exudation is all part of living. If we stop falling into the traps those who want to sell us something keep setting for us, we can learn something beneficial and maybe even develop a more pleasant lifestyle. I’m old enough to have had to use phone books, newspaper, magazines, and catalogues for toilet paper in the old outhouse. Leaves or grass were used if caught in need while working on the farm. Many public outhouse toilets at rest stops had stacks of torn up squares of paper hanging on a wire in reach of users. Toilet paper was a luxury.

While I’d considered cloth wipes, I didn’t take up the option until the recent shortage in supply of TP. For some reason, the fact that I could use cloth for pee wipes and paper for #2 didn’t occur to me. It simply wasn’t on my list of environmental changes to make. Then came T’Pocalypse and I thought I’d give it a try. I’m a delicate petal, with allergies to all manner of things, perfumed, bleached and treated TP is one of those things. In an apocalypse, choices are limited, so I knew I was facing an ongoing situation.

While there’s a lot out there about cloth wipes made of expensive coloured fabrics with snaps to make them into a roll, this article is about something much simpler.

My first foray saw me choosing bits and pieces from my box of leftover fabric offcuts. Having been a sewist for most of my life, I now have a stash of fabric that will probably outlive me, and, since you never know when something might come in handy, I save any fabric bits that might be use-able. I also reuse worn clothing and other items. These first selections included pieces of old worn sheeting and calico curtains, scraps from mended nighties, and old shirts. Initially, I went with a similar size to the TP (toilet paper) squares we’re used to, so used whatever bits I had.

The concept really worked. I admit my surprise. The level of comfort from using a soft cloth wipe instead of paper was more of a game changer than anything else for me. The amount of TP the cloth wipes saved was, and is, an added bonus, as obtaining more of my suitable brand has been impossible. However, using those first iterations of the wipes raised a couple of things requiring change; the size was an issue for a few reasons, and after the first wash and tumble dry a solution was quickly needed.

When washing, the small squares became caught where the water drains out of the machine, no big deal really, just annoying and tedious as it meant they had to be washed again. The drying was more of a problem though. Getting caught in the filter is a fire hazard! I had not finished any edges and the threads shed really, really, really badly. Also, some of the fabric was too lightweight and thin for my liking when being used. Folding into four helped, but the small ones needed something more. Using multiple together was suitable, so using my overlocker, I edged all the wipes, layered the really thin fabric ones together and joined others to make them larger in size. The lasting solution to both the washing and the drying issue was to use a couple of heat proof washing bags. Process: drain the bucket and wipes in the laundry tub, then roughly evenly divide the wipes into the bags, zip them up and into the washing machine they go.

I found the coloured fabrics were more effective in reminding me not to drop the wipe into the toilet bowl. Night time trips are the most problematic if you’re still half asleep and not yet used to the different process. We’ve been using TP and dropping in the loo for so long it has become habitual, thus it’s normal to have to break that habit if you’re using wipes. It’s helpful if you’re already practising water conservation and don’t flush after every pee. A bamboo stick, a wooden coathanger (screw the hook into the end and it becomes a reaching stick), something you already have on hand can be used to fish the wipe out of the bowl and into your bucket of disinfectant soaker. Do not flush it down! Flushing cloth, kitchen paper towel, even treated tissues, will cause plumbing blockages; and yes, “just once” can indeed cause a great deal of trouble.

Given there’s just me using my bathroom, I chose to use a waste paper bin I had on hand. It’s long and narrow, and fits the area I wanted it to live. In addition, I reclaimed an old handle from a Tupperware cake carrier from the ‘get rid of’ box, that fits it perfectly, making it easy for me to carry it. Serendipitous! The bamboo stick is used to push the wipes under the water from time to time, and can be used to reclaim a wipe from the toilet bowl if required. Be mindful when you add the water to your bucket, that you have to be able to carry it from laundry to bathroom. Add your choice of cleanser and/or disinfectant to the water to prevent odours and bacteria from developing, and place beside your toilet bowl so you can simply drop the used wipe straight in. Yep, a nappy bucket would indeed have a lid, these wipes are for pee only.

Currently, my clean wipes sit atop my laundry basket. The black thing there is my Kindle. Yes, if I had to share with others or there were children in the household, I’d do it very differently, but there’s not. And there’s never any visitors, so I can do things how I want to do them. My washing has not increased as I wash the wipes with my towels, or my bed clothes as needed. I started with 150 wipes, which became 120 after sewing them together. I’m now researching the most inexpensive way to make more from towelling nappies, as the absorbency will be better than calico, poplin or t-shirting, the three most effective fabrics in use so far. The reduction in my consumption of TP is extraordinary; this, combined with the extra levels of comfort for my nether regions, make all the efforts worthwhile to me and my reasons for the experiment.

Things to Note if making your own Cloth Wipes:
Don’t: Use white cloth like TP, it’s easy to forget and drop it in the bowl.
Don’t: Make the squares small like normal TP, one piece is not enough to do the job properly.
Don’t: Use fabric that is very thin as it won’t hold enough liquid.
Don’t: Let the wipes get caught in the dryer or washer filters, use a wash bag.

DO: Make your squares, or rectangles, bigger than TP, after all one square is not enough to do the job properly.
DO: Use thicker rather than thinner fabric for absorbency and comfort.
DO: Use absorbent rather than water repellent fabric .
DO: Use coloured or textured fabric as a reminder it’s not flushable.

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