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People are replacing toilet paper with 'zero waste' reusable cloth in an effort to be eco-friendly

Developed as a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to the disposable standard, reusable toilet paper has proved to be a very divisive topic online.

People are replacing toilet paper with 'zero waste' reusable cloth in an effort to be eco-friendly
Cover Image Source: Etsy/SaveTheWorldTogether

The dawn of the pandemic last year presented us with the previously unimaginable nightmare of people hoarding toilet paper. With store shelves almost completely devoid of toilet paper rolls, the term "reusable toilet paper" began floating around on the internet once again. If you're not already familiar with the concept, it's pretty simple: You use cloth wipes instead of toilet paper, clean them, and reuse them for as long as they last. Developed as a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to the disposable standard, reusable toilet paper — also known as the "family cloth" in some cases — has proved to be a very divisive topic. While cloth users swear by it, many others consider the practice gross and unhygienic.


According to Etsy seller SaveTheWorldTogether, "reusable wipes are a great substitution for disposable wipes. All you need is to wash [it] in the washing machine - voila! They are ready for use again." Available in several different design and pattern options, one roll of reusable toilet paper appears to sell for about $32. "Absorbency is increased after the first few washes. Toilet unpaper strips will shrink just enough to fit your roll perfectly," the seller states.


As for how to actually wash and reuse the cloth wipes without compromising hygiene, the listing explains: "Collect the dirties in a bin or Wet Bag, wash every 2-3 days and DON'T FLUSH! After they've been washed, simply stack them up and re-roll one at a time. Machine wash hot with like colors. Tumble dry low or air dry. Pre-soak with vinegar, cleaning solution as needed, and use the detergent of your choice." While in theory, they do sound like a great eco-friendly alternative to disposable toilet paper, Kelly Reynolds — a director and public health researcher at the University of Arizona who studies contaminants in the home — isn't convinced that they'd do well in practice.


"This is just a risky practice, overall I think, and the potential for cross-contamination is just very high from your bathroom, where they're stored, to your laundry room," she told USA Today. On the other hand, an anonymous family cloth user who spoke to BuzzFeed a few years ago claimed she was so happy after the switch that she could not imagine going back. "We often hear metaphorical talk like 'Buying ________ is like flushing money down the toilet.' But in my mind, buying and using disposable toilet paper was literally flushing money down the toilet! If you’re wondering, 'Why would you want to reuse something that you wipe your genitals with?', I’d answer this question with my own question: 'Do you throw away your underpants after each use?'" she said.


"Let's also set the record straight: Individuals who use family cloth do not only have *a* single piece of cloth. We have dozens of smallish strips of cloth. Each visit to the toilet gets its own cloth. In each bathroom of our home, there is a container of many clean cloths on top of the tank and a small bin on the floor that we use as a hamper. After each 'go,' we take one cloth, use it, and drop it in the hamper," she continued. "At the moment, we don’t use the cloths for poop; they're just for pee. We use baby wipes because toilet paper just doesn't get the tushy clean enough, but we never flush wipes because it clogs the pipes. The ultimate goal is to attach bidets to our toilets, and then use that to cleanse after a poop and then, yes, to use the cloths to pat dry."


Reynolds, however, clarified that it isn't the soiled cloth hamper that's the issue. Instead, it's how you handle the cloth wipes while washing them that's concerning. "When you wash these clothes you transfer these germs to the entire load of laundry, even subsequent loads if you're not using a protocol," she said. This protocol, according to Reynolds, should be a strict laundry procedure to both disinfect and sanitize using bleach and water heated at a temperature hotter than most home launderers use. However, this could prove counterproductive to the whole purpose of using cloth wipes in the first place as following this protocol may require enough water and energy to offset the sustainability benefits versus toilet paper. So, what do you think of the family cloth? Would you give it a try?

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