Alternatives to Toilet Paper: Switching to Family Cloth or Bidet Use

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DIY family cloth made from two layers of flannel.
Cloth wipes stored in a basket. Flannel makes for some fun options for prints!

Could you live without toilet paper? How to ditch toilet paper and save money. These easy alternatives to toilet paper are easy to use, ecofriendly, and affordable. 

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You don’t need toilet paper. It is NOT a necessity. I was reading a survival site and they were trying to estimate how much toilet paper you should save up for the apocalypse and I had to chuckle because toilet paper is not the item I’d recommend trying to store for the (relatively unlikely) imminent collapse of our society. Can you imagine how much you’d need?! Perhaps I’m an optimist, perhaps I’m just conscious of our storage space, or perhaps it’s because I’m a realist- but if there’s an apocalypse, I’ll be okay if toilet paper is the item I run out of.  Let’s talk about why.

About Toilet Paper

First, the use of paper for toilet hygiene is a relatively new concept and the modern toilet paper wasn’t invented until the late 1800’s. There is record of paper being used in medieval China, however, as early as 6th century A.D. The United States uses much more toilet paper than other countries, something that is thought to be due to the more common use of bidets in other countries. 27,000 trees are used daily to keep up with the world’s toilet paper use. Considering the transportation and production costs of toilet paper, you can imagine the difference that could be made by cutting down on our use.

Family cloth and/or bidet use are a great way to reduce your use of paper products.

Historical alternatives to toilet paper included corn cobs, a communal sponge, old newspaper and catalogs, and leaves.

Toilet paper is designed to break down in modern septic tanks, but depending on where you live and your septic system, some people still throw toilet paper away in a garbage can instead of disposing of it in the toilet.
Sources Wikipedia: Toilet Paper

Mental Floss: What did people use before toilet paper?

An Alternative to Toilet Paper: Family Cloth

We began using cloth wipes and cloth diapers on my first son in 2011. I liked the idea of the soft fabrics of cloth diapers against my son’s skin instead of plastic. At the time, I was super grossed out by the idea of cloth wipes as an alternative to toilet paper for the whole family. Eventually, after reading other peoples’ experiences with cloth, I became curious. Now I’m a convert.

DIY Cloth Wipes

Cloth wipes are often called “family cloth” and they are like using a washcloth to wipe yourself. They’re comfortable, they’re clean, and they’re affordable.

Yes, it seems gross when you hear it. But consider it. You launder soiled underwear. Most people don’t just throw their underwear away. And if you have children, then you’ve likely dealt with a diaper explosion before- and you probably didn’t throw those clothes away. You just deal with it and launder the clothes. Laundering cloth wipes is no different.

By using cloth wipes, you can save money and decrease your impact on the environment.  We still buy toilet paper for guests and occasional use, but we have been transitioning more and more to using just cloth. We’ve noticed a significant decrease in how much we spend on many disposable products. And once you switch to family cloth, using regular toilet paper is akin to using the cheapest toilet paper on the shelf. “Ew, toilet paper.”

How to Use Cloth Wipes

Wetting the wipes with water first is the most comfortable option. Wipe as usual.

Dirty wipes are put into a wet bag and then laundered together after a few days. Very simple.

And the best part is that it’s a much cleaner option for your body than toilet paper.

It’s also a lot easier to use than disposable wipes or toilet paper when potty training a child. Unlike toilet paper, fabric doesn’t leave “residue” behind on your body. It also seems to do a better job cleaning you than toilet paper does.

A wet bag can hold all of your dirty family cloth until you're ready to launder them.

Laundering Cloth Wipes

To wash family cloth, I usually put them through with our cloth diapers when we have a child who is being cloth diapered. But you could wash them by themselves or with towels, depending on your preference. I run my wipes through the washer on a quick cycle with NO detergent first- this is just to rinse the diapers and wipes with cold water. Next I put them in for a full “heavy soil” cycle with high heat, my cloth diaper friendly detergent, and a bit of white vinegar. My current washing machine offers a steam clean option which I often like to use on cloth products as an extra option to sanitize the wipes.

You don’t want to put any “solids” (if you know what I mean) through the wash. This really shouldn’t be an issue. If this is confusing, think of it this way- if you would launder your clothes with the degree of soiling, then it will be fine in the wash. But you probably would shake out anything loose on your clothes to avoid having it stay in your washing machine. For example, I’ve found that mud washes out, but if I launder sand then I end up with sand throughout my washer and dryer. Similarly, food particles tend to hang out in my washer and dryer. And poop. Poop will stay in your washer.

Curious what happens when your child has an accident in their underwear and it goes through the washer and dryer? Yeah, look no further because I wrote a post on that and explain how to clean the washer and dryer after. Click here to read more on “How to Clean Poop Out of the Dryer.” But this has only happened once in over five years of using cloth and it had nothing to do with my use of cloth products. Pssstt… It was my husband’s fault. 

When you launder cloth products, don’t use any detergent that has fabric softener in it- fabric softeners tend to decrease the absorbency of fabrics so they’re not a good option for cloth diapers or wipes. I use method Free & Clear which I like because it’s less messy than other detergents, I can subscribe and save the refills, and I can buy refills for the pump.

If you don’t want to deal with #2, then you can use the cloth wipes for #1 and save your toilet paper for #1.

Storing Cloth Wipes

If you need someplace to store your clean cloth wipes, consider making your own toilet paper holder with storage for cloth wipes above. This gives guests the option of using regular toilet paper while allowing you the option to keep wipes handy.

Click to learn how to build a custom toilet paper holder with space for family cloth wipes.

How to Make Cloth Wipes

Sewing cloth wipes is very easy. You just use squares of flannel. I use “two ply” or two layers and serge them together. They’re cheap to make, easy to sew, and easy to wash. If you don’t sew, you can just buy cloth wipes to use (or use thin wash cloths). I recommend picking up flannel when it’s on sale. Some people just cut up old towels or other scrap fabric and use them until they break down. No sewing required.

I wrote all about using reusable cloth products and other products that save me money in my book, “How to Sew, Use, and Clean Cloth Diapers” The book includes more information on cloth wipes for family cloth and baby, sewing cloth diapers, unpaper towels, reusable snack bags, and more!

How to Sew, Use, and Clean Cloth Diapers- and other reusable products.

An Alternative to Toilet Paper: Bidets

While this hasn’t taken off in the United States yet like it has in other countries, bidets are a wonderful alternative to using toilet paper and cloth wipes. And consider how clean you get if you wash those areas each time you use the toilet, rather than just patting your areas with dry toilet paper.

It’s really much cleaner. And there’s no laundry involved so that’s even better. And it’s an absolute blessing post-partum or if you have any other issues, surgeries, etc. ‘down there.’

Eventually I’d like to replace our toilet seats with bidet seats. In the past, you would need to replace your whole toilet, but now you can just replace the seat or add a sprayer to your current toilet.

There is some plumbing required if you want to make the water warm, but cold water isn’t as uncomfortable as you might expect and sticking with cold water makes install much easier (and more of a DIY project). Some of these seats offer heating and other perks too. Kind of awesome and the prices on them have gotten much, much more reasonable.

You have four options for bidet use:

  1. Handheld sprayer: If you plan to cloth diaper, these are nice because they double as a cloth diaper sprayer. Upside? They attach to the side of your toilet and you can target the sprayer in whatever direction you wish. Downside? You can target the sprayer in whatever direction you wish. If you have a toddler, you can probably guess the potential problem with that.
  2. Attached toilet seat sprayer: These appear to install under your current toilet seat and shoot water up at your wipable areas. Make sure you’re sitting over it when it goes on, haha.
  3. Separate bidet toilet: These are the separate bidets you see at fancy homes and in Europe (and Asia maybe?). I find them intimidating, even though I think bidet use is awesome. I also don’t like that they take up extra space which makes it difficult to install in most American homes (unless you customize your bathroom space so one will fit).
  4. Bidet toilet seat: These seats can get pretty fancy and they include a sprayer for use as a bidet, some have the option for heated toilet seats and air drying your tush. I think it’s neat and my stepmom has one like this, but I don’t spend so much time on the toilet that I want to invest in the electrical and plumbing work required to make all of those features work.  Also, I don’t want to sit and wait for my butt to dry. I get impatient with hand dryers at the public restroom too. These are probably less expensive than getting a whole separate bidet, but more expensive than a sprayer or hand sprayer.

Here are some of the options available online.

Sprayer only that attaches to your current toilet seat.

Handheld Bidet Sprayer: These work great for rinsing cloth diapers too. I used something similar for our cloth diapers.

Bidet toilet seat with heat and drying function.

Seeing the prices on some of these bidets, I may have to pick up one or two to try them out. They’re much more affordable than they were in the past! We have special toilet seats for our children to potty train so I need either the handheld bidet sprayer or the toilet seat attachment sprayer.

If you don’t want to buy the attachment that dries you, you can always use cloth wipes for drying only, but to my understanding it’s not absolutely necessary.

I wrote a post about how to install a bidet toilet seat if you’re interested in learning more!

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How to live without toilet paper: Saving money and the environment by switching to reusable cloth wipes.

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Alternatives To Toilet Paper - Switching To Family Cloth
Yield: 1 Family Cloth

Alternatives To Toilet Paper - Switching To Family Cloth

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $1-$5

Use flannel squares to make cloth wipes quickly and easily.


  • Flannel 


  • Sewing Machine


    1. Use two layers of flannel and serge them together. 
    2. Place them in a basket for easy use.

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12 thoughts on “Alternatives to Toilet Paper: Switching to Family Cloth or Bidet Use”

  1. You, my friend, are brave. And also it makes sense… I just never would have thought about it. I'm considering looking into this for myself for, um, #1. I don't think I can quite wrap my head around using family cloth for #2. 😉

    I also use the Creighton Model System of family planning, and I'm not sure they'd recommend using cloth for making observations. I'll have to look into it!

    • Yeah I just made them and put the wet bags in the bathrooms I use. I've got no idea if my husband uses them at all, but I figure that me using them reduces our tp use by a LOT. And if I put them out there, at some point he will probably give it a try out of curiosity.

      We do use them on the kids, of course, and it's wayyyyyy easier than tp. I never realized how hard it was to wipe someone else's butt with dry toilet paper until I did it. With the wet cloth wipes, I feel like I can get the kids clean. I mean, I've gotten a REALLY good idea how much better a wet cloth wipe does thanks to my kids. lol. #parentingisglamorous

  2. we are trying to go greener in our house… I used cloth with my first but found it was too much with my 2nd and 3rd… I've been using it for 2 years now with my twins, even started making my own cloth diapers and wipes. I was introduced to cloth pads about a year ago, so we have started using cloth TP too (just for #1 though but with 4 girls in this house, I think it has to make a difference!)… my serger is new to me though so I don't know how to do the nice clean edges like yours 😉 I use unpaper towels for washcloths and LOVE my Norwex cloths for cleaning up most things with just water. now I just need to remember to bring my reusable bags into the store with me!

    • Yes, I struggle with that too! Although we shop at Costco a lot so we don't use bags or boxes there usually- I occasionally use the boxes but those get composted so no big deal. And I LOVE paper bags when we go to the grocery store. They are great for making sewing patterns on.

      Once you start using your serger, you'll be in LOVE. Trust me. It'll allllll come together. And cloth wipes are the best thing to practice on. Or unpaper towels/cloth napkins. Nice and square. Small to sew. Repetitive. 🙂

  3. How about when you go out? How do you deal with the dirty cloth on the go? Looking forward for your reply. Thanks

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. Honestly I don’t use family cloth when we are out because I am a hot mess already with the three kids in tow. Plus I don’t get out much, lol. HOWEVER we have used cloth diapers and cloth wipes for the baby. I bring along a small wet bag like this one:

      All dirty wipes go into the wet bag to be dealt with when we get home. You can bring a small spray bottle to wet the wipes if you want. Or you can bring wipes pre-wetted but you really need to plan for it. You don’t want to leave wet cloth wipes sitting in a container in your bag for months because they will get yucky. Some people claim they have the magic wipes solution that doesn’t get yucky, but I’ve tried a few (particularly for home use in a wipes container) and haven’t been happy with the results. If i carry wet wipes with me, I wet them so they’re damp (but not soaking) and store them in an empty disposable wipes container.

      If you’re okay with using the wipes dry then you don’t need to worry about that part though. And realistically it’s just as dry as toilet paper, just less likely to fall apart in your hands 🙂

      Also clean dry wipes will SAVE THE DAY occasionally. Like if you spill coffee all over yourself and need clean up.

  4. I have been using family cloth since 2004. I bought a bunch of white wash cloths and put them in a basket in my bathroom. They go into a lidded, empty cat litter bucket after use. I launder them in hot water with vinegar by themselves, and then again with a load of towels. I use a portable bidet that I got on Amazon for a few dollars for rinsing, so the cloth is for drying after everything is rinsed off. I take an extra bidet when I’m on the go, and put the cloth into a plastic bag in my purse after use, take it home and toss it in the bucket until it gets laundered. Cloth is so much cleaner than paper, and more economical too!

    • It’s also cleaner IMHO! I’ll have to check out the portable bidets. It might be too much to bother with while my kids are little, but in a few years!!

  5. this is ridiculous…the amount of energy and water to wash these things is not helping the environment…

    • That’s really not the case. Producing these products takes a lot of water, among other things. And then there’s transporting them to the store as well as many other factors. However, a bidet is a great alternative if you’re uncomfortable with using cloth toilet paper.

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