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The Dangers of Recycled Toilet Paper And a Safer Alternative

The Danger of Recycled Toilet Paper (and the safest, sustainable alternative), via SustainableBabySteps.com

Sure recycled toilet paper seems better than non-recycled. But does that make it the most eco-friendly option?

Not even close. When you consider the remanufacturing of the paper, the shipping, and the selling of a single-use product, not harvesting trees (which are usually from tree farms and not forests anyway) hardly makes a dent in the ecological footprint.

But even more important to understand are the potential health ramifications of recycled toilet paper.

In a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers found that many recycled paper products - such as toilet paper, paper napkins, paper towels, etc - are often contaminated with BPA and BPS. BPA - and its common replacement, BPS - both act as endocrine disruptors and have been linked to cancer, diabetes, liver and thyroid problems, birth defects, heart disease and more.

How is it that BPA and BPS are making their way into these recycled paper products? It comes primarily from something called thermal paper. Thermal paper has been coated with BPA, usually in order to reduce fading, especially when it comes to paper receipts. It's also found in some newspapers, magazines, tickets, flyers, and so on. As these papers are recycled the BPA they contain can be mixed in with items you certainly don't want contaminated, such as recycled toilet paper. Using recycled TP means applying an endocrine disruptor and carcinogenic chemical directly to some of your most sensitive areas. (Ouch!)

But there is a safer alternative.

If you're really ready to go green and live healthy, cloth toilet paper is the answer. I know, I know...it sounds pretty "out there" when you first hear about it. But I encourage you to keep reading before you form an opinion on trying cloth toilet paper (or "family cloth", which I think sounds way grosser).

cloth toilet paper

The Facts About Cloth Toilet Paper

Toilet paper itself is a pretty new invention. Historically we've used Sears catalogs, soft plant material (such as broad leaves) and yes, cloth. There were a few key differences: Cloth wipes back in the day weren't washed after each use and family members may have actually shared the same dirty cloth. Um yeah, that's not what we're recommending here.

The first concern of most is: Is this sanitary?

The answer is absolutely...if it's done right.

Urine is 100% sterile, so absolutely no worries there. Feces obviously isn't, but with proper care there is no more concern than the following common practices:

  • Cloth diapers, used by hundreds of thousands families today and for centuries
  • Using a washcloth in the shower to clean yourself
  • Washing clothing after a child has had an accident
  • Sneezing into or blowing your nose with a handkerchief

We don't think twice about those scenarios, because they are common and accepted. I mean we don't throw away washcloths after cleaning up a stinking baby in the tub, right? But we've been taught that toilet paper must be disposable? Why? Perhaps because such a highly disposable, frequently used product turns a mighty big profit, even for the so-called eco-friendly recycled toilet paper companies.

Benefits of Cloth Toilet Paper

There are so many reasons to ditch the recycled toilet paper for something truly reusable, such as the family cloth. Here is my list below:

  • Affordable: As you'll see below the cloth for your own toilet paper can be gotten for cheap or even free, and washed with any load of laundry, so no extra water or detergent.
  • Truly Eco-friendly: No more repeated manufacturing or shipping of a disposable product.
  • Healthier: No bleach, BPA, BPS, or other funky processing chemicals coming in contact with your body.
  • Softer: Truly the softest option for toilet paper, especially good when you're wiping a lot due to sickness.
  • Gets you cleaner: It's true. You feel cleaner because you actually are when using cloth toilet paper.
  • Keeps you cleaner: No fingers poking through because it doesn't tear like recycled toilet paper.
  • Saves time and energy: It's nearly effortless to care for and is done with your normal laundry, so no late night trips to the store when you've run out

The best way to be convinced though? Try it yourself!

Give it a test run by following the information below and see how you feel about this truly recycled toilet paper. I did, and over 5 years later I haven't given it up.

How To Start with Cloth Toilet Paper

These are my personal tips based on my own experience with cloth toilet paper. Give them a try and make any adjustments that you prefer.

For trial runners:
If you're just starting out, ease your way into it by just using cloth toilet paper for urine and keeping a roll of non-recycled toilet paper for poop. Urine is sterile and there will be no odor.

If you're not sure how you'll like it, try it out with strips of fabric cut from an old jersey t-shirt (which won't fray) or with washcloths. This will give you a good idea before you invest in anything else.

When you're ready to commit:
Purchase a yard (or more depending on how many are in your household and will be using cloth) of a cotton flannel. Patterned fabrics might also be a good idea to hide any stains (don't get white!). Cotton flannel is by far the best choice: easy to clean, soft and absorbant. Avoid fleece; it may seem softer but it's not very absorbant and won't leave you feeling very fresh.

Cut the strips into 4x4 or 6x6 inch squares. If you have pinking shears, use them to decrease fraying or if you sew or have a serger, stitch around the edges to prevent fraying. But in my experience, flannel only frays enough to prevent unraveling and so it's not usually necessary, unless you'd like a nicer look or want to avoid any fuzzies in your wash the first couple of washes.

Next you'll need storage:
Clean family wipes can be stacked near the toilet or placed inside a basket or box. But you'll need a place for dirty wipes, perhaps a wet bag with a liner, a small hamper or waste reciprocal with a lid that can double as a "hamper" or a cloth diaper bin.

Choose your system:
There are a few different systems, depending on preference:

  • A wet/wet system: Using moistened cloths from a warming baby wipe holder to wipe and then placing them in a container of water and vinegar to soak and "disinfect" them before. Lots of extra work, unless you prefer it.
  • A wet/dry system: Using warmed moistened cloths, but placing the used cloths in a hamper or "wet bag" until washing. This can cause some stink from the wet cloths waiting to be washed unless you're washing them frequently.
  • A dry/wet system: Using dry cloths and placing them used in a container of water and vinegar. We've found the wet part of this system to be unnecessary. The water/vinegar solution can get awfully gross in just a couple days; much more so than a dry system.
  • A dry/dry system: This is our preference. Dry cloth toilet paper works perfectly and we've not seen a need for soaking before washing. We have no odor and no problem washing the cloth toilet paper.
  • A bidet system: This is another alternative to using cloth alone. Using a bidet on your toilet or creating a bidet from a plastic bottle to clean yourself and then dry with a cloth. This can lead to extra stink from the moister cloths so be sure you wash them frequently.

Now onto washing your cloth toilet paper...

As I've mentioned above, we've found pretreating or presoaking to be unnecessary and may actually lead to the need for extra washing if they soak too long or get too stinky. (Seriously, this is the last thing you want to forget for too long.)

Cloth wipes can be washed in any load of laundry that doesn't include cloth napkins, dishcloths, towels etc. Be wary washing them with jeans as you'll likely find a few in your pockets when you go out and then get to explain it to curious friends. I like to add them to a load that isn't 100% full so that they have extra room for the wash to agitate (which is what actually does the majority of cleaning).

No extra or special detergent is necessary (although you should be using all-natural, dye- and fragrance-free detergent anyway to prevent irritation) and I wouldn't recommend bleach for anything in the world. You can wash them in cold water to save energy, or switch to warm or hot if you're concerned or have been especially sick lately.

You can dry them in the dryer, or by line drying them in the sun, which does have the added benefit of using the sun to sterilize them. Avoid using any fabric softener and use a cup of white vinegar in your rinse cycle instead, which acts as a natural fabric softener without leaving any residues behind that may cause irritation or infection.

After trying it out it's hard to imagine going back. Even if you only use them for urine, you'll be glad you made the switch.

Oh, and one last thing...

Reader's Questions (and our answers)

What is the cost of washing and drying the cloth toilet paper - you know, water, soap, electricity, propane etc. - compared to buying a 9 pack of toilet papter?

Practically non-existent. :) We add our cloth toilet paper to a regular load of laundry. No extras are really necessary, unless maybe we've been sick and want to wash with hot water or do a pre-soak, or if we use a wet system and let them soak in about a penny's worth of water first. Then it's really negligible compared to never buying toilet paper again.

Is there really no smell?

Usually not. I mean if you leave it sitting for awhile there can be. If you've been sick, maybe. But in the 5+ years of doing a dry cloth system we have had no issues with smell whatsoever. But maybe that comes down to what you eat, too! HA!

How can I make cloth toilet paper? Is there a tutorial?

You can get fancy by Googling a tutorial, or even buy them from someone on Etsy. But the easiest is to find a piece of flannel (NOT fleece!), cut them into the size you want (experiment with different sizes), and let the edges fray. It actually looks nicer than it seems, even intentional.

Keep a roll of non-recycled toilet paper hanging around for your house guests. No need to freak out the neighbors. Yet.

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