Throwing in the Paper Towel

Disposables are convenient but let’s face it, they aren’t exactly good for our environment or our pocketbooks. Finding ways to eliminate paper goods from our daily lives would be a great step toward reducing landfill waste, and saving some of that hard earned money for more important things.

Double Layer Striped Dishcloths
Double Layer Striped Dishcloths

It’s been a year since my husband and I decided to say “No” to papergoods in our home. And to tell you the truth, we’ve hardly noticed a difference, other than the extra money left over each month!

Here are a few ways that we’ve replaced “disposables” with more permanent items:

Cloth Napkins. We’ve found that we are able to use one cloth napkin for several meals before it is soiled enough to have to wash. Don’t buy them brand new though. Instead, find them cheap at thrift stores and yard sales, or make your own.

Handkerchiefs.
It’s amazing how much more absorbent and easier on your nose they are than paper tissues! You can easily make them out of old t-shirts as well.

Cleaning Rags. Use old, worn out socks or kitchen dishcloths instead of paper towels to do your cleaning.

Food Storage Containers. Replace plastic sandwich bags with sealable containers. Canning jars are excellent for this. Just dump your leftovers into a jar, screw on lid, and set it in your fridge to be eaten another day!

Cloth Diapers. They’ve come a long way since our grandmothers used them! No more fussing with pinning the cloth together while baby wiggles away. Today’s cloth diapers are just as easy to use as disposables, but are so much more comfortable on baby. And in all honesty, washing an extra load every other day or so really isn’t that big a deal.

Cloth Baby Wipes. Why continue buying manufactured baby wipes when you can make your own? Baby washcloths make excellent reusable wipes along with a homemade baby wipes solution. Or, you can make your own wipes from old t-shirts and unwanted baby receiving blankets.

The Family Cloth. Yes people, I’m talking about the entire family using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper. I know what you are thinking. Sounds a bit extreme, right? In all honesty though, it’s really not that bad. After doing it for a couple of days, I realized that it’s really no grosser than the washcloths we clean up with in the shower… think about it!

Dryer Balls. Stop wasting money on those expensive dryer sheets! Dryer balls will do just as good of a job without all of the harsh chemicals or extra expense.

Baby Products. For goodness sakes, stop buying disposable baby products! I’m talking about tossables like spoons, cups, bibs, placemats, medicine dispensers, etc. Just bring something washable with you along with a bag to store it in until you can wash it. No more waste!

Feminine Products. If you can sew, there are some great tutorials you can find online for how to make your own feminine cloth pads. But for those who can’t stand the bulkiness, you might consider trying a Diva Cup. They are safe, effective, comfortable, and you’ll never have to buy anything else for that special time of the month again!

If you are just beginning to eliminate disposables in your home, don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do all of these things at once. Just pick one or two, take it slow, and work your way through the list as you become more comfortable! I think you’ll see that life without so much waste truly makes you feel like you are doing something good for your family and your world. Every little bit helps!

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Liz Wallis
Liz Wallis
10 years ago

I knit dishcloths, and when the current one has finally gotten too ratty looking to wash dishes with, it moves to the pail under the sink and becomes the kitchen floor rag. The one in the pail goes outside to provide threads for birds’ nests. I do have paper towels on hand for really nasty messes (sick dog, etc.) but don’t use them for anything else.

Jamie Clark Pattullo
10 years ago

gotta get back into NOT buying them.

Mary Jane Plemons
Mary Jane Plemons
10 years ago

Some of these ideas are fine. Some are just nasty.

Kristin Howard Salber
Kristin Howard Salber
10 years ago

I’ve been using cloth feminine napkins for quite a while. I use organic disposables when out of the house. They aren’t as nasty as you might think. They’re actually quite comfortable.
I also cut up any stained tees to use for cleaning rags, which I keep in a hanging sack in my broom closet. I use one rag for cleaning a mess that might otherwise take 3 or 4 paper towels!

Bev Northcraft
Bev Northcraft
10 years ago

Yah, sorry I’m with Mary Jane on this one..

Kristin Howard Salber
Kristin Howard Salber
10 years ago

Oh, I also use soft flannel handkerchiefs. I don’t get the red-raw nose I used to get with paper tissues. Our grandparents used these things with no problems!

Liz Wallis
Liz Wallis
10 years ago

Jane, what do you think is nasty? The only items in that list that I didn’t grow up using are the family cloth and reusable feminine products. And my mother grew up at a time when disposable feminine products were not in widespread use. It’s no more nasty to wash family cloth or cloth pads than to wash a baby’s diapers. I know a lot of people think that’s nasty too, but how less nasty is it to pile disposable diapers up in landfills? At some point, we’re going to have no choice about giving up disposables. Might as well do it while we still do have a choice, and can find our preferred alternatives.

Diane Gibson
Diane Gibson
10 years ago

I actually did grow up with these and I have no plans to go back to cloth sanitary products or toilet paper. There is a toss up on some of these: products vs. water/soaps/time to wash. Many paper products are from tree farms and not distroying the world. If you must use them, look for ones that have no chemicals, scents, etc.. I put any paper towel/table napkins I might use in my recycler – they decompose fast. I try never to use plastics and harmful cleaning products.

Sue Barker
10 years ago

We’re working to reduce our paper and plastic usage – no paper towels, cloth napkins, glass food storage. DD has gone to cloth diapers/wipes with her son. I think replacing ‘kleenex’ with handkerchiefs will be our next logical step. Don’t know that I’d get much family buy-in for ‘family cloth’, though…

Sue Barker
10 years ago

…which is funny, when you realize that you’re wiping baby’s butt with a cloth that you’re washing and reusing… Good for the goose?

Liz Wallis
Liz Wallis
10 years ago

I’ve had family members living with me for the last couple of months who wouldn’t use reusable wipes, but as soon as they are completely moved out, I’ll be going back to “family cloth.” You treat it the same as cloth diapers, toss the washcloth or wipe in a soaking solution, and wash separately. A tea tree oil solution works great.

Mary Jane Plemons
Mary Jane Plemons
10 years ago

Okay; I’ll clarify. I use rags, but I also use paper towels, for things like draining bacon, etc. and for some spills/messes. We use cloth napkins and have for years and years. We use both tissues and handkerchiefs. I used cloth diapers for four babies, and didn’t have a dryer for three of them. But the “family cloth or “feminine product”? No way. My mother had to use rags for her period, and she told me the commercial napkins were a God-send, in her eyes.

Kim Chandler Wolf
10 years ago

Good article, good ideas…however…CAN’T give up the ol’ paper T.P.!

Terry Bonner
10 years ago

Exactly! I mean, intellectually I know that Plato, Julius Caesar, Mozart and Lincoln got along just fine without toilet paper, but somehow it’s just not a comfort to me at all.

Suzi Wallace Fire
10 years ago

All my favorite soft jammies that are too holey to wear get cut into washable squares to clean…I still keep a roll of paper towels around but one roll of Seventh Generation Browns lasts about 2+ months.

Liz Wallis
Liz Wallis
10 years ago

For anyone who may be considering “family cloth,” but just can’t quite envision doing it, one easy transition is to use cloth wipes only after urination, and keep the TP for a while for anything else. Once you are accustomed to soaking and washing the wipes, and see how much more comfortable they are to use, the next step is easier.

Carie Starr
Carie Starr
10 years ago

We made cloth napkins out of old t shirts! It works great! Also I have the Diva cup and it is great, makes you forget you’re even having your time!

Alison King Fey
Alison King Fey
10 years ago

I just ordered some dishcloths today. Looking forward to trying it! :)

Leota Jones
10 years ago

I crochet my dishcloths, but if I quit using paper towels, what will I use to start the fire in the stove and put in my compost pile to loosen it up? lol

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