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Reusable Alternatives to Toilet Paper and Paper Towels

So you’re worried you’ll run out of toilet paper and not quite ready to install a bidet?

I’m with you, my friend, I’m with you.

I’ve seen other recommendations for what to do when you run out of toilet paper, including just “take a shower.” What??

I’m imagining some extremely dried-out skin, eczema going nuts, and way too much soap going down the drain, plus I don’t want to take a shower every time I use the restroom NOR do I want to facilitate that for my kids! I don’t know who is feeling like they have extra time during this quarantine thing, but it’s not me.

However, I feel fully prepared to “make my own toilet paper” in a way in case we run out and leaving the house isn’t feasible, and I either horrified my 6th grader or placated her worries by saying so in front of a friend when we were just starting to experience the run on toilet paper in the stores. 😉

I’ve actually been using reusable, eco-friendly options for almost all of our paper products for the last 10 years. We’re talking cloth napkins. reusable handkerchiefs instead of tissue, rags and cleaning cloths instead of paper towel – everything except the ol’ TP so far.

Empty toilet paper roll mounted on a white ceramic tile wall

In fact, I went for a walk with a friend when all of this coronavirus craziness started, and of course, we had to talk about the toilet paper thing. Why toilet paper and water bottles? We don’t expect there to be a loss of infrastructure and water, do we? Does this disease make you poop more? (Note: It does, but at the time, the media was reporting that gastrointestinal effects were minimal to non-existent. How quickly information is changing!!)

I told her that I had actually been completely out of paper towels for about a month, refusing to buy more since we were in the middle of a small remodel project and all my shelf space was repurposed. We typically go through about one roll of paper towels every 6 to 12 months.

So, folks, for the good of the earth after we get through this crisis, and for the sanity of your family now, worrying about running out of toilet paper or paper towels can be crossed off your list of anxieties. Let’s talk about easy reusable options for toilet paper, paper towels, and other paper products that you already have in your home.

Paper Towels on a kitchen counter

Reusable Alternative: Cloth Napkins

Back when my Green Consciousness was beginning to kick up and I started to feel guilty about pretty much everything I threw away, I had this basic thought: If I use a napkin for two meals, that’s literally reducing my napkin waste by fifty percent. Fifty percent!

That’s a pretty big impact for a very small action. So I started doing that, just reusing a napkin for two meals. Note: this never works after taco night!

But otherwise, for an adult (not a child!), it was pretty easy. 

Then I fell into cloth napkins by accident: I used my daughter’s baby washcloth, meant for her face, when it was closer than the napkin holder.

That got me thinking:  why couldn’t adults use a little washcloth or something similar? It sure would cut down on a lot of napkins being thrown away. I began to ponder what I already had in my house that could take the place of cloth napkins. I don’t like to do a lot of work if I can help it!

I finally decided that I would try a no-cost, no-risk experiment and, with all of my crafty prowess (in other words, zero), I cut up an old torn crib sheet that wasn’t usable anymore. The “napkins” were flimsy, primitive, and immediately stained, but we didn’t use them for company and they worked fine! Our standards are pretty low!

My mother, who has always been incredibly supportive of my real food and natural living journey, caught wind of what I was doing. She took two old tablecloths, cut and hemmed the edges, and presented me with a basket of my very own cloth napkins for Valentine’s Day when we visited. Standards raised! 😉 

The point is, you can make DIY cloth napkins with anything you have around. Your washing machine might work a little harder, but your mind will rest easier.

Stock of reusable cloth napkins with a lime and lemon on top

Reusable Alternatives to Toilet Paper and Tissues

I’ll put these in the same category, because — let’s face it, friends — your nose and your sensitive parts both appreciate the same level of softness, amiright? 😉

We started our handkerchief collection with those thin baby receiving blankets that aren’t big enough to wrap around the baby, but we have since moved on to many other materials. Here’s a quick list of what you can find around your house to turn into handkerchiefs or reusable toilet paper with a pair of sharp scissors.

  • Baby receiving blankets
  • Sweatpants losing their elastic anyway
  • Leggings with holes in the knee
  • Flannel sheets that have seen better days
  • Your favorite pajama pants that got a hole in the tushy
  • Old t-shirts that you never wear, but might have sentimental value so you’ve kept them. Just take a picture first to preserve the memory. You may want to avoid the screen-printed part as that could be a bit scratchy.
  • Threadbare towels and washcloths, especially those thin baby washcloths. Even with a washcloth, I might recommend cutting it in half or fourths if it’s large, just as a signal to yourself that this is no longer to be used as a washcloth in any way, especially as a dishcloth.
Woman blowing her nose with a disposable tissue

One material I would not recommend using for noses or nether parts is microfiber cloths.

As much as I used to love lauding microfiber cloths and still love using them, they’re made of plastic, and we probably don’t need plastic rubbing our most sensitive areas.

Also, every time we wash them they release microplastics into the water supply that could cause big health problems for humans and the ecosystem in which we live, so I don’t really want you signing up to wash them every few days.

RELATED: Why Use a Bidet?

How to “Make” Your Own Toilet Paper

reusable handkerchiefs and cloth napkin alternatives you can use as toilet paper

Our actual real-life reusable hankies and cloth napkins, mom’s “tablecloth” version at the top, receiving blanket hankies at the bottom


This doesn’t need to be hard, crafty, or even attractive

Just snip appropriately sized squares with scissors and call it good! 

Again, we’ve been using all the options from the list above as handkerchiefs instead of facial tissues (aka Kleenex) for a decade, and they work FINE. They’re easy to manage by just tossing in the hamper with dirty clothes, and some options like sweatpants don’t even fray. Note: for reusable toilet paper, you will want to put them in a washable wet bag or small, open plastic garbage can near the toilet. 

In fact, I adore handkerchiefs far more than tissues:

  • They’re so soft on the nose. My kids nearly cry when they have a cold and get stuck using tissues at school!
  • Most moms need a tissue in their pocket on a daily basis. At the end of the day, it has become a little ball of solid matter that can no longer be used for blowing a nose. It gets thrown away without even being used. I save a lot of “emergency” tissues with a cloth hankie!
  • When my son forgets to empty his pockets and I miss that one pair of pants that had a tissue in it…no shredded pieces in the dryer!

RELATED: What’s the REAL Cost of Toilet Paper? Becca digs into the lowest price on toilet paper PLUS the environmental impact of buying online, recycled TP and exposure to BPA, bleaching, and alternative disposable toilet papers.

eco-friendly toilet paper from Seventh Generation

Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives

As someone who loves this green earth we live on, I highly recommend ditching most of your paper towel needs anyway. Let’s make it easy.

Right now, if you’re worried about running out, don’t put the paper towels out where it’s easy for people to grab, especially those people who grab a dozen sheets to clean up a spill. #eyeroll

Save that paper towel for something really gross, like the dog burping up on your floor or maybe cleaning the toilets (but I have ideas for that too). Most of us use paper towels for cleaning up spills. So why not use one of the following reusable paper towel alternatives?

  • old washcloths or towels (cut in half, so you know they are only for rags)
  • an old t-shirt (cut in half, so you know it’s only for a rag)
  • socks with holes in them (you can throw those away after cleaning a toilet)

Sure, you can buy nice cleaning cloths, but who needs to spend money like that? 

RELATED: How to Manage Pandemic Stress

Paper towel cleaning up spilled coffee

If you use paper towels for something like draining bacon grease or homemade french fries, just use a cooling rack over a plate, scraping the grease into the trash (or reusing it to cook with). Some savvy readers have recommended using bits of paper grocery bags for draining bacon grease too, but maybe under a rack since they’re not exactly coming at you clean? 

Reusable towels and rags will work for all your spills, but I understand that for toilets you may prefer cleaning with something you can throw away.

So that’s where all of our holey, mismatched socks go — right to cleaning the toilet! I don’t feel bad about throwing them away, but if I do happen to grab a rag, I also don’t feel scared to wash a towel that’s washed my toilet. You have to trust your washing machine.

You can even make pre-moistened reusable (or disposable) wipes for cleaning or baby’s tushies, and it’s not that hard! Again, if this non-crafty, non-DIY mama can do it regularly, you can too. 

Wish You Knew All the Answers to Keep Your Family Healthy?

How about a crash course?

I’d love to send you a 7-day “Quick Start Guide” email mini-course to give you Health Agency! When something goes wrong in your family, YOU can be the agent of healing and not allllllways have to call a doctor for every little thing.

Imagine this email series as a virtual chat over the backyard fence with your own neighbor, a wise older mom who’s raising 4 kids with intention, trying to avoid unnecessary medication and being kind to the earth.

Looking forward to connecting to help you learn EXACTLY what you need to know to stock your natural remedies “medicine cabinet,” deal with normal childhood ailments, and even the dreaded, “What’s that on my skin?” issue! 🙂

How to Wash Reusable Toilet Paper, Handkerchiefs, and Paper Towel Alternatives

All right, folks, this is not rocket science.

  1. You’re going to wash a load of all of these potentially gross things in your regular washing machine.
  2. You’re going to use very hot water to kill the germs.
  3. If you feel extra squeamish, you can add an additional rinse cycle, which is super easy to do on most washing machines.
  4. You can dry them on HOT to further kill any germs that might be left.
  5. And then guess what? You just toss them in a basket or a box and reuse them.

If you’re worried about all the time this will take, first of all: Hello, you’re stuck at home!

Second of all, I never see any reason to fold up rags or handkerchiefs; we just toss them into a box or basket. In fact, I never take care of that load of laundry at all, because that’s the kids’ job.

If you’re still feeling a little squeamish, you could certainly have a different fabric for each family member, and maybe that would make you feel better.

Stack of flannel blankets

But let’s talk about trusting our washing machines.

  • Do you wash your hands immediately after folding a load of laundry that included dirty underwear? I don’t, because I assume it’s now clean. Same will go for your reusable paper product alternatives.
  • Do you ever use the same washcloth from nose to tail, so to speak? I do, and I never once think about where that clean washcloth had been before I used it on my face. And in fact, I use the same washcloth in the next shower, and I don’t freak out.
  • I’ve never once thought that every family member should have their own washcloths, washed in a separate load so that they don’t touch mine. No, I trust my washing machine.

I trust that machine washing will get things plenty clean enough.

For a couple of years, we used cloth diapers with two of our babies, and I even reviewed over 25 brands of cloth diapers.

We washed those cloth diapers in the same washing machine as all of our clothes. Yes, they had their own separate load. But again, I never really worried about residue in the washing machine.

If your kids pee the bed (which if you’re a parent, it’s happened, as well as many other bodily fluids!), you figure it out. You get it through the washing machine, and then you trust that things are clean.

RELATED: Here’s the ultimate best cloth diaper we found if you’re in the market! Also, check out my friend Erin’s incredible cloth diapering book, suddenly popular again on Amazon LOL!

Toilet Paper and Paper Towel Alternatives. Reusable Choices for the Whole Family.

Some people would say to add some bleach to the load, and that’s totally fine if you want to do it. It’s not like your rags and hankies need to hold their color or look super pretty.

I’m not a fan of bleach, however, so in our house, we just turn up the heat to sanitize the germs away. You can see the full instructions here at this dust allergy post because we have recently had to learn how to truly do laundry that kills bugs quite literally. Turning up your water heater will kill all the bugs, whether they’re creepy crawly dust mites or bacteria.

Other Toilet Paper Alternative Resources

For the real scoop on how to DIY toilet paper on a daily basis, check out my friend Beth’s post on family cloth, which she has actually used…I am just assuming this will go great for my family if and when we run out of toilet paper, because we already have the handkerchiefs cut. Tada!

toilet paper in the store

Now until the stores finally look like this again, perhaps your only concern is whether you’ll run out of laundry soap. If you do, my friend Tiffany has a post on how to make your own, no worries! 🙂 

Note: I’ve been buying my eco-friendly toilet paper from Grove Collaborative online for years anyway, so I didn’t have to fight the crowds to feel “TP secure!”

Watch for a post on stretching your soap, coming soon! 

Are you ready to make your own toilet paper or have I scared you off for good?

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

8 thoughts on “Reusable Alternatives to Toilet Paper and Paper Towels”

  1. Katrina Fournier

    Just FYI, urine is not sterile:

  2. This is all well and good for people that own washers, but for apartment dwellers and others who use communal laundromats it’s a little less practical. I use rags and sponges to clean, we’ve never been big on napkins except for parties and getting extras from fast food, I reuse paper towels (dry hands several times, then wipe counter, then greasy spots or spills on the floor then trash), and I would try cloth for urine only since I would have to hand wash (bucket and plunger combo), but I don’t trust how clean the laundry room is with multiple people touching knobs and doors. Before I would wipe everything down, but now I’m not going there.

    1. why doesn’t anyone use a spray water bottle? –it’s so obvious!! probably half the world doesn’t use toilet paper and the other half has no clue how…so weird

    2. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      That’s a good point! I don’t blame you for wanting to steer clear during this. That’s tough.

  3. Great post, Katie! I’ve been using cloth wipes as TP just for pee for about a decade, and they’re so much better that now I’m disappointed when I have to use TP away from home! I just wash them along with my clothes, in cold water. The only reason I’d use hot is if we were using the wipes for poop as well, if I had a yeast infection, or (for my handkerchiefs) if I’ve been sick with a runny nose or phlegm cough full of germs. Here’s my article at Live Renewed with lots of tips for cloth wipes.

  4. Megan Saxbury

    Good write up. I have cloths. Tp. Paper towels. And 2 extra bottles of laundry soap… aka meyers. Ton left in store. Guess having allergy to most soaps pays off.? also in bucket you can use borax. That’s what moms did for years with cloth diapers. Just need a bit. like 5 gal bucket, 1/4 cup of borax. Add the wipes as you use them. Then wash in machine when you have enough or every 2 to 3 days. With laundry soap. Takes down the stink in the bathroom.

    1. Sarah D Eshleman

      Thanks for the borax tip. I did cloth diapers sooo many years ago I couldn’t remember if I put anything in it. I tried cloth wipes for the number one years ago and loved it too but, got away from it. Time to try again. Thank you Katie for this post. I already have done so many of these off and on over the years. Especially the old sock for the toilet! I like how you encourage us that it doesn’t have to be pretty. 🙂 But, those napkins your mom made are lovely. Just not sure if I can break down and cut my vintage table cloths. Maybe I’ll see if there’s a stained one. Blessings!

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