Why you shouldn't use 'family cloth' reusable toilet paper

While most of us are aware by now that coronavirus will not trigger a worldwide toilet paper shortage, that still doesn't mean TP's by any means easy to come by on store shelves. Evidently panic-buying still holds sway — and where does that leave those of us who didn't lay in a full pallet of paper before it became such a hot commodity? A roll of toilet paper may last longer than you think, but you'll eventually come to the end of the roll... and then what?

While there are a number of different options that can be used to substitute for this necessity, one which has been gaining ground lately is something called, rather off-puttingly, "family cloth" — basically, it's a form of reusable toilet paper made with cloth. You can purchase cloth TP on Etsy, should the idea of shelling out around $15 for a roll of cutesy crafty stuff seem to confer some sense of respectability, or at least a feeling that Gwyneth Paltrow might approve. If you'd prefer to save a few bucks, however,  you can also make DIY toilet cloths using shop rags or cut up old T-shirts. You can — but should you? 

Whether you buy hand-embroidered cloths made from fine linen or use ripped up remnants from the rag bag, the fact is, reusable toilet paper might not be as eco-friendly an alternative as it presents itself to be, and it also raises some serious concerns about hygiene.

The reason you should probably give reusable toilet paper a pass

The problem with using family cloth lies in what happens after you... you know. Obviously you wash them, but do you race straight from the bathroom to the laundry room? Or do you just throw the cloth in the hamper? Same hamper as the rest of your laundry, or a separate container? However you segregate things, cross-contamination is going to be a problem. Whether you use your cloths for both purposes, or just for pee, human waste products are full of germs that can infect anything they come into contact with, including your hands.

Kelly Reynolds, a public health researcher at the University of Arizona, told USA Today that throwing the cloths in the washing machine won't solve the problem: "When you wash these cloths you transfer these germs to the entire load of laundry, even subsequent loads." The pathogens, she says, can only be killed by bleach and water heated to a temperature higher than most washing machines can provide. In fact, the water and the energy required to properly sanitize these soiled cloths makes using them less eco-friendly than flushing easily biodegradable toilet paper.

It looks like family cloths are no sustainable solution for our toilet paper dilemma, although Lifehacker commenters suggest that such a product could be appropriate if used for drying off after using a bidet. For those of us still bidet-less, however, we make this desperate plea: whoever's hogging all the TP, please leave some for us.