Instructables

How to Stop Using Paper Towels, Napkins, and Baby Wipes

Picture of How to Stop Using Paper Towels, Napkins, and Baby Wipes
You know you love it- the disposable convenience of a paper product which is there at the ready whenever you need it. You know it's clean. It's the right size. It's absorbent (sort of) and soft (not really), and always handy (until you run out). Okay, so maybe you never really thought much about it, but what do you think people used before the disposable age?

This instructable will teach you how to free yourself from the paper demon, while doing something useful with some junk you already have on hand.
 
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Step 1: Materials Needed

All you really need is some fabric and scissors. I like to use old T-shirts. Use something soft and absorbent. Old receiving blankets, flannel shirts, fabric remnants, and that sort of thing work really well.

If you have access to a serger (the kind of sewing machine that has 3 or 4 spools of thread and cuts the seam allowance off while finishing off the edge), that would be best. You don't need it though. You can finish the edges with a regular sewing machine too. Or don't finish them, if you are using flannel or T-shirt fabric, it won't fray.

Many stores which sell sewing machines will let you "test drive" for as long as you want. Just bring in your project and have a seat! You'll be done in 10 minutes or less anyway.
grannyjones3 years ago
Your granny sounds like a hoot;
I hope she's still around, terrorizing small children.
Otherwise, maybe she's keeping cherubs clean.
DaNerd116 years ago
This is a great idea and people should really start doing this. Do you know how much paper all that stuff wastes, well i dont but it must be A LOT! This would really help the environment. Great job!
1st comes my non-controversial post on how to weigh "green" moves...

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would it really help that much?

whenever considering a "green" move, there are important numbers to crunch (or at least consider):

---
Firstly, how seriously does your current method Hurt/Benefit the environment? In this case we should ask:

-how much of the paper used for towels is post consumer?
-can the paper be recycled?
-how much electricity / waste does the recycling consume (almost never considered)
-how many acres of wood are cut per quantity of product?
-what sort of wood is used?
-is there a reforestation plan in place by the company? (Simpson paper planted 2 trees for every one they cut down)
-Is this product a byproduct of another necessary process? (a lot of budget paper products are almost 100% pre-consumer "head" waste or post consumer waste)
-What level of problematic optical brighteners, fillers, clays, and other chemicals are present in the product?
-are there better companies/brands/similar products that are better and do not require a lifestyle change?


In what ways does the replacement Hurt/Benefit the environment?
In this case, we should ask:

-what is the cost (environmentally) of creating the product? (needle and thread and a bit of electricity, probably not a big deal)
-what additional environmental impacts are incurred by using the product? (imagine running one more load of laundry a day, its not unlikely with a productive baby and 3 napkin/dirty dish laden meals)
-what wastes are eventually produced? (cotton, probably not a big issue)
-what byproducts are produced? (not likely a big deal with junk t-shirts)
-is there a better use for the materials? (good will, salvation army[even torn/worn clothing is cannibalized for fabric], even consignment thrift stores)


What non-environmental impacts will this have?
in this case we should ask:

-what is the wash vs trash cost difference?
-what is the wash vs trash labor difference?
-what changes will there be in comfort/results?
-what extended impacts will this change have, if adopted by the wider population; and are any of them negative?
-is there a concealed "resource sink"? (In this case electricity and chemical detergents)

I love it when all decisions, both good and bad, are subjected to this level of scrutiny.
So......What's your Verdict Old Tees or Paper ?
 In our current environment I would think loss of water  loss of electricity ( having to move to nuclear or coal burning) wins out over loss of paper. People have to stop using one paper towel for every wipe of their kids face as if one spot of coco on their kid's face will make the neighbor's call social service's on them.

I use flour sack cloths and old really think bath towels  and I use it with vinegar so I can keep it in the kitchen and not have to keep throwing it in the wash. I will use one all day long on a long cooking day. A huge green move is to stop running these drain cleaners down pipes..Use vinegar and baking soda and you will never have to..think of whatever you throw down the drain as something you will have to eat one day and this will stick in a person's mind...
Just don't clog your drain seems like a better idea to me. Stop throwing food, oil, paint and other stuff that should go in the Trash in your drain. I have never had to unclog a drain yet.
nerdnurture (author)  gschoppe6 years ago
There's no way I could answer all of those questions, but they are good food for thought. I use the wipes because I like to. It's not a lifestyle change for me, it just makes sense. Here are my main reasons: 1. They are free. The less I buy the better I feel about my level of consumption. 2. They are more absorbent than paper towels. 3. They are more durable than paper towels. I can rinse and re-use as many times as I want before putting it in the laundry. 4. They don't fall apart and stick to my fingers when I am eating ribs. 5. I never run out. 6. It gives me something to do with my scraps left over from other sewing projects. 7. They are softer and don't make my nose chapped when I have a cold. 8. They are easy to wash. I have never ever filled a wash load with nothing but wipes. They take up almost no room in the washer. I made 8 wipes out of that one shirt, and I didn't even use the sleeves or neck. If I went through 2 dozen wipes a day (which I usually don't), it still wouldn't be enough to change the amount of laundry I am doing. I was going to wash that clothes anyway. Throwing a dozen wipes on top of a load makes no difference to me in effort, cost, or effect on the environment. Thanks for your thoughtful questions. I guess it's a personal decision what is best.
nerdnurture (author)  nerdnurture6 years ago
Oh yeah, and I forgot maybe the #1 reason - I REALLY hated that germy dishrag my grandmother chased me around with.
I'm fully behind cloth napkins/handkerchiefs/ diapers as a stylistic or cost/benefit choice, and I didn't want to seem to be harshing on your instructable or your choice on the matter.

I actually prefer cloth handkerchiefs and napkins myself, but use paper towels around the kitchen, or for those really messy messes (that I don't want to see afterwards)

I was simply trying to comment on the common "all paper is bad" sentiment that I see thrown around very lightly by a lot of people... I'm not implying that any poster here has come out with that, but I've heard it from hundreds of people over my life.

cue rant:


I grew up in Gilman, VT which was a mill town until recently. (the Gilman Mill, Wassau Paper, and the Berlin Pulp Mill closed in the early 2000's) Almost everyone in the town was either working at the mill, or supporting those who did. In fact, the entire town, school and all, was originally created to give mill workers a place to live, and was mostly paid for by the mill. Without the mills in the area, there are fewer other businesses, and a lot higher unemployment. The "Top of the Hill" store now makes almost all of its money off cheap beer in large quantities.

Periodically, we'd have moments that reminded us of how their was a strong sentiment against paper mills. When the Gilman Mill was owned by GP, who did a lot of paper products that were low chemical, high post consumer/head waste, on a particularly cold day, the local news came out and took some footage of a "working mill" They later ran the footage of steam venting from the high stack in a piece on pollution. They left the viewer believing it was smoke. at the local grocery stores, there were a couple of clerks who harassed customers who used paper instead of plastic. What their logic was is beyond me, but the paper users were "killing trees" to their minds.

America has placed heavy restrictions on paper mills. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but at the same time, we've embraced free trade. The combination is ridiculous. We are losing mills, losing jobs, and allowing more destructive methods of creating paper by making it cheaper to make and sell paper in less restricted countries. At the same time, people are shunning and protesting the remaining American mills (it happened at the Gilman Mill when it was Simpson Paper).

Finally, I just want to put out a "fact" list that might inform some readers:
-most US paper companies farm trees. They grow them to be cut. because they replant, they are NOT taking our forests.
-raw paper is biodegradable, only the whiteners, clays, and fillers cause environmental issues by trashing.
-most economy-style paper products are a low filler, high post/pre consumer product.
-GP, Simpson and others still have US mills, GP also makes many of the aforementioned economy products
-foreign paper is often created with much less care for the environment, as restrictions are often lower.
-The US actually considered giving the contract for backup producer of our own currency paper to a dutch mill (I don't know what the outcome of that was, except that the Gilman Mill didn't get it)

So, if you like paper products (its always down to a choice), but want to be more green, Buy US, Buy Cheap, and lobby against Free Trade...

I have never worked for a paper company, but I've seen the good they can do environmentally. Responsible forest management, maintaining hydro plants and building the economy. (people of higher income tend to be more likely to make green moves than the destitute)



sorry to hijack the thread for this, but I really wanted to get that out there for anyone with the "hate paper" mindset...
nerdnurture (author)  gschoppe6 years ago
It's nice to hear different perspectives - thanks for shedding some light on the other side. I agree that it deserves more thoughtful reflection.
wow... thats a lot, cool though.
candi_abby3 years ago
During our families cold season, we started a great trend! We have a four month old baby and I had made a bunch of cloth wipes, so we used these as kleenex! I wash diapers and wipes every other day anyways and these don't take up much space in the washer. So not only did we save money on several boxes of kleenex, but we didn't have several bags of trash to throw away, especially since my husband needs like 8 ply kleenex.
 These are a great idea. I would add to put a "X" on ones you use for the bathroom to clean with so they don't get used for your kitchen or to dye them another color or to use t-shirts or material of another color like light blue or something on the outer color so you know...make a patch in the middle some sort of reminder it is used to clean potties...
keng6 years ago
we do this mostly with older washcloths but we do make our own wipes out of paper-towels and homemade wipe-solution...i just draw the line at putting feces in my washer....i wish there was a differ way but there it is....i dont want a crappy washer....but everything else we do as well. we've used cloth napkins for years and people love it when they come over. we also skip the laundry detergent and just use the T-Wave canisters instead.
JeremyA keng6 years ago
All you have to do is put them in the toilet and give it a flush. As long as they are big or you have a few in the toilet at a time you don't have to worry about them going down. This will get most of the crud out of them before washing them normally. People do this all the time with reusable diapers.
nerdnurture (author)  JeremyA6 years ago
my wipes are definitely small enough for the toilet to mistake them for toilet paper. Also, I would *way* rather put a little baby turd in my washing machine than put my hand in the grown-up toilet bowl. I guess we each draw the line somewhere,huh? (-: A good friend of mine has no problem with baby poo in the washer (says it's clean, sort of. Just like horse manure...), but draws the line at grown up boogers... Yeah, the more I think about it, I think putting the wipe in the toilet actually makes it grosser, not cleaner. I think I'll go clean the toilet now - LOL!
I would give a shiny nickel to anyone who could talk everyone into agreement on this issue. It just couldn't happen. Everyone has their own opinions on the subject and rightfully so. I personally am a fan of composting human manure for gardening. Most people think I am crazy, and I fully understand that. Which is why I don't do it at my home. Anyone who can talk my lady into it will be offered a large reward.
 Ummm yeah animals are not carnivores and when you compost human waste it is not the same thing at all. You open yourself up to biological waste hazards. 
Just like you cannot compost all animal waste for instant using bat guano and cat scat. Toxoplasmosis is possible and can blind or kill humans when the waste breaks down if you do a "homemade" version Everyone likes to think they can just "do something in their backyard" like making wine or beer or canning food  but even with those science is involved and if you don't know what you are doing you can kill yourself and your family. Statistically I heard once 80 percent of people who die due to natural causes are for unknown reasons..I wonder why. Good for people to read up these subject from how to books from the 70's like the Foxfire books .
Does she approve of animal manure? If not that would be a tough argument. It pretty the same thing as people having a big problem with the thought of using human milk instead of cows milk. Come on, how many people would argue that that would be gross have ever really seen a cows breast up close? And a womans??? Really they should be thinking about which one they would rather put in there mouth...LOL. Good luck with the wife.
Good point! And if what's coming out of us is more offensive than what's coming out of a cow, maybe it's time to reconsider the what-goes-into-us. I just thought of that, reading this thread. Thanks - I'll bring it up with my students next time I talk about this topic (which is frequently...I teach environmental science!). :)
nerdnurture (author)  keng6 years ago
If you just cut up fabric scraps and don't worry about finishing the edges or making them double layered, you could make them smaller and then you can throw them away after using them. Even if you could only do this to two or three absolutely useless articles of old clothing or fabric scraps, it is still free (and a way to recycle). What's a T-wave canister?
I don't know the details, or if they work like they say, but they are a container filled with "activated ceramics" that you place in the wash with your clothing and no detergent... supposedly, they do the cleaning and last for 700 washes.... I'm rather dubious of these claims, though... how do they loosen the dirt that is on the clothes? the only thing I could see them doing is filtering the water.... anyone want to elucidate further?
keng gschoppe6 years ago
we've been using them for about 6 months and while the don't work 'better' they do work just as well (and we have a 2 and 4 year old to boot). on occasion if the stuff is really dirty, we'll but in about 1tsp of this booster they send out with it to help with the tough stuff. they work by breaking down the water's surface tension so that the water can get in between the fibers.
swartley3ga5 years ago
I use these for baby wipes and also for occasional spills wiping the kids down after the eat and etc I would like to use them for paper towels more but I have no way to sew mine so they definitely don't look as good as yours but if there were some way I could maybe make a dispenser (tissue style or something) then I might would be more apt to keep them by the sink.....great idea very practical...and they are VERY soft!!
ClareBS6 years ago
I love this idea but didn't have any old T-shirts I wanted to cut up so I went to the local Salvation Army shop where they have a "free" rack. I selected two cotton shirts which gave me 17 double strength wipes. The following week I picked out a knit shirt which gave me 6 slightly larger double strength wipes. I used the blanket stitch on my sewing machine as I don't have a serger.
nobodysfool6 years ago
How do you wash the baby wipes??.
nerdnurture (author)  nobodysfool6 years ago
when I am using cloth diapers, I throw them in the pail and launder them with the dipes. When I use disposables, I have a small bucket next to the pail with a fabric pail liner. The wipes go in the bucket. When I have enough yucky stuff to wash a small load, I wash like cloth diapers - one run through the pre-wash cycle, turning it off halfway through to lengthen the soak time. Then wash on hot with half the normal amount of detergent, and with 1/4 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle. Then I do one more cycle of rinse only. This makes the wipes REALLY clean - no detergent residue or anything, so it's not irritating to my baby's skin. Hope that helps!
prarychkn6 years ago
Wow- did you do the edges by hand, or did you use a sewing machine or surger? Your wipes will last a very long time. ;-)
nerdnurture (author)  prarychkn6 years ago
I used a serger. They do last a very long time - we are still using wipes I made when I was pregnant with our 6 year old. So when they get really stained or when we use them for a truly disgusting job, I don't feel bad at all about just throwing them away.
russ_hensel6 years ago
If you do use the paper products you can compost them into your garden, if you are uptight about sanitation, use on ornimentals not food.
we could so use this... I moved in with my in-law's and they go through so many rolls of paper towels.
Obsessive6 years ago
Thats a great idea! I'll make some out of a few old black junk band shirts. That way, I won't have to worry too much about staining, and they'll look bad ass!