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.

Step 2: Make the Wipes!

CuttingI like to use a size of 5 inches by 8 inches. It seems just right for my hand. You might want to think about the container you want to store your wipes in, and make them that size. Good containers include baskets, old baby wipe containers, tupperware, whatever.

I like to make my wipes two layers thick. When you get to the part of the shirt that has screen printing on it, you can either turn the printing to the inside of your two-layer-thick stack, or throw it away. I like to use the printed-on fabric, because it helps me sort the wipes after the wash. I use the printed-on stuff for things I wouldn't want to touch my face with.

FinishingYou don't have to finish the edges. If you use a knit fabric, it will curl, but it won't fray or unravel. If that doesn't bother you, save the effort and stop here.

If, on the other hand, you either have a serger, or you have always wanted to try one out (which I highly recommend - if you have any inclination towards sewing, a serger is like driving a race car), you can finish off a two-layer thick wipe in about 10 seconds flat.

Just lay your two layers together, and start feeding it under the presser foot, while pressing the pedal. Let about 1/4 inch hang over and the machine will slice it right off as it sews them together. When you get to a corner, just go in a curve. When you get to where you started, be sure to sew over the first stitches a little bit, then angle your wipe away from the stitching edge to be done! Cut the strings, and voila!

Step 3: Goodbye Napkins!

Replace your paper napkins with a basket of wipes. So what if they aren't beautiful? Your paper napkins weren't that hot either. If you want to impress guests, make a few really nice napkins and save them just for company.

Step 4: Goodbye Germy Dish Rags!

Keep a stack of wipes under the kitchen sink. My grandmother used to use a dish rag. I hated, I mean HATED, the way it smelled. I use one wipe until the kitchen is clean, and then I toss it in the wash. You can also keep a little bucket under the sink to keep your dirty wipes in until your next trip to the laundry.

Step 5: Goodbye Paper Towels!

Keep a stack of wipes where ever you like to have a paper towel handy. I keep a stack next to the kitchen sink, and one in the bathroom drawer. They are great for drying hands, wiping faces, tidying up the sink, window, mirror, whatever.

Step 6: Goodbye Baby Wipes!

This is what my wipes were originally intended for (until I realized their unlimited utility!). If you ever had to spend a day wiping your own bum with those wood fiber commercial things soaked in who-knows-what chemicals, you would not want to touch your baby with one ever again. I keep a stack of the printed-on wipes in an old baby wipe box. I keep them dry until I am ready to use them. You can use plain old water to moisten the wipe when you need it, or you can find dozens of recipes online for wipe solutions (search for cloth diapering resources). I use a product I make myself to spray on his bottom before wiping off with the cloth wipe. Keep a bucket or bag nearby where you do the changing to collect dirty wipes in.

Step 7: Goodbye Tissues!

If you've ever had the chapped nose, cheeks, and upper lip that comes with blowing your nose all day, you can thank the wood fiber your tissues are made of. I use my cloth wipes as tissues, and they are much softer (and more absorbent) than their tree branch pulp counterparts.

Step 8: Washing

For some reason, people are often worried about whether or not their wipes will get clean in the wash. Trust me, they do. I just throw them in with the regular wash.Modern laundry detergent does amazing things. They may stain slightly after a while, but that doesn't mean they are not clean. Drying your laundry in the sun takes out a lot of the stains. Once in a while, I do a load of whites on hot and add some bleach. Nothing to it!

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    32 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Your granny sounds like a hoot;
    I hope she's still around, terrorizing small children.
    Otherwise, maybe she's keeping cherubs clean.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    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!

    9 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    1st comes my non-controversial post on how to weigh "green" moves...


    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     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...


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Oh yeah, and I forgot maybe the #1 reason - I REALLY hated that germy dishrag my grandmother chased me around with.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    It's nice to hear different perspectives - thanks for shedding some light on the other side. I agree that it deserves more thoughtful reflection.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    9 years ago on Step 7

     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...


    11 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    6 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     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 .


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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!). :)