Sara, you’re doing it wrong, you stopped using toilet paper!

That’s right, I’ve stopped using toilet paper (errr, for the most part). Obviously, that is wrong.

For a long time I’ve been vaguely aware that manufacturing toilet paper kills a lot of trees and uses a lot of water, but actually looking at the statistics, it’s worse than I thought (i.e. I got it wrong). Apparently, manufacture of toilet paper is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in the United States, and not only does it require a lot of water, but the water is much more polluted after it has been used to process toilet paper than before. You can do research on the environmental impact of toilet paper yourself, but the TL;DR is: people who use toilet paper are evil cartoon villains who wreck ecosystems, harm future generations, and can make an awesome cackling sound.

Of course, the ~right way~ to show one’s concern about the environmental impact of toilet paper is to switch to recycled toilet paper so no trees die, at least according to a lot of websites such as “Green Living Tips”. Oh, but recycled toilet paper tends to contain even more toxic chemicals than toilet paper made from virgin fiber. Should one subject oneself to more toxic chemicals to save some trees, or should one let the trees die to protect oneself from toxic chemicals? Apparently, one could solve this dilemma by using toilet paper made from sugarcane or bamboo instead of from trees, or checking that the recycled toilet paper was processed without chlorine, or something.

I suppose a good consumer would do their due diligence, research all of this stuff (because, you know, good consumers have unlimited time and energy for all this because they don’t have jobs, social relationships, or fun hobbies), and make sure they were making the most ethical and healthiest choice when buying toilet paper, no matter how inconvenient or expensive. But I’m a bad consumer, which means instead of trying to find a boutique store which sells expensive fair-trade-organic-locally-manufactured-sugarcane toilet paper, I decided to just stop using toilet paper. Like I said, I’m doing this wrong.

But to be honest, I did not stop using toilet paper purely out of concern for the environment. I have a confession to make: I don’t like toilet paper. Wrong, I know.

Even when I’m being careful, I often got bits of feces directly on my hands when I use toilet paper, and little bits of toilet paper often got lodged in my butt, which fester there until I take a shower and can wash them out. Speaking of which, toilet paper never fully cleaned my butt of feces, which is why, along with those bits of festering toilet paper, I often washed out more bits of feces when I took showers. In Taiwan, I had a bathroom setup which make it easy for me to rinse out my butt after I used the toilet, but in my home in San Francisco, I can’t do that without actually taking a shower, so until I stopped using toilet paper, between when I defecated and when I took a shower, there was still quite a bit of residue of feces riding on my skin. It turns out that it’s not just me – this newspaper article also says that toilet paper is a bad way to clean up feces. I know, it’s wrong to admit all this publicly.

The right way to stop using toilet paper is to use a bidet instead. 93.482% of all articles on the internet about switching away from toilet paper tell you to use a bidet, because that’s what civilized people in Japan/France/India/Italy/Greece use, and if you don’t switch to a bidet you are a barbaric American/Brit/Australian and all of the civilized people from those civilized countries will think you are gross and make fun of you. Though they will say that Canadians are okay even if they don’t use bidets, because Canada. And they say/think nothing about Kiwis because they don’t know that New Zealand exists.

Second confession: I have used bidets, and I don’t like them either. I think this blog post already has too much information, so I will just express my opinion that I feel that the results using a bidet (probably because I am using the bidet wrong) are unsatisfactory (I found the bathroom setup I had in my apartment in Taiwan – which was not a bidet – to be much more satisfactory). Obviously, I am a barbaric American who has earned the mockery of civilized people.

That said, my family (until recently) were not just in an American level of barbarism – we were in a Taiwanese level of barbarism – we put used toilet paper in the bin, not the bowl (though our used toilet paper eventually made its way to compost, not landfill) . We put toilet paper in the bin for a similar reason the Taiwanese do it – plumbing issues. Yep, we were doing it wrong by adapting to the limitations of our plumbing system rather than spend lots of money and enduring lots of stress trying to change the plumbing.

(I have read various tracts by non-Taiwanese about how the Taiwanese habit of putting toilet paper in the bin is so ‘unsanitary’ and is ‘bad manners’ but instead of presenting scientific evidence of how Taiwanese practices help spread disease or cause more environmental damage than putting toilet paper in toilet bowls, their argument seems to be that it goes against their own non-Taiwanese cultural norms, and thus the Taiwanese are wrong.)

I have stopped using toilet paper the wrong way: I’m now using pieces of fabric to wipe myself after I use the toilet. Specifically, I am re-using the same pieces of fabric over and over again. That THAT, you snotty bidet-using elitists (and I bet you don’t clean all of that snot in your noses with your precious bidets). Pieces of fabric which are used and re-used to clean butts are called ‘family cloth’.

The right way to start using family cloth is to cut up old worn-out fabric goods, such as a shirt you would never wear again. This undeniably is very cheap (as in, costs no money) and very eco-friendly (you don’t waste resources making new fabric and you keep old fabric out of the landfill). Of course, I switched to family cloth the wrong way, that is to say, I bought brand-new family cloth. I bought a packet of organic linen ‘toilet paper’. This proves that I am a coastal millennial hipster elitist, which is wrong. Meanwhile, that store seems to be run by mid-westerners who practice an obscure form of Christian fundamentalism which tries to follow the rules of the Torah (though I am not sure of this), which is also wrong (they take Leviticus 19:19 seriously, so vegans can trust them not to slip wool into the linen fabric).

a square piece of linen cloth

This is what my family cloth looks like. I have 15 pieces. I don’t need all of them, so some of them have not been used yet, though I may find a use for them in the future.

When I was doing research on family cloth, every website said that one would clean them by putting them in the washing machine, just like cloth diapers. The people who wrote this articles/blog posts assumed that all of their readers ~have~ washing machines. Once again, I’m doing this wrong – the building where I live has no washing machine. Furthermore, I don’t want to run to the laundromat every time I need to clean a piece of family cloth (especially since that would require a lot of quarters).

So I clean them the wrong way – in a sink, by hand. This is what my process looks like (for poo, not for pee):

1. Immediately after use, I put the soiled piece in a container stored in the toilet room (like many older buildings in San Francisco, the toilet is in a different room than the bathroom).
2. Once a week, I take all of my soiled pieces, and rinse them in a tub that fits in the sink, and then pour out the rinse water. This gets rid of most of the feces.
3. I put in clean water and some baking soda, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. After the baking soda treatment, the family cloth has no odor I can detect. Then I pour out the baking-soda-water.
4. I put in some more clean water, and add a few drops of liquid castille soap, agitate, and pour out the water.
5. I wring the family cloth pieces, and they put them somewhere to dry. However, if they are still wet when I need to use them, that’s okay too.

[UPDATE: I’ve changed my process – after the initial rinse, I now mix baking soda and castille soap together in the same water, soak, rinse out the baking soda and castille soap, then add water + vinegar and let that soak, then pour out, and let the family cloth dry with the diluted vinegar still in the cloth. I now use vinegar not just for the disinfecting properties, but because it also softens the cloth – without vinegar, the cloths get a bit stiff. Since I combined the baking soda and castille soap steps, it doesn’t take more time/effort than before, in fact I can now do all of this pretty mindlessly. I also experimented with washing soda instead of baking soda, and my advice is that baking soda is better).

I’m probably doing this wrong, so if you do use family cloth, just wash them any way you want.

Oh, and for pee, I use a separate piece of family cloth (a ‘pee rag’). I just rinse it out quickly after each use, just before I wash my hands. This is enough to prevent them from stinking. When I am going to the laundromat anyway, I also throw the pee rag into my wash load (though I do not throw in the pieces of family cloth I use for poo into my general wash load).

I also now keep a spray bottle full of water in the toilet room. I spray my butt before I wipe (it works much better than a bidet, in my experience). This knocks off the biggest bits of feces, and the wetness helps the family cloth clean more effectively.

However, I’m not an organic-linen-family-cloth purist, which means I’m doing it wrong. When I use a bathroom away from home, I use the toilet paper that is provided. Shortly after I started doing hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I converted to using wet wipes instead of toilet paper. Though I considered taking family cloth on my current PCT hike, I decided to go with the tried-and-true wet wipes instead – which is wrong. Wet wipes are also terrible for the environment, though at least I don’t flush them down toilets and I use a brand which is compostable and made from not-so-toxic chemicals.

Following in my footsteps in going away from toilet paper would be wrong.

Of course, as you may have noticed by now, no matter what you do to clean yourself after you pee or poo, someone in the world thinks you’re doing it wrong. So just do what you want. (As far as sanitation goes, handwashing ~after~ you clean your butt is much more important than ~how~ you clean your butt).

If you want to do what I do, great, we can do it wrong together. If you want to convert to the School of Wet Wipes for Everypoop Use, you can do that. If you want to use a bidet, you can do that. If you want to use recycled toilet paper, you can do that. If you want to use toilet paper made from sugarcane or bamboo, you can do that. If you want to use quadruple-ply scented toilet paper made from virgin tree fiber because you think the world needs more deforestation, you can do that. If you want to use a sponge on a stick dipped in vinegar, you can do that. If you want to find in a thrift store a shirt featuring the logo of a brand you hate, buy it, cut it up, and then wipe your butt with that, you can do that (this idea was inspired by Linda Tirado). If you want to find a plant with large, broad leaves, tear off the leaves, and use the leaves to wipe your butt, you can do that. If you just want to use whatever is most convenient, you can do that.

It’s your butt, and if you are lucky enough to be able to defecate in privacy, you can clean it however you want, without anybody else knowing how you do it.

2 thoughts on “Sara, you’re doing it wrong, you stopped using toilet paper!

  1. Pingback: Notions of Hygiene Come from Culture (If Walls Could Talk Series) | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  2. Pingback: So, about the notorious difficulties of getting toliet paper… | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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