On April 17, 2017, I went to Costco and filled my huge shopping cart with a total of 180 rolls of toilet paper. Double rolls. I felt like a king walking out of there with the cart piled high.
Now, in early November, we have about 16 rolls left in a household of 2 adults and 2 older teenager. Two guys, two gals.
Not a bad investment, and I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes to stock up anyway so I can avoid shopping. In prepper circles, though, a TP stash is looked down upon and most survival types worth their salt will say something like this, “Forget stocking up on toilet paper. Use old t-shirts to make personal wipes, and just run them through the washing machine.””
On the surface, it sounds ideal. None of us want to go back to the days of using corn cobs, leaves, or phone books. I understand that. But think for a moment about what is involved with using cloth as toilet paper. Saving and cutting up old t-shirts is the easy part.
Cloth toilet wipes — a REALLY bad idea
First, used cloth wipes will have to be kept somewhere in a location that will not attract flies, pets, rodents, and other pests of all kinds. You may think that little bucket with a lid will do the job, but you haven’t met Lacey, our foster Great Pyrenees. We’ve had to place a filled water jug, the gallon size, on our kitchen trash to Lacey-proof it. She and her other four-legged friends would love nothing better than to wallow around in poop and pee smelling t-shirts.
Oh, the glory of it all!!!
Slightly off topic — a few weeks back, my wife and I pulled up to a CVS and right there on the sidewalk by the Redbox machine was a young couple washing down their 2 large dogs. The dogs were covered with suds and it was quite a sight. I asked why they were washing their dogs in front of a CVS store and was told, “We were out jogging on the trails and the dogs found some armadillo carcasses. They started rolling around on them and now they stink too much to take home.”
Animals love foul-smelling things, so if you go the cloth toilet paper route, keep that in mind.
A lot of preppers who took the cloth diaper/diaper pail route, swear that it’s the same thing with cloth wipes. To a point, they’re correct, but in a typical home, there is only one baby producing dirty diapers. In a household with many people, God only knows how many cloth wipes you’ll have on your hands in just a week.
Not all “greywater” is the same
I hope you aren’t planning on reusing the water from your loads of cloth wipes.
Reusing greywater makes a lot of sense as a practical way to both lower water bills and to manage scarce resources. Most people think all greywater is the same and can be used for gardening, laundry, and irrigation. However, water that has come into contact with feces, even water from washing machines if the laundry load included underwear, is not safe to reuse as greywater.
So, once the used cloth toilet wipes are ready to launder, you will have to use clean water for washing and then that water becomes unsafe to use in any other way. Also, I’d like to point out that a load of cloth wipes is going to be significantly dirtier than a typical load of laundry with a few random pairs of tightie-whities.
Once your cloth wipes have been washed, that greywater cannot be used for anything. If you aren’t able to drain the water into your septic tank or the city water system, then you’re left with having to find a draining location that is going to be as far away as possible from any groundwater source or well, and you won’t be able to recycle that water by using it for gardening or for irrigating crops.
What about the washing process without power?
With the grid alive and well and your washing machine putting out plenty of hot water, I suppose right now is the best time to experiment with cloth wipes. However, from a prepper point of view, the plan is to use these wipes when the toilet paper runs out, right?
In that case, consider this. You’ll have to keep those dirty wipes in a tightly closed container between washdays. I hope you’ve stocked up on plenty of air freshener.
Next, you’ll need the biggest metal container you can find to fill with water, bring it to boiling, and then mix in the wipes using a huge utensil of some sort. I don’t know exactly how long it takes for that boiling water to thoroughly sanitize the wipes, and my guess is there are very few preppers who do. The longer you boil the water, the more fuel you’re using, but if you cut the boiling time short, will it leave dangerous bacteria behind? How is that a good idea in a survival scenario?
In the winter, how are you going to boil that water inside the house if the power is out? How quickly will those cloth wipes take to dry, and don’t kid yourself if you think that in a chaotic SHTF scenario, everyone is going to be only using their color-coded wipes. It’s going to be every man and wipe for himself.
Is there a better option?
The plain truth is that cloth toilet wipes could be a catastrophically bad idea to the tune of cholera, typhoid, and diseases that are pretty much unknown in modern America. Perhaps you have an effective plan for dealing with feces-tainted water, but does your neighbor? Imagine how many times in a day toilets in your neighborhood are flushed. Now imagine all those households without the ability to flush, toilet paper is running low, and it will be a matter of a week or two before your neighborhood becomes a stew of awful smells and dangerous bacteria.
So is there a better option? The first best option is to do what I’ve been doing — stock up on a year’s worth of TP. I’m thinking that if those 170 rolls are going to last about 9 months, about another 50 would have given me a generous year’s worth. So for about $225, I could avoid going to the store for TP for an entire year, and be sitting pretty with my favorite brand of TP should the S hit the fan.
For prepping purposes, plan on making that Costo shopping trip every 5-6 months to stay on top of keeping that awesome stash intact.
TEOTWAWKI, the absolute worst case scenario you can think of, will probably last longer than a year (I’m talking about a Venezuela collapse). But even then, with a year’s worth, that gives me time to, first, establish rules about how much TP can be used per person. Next, I have a margin of 12 months to develop other plans, including a DIY composting toilet, which is the best way to go. A community compost toilet is one idea that beats the heck out of mounds of dirty cloth wipes.
It would be difficult enough to maintain even the lowest standard of sanitation by today’s standard without exacerbating the situation with cloth wipes. There are better ideas and plans out there, so let’s put the cloth wipes idea where it belongs — deep in the nether regions of “Really Bad Ideas”.