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Don’t Throw it All Away Part II

If you enjoyed my long rant against cleaning with wipes, you’re in for a treat: I have so much more to say on the subject of disposable products. Unsurprisingly, I don’t typically eat with them, either. Years and years ago, I went to using cloth napkins for our family meals.  Using cloth napkins is simple and more pleasing than paper napkins.  I own about 36 or so and I keep them folded on the Dining Room table in the adorable basket in the picture. (I made that basket, btw!)

January is often a good time to buy cloth napkins because a lot of stores have “white sales” (sales on linens) in January. Cotten or linen is best, but avoid white or light colors. Yes they will wrinkle some in the wash. No I don’t care. The napkins you can see in the photo are not linen or cotton; they are some sort of blend that doesn’t wrinkle. They are fine, but not super absorbent, so they won’t really help much when your seven-year-old knocks over his glass of milk for the seventeenth time. Bigger guns will be needed.

As far as the added laundry of cloth napkins (and all the other cloth items I use), I don’t find this to be any real inconvenience at all. I keep a hamper in my front closet for the napkins, terry cleaning cloths and dish towels. (That hamper is also handy whenever Blue Collar Guy comes in with a muddy sweatshirt or someone has a towel they used for drying the dog.) When I do the laundry, I just take that hamper to the laundry room and wash everything as normal. I generally employ the kids for folding the clean, dry napkins, but even when I did all those things myself, it wasn’t much extra work.

Now that I’ve gone out on a limb and declared my alien habits, I might as well surprise you further by telling you I have a box of washable cloth handkerchiefs that I use instead of throw-away facial tissues. I bought them on-line here, several years ago. I own the pop-up box and yes, I do actually launder, fold and restore them to the box on a regular basis.  I admit that I only have one box that I keep only for my use, by my bedside. I have not converted my family to using them and I don’t have remotely the nerve to inform guests that they must use them. In case you’re wondering, I also don’t use them when I am ill on the chance that the virus survives the wash, not to mention I would go through them all in half a day.

It is true that I am not saving some incredible amount of money using the handkerchiefs, nor do disposable tissues add up to much trash. Still, the cloth tissues are exceedingly pleasant to use; they are gentle, yet strong. They create no dust when pulled from the box. Considering how often my sons wipe their noses on their sleeves, there’s obviously some intuitive desire we humans have that prefers cloth. I have no financial connection to the Hankettes company I linked, but I openly endorse the handkerchiefs. If you can stand to be that crunchy, or if you can hide a box in your room so nobody will know, consider trying them. You will reduce waste and will most likely find cloth tissues to be far superior to disposable tissues.

Okay. So now that you know I’m out there enough to use cloth tissues, napkins and cleaning cloths, it’s sure to be no surprise that I used cloth diapers when my kids were babies. In the interest of full disclosure, only my second-born child wore cloth diapers nearly all the time from infancy to the end of diapers. With my firstborn, I didn’t even know there were people who still used cloth diapers until she was around one and a half years old, and with my youngest, I had laundry issues that drove me to abandon cloth (more about that later).

Once I decided to try cloth diapers, I did what I always do: I read a book about it. The book was called Diaper Changes and I’m not entirely sure it is still in print. In any case, I’m sure there are new products and information to be had that would not have been included in that book, unless it’s been updated. I used Chinese Prefolds with Bummis covers and made most of my purchases at Green Mountain Diapers.  They also have tons of useful, up-to-date information at that site, so you can wash and use cloth diapers with few mistakes.

Cloth diapers are so lovely, sometimes it’s hard to see why more people don’t give it a go. Here are the main benefits I saw in using cloth diapers:

  • No chemicals
  • No trash
  • No need to run out and buy diapers all the time
  • They feel lovely
  • They look cute
  • They save money over time, especially with multiple kids
  • When they are done being diapers, they are good cloths

Alas. Nothing is perfect. Cloth diapers come with their own set of issues. Here were the drawbacks I saw:

  • They were bulky
  • They were puzzling to anyone else who might be caring for my kid
  • I encountered laundry problems

It was this last point that drove me to abandon them with my youngest. When my second-born was in diapers, I had an old, junk washing machine that was literally salvaged by Blue Collar Guy decades ago. It didn’t even have knobs, for Pete’s sake; I kept a pair of channel locks in the laundry room so I could turn the nub that should have had a knob on it. It used something like 100 gallons of water per load. It sounded like a Boeing was landing next to the kitchen. But man, did it wash those diapers!

We moved into a new house when he was nearly done with diapers and I bought an expensive, “efficient” Whirlpool Calypso washing machine. I soon came to rue the day I bought that horrid machine. When Little Man came along, I tried every possible strategy to make that machine wash the diapers, but it just would not get it done. It did not use enough water and there was no way I could override the machine’s “efficiency” and command it to do more than dribble a teaspoon of water on my dipes. (I also hated it for regular laundry, but the diapers made its shortcomings glaringly obvious.) I gave up before he was a year old.

I don’t have that machine any more. If I had another baby (ha!), there is a good chance I would try using cloth diapers again. Even just linking Green Mountain Diapers to this post gives me warm-fuzzies again, seeing those babies in their fluffy, cotton dipes. *sigh* I miss it.



Don’t Throw it All Away, Part I

I was reading the mildly amusing book, “How to Cheat at Cleaning,” by Jeff Bredenberg. He does have a few ideas I agree with, but I was not at all pleased that he encourages disposable cleaning products as a time-saver. You know – wipes for every purpose under the sun, Swiffer everything, disposable toilet cleaning wands and so on. I could not disagree with his position more! These products fail my acid test of Doing a Job Well on five counts:

  • They constantly cost money
  • They are inferior in feel
  • They amount to nothing but trash
  • They are inferior in performance (usually; I’ll expand on that in a minute)
  • They do not greatly reduce cleaning time

Let’s look at some disposable products one at a time, and examine its relative merits and drawbacks, shall we?

First, the wipes.  I despise these for my own cleaning at home. Windex Wipes, Armor-All Wipes, Dusting Wipes, Chlorox Wipes and so on. Not a fan. Consider economics. From a quick Google search, I find Windex wipes are $5.99 for a package of 28 wipes. That is a hair more than 21 cents per wipe. By way of comparison, I can buy a one-gallon size refill container of Windex cleaner for $12.99. A gallon of Windex in a spray bottle lasts for thousands of cleaning applications.

Okay. So maybe you’re a descendant of Sam Walton and you couldn’t care less if you’re throwing two dimes and a penny in the trash every time you wipe a mirror.  There is still my second point: they are inferior in feel. When I clean glass, I use a terry cloth towel (not a “rag” and not – heaven forbid – a scrap of Uncle Bob’s underwear). A terry towel fills the hand and provides a large surface for cleaning. A wipe feels like cleaning with a tissue.

Third point. You’re buying trash. You’re just buying chemically treated paper to throw away, 21 cents at a time. I once owned a residential clean company (fancy way of saying I was a maid). I still own and use the terry cloth towels I have used many thousands of times.  I still use cloths I bought at Costco in 1996. When I clean any surface, I use my terry towels and the appropriate spray solution (sometimes glass cleaner, sometimes neutral cleaner, sometimes disinfectant). Then, I throw them in the hamper for the next laundry day.

My fourth point is debatable, according to the circumstances. There are instances where a disposable product makes more sense. Hospitals, for one. And I have to confess, nothing cleans hair off the bathroom floor half so well as Swiffer dry cloths, so I can’t claim purism. But wipes? Except for some public uses, or to keep in the car for desperate measures, wipes are inferior in performance.

Wipes do not save time. If you can take a minute to go fetch the wipes, you can take a minute to retrieve a spray bottle and a terry towel. I have them stationed in several locations, so I never need to go far for cleaning tools. In actual use, spraying a surface (or the towel directly) takes no longer than wiping the surface with a wipe.

If I’m not a fan of cleaning with wipes, it stands to reason I’m not a fan of cleaning with paper towels. I do use paper towels for some purposes – they are hard to beat for cleaning up a really gross, gloppy, multi-textured mess. They are good for covering spaghetti sauce in the microwave so it doesn’t splatter all over kingdom come. But they are not the best option for merely drying your hands (get a hand towel for that), wiping up every tiny thing off the counter and, least of all, cleaning. Terry towels are the thing for cleaning.

Okay, so maybe you’re convinced but you’re wondering what I mean by “a terry cloth towel.” The terry towels I use were meant to be washcloths. I bought them in bulk at Costco. Other good choices are microfiber cloths (not my personal favorite, but a lot of people do well with them) or former cloth diapers.  The requirements are that they are absorbent, don’t shed lint and are not raggedy. Raggedy rags are impossible to launder and being able to launder them is the entire point. You must always use a cleaning cloth for one application, then into the hamper it goes. I fold mine into quarters and re-fold them as I go, so I’m using a fresh surface. When cleaning the bathroom, use the cloth first on the sink and counter, last on the toilet. ALWAYS launder next!

Shew, this is getting long and I still have a ton to say. Maybe I’ll call this Part I. Tune in shortly for more ecological and economical ranting.