common toilet paper alternatives

No Toilet Paper? No Problem: Lessons from a hiker, traveller, and mother


Note: I’ve provided some Amazon links here.  Since Amazon is no longer shipping most items in the U.S. (though they once again have toilet paper available) I’ve tried to link to items with private sellers with reasonable prices, but these things seem to change rapidly.  Let me know if a link goes to a sold-out or ridiculous priced item.

The Crazy Toilet Paper Situation

We’ve all seen the empty toilet paper aisles and ranted about the toilet paper hoarders. Many of you might already have resorted to Kleenex, paper towel, or baby wipes, all of which clog sewage and septic systems.  Baby wipes are extra problematic since there often aren’t enough left for the actual babies (I’ll mention a solution to that problem later).  

Empty toilet paper shelves at grocery stores
Empty shelves leaves many people wondering what they are going to wipe with. Source: Flickr. Photographer: Chris Waits. License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

With my last few rolls of TP tucked away under the sink and a two-week-old baby at home who is just building her immune system, I found myself contemplating what we’ll do when we use that last square of valuable tissue.  Sure, I could turn to the above-mentioned wiping material (and throw them in the garbage – not the toilet), but I think there is a better option – one that doesn’t require me to visit the germ-infested, apocalyptic-feeling grocery store to hunt for butt wiping material.  

You see, over my years of backpacking (where Leave No Trace principles dictate that I need to pack out my TP), and travelling to remote areas of countries (where folks use other means to clean their bottoms), I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.  Add to that the recent gift of a peri bottle (a handy squirt bottle for cleaning a stitched up perineum) from the hospital and the dozens of reusable baby wipes I’ve made, and I think I’m set.  In fact, I think my bottom might be cleaner than ever before (photos not included).

I do ramble on a bit here, so if you just want to know how to clean your butt without toilet paper, you can skip to the end.  But, reading through this whole thing might give you some ideas for setting up a system that works for you.  

Toilet Paper and Backpacking

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) makes ideal TP. Image source: US National Park Service

Okay, my backpacking method of cleaning is not widely adopted and impractical for this situation, but it has gotten me comfortable with the idea of not using TP.  I prefer leaves.  Now, I don’t recommend this method unless you are good at plant ID.  False hellebore, for example, has nice wide leaves that look like ideal TP.  However, they are among the most toxic plants in my corner of the world – toxic enough to cause damage through the sensitive membrane layers of your nether region.  When it comes to number two situations, I often combine this with a little water and a final wipe with actual TP to dry off.  I can handle packing one square of not-so-dirty TP.  

The Takeaway: you can stretch out your TP supply by using imperfect materials.

Others have adopted the backcountry bidet method, which, I daresay, is more sanitary.  You simply need some sort of squeeze bottle (like, say, a peri bottle) that can produce a jet of water.  If you or someone in your household hasn’t had a baby recently, you can purchase something like a CuloClean or do some sort of DIY (though it’s probably best to avoid the hardware store at this point). Then, if necessary, clean up the final bits and dry off with a square or two of TP.

The Takeaway: Water is very, very helpful

Many women backpackers have adopted the “pee rag,” either by designating a bandana or rag as a pee cloth to be rinsed out at the end of the day. Some opt for the Kula Cloth, which is specifically designed for the purpose.  I’ve seen that quite a few hikers on my backpacker forums have recently bought Kula Cloths for home use. They use it for pee only, which is mostly sterile, and clean it at the end of the day.  

The Takeaway: Reusable cloth is rather convenient once you get past the “ick” factor.

Toilet Paper and Travelling

many countries don't use toilet paper
A squat toilet in Thailand. Image Source: Pixabay

I’ve spent around seven months in total travelling in India and Nepal, much of which was spent on farms with no toilet paper, and none of which had toilets equipped to handle toilet paper.  A splash of water, and if needed, a little scrub with the left hand (followed by vigorous hand washing, of course) wasn’t that bad once I got used to it.  I’m quite sure that my behind was cleaner than ever, and thanks to my extra care with handwashing, possibly my hands as well. The hand and water method is common throughout parts of Asia and the Middle East.  

In a more recent trip to India, I noticed that more places had installed sit down toilets with low tech-bidet sprayers such as this one.  We have one installed for spraying our cloth diapers.  I opt not to use ours because the water stream tends to escape the confines of the toilet, but it’s got some good pressure for messy jobs.

Many wealthier countries opt for higher-end bidets over toilet paper.  This may be the time to invest in some extra bathroom equipment.

The Takeaway: Billions of people throughout the world don’t use toilet paper and still manage to keep their bums clean.

Toilet Paper and Motherhood

The standard-issue peri bottle is a great portable bidet
The standard-issue peri bottle is a great portable bidet.

I’m not even three weeks into motherhood, but it really added the final ingredient I needed to mix together the various TP free methods for the comfiest and most efficient bum cleaning.  I mean, if ever there is a time when a girl needs a clean behind, it’s the postpartum period – hence why women are supplied with the all-important peri bottle.  Now, you might think that I would have sworn off TP immediately, but alas, I’d use it to gently dab up the water and lochia around the umm…damaged areas.  I actually found myself using more toilet paper than usual.

The Takeaway: Water is good, but something to dry off with after is ideal.

reusable baby wipes save money and are soft on bums
Our reusable baby wipes

Enter reusable baby wipes.  I already had these made up before the toilet paper crisis.  A couple of flannel shirts and an old receiving blanket make lovely, soft wipes for my newborn.  Aside from saving money and cutting down on waste, my midwife tells me that flannel wipes are less irritating for a baby’s skin. Plus, I know what’s going into the “wet” part of the wipes. For moms running low on disposable wipes, you can find more details about wipes here.

The Takeaway: If it’s good enough for a newborn’s butt, it’s good enough for mine.

What I’ve Done

My new toilet paper system
My peri bottle and stash of reusable wipes

It didn’t take long looking at the dwindling supply. I realized that it wasn’t a big leap to simply use the wipes on me.  I dug up an old pair of PJs (so I could have my own colour) and got cutting.  All it takes is a squirt with the peri bottle and dry off with the “pee rag.” Then, I throw it in a bucket to be washed with our cloth diapers. 

It only took me a couple of days before adopting the same method for number two.  Thanks to the peri bottle getting rid of most of the mess, the rags don’t get very dirty and they are much softer on my tushy. If you don’t have a pile of cloth diapers to throw them in with, be comforted by the fact that urine is more sterile than most tap water.  Throw it in with your regular laundry and everything will turn out okay.

Don’t have a peri bottle? You can search for “portable bidet” or “peri bottle” on Amazon and find a variety sold by private sellers (both searches turn up similar results). The cheapest I can find right now is a three-pack of the basic hospital issue peri bottles.


Will it get changed?

Admittedly, I haven’t gotten my husband on board, but I have a couple of nice soft t-shirts set aside for when he gets desperate.  In the meantime, I get to do an experiment to see how long it actually takes him to change a toilet paper roll.  So far, the answer is never (by the way, the pictured roll has lasted us a week).  

Now, I want to hear from you. What have you come up with to stretch out your toilet paper supply? How have you beaten the hoarders to the TP supply? I want to hear your toilet paper stories!

Stay safe everyone! Stay home if you can!

3 thoughts on “No Toilet Paper? No Problem: Lessons from a hiker, traveller, and mother”

  1. This is awesome, Carley. I love your ironic tone. By the way, we used soft rags for all three babies instead of “disposable” wipes and our now adult kids seem to be pretty well adjusted.

  2. I have been contemplating this as well, kinda helps that it is only me at home so I don’t have to inflict this on anyone else lol I was thinking about buying the Hello Tushy bidet as it seemed relatively inexpensive. But honestly the peri bottle is a less expensive option in the meantime.

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