Eco Swaps: Wipes

In my Eco Swaps blog series, I’ll be focusing on different changes you can make at home to form more environmentally conscious habits and reduce your negative impact on climate change and pollution. The first swap I will be looking at is wipes. This is the easiest and most effective swap we’ve made and one that any household could do.

Single-use wipes come in plastic packaging, contribute to ‘fatbergs’ and even ‘biodegradable’ brands can take a long time to break down in UK landfill conditions. In 2015, around 2.4 million tonnes of wipes were manufactured in Europe. Just one US manufacturer produces more than 125 billion wipes per year. 125 BILLION. From one company.

We have substituted almost every single-use wipe in our home with a reusable version. They are more effective than their disposable counterparts, cheaper in the long run and most require no special washing, so it has been a very easy transition.

Wet Wipes

Whatever type of nappies you use, replacing wet wipes with cloth ones is a no-brainer. They are sturdier and better at cleaning than a wet wipe, they don’t contain any chemicals and don’t all come out of a packet in a huge lump when you just wanted one.

We have had the same set of 25 wipes for over 2 years and they live in a pile next to the changing table with a cup of water. You can also store them pre-wet in a box more like single-use wet wipes. Each time we change a nappy, we wet a wipe and then it goes into a wet bag until wash day. They can be washed with your towels, whites or cloth nappies, but I’d recommend doing a cold pre-wash first and washing at no lower than 40 degrees (I prefer to wash ours at 60).

Out and about, I usually wet a handful and pop them in a little wet bag to take with us. They’re great for picnics, nappy changes, dirty hands – anything a wet wipe does! I genuinely would never go back to single-use wet wipes. On the odd occasion that I do end up using them, I’m always dismayed at how many I have to use when one cloth wipe would have done the trick!

Our wipes on a shelf next to the changing table

You can find the Cheeky Wipes we use here (set of 25 for £15). They are many other types of reusable wipe available from eco stores or cloth nappy retailers, or you can make your own. As they are cotton, they do go a bit crunchy in the wash but a short spin in the tumble dryer or simply rubbing them together softens them up, and they become soft again once wet.

Face / makeup wipes

Reusable face wipes are definitely rising in popularity and it makes total sense! Bamboo or cotton fabric pads are far more effective at removing makeup than any wipe or single-use cotton pad I’ve ever used. I actually use some old bamboo breast pads that I used after having my first baby, but didn’t really get on with as breast pads (more on that in a later post). However, they make superb face wipes. Nice and big, sturdy, gentle on my skin and they don’t go crispy in the wash.

I run one under the tap before wiping away my cleanser, then rinse off the worst off any makeup and pop them in the laundry basket. I usually wash these with normal clothes, but occasionally pop them in with the nappies for a hot wash. If you’re unsure about switching to cloth wipes, this is a great starting point. It’s not overwhelming, incurs no additional laundry and saves all those grotty makeup wipes and cotton balls from landfill. Superb.

Three round bamboo pads, one face up and two with a patterned reverse side showing with colourful birds on. Next to the wipes lies a bottle of facial cleanser
My face pads, I use two a day and wash in regular laundry

You can find the pads I use here (currently £6 for 6 – they are listed as breast pads but make wonderful face wipes). Alternatively, any small cloth or flannel will do!

Toilet Roll

I’ll begin by saying this one is not for everyone and that’s fine. We use cloth toilet roll (also known as family cloth) for our toddler. It began when she was potty training instead of using wet wipes. We then found she is much more capable of wiping independently with a cloth wipe than unspooling a whole roll of toilet paper and it all coming apart. So they stuck around.

These wipes I made out of a cheap towel from IKEA, cut into squares and hemmed around the edges. We keep them in a box in the bathroom and they are used dry for number ones or run under the tap for a number two. Used ones go into a little wet bag hung from the loo roll holder and are washed with the other cloth wipes and nappies at 60. They can also be washed with towels or sheets – anything that gets washed hot, because 60 is preferable for anything shared.

Although Tom and I still mostly use paper roll, this change has really cut down the amount we get through. I sometimes use the cloth wipes and do actually prefer them, but we don’t have enough yet for both me and Carys to use them full time. It’s a bit strange at first, but that’s really just a habit thing. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Box of folded white cloth cotton wipes, next to toilet roll and green wet bag hanging from the toilet roll holder
Wipes live alongside our toilet roll and get washed with cloth nappies

If you don’t want to make your own, there are lots of great options out there. These Grovia wipes come highly recommended.

Face wipes for kids

Kids are messy eaters. Fact. Sometimes I look at my children after a meal and I’m not even sure where to start. Given the mess my children produce, wet wipes just would never cut the mustard (or bolognese). We’d get through half a pack every meal! Instead we use a set of six washcloths that I shamelessly nicked off my mother-in-law before Carys was born, because the design matched the rug I’d bought for her nursery. I was NESTING.

It is testament to these poor old wipes that they are still in such good shape, cleaning two grubby little faces at least three times a day. We usually have one on the go at a time, hanging in the kitchen which we wet under the tap after each meal and rinse again after. It goes in the wash at the end of the day or if it’s too grubby to reuse, whichever comes soonest.

A pile of five neatly rolled grey facecloths with a star pattern, stacked on the tray of a white highchair
My trusty facecloths – not quite as pristine as 3 years ago but perfect for grubby faces!

I have no idea where these facecloths were from but any flannel would do just as well.

Kitchen / cleaning wipes

A few years ago, I would get through antibacterial wipes like there was some sort of deadly virus causing a global pandemic (hang on…). Now I have four microfibre cloths for cleaning which have been in rotation for a couple of years and I haven’t picked up a packet of antibacterial wipes since – not even in 2020! They are colourful, if you like to keep them separate for different rooms – one for kitchen, one for bathroom etc. I find them much more effective than even the largest, thickest single-use wipes. I picked mine up in the supermarket for peanuts and they’ve lasted a couple of years so far. Even if the environmental reason wasn’t enough to switch, the financial impact is compelling!

Generally, I throw these in with the nappies and other cloth wipes at 60, particularly any used in the bathroom. But they can happily be washed at 40 with any laundry (although be careful of colour run when they’re new!).

Four brightly coloured microfibre cloths folded and arranged in a fan. They are on a black shiny surface and a plain plastic spray bottle is behind them
These beauties keep my very demanding kitchen surfaces sparkling

When I first planned to write about cloth wipes, I had only intended to focus on the ones we use for nappy changes. But I realised that there are so many circumstances where single-use wipes can be substituted for a more sustainable option. It doesn’t have to be all in one go, just pick one place to start. Once you’ve been won over by the wonders of reusable wipes, you’ll never look back!

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