3 Civilized Alternatives to Toilet Paper (and 2 Rustic Options)

When there’s a run on emergency supplies as people prep for natural disasters or, ahem, other interruptions, it might be time to consider some alternatives to toilet paper. 

In uncertain times, there are some other things to consider as well. Check these out.

woman on toilet

I’m always pretty blown away when people line up to buy toilet paper during hurricane season. There are plenty of alternatives to toilet paper that could work in a pinch (or even long term).

If I’m on a limited budget and preparing for some sort of emergency or shelter-in-place order, I’m going to spend that on food. Every single time. Skip the rolls and spend that money on some basic pantry supplies!

These people at a Costco in Denver? Nutters. People. You can’t eat toilet paper. If there is a disruption in our daily routines, whether it be hurricanes, earthquakes, or the current Coronavirus pandemic, I’m pretty sure you’d be happier with a full belly than a familiar…wipe.

And trust me — giving up toilet paper doesn’t mean you need to wander around with a dirty bum.

Toilet paper is a luxury

That’s right. I said it. The rolls of TP that are readily available in most American homes are a relatively new addition to what we consider “must haves.” The idea of toilet paper (originally sold as flat sheets of paper) came on the scene in the mid 1800s. Before that, people used a variety of methods. We’ve all heard stories about corn cobs in the outhouse, right?? Other methods over the centuries included things like a communal sponge, leaves, and old newspaper. While I’d give the communal sponge a hard pass, leaves and newspaper can be reasonable options in a real emergency situation.

But short of having to forage for leaves, there are a few more civilized ways of handling the daily bathroom routine. In America, using toilet paper is considered the norm. If you’ve never left the country, you might be surprised to find that this isn’t so for many other cultures. People are using the bathroom without toilet paper on a daily basis, not just when there’s a perceived toilet paper shortage!

Family cloth

Essentially reusable toilet paper, the idea of family cloth is a simple one. Instead of using and flushing paper when you’re done with it, use cloth wipes that can be laundered time and again. Now, I know that a lot of people will find the idea of “keeping” soiled cloth to be offensive. Our toilet paper habit coupled with flush toilets allows us to poop and forget about it. We don’t like to think about our bodily functions, let alone process our waste. Flick of a handle and POOF! off it goes.

Using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper is budget-friendly and eco-friendly. 

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basket of rolled cloths

This is exactly how I cleaned my kids’ bums when they were in (cloth) diapers. The used cloth wipes went into the bucket with the dirty diapers and everything was washed in very hot water.

These reusable alternatives to toilet paper are easy to make at home — you can even upcycle items like old t-shirts and flannel sheets to make cloth wipes. Simply cut into squares and use a zigzag stitch around the edges to prevent fraying. If you’d rather not make your own, you can pick up a set of flat reusable wipes here or even a roll of “reusable toilet paper” here.

Keep a stack near the toilet. You can use the cloths wet or dry. A combination of both (dry for pee, wet for poop) seems to work well for a lot of people.

You’ll need a sealed container in which to collect soiled wipes. Wash these every two-to-three days in very hot water.

porcelain bidet


A bidet is like a little shower for your bum. When you’re done using the toilet, a bidet directs a stream of water upward to clean your nether-regions. People often ask if a little stream of water is sufficient to thoroughly clean your bum, and in my experience, the answer is yes.

Once washed, you’re clean enough to use a small cloth or towel to dry off. Even if you opt to dry off with a bit of toilet paper, the amount of tissue you use will be greatly reduced. If you use cloths for drying, it’s a good idea to choose a different size or color than your face cloths so they don’t get mixed up.

family cloth in a basket

Bidets are commonly used in much of Europe. In addition to the toilet, bathrooms have a separate porcelain bidet. These require a person to stand and shuffle from the toilet to the bidet. Modern technology provides an after-market alternative for those of us with a standard American bathroom.

Bidet seats are easy to install in minutes. Some people simply add a bidet sprayer to the bathroom near the toilet.  We use a Brondell bidet seat and our toilet paper usage has been drastically reduced. (In fact, when we had a house guest recently we were floored at how much TP he went through!)

cardboard toilet paper tubes in a pyramid

People who have used a bidet enough to get comfortable with it swear they feel cleaner using one than they do with toilet paper. And while I’m sharing too much information, women who deal with monthly courses will find a bidet very appealing. Another benefit of a bidet is that it’s great for people with mobility issues.

What about the waste of water? Scientific American addresses this issue, saying:

“To those who say that bidets waste water…the amount of water used by a typical bidet is about 1/8th of a gallon, with the average toilet using about four gallons per flush. Lloyd Alter of the website treehugger.com reports that making a single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and some 1.5 pounds of wood.”

toilet with bidet sprayer

Hand-held Rinsing

If you’re looking for an alternative to toilet paper but aren’t ready to install a bidet or a bidet toilet seat, there are a number of options to choose from.

  • This portable bidet is charged with a USB port.
  • In the Philippines, people use what is called a tabo as a sort of portable bidet. It’s essentially a deep ladle that is used to pour water over your dirty bits to clean them.
  • This travel bidet only requires a squeeze to work.
  • A peri bottle has a curved nozzle and is typically used by women after birth or during their menstrual cycle, but could work as a handheld bidet, too.
  • A spray bottle or upcycled sports bottle can do the trick.

Waste paper

Reverting to using paper other than soft-on-the-tush TP might seem archaic, and it’s probably not something you want to use in a normal scenario. But if there’s a situation that requires us to prepare for long-term outages, I’d rather spend my money on food than bum paper. (This made me laugh.)

Any kind of paper can be used as an alternative to toilet paper. Old magazines, phone books, newspaper, ad inserts — it all works. To make it easier on your bum, repeatedly crumple and uncrumple a piece of paper until it becomes more soft and pliable. To save the plumbing I definitely wouldn’t flush these wipes down the toilet, but they’ll do a fair job of replacing toilet paper if it becomes scarce.

comfrey plant with soft leaves suitable alternative to toilet paper


Now we’re getting positively rustic, but again, if I’ve got to choose between a pantry stocked with food and special paper for after-doody cleanup, I’m going with food every time. People have been using leaves to wipe their bottoms for centuries upon centuries and there’s no reason that won’t work in a pinch these days. With the exception of hazardous leaves like poison oak and poison ivy, just about any leaf can stand in for TP. But if we’re talking about comfort, there are some plants that are better than others.

Mullein, for instance, has been called “nature’s toilet paper” for a reason. The leaves are large and velvety and perfect for use as a toilet paper alternative. Also consider leaves of comfrey, wooly lamb’s ear, yacon, or moss.

toilet paper shortage

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

26 comments… add one
  • Lori Jan 27, 2024 @ 14:38

    I bought several 12 packs of baby washcloths about 15 years ago to replace “adult wipes” to clean my bum after I do my “serious” business … after being diagnosed with chron’s. When the virus hit and shut down … We started buying a case of to from Amazon that lasts us about 3 months … But my baby washcloths will work if I can’t get to … I like the convenience of those! always have one in my purse for emergencies. Might have to look into a bidet as another option.

    • Kris Bordessa, National Geographic author/certified master food preserver Feb 2, 2024 @ 14:11

      A bidet is a game changer, though it seems prices have gone up a lot since we got ours!

  • Carol L Apr 22, 2023 @ 11:23

    Do you know if there are any Bidet toilet seats that do not require any electricity? I have a 1945 house with only one outlet(shared with the light switch, so only one plug in) on the opposite side from the toilet. Electricity is a huge no go. I did buy a perianal bottle, and a long time ago bought a cheap bidet for the seat, but it had huge circles and would not stay on the toilet… I do use ‘Family Cloth’, but would like another choice as well. I also have a huge amount (I have the space) for stocking up on TP. I plan to barter with it if things ever get bad enough.
    Thanks for the post, a good bit of good advice and suggestions. We Americans are SO SPOILED! Think we can only do things one way.

    • Layna Apr 27, 2023 @ 21:09

      I bought 2 from Amazon that work from water pressure. They attach to the toilet seat. When you’re finished doing your business, you turn the dial and a stream of water sprays you off. It’s wonderful!

  • Karen Phillips Feb 2, 2023 @ 6:15

    I’m glad my family had never been freaked out by using family cloths. It’s a pretty normal thing around here. We do use toilet paper but when it comes to using a cloth no one bats an eye. I usually get a little warm water on it and it’s better than wipes or toilet paper.

    • AttainableSustainable Feb 2, 2023 @ 7:36

      That is good to hear, cloths are a great option!

  • M J Jan 30, 2023 @ 20:18

    Excellent info! You’re right, you do what you have to do during hard times. Will have to try the cloths and the bidet!

    • AttainableSustainable Feb 2, 2023 @ 7:39

      I think you’ll find that they’ll work for you! 🙂

  • Lynne May 24, 2022 @ 13:39

    I’ve been using family cloth for many years. I just took some facecloths and cut them in half [then hemmed them]. I also keep some regular TP for guests. I have a small, lidded trash can for the used ones. When I became unable to bend enough, I got a long “handle” they sell for that purpose and found the family cloth works there too [just need to wrap it around]. Due to some comments here, I may check up on bidets. Maybe my insurance will pay for it.

    • AttainableSustainable May 26, 2022 @ 6:19

      Thanks for sharing your methods, and yes check into the bidet option!

  • Chris Liddle Jan 2, 2022 @ 10:44

    Brondell bidet is expensive. You can get an easy attachment bidet for your toilet for under $50. I put it on myself. I am NOT a handy person. I was so proud of myself. I even had to change the water line. It was so easy. There is no heater, but the cool water is very nice. I loved it from the first try. Wish I could put them on the other toilets in my house but they are flush with the wall. Would need a professional installment.

    • AttainableSustainable Jan 4, 2022 @ 7:49

      This is great – there are many options and I’m all for budget-friendly ideas! Thanks 🙂

  • Connie Apr 20, 2021 @ 12:17

    In my effort to prepare for hard times, I cut up my husband’s old T-shirts into what people call “family cloths”. Since there are 4 of us I did 4 different colours. I assigned the black ones to hubby, the blue ones to our son, the red ones to our daughter (guess why), and the white ones to me (because I would be the one least freaked out by stains). I put them away for when we needed them. When we began having the run on toilet paper I brought out the white ones. No one else intends to use their cloths, but I’m loving them! Not for the dirty jobs, though.

    • Attainable Sustainable Apr 24, 2021 @ 9:02

      That’s a great way to be resourceful and save resources! Thank you for sharing.

  • Virginia Eaves Nov 2, 2020 @ 18:07

    I have done a little research and also found that many people do not use the cost of hot water, electricity, detergent, and bleach when comparing the cost of using toilet paper to reusable cloths as well as the time spent on laundry. I got rid of cable tv, negotiated cost of internet, got rid of home telephone, negotiated a lower rate for cell phone, cut out buying coffee and drinks outside the home, but I do want to use toilet paper. I do use coupons and stock up when it’s on sale.

  • Niele Da Kine Jul 8, 2020 @ 10:27

    Friend of mine who used to teach in Samoa decades ago said they used to use beach rocks occasionally when there weren’t any other options. Seemed a bit odd to me, but perhaps a rounded rock would work? She said it did, but she’s also perfectly capable of pulling folks’ legs.

  • Liz Hallengren Jun 7, 2020 @ 6:24

    Hellooooo, even with a bidet don’t you have a wet bottom? You still need something to dry with.

  • Cheryl Mar 19, 2020 @ 5:50

    Great article! My question is, what do you do with the leaves, after you use them? Do you bury them in your garden? Put them in the trash?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 19, 2020 @ 19:47

      Ah, great question. Definitely don’t flush them. If you have a garden, yes, bury them. Put them somewhere that won’t be disturbed for awhile. For more reading on this, check out the Humanure book.

  • Patty Mar 18, 2020 @ 9:43

    AWESOME!! Thank you 🙂

  • Amelia Lopez Saltarelli Mar 18, 2020 @ 4:35

    Wonderful article! I’m going to share with family, friends and other people I know.
    I used the newspaper mode whenever I spent summers with my grandfather in Tampico Mexico
    Thank you so much

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 18, 2020 @ 9:45

      We do what we need to do, right??

  • Wayne Johnson Mar 18, 2020 @ 4:13

    I haven’t used toilet paper for a long time. We have an “electric toilet” which is only a new toilet seat, made by Brondell, it’s called Swash. This is simply a different toilet seat for your regular toilet. Water hookup is a breeze, but you do need an electric outlet nearby, which is rare next to a toilet. I installed a new electric box myself since I’m an avid DIY guy.

    This is a great product! All I touch is the electric remote, and I’m done. The seat and the water are heated, and there’s a cool blue light in the bowl at nightime. I had never thought about one of these until I stumbled on product reviews at the Brondell website. I was simply buying a water filter, which they also sell, when I started reading these wonderful reviews for this product. Like they say, once you try it– you don’t want to go back! Of course, I’m a guy, but my wife still uses a lot of toilet paper, but we have cut down our use by quite a bit.

  • Lori Mar 18, 2020 @ 3:36

    A reasonable and well-thought out article.
    I’ve mentioned to people that old sheets or clothes no longer worn can be cut down into usable cloths for wiping instead of toilet paper and washed in hot water just like cloth diapers. I have also gotten the disgusted looks and the ‘NO WAY!” reactions. These are usually from people who have never used a cloth diaper in their life.
    I raised 8 kids and my first 5 were raised exclusively in cloth diapers (the old kind with diaper pins and rubber pants). I also used to babysit as a kid and changed plenty of cloth diapers for neighbor kids, cousins, and kids in the church nursery. I could probably do it in my sleep!
    Hard times make for hard choices.
    About 15 years ago, a friend of mine decided toilet paper was too expensive for her family as they were on a strict budget and so she went to the thrift store and bought good, used sheets, cut them up and used them in place of toilet paper. She only kept a small pkg of toilet paper in the house for when company came. She saved literally thousands of dollars over the years by reusing these washable wipes. Yard sales were also a great place where she found old sheets and other items suitable to cut down into bottom wipes.
    When I told my husband what she was doing he said to not even think about it!!! He was not open to this idea at all. But there are things to think about as people become more destitute and need other options ,

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 18, 2020 @ 9:46

      I know it skeeves some people out, but you know? You gotta do what you’ve gotta do!

  • Regi Mar 17, 2020 @ 13:05

    Well you’ve prepared for this terrible time, I’m sure! Good job and thank you!

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