Cloth Diapering Greener Living

13 Cloth Alternatives for Earth Day

Many of us are looking for ways to reduce the trash we produce and our impact on the environment. While it’s always been important to me, as a mom of two young children it’s even more so now. I want my children and (gulp!) future grandchildren to be able to experience and love the natural world like I do. So in that spirit and in celebration of Earth Day, I’ve put together this list of 13 ways you can replace disposable and landfill-bound products for their greener and healthier cloth counterparts. Over the long run, when you’re not buying disposable products over and over again, these cloth alternatives are almost always easier on the pocketbook too.

Follow along and let me know which cloth alternatives you’ve already adopted or would consider adopting.

1. Cloth Diapers

I am a self-confessed fluff addict, for many reasons. Cloth diapers create less trash and reduce your impact on the environment. Disposable diapers take up to 500 years to biodegrade, compared to 6 months for cloth. One cloth diaper can replace more than 250 disposable diapers!

Cloth diapers are healthier for your baby. It’s just not that great of an idea to leave dioxin (a known carcinogen) and sodium polyacrylate (those blue absorbent crystals inside the diaper) up against your baby’s genital area 24 hours a day for the first 2 or 3 years of her life. Plus disposable diapers have been found to off gas certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are implicated in asthma.

Cloth diapers are definitely cheaper. Depending on which cloth diapering system you use, you can pay as little as $300 for prefolds and covers (or even less if you buy secondhand or make your own from upcycled materials) or as much as $1400 for a stash of premium, sized All-In-One or pocket diapers.

Even with the cost of extra laundry, it’s still significantly cheaper than 2-3 years of disposable diapers which costs parents an average of $2500. Plus you can reuse cloth diapers for subsequent babies and/or sell them when you’re done which will recoup some of the initial costs. And oh yeah, cloth diapers are just so much cuter than a paper diaper!

2. Cloth Wipes

Cloth wipes just go with cloth diapers. If you’re already cloth diapering, it’s takes almost no extra effort to use cloth wipes as well. I use cheap baby washcloths ($6 for 12) available at any big box store. Some people buy cleaning solutions or mix their own to wet the wipes with, but I usually just use water. The cloth “grabs” the mess better than any disposable wipe. Just throw the wipes in your diaper pail with your diapers and wash as usual.

3.Wet Bags

Wet bags are another must-have diapering accessory. Use a wet bag to carry dirty diapers or soiled clothes. When your baby outgrows the diaper stage, use them in place of a disposable plastic bag to hold wet clothes, swimsuits, or any other wet/dirty items. Wet bags come in many sizes and configurations, and they’ll last you long past your cloth diapering days!

13 Cloth Alternatives for Earth Day - wet bags are so much cuter than plastic

4.Cloth Grocery Bags

Many cities and some countries have plastic bag bans in place because of how wasteful, toxic, and damaging to the environment they are. Single use plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to break down, and they kill wildlife and block drains. Here in Canada, our largest city of Toronto was set to ban them as of January 1, 2013, but reversed the decision at the last minute. In the U.S., San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland have banned plastic bags, and Los Angeles recently joined their ranks. Cloth bags are a better alternative. Just remember to wash them once in a while, especially if you’ve carried your meat home in them.

5. Cloth Nursing Pads

I had the distinct misfortune to need nursing pads for a good year and a half after giving birth, both times. That’s a lot of disposable pads and money in the trash! Over the last four years I’ve used many different types of cloth nursing pads – cotton, hemp, bamboo, and backed with fleece or PUL. Forget crinkly, clammy, and expensive paper nursing pads. Cloth is a lot more comfortable and doesn’t stick to you when you leak.

13 Cloth Alternatives for Earth Day - cloth nursing pads are so much more comfortable than paper

6. Cloth Menstrual Pads

If you’re already cloth diapering, “mama cloth”, or reusable cloth menstrual pads, are often the next step. There are some really adorable cloth pads out there in all different materials, prints, and absorbencies. Cloth is softer and more comfortable!

7. Unpaper Towels

These replace – you guessed it: paper towels! The coolest unpaper towels fasten together with snaps along their edges and wind up in a roll just like their paper counterparts. Use these for wiping your kitchen table and counters, drying your hands, cleaning the fridge, etc.

8. Cloth Napkins

Let’s face it, cloth napkins (or serviettes) are just classier than scratchy paper napkins. I bought 40 of these fun napkins on Etsy and we use them at every meal, dry for me and wet for my girls. They’re great for wiping sticky faces and hands at dinner because they don’t fall apart like paper napkins. And once everyone is done eating, they do double duty for wiping down the table and high chair.

9. Handkerchiefs

Back in the olden days, you wouldn’t be caught dead without your lace handkerchief. But you know, they don’t have to be the old-fashioned scratchy linen and lace handkerchiefs like your Great Aunt Mildred used to carry. Try a minky handkerchief for the softest blow ever. Your nose will thank you!

10. Reusable Snack and Lunch Bags

Think about how many plastic sandwich bags are floating around in the ocean and buried in landfills. How about an assortment of reusable bags instead? These come in snap, Velcro, or zippered varieties and in any print you can imagine. Dirty? Just throw them in the washing machine with the rest of your laundry.

11. Reusable Mop Pads

Disposable mop pads are a waste of resources and money. Try a mop with a reusable microfiber pad. These pads velcro onto the mop head and go through the washing machine when you’re done. And if you’re really don’t want to part with your Swiffer, check out Etsy for reusable mop pads that fit your Swiffer head perfectly.

12. Rags

Remember the rag bag your mother or maybe your grandmother kept under the sink? Reuse old towels, sweatshirts, prefold diapers, or any other worn out fabric to clean, wipe up spills, or dust the windowsills. An old T-shirt works great for cleaning windows and mirrors without leaving any lint. Here’s a peek into my rag drawer (I usually have more – it’s laundry day!).

13 Cloth Alternatives for Earth Day - reuse old clothes and towels as rags

13. Family Cloth

And now we come to the end of my list and to family cloth. Family cloth is kind of the last frontier when it comes to cloth alternatives. If you’ve never heard the term before, “family cloth” is a warm and fuzzy euphemism for reusable toilet paper. That’s right, cloth wipes for adults. I’ll tell you right now we haven’t quite evolved to this point, but this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention.

As a cloth diapering mama, I see the logic behind this. Proponents say it’s gentler and doesn’t leave little bits of paper on your delicate areas. In case you were wondering, many people using family cloth still use disposable toilet paper for #2, but switching to cloth even just for pee saves a whole lot of trees, water, and energy required to manufacture TP.

How many of these changes have you adopted or do you plan to adopt? What else do you do to reduce your footprint?

Leave a Comment


  • I do a lot of these. I still can’t bring myself to do family cloth, that grosses me out too much. And I am terrible at remembering to bring my grocery bags. But the rest of them I am pretty good at doing:)

  • Love this list! We do most of these, but not enough as we should. I still use plastic bags about 50% of the time and I really need to stop!

  • This really shows how cloth can better our lives. I cloth diaper about 50% of the time. I love mama cloth and (postpartum) it really makes a difference. Using unpaper towels would save so much money too. I also use cloth bags (just have to remember them) and cloth wipes for some things. I am definitely trying to cut down on the amount of trash we have.

  • A fantastic list, I really don’t fancy the family cloth though, nor the reusable cloth menstrual pads, that’s yucky to me.

  • I can happily say we use 10 of these 13 options! We just started using cloth diapers a couple weeks ago with our new baby and are loving them. They really aren’t that much work!

  • My sister in law uses family clothes but it isn’t disgusting because they installed a $15.00 sprayer for helping clean their diapers and they now use it for a wash down each time they use the bathroom so when they wipe themselves after going to the bathroom it is just a dry down after the sprayer and it is actually less gross than what people who use TP do when you think about the fact that TP doesn’t get you clean and this does and that a dry down with a family cloth is less gross than using a bath towel because it is only used one time before it is rewashed and only for one part of the body and the part of a bath towel you dry your butt with one night could be the part you use to dry your face the next night.
    These carry two unexpected benefits:
    Using family clothes in this way has reduced yeast infection occurrence for her since no paper particles are left behind, everything is clean and
    benefit number two, she can go longer between needing her septic system pumped.

  • I use mommy cloths (actually a wash cloth folded in thirds and held there by gravity) and the health benefits are amazing, I used to sweat down there with plastic backed pads but now it can breath down there. I used to get very, very itchy down there every month which sometimes resulted in a yeast infection but that doesn’t happen any longer. Also I just feel less gross the cloth instantly wicks away moisture but the pad was not that effective. I carry a zip lock bag and extra wash clothes. Now it seems gross to me that woman would not use these things because the other things can lead to yeast infections or toxic shock syndrome. If you are worried about the blood just buy some peroxide and soak a few hours before washing and add some peroxide to the wash and dry on heat.
    As a side note there are tampons made with sea sponge that are reusable after disinfecting with boiling water or peroxide, I have no experience with them but hear they are ideal for back packers.
    There are also things called menstrual cups. These things pressed on the inner walls of my vagina and hurt and I could not breath and they carry a high risk of TSS I would give them ten thumbs down if this were a review for them.

  • Side note, I once did the math and my family of 5 spends $200.00 a year on TP and I spend $5000 a year on feminine napkins. Diapers and wipes combined cost $2,000.00 a year for 2 years for the cheap kind that is $4,000.00 in cash that new parents are devoting to the landfill. I still budge for hundreds of dollars of my money to go to the landfill every year because I am lazy.

  • Not having any young children any longer I don’t use a lot of these. I don’t fancy the last one in the least. 🙂

  • This is a great list and terrific reminder of how a few simple changes can have a huge impact. Thank you.

  • Great post with lots of awesome ways to cut back on your footprint!

    I do quite a few of these, others I haven’t implementes yet but need to soon – ex cloth nursing pads – I’m due next month and really need to get some!

    We do use paper towel here and it drives me nuts. Hubs definitely loves it. I’ve been planning to get him off of it and have been slowly making the switch.

    Love the idea of cloth snack bags! And I should definitely make some cloth napkins 🙂 We don’t have handkerchiefs but we don’t really buy Kleenex either..I have used facecloths instead lol.

    No family cloth or mama cloth here…I think I’d feel more comfortable doing family cloth for #1 before doing mama cloth. I can’t stand pads, I don’t want to use menstrual cups and I’m super irregular – like I can go a few months without a cycle – so I currently don’t feel bad about using general tampons since I hardly use them. Maybe one day I’ll be brave and venture into resuable ones though! I never knew you could get them until I read a post above 🙂

  • I have a question. I am trying to potty train and I am looking for something along the organic bamboo underwear. Do you all have something like this? My granddaughter has a problem with the plastic underwear covers so we cannot use them. I need help.with please.

    • Do you mean you’re looking for a reusable trainer? Two we have used and like are AppleCheeks and Smart Bottoms. Neither has plastic. The AppleCheeks trainers have PUL (waterproof fabric) on the outside, or if she’s very sensitive, the Smart Bottoms trainer has the PUL hidden inside so it never touches the skin.

      Here are reviews on these to see if they would meet your granddaughter’s needs:
      AppleCheeks Learning Pants
      Smart Bottoms Lil Trainer