Getting by during COVID-19: Paper products

We were able to find paper products at the store this week (after weeks of empty shelves), but I know that might not be true for everyone.  If you are still waiting for the supply chain to get to your store, I have some ideas that could help.

I’ve always been on the fence regarding the sustainability question of whether paper product replacements are better for the environment (saves trees and the resources necessary to produce and transport them) or not (energy needed to treat and heat water, plus potential pollution from detergents).  However, if you can’t buy paper products then it is a moot point.


I have allergies all year long, despite taking a 24 hour over the counter allergy medication.  Or maybe it is partially an over-production of mucus?  My grammie used to say that she was “snotty in the morning”, so maybe it is genetic.  I quickly realized that I needed a new solution to tissues, since 1) we couldn’t find them at the store, and 2) the ones we did have might be needed as toilet paper replacements.

I decided to use some worn material I had lying around to make hankies.  I specifically picked worn fabric, because it is thinner and softer.  I have a friend who has also used bandanas for this purpose, but I was looking for something a bit smaller that would fit in my pocket better.

To do this, I cut out squares of fabric that were a bit bigger than the size I wanted my hankies to be.  I used woven cotton fabric, but use what you have.  Then I used one of two methods to finish the edges: 1) traditional hemming, or 2) zigzagging near, but not on, the edge, then trimming the fabric (my fabric was thin enough that trying to zigzag right on the edge was difficult).  I used a sewing machine, but these could be sewn by hand.  Also, if there was a serged edge I left it intact so then I would only need to finish 3 edges rather than 4.  After the fabric pieces came out of the wash, I cut any dangling threads caused by partial fraying on the zigzagged pieces.

The verdict: I like the look and feel of a traditional hemmed edge better because it looks neater, but hemming takes longer than zigzagging the edge.  I haven’t noticed a difference between the two edge finishes while using the hankies.  The best hankies I made came from the very softest (most worn) fabric.

I’m glad I didn’t throw out the material from my old pj pants.  They were falling apart, so I dismantled them and used the pieces to make a paper pattern (I loved how they fit).  But then I didn’t toss the fabric, because I really like the pattern as well.  I figured I could find some use for it eventually and stashed it.  You might have noticed from my other posts, but I am a bit of a craft supplies hoarder.

Paper towels

We were on our last roll of paper towels when my spouse found some at the store.  I had already made some rag wipes out of one side old tee-shirt material and one side old flannel material for a different purpose, so I put them in the cue to be washed and used as paper towels.  People call this sort of thing “unpaper towels”, but they don’t need to be fancy like a lot of the instructions I’ve seen online.

The basic procedure is to cut equal sized squares of your fabrics (again, use what you have), put them right sides together, and sew around the edge (leaving a gap so you can turn it inside out).  Turn inside out, press, and top stitich around the edge, which closes the gap you left before.  If you were doing these by hand, I wouldn’t top stitch them.  I’d just sew the gap closed.

Your regular cleaning rags also work wonders when you need something specifically for cleaning.  I use them when cleaning a lot of surfaces that aren’t super dirty (so not while cleaning the toilet), so I can wash one rag instead of using up a bunch of paper towels.

Toilet paper

Thank God we didn’t need a toilet paper alternative, but I had some ideas if it came down to that.  There is a method that is euphemistically named “family cloths”, where you wipe with cloths and wash them like you might reuseable baby wipes or cloth diapers.

I’ve also heard of female backpackers using a bandana for urine, then tying it to the back of their backpacks to dry.  Urine comes out sterile (without bacteria), and tying it in the sun to dry was also supposed to cause the UV light to break down anything problematic, just in case.  If I remember correctly these are called “pee rags”.  We have a south facing window in our bathroom, so I was tempted to hang a rag out the window.  Gross, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

My grammie used to talk about the catalogs they would use in the outhouse when she was a kid.  Non-glossy paper is another alternative to cloth if you get desperate, but don’t try to flush it.


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