The Cloth Wipe Challenge is coming up soon and one of the big concerns is hygiene, so I wanted to discuss some of the issues and misconceptions that usually come up with using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper.
When I was doing research into using cloth wipes, one thing I repeatedly read was that some people assumed that you are reusing wipes. In other words, using the same dirty cloth multiple times - e.g. on separate occasions. Now, I don't know how this idea came into being, it's just as disturbing as the fact that some people think recycled toilet paper is made from used toilet paper. So, I thought I'd clear this one up first and foremost - you use each wipe once and then they get washed.
I want to break down the use of cloth wipes for urine versus poop because they can be treated a little differently. (By the way, I'm going to just go with "poop" instead of stool, defecant, excrement, scat or any other of your favorite terms.)
First of all, if you plan on using cloth wipes for #1 (urine only), it is in my opinion that your risk of spreading disease is fairly minimal. Urine itself is sterile. Of course, you are also touching parts of your anatomy that are not sterile. It all comes down to your comfort level.
Some people soak all their used wipes in a solution containing some sort of antiseptic - tea tree oil is popular. Others just place their used cloth wipes in a mesh bag that gets plenty of air. I have found that the amount of urine on the wipe is actually pretty minimal so things dry out quickly. Then just wash the #1 wipes in hot water. If you're still paranoid about bacteria, follow washing information for #2.
If you plan on using cloth wipes for #2 (poop), then you're going to have to invest in a system to ensure that you don't have problems with two things that make most people cringe: stink and bacteria.
Now, if you have ever dealt with cloth diapers, then you are already equipped (at least mentally) to deal with adding your own poopy cloth wipes to the system (or resurrecting a system). Actually, I would say that since you are wiping, rather than "collecting", it's a whole lot less messy than dealing with cloth diapers.
Most people keep a lidded container or wet bag in the bathroom, throw the wipes in and then wash in hot water. Again, you can keep a soaking solution in the container to help keep odor down. If you're really concerned about bacteria you can do a baking soda pre-rinse and add vinegar to the rinse cycle. If you are planning on keeping a "dry" bucket, some people will add baking soda to the bucket to keep odor down and then wash the container out with vinegar every few days. Just make sure if you do a load of laundry with #2 wipes that you don't include kitchen towels, napkins, etc.
For some of you, I'm sure I probably didn't cover everything here to satisfy all your questions. If you've never dealt with cloth diapers you can read up on how to store and wash them over at Diaper Pin and adapt some of the ideas for your cloth wipes. And feel free to ask questions!
The next cloth wipe challenge post: how to make your own cloth wipes without spending a fortune. This is a challenge and I know you don't want to plunk down $100 on handcrafted custom wipes if this is just an experiment for you, so I'll share what I did to get started.