A few questions have come up regarding the latest challenge, the Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009. So, I've updated the content from a few posts that I put up over the years explaining some of the details.
The whole famdamily issue
If you are dubious about washing cloth wipes for six people in your household, then just try them yourself. No one said you had to drag family and friends into this. In our household, the kids don't use cloth wipes yet as they are too young and we would be spending far more in plumbing bills than we would be saving by having them use cloth.
Maybe when they are a little older and pay more attention to what should and shouldn't go in the toilet we'll have them use cloth. In the meantime, we risk just flushing the benefits down the toilet. So to speak. Anyway, just start small and see how it goes.
What about shared bathrooms with roommates?
If you live with other people who aren't as enthused about it as you, it's a little more difficult, but not undoable. You just need to be a bit more sneaky and run a covert cloth wipe operation. I would suggest going for #1 only - it will be easier to hide. Find a container of some sort and hide it under the sink somewhere. You can always go for some cammo patterned cloth remnants.
Even if someone asks you what it is, it won't be readily obvious what you're doing. Feel free to tell them, or just say you use them for cleaning your armpits or some other misdirection. It won't totally gross them out but it will keep them from fiddling with your wipes.
It's going to create too much laundry
Umm, unless you are repurposing ship's sails in their original size, you won't be generating much laundry. For #1 use for two people, we wash the "pee pads", as my mom calls them, a couple times a week. We just throw them in with the rest of the laundry and they don't take up any more space than a small t-shirt. The water usage and soap is negligible. You'll find you won't need a very big piece to do the job as cloth is way more absorbent than TP.
Why don't you try the "hand and water method"?
By gum, if you've got spunk enough to do that, be my guest. I just have a few words for you: fingernails and fecal matter. Someone brought up the whole drying after the rinse cycle issue and, unless you've got time to air dry, you're ending up using a cloth to dry, no?
How much does it cost to get setup? - Outside of the initial investment in wipes (see my doin' it on the cheap post), the costs beyond that are for a container to put the wipes in (if you use one) and whatever cleaning agent you use. If you are washing them with other stuff, the amount of detergent used over the course of a year is pretty small. On the other hand, toilet paper is expensive, especially if you are springing for 100% recycled toilet paper.
Is it more comfortable than using super Charmin? - OMG, I cannot even describe how much more comfortable it is to wipe using 100% cotton flannel than even the softest of Charminy TPs. Now compare that to the relative scratchitude of some recycled toilet papers. Enough said.
What's the environmental impact of washing the wipes? - This is the big one so I've broken it down.
a. Energy - Yes, washing cloth wipes does require some extra energy in your washing machine, but unless you are using a million wipes a week, there's no way you're going to fill up your machine. So just throw them in with your other stuff. #1 wipes can go in with anything (except maybe kitchen towels) and #2 wipes can go in with towels or the like. They don't take up much space. Really.
b. Water - Again, washing cloth wipes requires some water, but if you're throwing them in with a load of other stuff, it's fairly negligible.
Compare the minimal energy and water usage at home with how much water and energy is used in the production of toilet paper. It's a pretty water and energy intensive process. Even recycled toilet paper uses a lot more of both than what your using with cloth wipes.
c. Natural Resources - If you're not using recycled toilet paper, the amount of trees saved is equivalent to that little pile of cloth you have at the end of the day. Add into both regular or recycled TP extra waste in processing. Plus, don't forget the other natural resources used like water and energy (minus whatever went into making the cloth, amortized over time). You can also throw in the harm caused by whatever chemicals are used in the processing (most likely bleach).
In sum, the benefits are: you win with cost savings and comfort (with minimal extra work) and the environment wins every time you wipe!
In the next post, I'll go into more detail about the cloth wipe setup.