Making the Switch to Cloth: Yes You Can!

July 28, 2011 by Amy Clark

The first time I carried a reusable grocery bag into the store, I felt like a hippie tree-hugger because no one else I knew was doing it. Now, reusable bag stands are displayed at the front of every store and I feel bad if I don’t use them. I call that progress!

What about going green in other areas of the home? We might tote our reusable grocery bags now, but give up paper napkins, paper towels, disposable wipes, or disposable diapers? Well, let’s not get crazy!

I’m still working on these areas in my home and I have found that switching to cloth needs to feel convenient, be an inexpensive solution, and be something that our whole family is on board with. Our progression towards switching to cloth started with baby steps, like giving up paper napkins… and then led to bigger steps like cloth diapers for my daughter for eighteen months of her diaper-filled life. I believe that if we can do it, any family can!

Get on board with cloth napkins

Paper-napkins-to-cloth were the first switch we made, and it’s really stuck with us. I started my collection with mismatched cloth napkins from the local thrift store. More recently, I made the investment in two styles of napkins that are worthy of entertaining friends and family.

The first napkins I bought are classic herringbone, wrinkle- and stain-resistant. I recommend neutral colors (chocolate brown, sage green, or white) to go with any tablecloth or table setting.  The one thing I’ve learned over the years is to avoid anything that requires ironing… because if it has to be ironed, it will eventually end up in the donation bin.

The other napkins are a set of bandanas that I found in the women’s accessories section for a mere $1 each. Bandanas are not only inexpensive; they’re a fun way to accessorize a party. These truly wash up like a dream and are perfect for outdoor entertaining or casual dining. You can choose from a variety of patterns and colors.

Launder your cloth napkins with your load of towels and keep them on your kitchen counter in a small basket or cute tin for convenient grabbing.

Banish paper towels

I know there’s a need for paper towels for some of life’s messiest jobs, but in most cases, cloth can easily take the place of paper. As I showcased in my cleaning caddy post, I use recycled newspapers to achieve a lint-free shine on glass windows and mirrors. For almost all other jobs, microfiber cloths get a lot of praise and work well for the jobs they do in our house.

I have several generously sized microfiber cloths. Used dry, they’re perfect for dusting. Used wet, they clean kitchen counters and bathroom surfaces, fixtures and tubs. They are the workhorses in our house, and they can be in yours too.

When you launder your microfiber cloths, skip the fabric softener. Softener will build up on the cloths, reducing their effectiveness and absorbency. Consider purchasing in two colors, one for dusting and one for scrubbing. You don’t need to use a lot of cleaning products on these, as they perform well with just a dab or simply dry/wet with no product on them.

Ditch the plastic bags

Maybe you’re still thinking I’m a tree-hugger for using reusable bags, but this switch is the simplest of all and can be done inexpensively and easily. Invest in a durable set of reusable bags that best fit your family’s needs. I decided to buy five industrial-strength bags and two stackable plastic crates for canned goods, to use when I do our grocery shopping. These bags hold two weeks’ worth of groceries. Are you shopping for just one or two people? Foldable bags that can be slipped into your purse or tucked in your car might be the perfect solution.

Our bags are in constant rotation in our family, whether they’re lugging a huge load of library books, going to the grocery store, taking a family trip, or off with the kids to grandma’s house. I keep them in my pantry for convenient grabbing before we head out, and keep a few in the trunk of my car for all of life’s other occasions.

Reusable bags may require a little laundering from time to time, especially when bringing home fresh meat or items that may leak. I wash our bags on the delicate cycle with a small amount of soap and no fabric softener. Once you pull them from the dryer, turn them inside out and hang on the laundry line until dry.

If you want to recycle plastic grocery bags, check at the front of your local supermarket for their recycling bin, and vow to keep the plastic bag chaos to a minimum in your house.

What’s one switch to cloth that you’re really proud of? Share your strategies for making the switch here!

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark has been the driving force behind MomAdvice since 2004. In addition to running a successful community for women and running after her two kids, she has appeared on The Early Show, and in Parents magazine, Redbook, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, MSN Money and The New York Times.