Save Money in the Kitchen with Cloth

One simple change in the kitchen can make a big difference in reducing waste and saving money: switching to entirely to cloth instead of paper.

This is one easy change that I resisted for a long time but wish I had made the switch much earlier. I think the idea of removing paper products in the kitchen is much more daunting than it actually is to switch.

I have many friends who cloth diaper but who still resist the idea of using cloth instead of paper towels and napkins in the kitchen (kitchen messes are less gross than poopy diapers in my opinion… at least most of the time!).

If you’ve never considered the idea of using cloth in the kitchen before, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Not only does it save money and reduce waste, but I actually find that it isn’t much extra work at all (and we cook 3x a day).

What Kind of Cloth?

I think the two biggest factors that make using cloth in the kitchen easy for us are:

  1. Picking the right kind of cloth
  2. Having enough of them on hand

To go paper-free in the kitchen, you have to replace paper napkins, paper towels and other disposable products like cleaning wipes. I’ve found that there isn’t necessarily a single solution that replaces all of these, but that there are very effective replacements for each category. For instance:

  • Instead of paper napkins use cloth napkins or microfiber cloths
  • Instead of paper towels use huck towels or microfiber cloths
  • Instead of regular dish towels use huck towels

Hypothetically, all paper products could be replaced by huck towels or microfiber cloths if you didn’t mind the how they look as napkins. I’ve found that both of these are more absorbent than paper towels or regular napkins and surprisingly easy to use.

If you haven’t heard of huck towels before, I can’t recommend them enough. We got a few from a friend for our wedding and I searched for years in home stores and couldn’t find them. Then, I noticed them in an odd place: in the hospital! Turns out that these are the type of towels they use in the hospital for absorbing blood and other fluids during/after surgery.

You can order huck towels online and they work wonderfully as regular kitchen towels and in place of paper towels.

For microfiber, I like these because they are naturally antibacterial and seem to last forever (I’ve had mine over a year), but even the big economy packs in the auto section at stores like Sam’s and Costco work great for kitchen messes.

We actually had a big supply of cloth napkins already since we bought them instead of renting them when we got married (It was a lot cheaper!) They were all white though and have gotten stained over the years, so I’ve occasionally replaced some of them with colorful napkins like these or mismatched ones from thrift stores and yard sales.

Setting up the System

If you’re just switching to a paper-free kitchen, setting up a good system for using cloth greatly simplifies things. I have cloth napkins, microfiber cloths and huck towels in easily accessible places around the kitchen so that even the kids can use them. I also have a place where used towels go so they can be washed.

We keep cloth napkins by the table in a cabinet and huck towels and microfiber in a drawer by the sink.

The kids are responsible for setting the table before meals and cleaning up after so I’ve made sure that they can easily reach the napkins and the microfiber cloth to clean the table after meals. When they are done, used cloths go in to a small basket under the sink. With our family size, I’ve found it helpful to have on hand:

  • 2 dozen or more huck towels
  • 1 dozen microfiber cloths
  • 3-4 dozen cloth napkins
  • Other assorted cloths for cleaning and picking up spills including cut up old shirts, old cloth diapers/inserts or old socks (for younger kids to use in cleaning and polishing)

The assorted other cloths are especially helpful in really big messes that create a cloth that is easier thrown away than washed.

The Laundry Aspect

My biggest hesitation in switching to cloth was the extra laundry, but just as with cloth diapering it really isn’t a big deal once you get in the habit. I’ve found a few tips that have made things easier though:

  • Use separate loads for microfiber and towels/napkins so the microfiber don’t pick up the lint from the others.
  • Run a rinse cycle with some baking soda first to cut any grease
  • Run an extra rinse cycle with vinegar at the end if needed for extra cleaning/deodorizing
  • Using this BioKleen oxybleach occasionally to get rid of stains or odor (I also use this on cloth diapers occasionally)
  • Wash every other day and teach younger kids to fold the loads (easy thing for them to learn how to fold on)

The Savings

I wish that I had kept up with how much we spent on paper products for the kitchen when we used them so I could give a good estimate for how much we save. Maybe some of you can chime in below with averages of how much you spend on paper products.

I do know that for under $60 you can get a good supply of all of the cloth replacements for paper products in your kitchen, and based on the prices of paper products in the stores, I would think these would pay for themselves within a few months.

How to Make Reusable Cloth Gift Bags

I’m excited about this post because it is co-written by my 8-year-old daughter who came up with the idea when trying to think of some natural and eco-friendly ways to wrap gifts this year. She sewed these reusable cloth gift bags on her own (and with the “help” of her little sisters) and is so excited to share them with you!

The 20-Year Old Paper Gift Bag

Before you can fully understand why I am so excited about these cloth gift bags (besides the fact that my child made them!), you have to understand the story of the 20-year old paper gift bags.

You see, these gift bags are infamous and one of the many things that my husband and I have in common.

We both grew up in families on budgets and while we never went without anything we needed, we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted (I am very grateful for this). Many of my favorite gifts came from garage sales (and my own kids play with some of those things today). And then there was the gift bag…

The gift bag that kept on giving… itself.

You see, both of our moms were great about not being wasteful and filling up landfills before it was trendy. They wouldn’t throw away a perfectly good gift bag (good for them) so they just kept being reused, year after year.

After Christmas our moms would carefully fold up the bags and pack them away for the next year. Of course, this only worked with gifts we gave to other family members, but they had a system. They also saved bags from birthday parties and reused them to give birthday gifts.

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

I’m convinced they don’t make gift bags (or most things) like they used to, because those gift bags lasted for years and years and years. I didn’t realize just how long until I saw one a couple years ago that I’d gotten for the first time as a child! That meant it was over 20 years old and still kicking!

As impressive as it is that the bag lasted that long, I knew that most paper gift bags wouldn’t these days and we wanted to find a better option.

Reusable Cloth Gift Bags

My daughter came up with the idea for cloth bags and this is what we will be using this year. I love that they are fully reusable, and I was surprised to find that they are really not much more expensive than buying paper gifts backs (and they will last more than 20 years!).

In fact, if you wait until after Christmas sales, you can probably find Christmas fabric at such a discount that these would actually be cheaper than disposable paper gift bags!

Reasons to Use Cloth Gift Bags

There are several great reasons to use cloth gift bags!

1. Reduce Waste

Holiday waste is a BIG problem and getting bigger!

Consider this, In the US alone, we use 4 million tons of gift wrap and decorations each year and this just gets added to landfills after the holidays! This is a 25% increase over normal waste volume between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Over two billion cards are sent and enough ribbon is used to tie a bow around the Earth… and this all ends up in landfills.

Reusable bags solve this problem… and you never have to buy wrapping paper again!

2. Easier to Wrap (and Store)

Ever spent hours wrapping presents on Christmas Eve? With six kids and a lot of in-laws, there is a lot of wrapping, even  though each person only gets one gift. These bags have cut my wrapping time in less than half. Just put the gifts in the bag, tie with a ribbon and you’re done!

Also, no need to try to keep tubes of partially used wrapping paper from coming unrolled in the closet or attic. These just fold up after you use them and stick them in a box until next year.

3. They Look Better

So this one is completely subjective, but I really think these bags are cuter than most wrapping paper!

How to Make Reusable Cloth Gift Bags

The only downside to these bags is the little bit of sewing they require, though they are a super-easy sewing project. My girls (ages 3-8) loved making these!

You will need:

Christmas fabric of choice: There are some really cute prints available online, but I really recommend supporting a local store and you can find some great deals on Christmas fabric after Christmas.
Pinking shears:  Not absolutely necessary, but these pinking shears cut the edges of the fabric in a zig-zag so it won’t fray. This will help the bags last even longer and can also remove the step of sewing a hem across the top if you don’t mind a zig-zag as the finished edge.
Sewing Machine: My girls got a heavy duty sewing machine for Christmas last year and they’ve used it a lot. There are some less expensive options out there, but this one had great reviews and a good warranty. I also like that it is heavy duty enough to sew through denim, which has come in handy for some other projects.
What to Do:

Figure out the desired size for the bag. Remember to make them taller than you think you’ll need so there is room to tie at the top. My girls made a bunch of them in varying sizes.
Cut the edges with the pinking shears once you know the desired size.
Put right sides together and pin the edges. It is important to put right sides together so that the finished product doesn’t show any seams. The girls learned this the hard way with one of their first projects and asked me to include the reminder!
Sew a 5/8 inch seam around three sides of the bag, leaving the top side open. You can actually sew any size seam since it won’t be seen.
If you pan to hem the top, fold it down, iron it, and pin it. Sew the seam and turn the bag inside out. The other option is to leave the zig-zag cut at the top.
Place a gift in the bag.
Use a decorative ribbon to tie the bag closed.
Cloth Gift Bags You Don’t Have to Make

If sewing isn’t your thing or you don’t have the time (or sewing machine) to make these, there are some decent cloth bags available pre-made now. I love these large printed bags that look like they were shipped from the north pole. (They also come in red)

Whatever you use, please consider using reusable options for wrapping gifts! Our over-crowded landfills will thank you.

P.S. My daughters also asked me to say “thank you” for reading their post and making their project!

Cloth Diapers: How to Get Started

The decision to cloth diaper is easy for some. But if you are like me, there are a million questions that need to be answered first. Cloth diapering today is so different from the way our grandmothers did it. I have talked to many women who remember cloth diapering to be a burdensome task that they were not sorry to see go with the dawn of “paper diapers.”

Thankfully, cloth diapers have changed! We have high-tech washing machines, advanced fabrics and designs, and a wealth of information via the Internet to aid us in the task. I also know that cloth diapering is not for everyone, so check out the bottom of the post for some non-cloth eco-friendly options.

Cloth Diapers: Things to Consider

There are a few things to consider before you begin your research that will aid your decision-making process. What is your primary reason for choosing cloth diapers? Reasons may include cost, health of baby’s skin, protecting the environment by cutting down on waste, or simply because they are just so soft and cute!

Next, it is wise to determine your budget. I recommend doing this ahead of time because once you start looking at all of the cute patterns available it is difficult to control the urge to buy them all!

Once you know your reason for cloth diapering and have a budget in mind, you can then begin your search for what diapering system will best meet your needs. Some people like a variety and some prefer all one type. I have gone back and forth between having a diverse collection and wanting everything exactly the same for ease of use, washing, and storage.

How Cloth Diapers Have Changed

Diapering has evolved tremendously over the years. From ancient times when babies were wrapped in leaves and animal skins to the more “modern” flat which consisted of a large square piece of cotton flannel or muslin which was folded and fixed with pins. Women had almost no alternatives when it came to diapering their children and were at the mercy of what limited resources they had on hand. Today, mothers have countless options to choose from and cloth diapers have not only become very easy to use and care for, but they are cute too!

In the last 20 years the biggest changes have been the type of materials used and the style and shape of the diaper. Plastic pull-on covers have been replaced by PUL (polyurethane laminate) or wool. Square, flat muslin diapers have been replaced by fitted styles with snap or hook and loop closures.

PUL is a breathable, tight-knit polyester which is laminated to make it waterproof. Covers made from PUL are usually paired with a fitted cotton diaper and allow heat and water vapor to pass through but keep wetness locked inside. These covers can have specific sizes or can be made with different snap settings that allow the diaper cover to grow with your child.

Wool also makes an excellent cover because of its natural ability to absorb moisture while still allowing for good circulation of air, keeping your little one’s bottom cool. You might be thinking, “Wool!?” But I assure you, wool makes an excellent choice for a diaper cover (here’s why).

Probably the most important feature of a cloth diaper is the absorbency. I can only imagine what it must have been like to try to contain a baby’s “deposits” with leaves! When women began using fabric scraps they must have felt like queens! But even more absorbent and user friendly than fabric scraps are the soft, fitted cloth diapers we have today.

In addition to increased absorbency, modern diapers make use of elastic in the leg area to help contain messes. Gone are the days of leaky, messy babies. I have found that I have almost no blow-outs (you know what kind I am talking about) with cloth. In fact, on rare occasions when I have used a disposable, I still put a PUL cover on over the disposable because they are so much more effective at containing messes.

As long as there are babies, there will be a need for diapers and these new features make cloth diapering easy. However, this is not to say that many back-to-basic mothers have not made great use of the classic flat or pre-fold as part or all of their diapering stash. There are so many options that it is easy to find a system that works best for you and your baby.

Cloth Diapering Systems

Basic Cotton Diapers and Cover System

The basic cotton diaper/cover system is still widely used. Flats and prefolds (essentially flats that are “pre-folded” for you) are easy to wash and are very inexpensive. Paired with a collection of one-size covers, flats and prefolds make it possible to cloth diaper for around $100.

They are not as good at containing messes and there is a learning curve with the different folding techniques, but they do dry quickly which is a huge plus in energy savings. These basic cotton diapers require a PUL or wool cover like the ones mentioned above. If you are looking for an affordable, healthy way to diaper your baby, this is a good option.

Fitted Diaper Covers

Another diaper/cover style is the fitted. It works like the flat in that it needs a cover, but the diaper itself is fitted to the baby with a contoured shape and elastic legs. This can also be an economical system that is a bit easier to use than the flat diaper because there is no folding involved. Fitted diapers also do a better job than flats at keeping the poo in.

Pocket Style Covers

The pocket style is my personal favorite. They consist of an outer, waterproof shell with a stay-dry inner fabric that is sewn together to form a pocket. The pocket is then “stuffed” with an absorbent liner, usually microfiber or cotton. The legs are elastic and they have a built-in closure system so there is no pinning required. Diapers like BumGenius and FuzziBuns are shaped just like a disposable diaper. They have a snap or hook and loop closure and are extremely easy to use. Pocket diapers are often one size, meaning they grow with your baby. What this means is that one set of diapers is all you will need for your little one. They are slightly time consuming because they must be stuffed after they are washed.

The hybrid system, as the name suggests, is a mix of two different styles. The constant component is the cover. From there you have an option to use either a fabric liner, similar to what is put into the pocket in a pocket diaper, or a disposable liner (usually biodegradable and often organic) that is thrown away when it is soiled. Flip by BumGenuis and gDiapers are examples of hybrid systems. If you use the cloth liners these can be very affordable but the disposable liners can be pricey.

All In One Style

All-in-one (AIO) diapers are by far the simplest to use. They are similar to a pocket but the absorbent liner is permanently attached and does not need to be stuffed. AIO diapers are great for dads and daycare because they are most similar to a disposable. They can be pricey because each size will have to be purchased separately. Another drawback is that they do take longer to dry because all the layers of absorbency are sewn in.

Cloth Diaper Accessories You Might Need

You really don’t need many accessories when you use cloth diapers. Some things you will need include:

A pail for storing the diapers
a wet bag for when you are out and about
pins or a Snappi if you use flats or prefolds
a stack of wipes (you can also use baby washcloths)
scent-free laundry detergent
I use an old peri bottle filled with water to dampen the wipes before I use them. You can also make your own wipes solution. Some other items that are not necessary but make things easier are a diaper sprayer, biodegradable liners for easy poo removal, spray bottom cleaners, and a wipes warmer.

With cloth diapers, babies rarely get diaper rash. If your baby were to get a rash, it is important to choose a diaper cream without any fish oil in it. I experimented once with diaper cream to see why this was not advised and it turns out the fish oil smell NEVER goes away! Take my word for it. Straight coconut oil works wonders on little bottoms and is safe for cloth diapers. (You can also try a homemade recipe like this one and omit the fish oils).

Storing and Washing Cloth Diapers

There are differing opinions on how to store soiled cloth diapers that are waiting to be washed. Some store in a wet pail, meaning the diapers are placed in a pail of water so they can soak until wash day. I have never done this. It was not practical for me because I have a front-loading washer and I couldn’t figure out how to load the diapers in without flooding nasty water all over the floor. I also felt uncomfortable with the dangers of having a pail of dirty diaper water in my home with little ones running around. So I opted for the dry pail method which is essentially a medium sized trash can lined with an old pillow case.

I usually place a lid on my pail to keep mischievous toddlers out, but in the past I have left the lid off which I discovered allows the diapers to dry a bit and they become less stinky. You can also line your pail with a large waterproof pail liner or even use it alone if you prefer.

Wet diapers can go straight into the pail as can all diapers from exclusively breastfed babies. Soiled diapers from formula fed babies and those children who have started solids will need to be scraped off into the toilet before they are tossed in the pail.

Before you get grossed out and stop reading, did you know that disposable diaper packages also ask you to shake solids off into the toilet? I was surprised to find this out, but now I use this bit of information as a response to people who tell me cloth diapers are yucky (like my husband!). Diaper sprayers are very helpful with removing solids and you can usually just turn the diaper inside out and give it a few shakes.

It is advisable to wash every 2-3 days to prevent the diapers from getting overly smelly. There are probably as many unique wash routines as there are women cloth diapering their little ones. There are so many factors that come into play when determining what works best for you and your diapers, including water composition, types of diapers, the age of your child, what your child is eating, what kind of washer you have, laundry detergent, and on and on. All of these play a roll and it may take a bit of trial and error to get it right.

While my babies are exclusively breastfed my wash routine is very simple. I pre-rinse on cold to help prevent staining and wash on a hot, delicate cycle (the delicate cycle uses more water in my machine) with a quarter of the recommended amount of a free and clear detergent. Country Savehas been my favorite although I have used others that I can get locally.

Finally, to prevent detergent residue, I run another complete wash cycle with no added soap to give the diapers a thorough rinse. As I introduce solid foods, the diapers tend to take on a certain stink about them and so I will sometimes use more detergent or run an extra rinse cycle. Over the years I have tried additives to the wash cycle but I find that using enough detergent to get them clean but then rinsing enough to prevent residue is what works best for me. I hang my covers on a rack and dry everything else on medium heat.

It is also wise to thoroughly read the washing advice given by the manufacturer of the diapers you purchase as some may not recommend drying certain diapers or covers. They may also have tips for washing their diapers that will help reduce any build-up or unnecessary wear and tear.

How Many Diapers to Buy?

With a diaper/cover system or a hybrid system, I would recommend 24-36 diapers with 6 covers for the infant stage and 18-24 diapers with 4 covers for a toddler. With a pocket system or AIO, 24-36 is good. Remember, the more diapers you have in your rotation, the less washing and wearing each one receives, therefore the longer they will last. I have at least 48 diapers in my stash and I have been able to use my diapers for more than one child.

So, for example, if you plan to wash every 3 days and your infant will need to be changed every 3 hours, you will need at least 24 diapers. Be sure to buy a few more than you figure because you don’t want to be stuck without a diaper while the others are washing. Basically, determine how many diapers your child wears in a 24 hour period and multiply it by however many days you will go between washing. And keep in mind that cloth diapers need to be changed slightly more frequently than disposable diapers.

If you are considering cloth diapers but are hesitant to take the plunge, there are great online communities like Diaper Pin where veteran moms are available and more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Can’t Handle Cloth Diapering Right Now?

As I said, while cloth diapers can be an excellent way to save money and avoid exposing baby’s delicate skin to chlorine and other harsh chemicals, they aren’t the best choice for all moms. Even for our family, I’ve used disposables at times, especially when we are traveling or if there are other factors that make it difficult to use cloth.

Thankfully, just as cloth diaper options have come a long way in recent years, so have disposable. There are now options for chlorine and plastic free biodegradable diapers and they aren’t much more expensive than name brand disposable diapers. These are my favorite disposable option, but there are several other great choices available as well.

How to Make Your Own Cloth Baby Bibs

I don’t know about you, but I find that most baby bibs available in the store are of poor quality. Unless you are willing to fork over an arm and a leg for a piece of fabric your baby is going to drool and slobber on, you will often have to settle for what is offered.

DIY Baby Bibs

I was gifted some high quality bibs when my first was born and they were well loved. When I tried to replace them with new bibs of the same brand they were not the same! The quality was just not there anymore and the backing fabric shriveled in the dryer the first time I washed them.

So out of frustration, I set out to make my own. This gave me complete control over the fabric quality, pattern, and shape of the bib, and because bibs don’t require a lot of fabric, my cost was about the same as the cheap store ones even though I used higher quality fabric.

I sat down this week to make some bibs for a friend’s baby and I thought I would share with you a quick tutorial on how to make some of your own.

Choose Your Fabric

Small projects like bibs are fun because not only are they quick to complete, but you can make them for practically nothing. I used 2 pieces of fabric about 14″ by 16″. This would be very inexpensive to buy and free if you already have a stash of fabric or remnants leftover from another project.

For this set of bibs I used an adorable organic cotton print for the front. There is a growing variety of organic cotton that have adorable prints using low-impact, organic dyes.

For the backing, I used PUL (polyurethane laminate). PUL is the same material used to make cloth diaper covers. This will give a little more protection for the baby’s clothing but is not necessary.

In the past, I have used terry cloth fabric for the backing. It doesn’t offer quite the same protection as the PUL but is still an excellent choice, especially if you want an all cotton option. An old towel works wonderfully for this.

You can also use a simple cotton muslin for the back layer. It is inexpensive and readily available. There are also organic versions offered.

Make A Pattern

There are a plethora of free baby bib patterns available around the web, but I used one of those gifted bibs as a pattern. (As tattered as they are I haven’t been able to part with them.)

If you are using a bib you already have, you will need to add a 1/2″ all the way around the bib when you make your pattern in order to allow for the seam allowance.

Lay the bib down on a piece of newspaper or butcher paper. Make sure the velcro or snap is undone so that the bib lays flat. Trace around the entire bib 1/2″ from the edge of the bib. I used a small sewing gauge ruler and worked my way around. Cut along the line you made. This piece will now be used as your pattern.

If you don’t have access to a bib to use for a pattern, feel free to use a free printable one. Or if you are super crafty, you can draw your own.

Choose Your Closure

I use a snap press to put a snap closure on my bibs. Hook and loop is also good for fastening bibs. This will just be a matter of choice and what you have access to.

Preparing to Sew: Instructions

Pre-wash fabrics.
Lay your pattern down face-up on the right side of a single thickness of your front fabric. If your fabric has a pattern, make sure it is going the right way in relation to the top of your pattern.
Pin the pattern to your fabric and cut around the pattern.
Flip the pattern over and pin it, wrong side up, to a single thickness of the right side of your backing fabric. Cut around the pattern.
Pin the 2 bib pieces right sides together.
Sewing Instructions

The pattern has a 1/2″ seam allowance, but I only sew the full 1/2″ allowance along the inside curve of the neck so that the neck opening is roomy around the baby’s neck. I sew a 1/4″ allowance around the top and outside of the bib.
You need to leave an opening about 3″ wide along the bottom edge. Begin sewing at one of the bottom corners, sew all the way around the bib, stopping 3″ before you get to your starting point.
Clip seams along the inside curve of the neck and cut notches anywhere else your bib curves outward. This will allow the seam allowance to lie flat when you flip it right side out.
Turn the bib right side out by turning it through the 3″ opening.
Press the bib focusing on the edges so that the seams lay flat.
Make sure to press the 3″ opening under so that it is even with the seams on either side.
Top-stitch 1/8″ from the edge all the way around.
If you are using a snap press, add the snaps at the end of the wings that meet at the back of the neck.
If you are using hook and loop, you will have to choose a width that is the right size for your bib pattern. Cut a piece about 1″ long and sew each side to the ends of the wings that meet at the back of the neck.
Making your cloth baby bibs is fun project, a great way to reuse old material, and should save a few dollars on store bought ones as well!