Wet wipes are widely considered to be essential for any new parent to carry everywhere but most are non-biodegradable, contain plastic fibers, come in plastic packaging, and can contain various things that can upset a sensitive skin. Marketed as quick, easy and convenient, wet wipes are a multi million dollar industry that is anything but convenient for our environment. Did you know that you can make your own? Quick and super easy to do, here is all you need to know have a go at making your own. They are inexpensive and you can be certain of what you are putting in. This latter point is essential if you or your children are like me and suffer from contact allergies and atopic eczema.
Most wet wipes are unable to be flushed down a toilet, and must be disposed of in the rubbish. I’ve seen them blowing around at the dump, and I have seen them spilling out of rubbish bins in public toilets. Many people flush them anyway, and then they contribute to the formation of “fatbergs” which block drains and cause headaches for local authorities. While technically “disposable”, in reality discarded wet wipes don’t just magically disappear when they are disposed of. They persist in sewers, drains and rubbish dumps for far far longer than any of us really want to think about. Wet wipes are an increasingly serious environmental concern, both here in New Zealand and around the world. Watercare in Auckland is now spending $1 million a year on removing fatbergs and blockages from the network. In an article in 2015, The Guardian labelled them the biggest villain of the year. They are ending up in rivers and waterways and they are making their way into the ocean where they contribute to the growing plastic catastrophe affecting ocean wildlife. A walk on a beach is increasingly a first hand opportunity to see the effects of our plastic addiction. For most people, wet wipes are an invisible contributor because once disposed of they are out of sight, out of mind.
A few years ago, as a Mum with two small children, I made my own baby wipes. At the time finances were tight. With my daughter I used organic wet wipes for traveling (when I could occasionally afford to get them) or baby sized re-usable cotton washcloths around the home. When I had my son 2.5 years later, I was given a recipe to make your own wet wipes. Initially dubious, I gave it a go and was instantly converted. I used them everywhere and took them everywhere by packing a smaller quantity into a smaller container for the nappy bag. I never had any problem with them, and it must have saved me a LOT of money over the years I used them. A huge bonus for me was that I could choose what I added to them. Some brands of wet wipes cause me huge problems with my skin condition. Making my own completely eliminated this problem.
A few generations ago, wet wipes didn’t exist. My Grandma didn’t use them for her children or struggle to keep them clean without them. She managed fine, just like everyone bringing up kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I find a lot of inspiration from thinking about how my grandparents managed without plastic. So many plastic things are sold to us as essential and necessary, but if they weren’t necessary and indispensable 70 years ago, are they really needed today?
Wet wipes come in plastic packaging which is currently not really possible to recycle, they are made from non-biodegradable materials, they are bad for our environment. The good news is that despite what the wet wipe companies would like us to think, we can do without them. You can actually make your own.
Here’s how to make DIY wet wipes.
First, you will need to get a roll of paper towels. They will need to be the super heavy duty variety, or they won’t work as well.
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Second, using your chopping board and a sharp knife, cut your roll of paper towels in half. It doesn’t have to be exact, just use your eye-o-meter.
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Third, in a jug mix 350mls of warm water, a couple of squirts of your body wash or baby wash, and a few drops of oil (I use sweet almond oil). If you want to you can also add a few drops of New Zealand Manuka oil. Manuka oil would be a great option given it’s clinically proven antimicrobial and antiviral properties – a good idea for anything to do with personal hygiene
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Forth, you will need a container with a leak proof lid that is big enough to fit your half roll of paper towels. Put your half roll into the container. Yes I have used a plastic container, but I already had it in my cupboard and it is reusable over a long period of time.
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Fifth, pour the water into the middle of the paper towel roll. Put the lid on and leave for a couple of minutes. Then tip it upside down and leave for another couple of minutes.
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Sixth, open the container and remove the paper towel roll, find the end and away you go. Home made wet wipes ready to use.
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If you find that the paper towels are a little bit dry (it depends on what brand you use how much they absorb) just add small amounts of warm water until they are the desired dampness.
Cheap, easy, and effective, and fully biodegradable, they are perfect to replace the expensive shop bought ones. They work for tiny bottoms, and they are perfect for camping, where handwashing and face washing are a little walk from the campsite. The only caveat is that in warmer weather they can develop mold if not used fairly quickly. Please note that in spite of being fully biodegradable they are a thicker grade of paper and still shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet because they can cause problems. Depending on what they are used for you can just compost them – for example if you are just wiping sticky fingers and messy mouths.
Another tip to replace shop bought wet wipes is to simply get a decent supply of small washcloths or facecloths and use those instead. This latter idea is particularly effective at home. I have a large box of baby sized soft cotton washcloths left over from when the kids were babies. I boil them with a small amount of ecostore soaker every now and again to freshen them up. I don’t know why people have forgotten about good old fashioned fabric cloths. They are such a wonderful solution to every kind of sticky kiddie mess and they are fully reusable. Simply run under the tap, squeeze out and clean up the messy hands, then drop in the washing machine.
Reusable washcloths and homemade wet wipes are another simple way to make a difference. One more step towards leaving a feather light impact on the environment for future generations. Why not give it a go and see how easy it is for yourself?