Saving Pennies or Dollars? Cleaning Wipes

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Calista writes in: Does making your own baby wipes (paper towels, water, baby soap & baby oil) save pennies or dollars? We used the recipe at a group home where I worked, and by the time you purchase quality paper towels, which are necessary, it didn’t seem like we were saving much money.

Making homemade wipes can certainly save you some money. The problem is, as Calista noted, you have to base them on high quality paper towels or you end up with a mess. Of course, I consider many of the low-end wipes to be “not worth it,” either, and I prefer to use rags.

What’s the best approach, then? Buying wipes? Making your own wipes? Using rags? Let’s run some numbers.

First of all, I did an extensive calculation a while back and discovered that the cost of using rags is about two cents per use. This includes the cost of obtaining them and cleaning them. It’s going to basically be impossible for wipes to approach this cost, but rags come with a cost themselves: they require the most work. You eventually have to launder them.

So, what about normal baby wipes? If you’re willing to buy them in bulk, they can be found in large quantities for as low as about two and a half cents per wipe at a warehouse store.

So, what’s cheaper? After you use about a hundred rags or so, you’ll have to invest the time to do a load of them in the laundry. However, using those hundred rags (along with a spray bottle of water) will save you about fifty cents. If you’re also using a spray bottle with a few teaspoons of vinegar and a few drops of dishwashing soap, you might eat up another nickel of that savings. Would you do a washer load of rags for forty five cents? I can’t make that call for you, but I will say that I prefer rags from a usability and an environment standpoint.

Now, let’s add in making your own wipes. You can make this by mixing ten parts water with one part baby shampoo. Mix this gently. I usually suggest putting several squirts into a large bottle, then stirring it gently and keeping it in the fridge.

Then, take a roll of paper towels and cut that baby in half the long way. What you want to end up with is two U-shaped half-rolls of paper towels. Then, cut these U-shaped rolls into two equally sized rolls. At this point, you’ll have four U-shaped piles of paper towels. You’ll also need a container that these wipes will sit in easily, preferably one with a lid so they don’t dry out.

Put one of those half-rolls into the wipe container, then slowly pour the wipe solution on top. Keep pouring until the paper towels are no longer sucking up the liquid. Close up the container, then put the remaining solution in the refrigerator.

A single roll of paper towel gives about 240 of these wipes, based on my own practice. You need good paper towels for this to work. At our local warehouse club, you can purchase twelve rolls of Bounty for $19.45, giving you a cost per wipe using this method of roughly two-thirds of a cent per wipe.

This is clearly the cheapest method. However, it has a few problems. For one, you need a container that stays closed or else the wipes will dry out. Even with a closed container, you’ll probably have to re-soak the wipes every once in a while. Also, between the cutting (which has to be done pretty regularly) and the extra soaking, this is clearly the most time-consuming of the three methods.

We’ve used all three of these at various times. The pre-packaged wipes were the most convenient, but they cost the most. The do-it-yourself wipes were the least expensive, but the least convenient. The rags were the most environmentally friendly while being in the middle for convenience and cost.

Whichever way you go, unless you’re running a center with lots of people with wipe needs, you’re going to be talking about pennies, not dollars.

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12 thoughts on “Saving Pennies or Dollars? Cleaning Wipes

  1. valleycat1 says:

    Do you really keep 100 rags on hand & save up the dirty ones to wash all at once? What about buying a dozen inexpensive washcloths at the dollar store and then just add the used ones to any load of diapers or underwear (assuming you rinse out the really dirty rags as you go)?

    Back in the day, I just used the pre-moistened wipes when traveling or out of the house for a day, not every time a diaper was changed.

    And, “take a roll of paper towels and cut that baby in half the long way” isn’t the best phrasing in an article about baby wipes. :)

  2. AndreaS says:

    My daughter just made up some wipes by cutting flannel into squares using pinking shears. I think she cut up surplus receiving blankets, and/or some other free source of flannel. By using pinking shears, the cloths frayed only slightly with the first wash. She keeps a squirt bottle of water on her changing table, and wets the wipe just prior to using it. My daughter uses cloth diapers, so it is nothing to wash a few extra wipes at the same time.
    My daughter used to make her own wipes from paper towels. My husband used his band saw to cut the rolls in half for her. But she abandoned that in favor of these homemade cloth wipes, which are way less hassle that homemade paper or store-bought wipes.
    A big factor in reusable anythings, is that you never again have to worry that you will run out of those items. She never runs out out of diapers or wipes, so no special emergency trips to the store.

  3. rebecca says:

    We have several dozen old baby washcloths that were terrible washcloths but work great as wipes. When we still had a changing table, I either kept a spray bottle of water handy, or just pre-wet the wipes and kept them in a closed container. Now that everyone is using the potty, we keep them folded on the toilet back, with a small covered trashcan nearby labeled only for cloth wipes. The sink is right next to the toilet and it is easy to moisten a wipe if preferred. My little ones all prefer the cloth to TP, as do I during certain times. No soap or chemicals needed, and once a week I do a small load of wipes in the wash. And cheap. And Earth friendly.

  4. I use cloth diapers and so cloth wipes seemed natural. They were given to me, and so I obtained them for free and washing them with my cloth diapers is handy.

    They are infinitely cheaper than store bought wipes!

  5. Sara says:

    Yep, when I had a baby, I just used some cut up pieces of an old flannel sheet that I had stiched around the edges. I would head to the bathroom and moisten a couple of them with warm water and do the job. Then they just got washed with the diapers. That would definitely save some dollars. Baby wipes are expensive! And I was happy to avoid whatever it is they are made out of (couldn’t stand the smell of them!)

  6. Baley says:

    I don’t think the cost of laundering the wipes should be taken into consideration, considering, as others have said, that they just get washed with the cloth diapers. I am a little curious about saving up 100 dirty wipes till wash day. Ewwww. And what’s with the vinegar and dish soap solution? What is that for? I wouldn’t use it on my baby’s bum! We used free to us cheap baby washcloths (we had an excess from gifts) and a spray bottle with a solution of water, baby oil, baby soap, and lavender essential oil. Works pretty well and is significantly cheaper than disposable wipes.

  7. Jane says:

    Count me in with those who used to throw the cloth wipes in with the diapers. It was great. But now that we have two in diapers, we just didn’t have enough cloth wipes, so we’ve been using disposable. One thing I found is that I would accidentally throw the disposable wipes in with the cloth diapers, and some brands stay intact through the wash (NOT Pampers – those are a mess). Then I would dry them and use them for cat throw up or quick wipe ups of things.

    I also use baby wipes for cleaning the house. They are much cheaper than disposable wipes with cleaning solution on them. You just spray a little vinegar or other cleaning solution and use a baby wipe. Of course this is not cheaper than using rags, but still cheaper than cleaning wipes.

  8. Nate says:

    We use cloth wipes when we’re at home and wash them with the cloth diapers and generally disposable when we’re out and about. We made our cloth wipes out of the dozen of extra receiving blankets we’ve received from friends and family as gifts and then sewed the edges so they didn’t fray. I’ve noticed that I tend to use way fewer cloth wipes than disposables. A normal #2 in a diaper would use 1-2 cloth wipes or 2-3 disposable. A messy one will use at most 3 cloth, but sometimes several disposable. Not only are they cheaper, but we use fewer, saving even more money.

  9. elyn says:

    We started using cloth wipes with our first child because even the unscented, natural wipes gave her diaper rash. Our doctor said that cloth and water and air drying were the best solution. We use cut-up squares of fleece, old kitchen towels, baby wash cloths, etc, so we never went out to buy any. Now with our second baby, we’ve gotten even more fancy: we keep warm water in a closed thermos next to the changing table, and dip clean “wipes” in it when cleaning him. (We don’t double-dip, of course!)
    I agree with others- it is easy to toss these wipes in with the cloth diapers, rather than having a giant stinky laundry load build up. If we weren’t doing cloth diapers, we’d probably just soak them in a bucket with citra-solv water between normal loads, then wash with regular laundry.

  10. Steve says:

    We put our cloth baby wipes with our diapers, obviously (we bought and hemmed flannel, which took a lot of effort, but the “cut old flannel sheets with pinking shears” idea sounds way better).

    Rag-wise we use cut up t-shirts. We throw them in the laundry whenever we wash towels. I can’t imagine trying to save up 100 rags to do a load of just rags. (Which would require acquiring 100 rags, space to store 100 rags both when they’re clean and dirty, and a nose insensitive enough to ignore the storage of up to 99 dirty rags for weeks at a time. No thanks!)

  11. Carrie says:

    Trent, on this one I felt like you were trying to answer two different ideas, but were intermingling the answers.

    If Calista’s question had to do with using wipes for the purpose of wiping a person, then that is one set of answers, that likely doesn’t involve vinegar or accumulating dirty rags until the end of the week. And, in a group home situation, it certainly makes sense that the need to sanitize any fabric wipes used (since there are likely health department rules at play) will impact how often and in which way one washes.

    If, however, the wipe needs are for non-human-contact cleaning purposes, then the rags and chemicals one would use are different and result in potentially different costs.

    Ultimately when you got to the end, though, I think the basic answer covered it. If you want/need disposable wipes, homemade are cheaper than store bought, but not by leaps and bounds. If reusable wipes are an option, that is likely the cheapest route.

  12. KathyF says:

    I use and recycle the Kirkland brand Premium babywipes I bought at Costco. They are actually made of a cloth like material that has cotton and can be rewashed over and over again. I use them as facecloths to wash my face every morning and night by wetting them and then applying my cleanser to the cloth. Then I rinse them out and wipe face again.

    They are much lighter than wash cloths, dry out quicker and don’t mildew. When they are dry, I toss them into a small container to collect for washing.

    I put them into a zippered mesh bag for washing and drying. No special wash load, just put them in with my other laundry such as underwear and night clothes.

    I have separate cotton cloth squares that I cut from old pillowcases that I use as “lady wipes” instead of toilet paper. Only for No. 1. They are actually more comfortable than toilet paper for me. I wash and reuse them in same fashion as for the baby wipes face cloths. No. 2 still requires TP for me.

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