14 Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply — and 4 to Skip

14 Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply


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14 Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply

Thinking Outside the Box

Shopping can be a frustrating experience right now. Household staples like toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, laundry detergent, and disinfectants can be hard to find, snapped up by customers worried about the coronavirus pandemic. For the rest of us, that means a little creative thinking may be in order. But there are plenty of products that may already be in our homes or still on store shelves that can help us meet our basic needs. Here are several ideas to try — plus a few where it's probably best to steer clear.

Related: 20 Cleaning Products That Are a Complete Waste of Money


Toilet Paper Alternative: A Bidet

Europeans have been trying to sell us on bidets for years, but it's possible to be fresh and clean without using toilet paper at all. And shortage or no shortage, there's no denying that rinsing instead of wiping is better for the environment. Best of all, you don't need a fancy new toilet or a standalone bidet; bidet attachments are easy to add to your existing toilet. Can't find those, either? Make a handheld bidet bottle using a soda bottle.

Related: 11 Highly Rated Bidets to Help Stretch Your Toilet Paper

Baby Wipes
Михаил Руденко/istockphoto

Toilet Paper Alternative: Baby Wipes

If you're fresh out of toilet paper but have wipes on hand, they can actually clean your nether regions better than TP, experts say — but with a big caveat. Wipes should never be flushed down the toilet, even if they're marked "flushable," because they can easily clog sewer systems. Another caution: If you have a choice, go for unscented or sensitive-skin wipes with fewer potential irritants.

Kadek Bonit Permadi/istockphoto

Toilet Paper Alternative: Tissues or Napkins

Yep, the other paper products lying around your house can definitely be repurposed. Facial tissue will be softer on the skin but not as sturdy, plus these may be out of stock in many places. Napkins, of course, might not feel as good, but they won't tear as easily. Either way, the same warning applies here: Toss these or any other paper substitute in the trash instead of flushing them, as they won't disintegrate as easily as toilet paper.

Reusable Toilet Paper
Suphansa Subruayying/istockphoto

Think Twice: Reusable Toilet Paper

The mental leap to reusable cloth toilet paper may not seem as far as it used to. You may have seen it on Pinterest or another website: long strips that roll up just like the real thing, sometimes with snaps, that can be tossed in the laundry after use. However, before you get out your sewing machine, experts say you should think twice about wiping with cloth. Unless you're using a very strict laundry protocol, pathogens like E. coli can survive a full cycle in the washer.

Old T-Shirts

Paper Towel Alternative: Old T-Shirts

Toilet paper isn't the only paper product that's been swept off the shelves. But if you need something absorbent for those everyday kitchen spills, why not repurpose some ratty old T-shirts? A little bit of sewing will turn them into washable rectangular wipes not unlike a typical dish cloth. Not feeling crafty? You can also buy reusable absorbent bamboo towels online.

Microfiber Cloths

Paper Towel Alternative: Microfiber Cloths

You may already have some microfiber cloths lying around for cleaning or drying the car to a scratch-free shine. Microfiber is more absorbent than cotton, which makes it especially ideal for bigger cleaning jobs; plus, it's more effective at removing bacteria and viruses from surfaces than other cloth towels. If you don't already have some lying around, buy microfiber cloths online from most big-box or auto supply stores.

Related: 25 Germ Magnets That Need Spring Cleaning Now


Paper Towel Alternative: Newspapers

If you still subscribe to a print newspaper, it's good for more than lining a bird cage. Plenty of people still swear by newspaper as a great way to clean windows and mirrors, because the paper is just abrasive enough to deep clean without scratching. Of course, newspaper can also absorb spills plenty well, though you may find the ink bleeds if you leave it on a wet surface for too long.

Body Wash

Hand Soap Alternative: Body Wash

Can't find hand soap at the store? Keep this in mind: Soap is soap, no matter what form it comes in. Even experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don't specify what kind of soap to use while washing hands, focusing instead on when and how to wash (yes, you really should do it for 20 seconds every single time). Dermatologists say using body wash can even be beneficial because it doesn't dry out the skin as much.

Dish Soap

Hand Soap Alternative: Dish Soap

Got a big bottle of Palmolive or Dawn? There's no need to save it solely for pots and pans. Experts even say that dish soap can be preferable to hand soap because it contains fewer chemicals and fragrances that can irritate the skin. Again, the trick for an effective cleaning is when and how you wash your hands (often and thoroughly), and not necessarily the soap itself.


Hand Soap Alternative: Shampoo

Shampoo is still widely available, and there's no reason it can't act as hand soap in a pinch, especially given the number of 2-in-1 shampoo and body wash formulations out there. However, note that shampoo is typically formulated to be more gentle than body wash and hand soap so that it doesn't strip hair of needed oils. That might be a welcome relief for dry hands, but dirt and grime could need a bit more scrubbing.

Tame Litter Box Odors with Baking Soda

Laundry Detergent Alternative: Baking Soda

You may finally have the time to catch up on all those loads of laundry, but do you have the detergent? An alternative to the real thing is probably already in your pantry: baking soda. One cup sprinkled into the drum, not the soap dispenser, should do the trick for your typical load of laundry. Best of all, it's suitable even for family members who may have very sensitive skin and rely on additive-free detergents. If you also have borax and bar soap, you can combine them with baking soda to make your very own DIY detergent on the cheap.

Related: Are You Making These Laundry Mistakes?

Soap Nuts

Laundry Detergent Alternative: Soap Nuts

This natural alternative to powder and liquid detergents is still readily available online. Soap nuts are shells from plants with soap-like properties, and they lather up just like detergent when added to water. While some users say they're not ideal for heavily soiled loads, they're worth a shot, especially if the alternative is smelly clothes.

Laundry Balls

Think Twice: Laundry Balls

Plenty of manufacturers churn out plastic balls filled with ceramic beads or some other sorcery that claim to clean your clothing as well as detergent. Tempting, but user reviews are mixed at best, and expert tests tend to reach the same result: You may as well just use water.

Dish Soap for Laundry
Ralf Geithe/istockphoto

Think Twice: Dish Soap

Here's one thing you definitely don't want to do if you're out of laundry detergent: Filling your washing machine's dispenser with dish soap instead. Dish soap isn't formulated to prevent excess foaming — hence all those delightful bubbles when you do a sink full of dishes — so unless you're very judicious, you may end up with a laundry room full of suds. The same goes for similar products like body wash and shampoo. However, these soaps are fair game if you want to hand-wash some clothing in the sink.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Disinfectant Alternative: Hydrogen Peroxide

Can't find any more bottles of multi-surface disinfectants? Here's a CDC-approved disinfectant that may be sitting unused beneath your sink or above your washer and dryer. Household solutions of hydrogen peroxide (typically 3%) can go straight into a spray bottle for use on hard surfaces. Let it sit for at least a minute, Consumer Reports recommends.

Throwing Bleach

Disinfectant Alternative: Diluted Bleach Solution

There's a reason bleach was your grandma's favorite way to kill germs: It works. To disinfect hard, nonporous surfaces, the CDC recommends preparing a bleach solution by mixing 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water, or 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water. Of course, you should always use great care with bleach, following all manufacturer guidelines during use. Wear gloves, ventilate your room, and most importantly, never mix bleach with ammonia or any other household cleaners.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Disinfectant Alternative: Isopropyl Alcohol

If you don't want to mess with bleach and don't have hydrogen peroxide, you can also disinfect surfaces with that big unused bottle of isopropyl alcohol. The solution must be at least 70% alcohol for this to be effective, so check the bottle. Safe for most surfaces, it should sit on a surface for at least 30 seconds to disinfect, experts tell Consumer Reports.