Muji Nylon Body Towel

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This woven nylon shower or bath scrubbing cloth, 11″x43″ in size, can be folded up or used long to scrub the back in those hard to reach places. It’s really good for scrubbing (and exfoliating I guess) all over, it foams up easily with a small amount of soap, rinses easily and completely, and dries quickly on its hanging loop. It folds up small and fits in its provided plastic zip case for travel. It can be machine washed (but not dried!) and is very hard-wearing – mine has been used every day for at least three years.

It’s simpler, more hygienic and easier to pack than a brush or loofah. It can’t unravel like those pouffe things. I bought mine out of curiosity, and I’m glad I did. I’ve used this towel for several years.

-- Matt Petty  

Nylon Body Towel
$5

Available from and manufactured by Muji Muji also makes a softer version You can also get a similar non-Muji version in various colors on Amazon



Insinkerator Water Heater

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I’ve never liked electric hot water heaters as a lot of energy is lost in transmission from the generating source, but I’ve made an exception for this little 2-1/2 gallon hot water heater that goes under the sink of our office kitchen. It has a switch that I turn on for maybe an hour, then turn off. The water temperature can be set with the thermostat. The tank is well insulated, so it stays hot for hours. It seems a very efficient use of electricity.

In the house, we’ve had a 5-gallon electric water heater under the kitchen sink for about 15 years. It’s minimal in electric power usage, and doesn’t waste water getting from cold to hot (in pipes coming from a more distant water heater). And yes, I’ve got to get more of our water heated by the sun. It’s on my list of things to do, honest.

-- Lloyd Khan  

Insinkerator Undersink Water Heater
Model W152
$288

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Insinkerator



Toto Eco Drake

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A year ago my municipal water department in Portland, OR, offered a $100 rebate to anyone who replaced a conventional toilet with a WaterSense (EPA designation) qualified toilet. A review of my water bill encouraged me to give it a try. I’d heard that low-flow toilets don’ flush well. As someone — I’ll try to be discrete about this — who was a master of the plunger through frequent use, I didn’t want a toilet that would get clogged as much as my standard model. After some online research and a trip to a local green building supply store, I settled on a Toto Eco Drake, cheaper and more efficient than the previously reviewed Toto UltraMax.

The good news items: Water use is down through reduced flush waste. The SoftClose seat option has made a banging toilet seat a thing of the past. I haven’t used the plunger since I installed the toilet. The bad news item: I should have gotten the round seat, rather than the oval model I purchased. It isn’t as comfortable for extended-reading sessions.

Really, though, the flush mechanism on this toilet is amazing. It performs faster than the previous toilet I had, with less water and 100% reliability. Even if it used the same amount per handle press as my old toilet I’d be ahead; no more repeated flushes to finish a job. Yet it uses 1.28 Gal/flush and works the first time, every time. There are more expensive low-flow models available, but I’m quite pleased with the Eco Drake. The water savings are real and don’t have to come at the expense of flush performance.

-- Michael Rasmussen  

[Note: Those interested in learning about toilet performance should check out MaP Testing, a site dedicated to evaluating toilet flushing.--OH]

Toto Eco Drake Toilet 1.28 GPF
$225+

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Toto



The Humanure Handbook

This is the definitive source on composting crappers, from why to how, and yes, the scatological humor abounds. Yet this is a serious issue. Biosolids are recycled and used in the U.S. and around the world by governments and municipalities, and not always in the most responsible ways. Jenkins gives you the knowledge to do it yourself, and do it responsibly. The entire contents of this comprehensive guide are available as a free PDF download, and the Jenkins Publishing site offers up instructional videos, too. Very helpful when I constructed my own bucket toilet.

-- Erik Knutzen  

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure
Joseph C. Jenkins
2005, 256 pages
$19

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

“We don’t want to eat shit!” they informed me, rather distressed (that’s an exact quote), as if in preparing dinner I had simply set a steaming turd on a plate in front of them with a
knife, fork and napkin. Fecophobia is alive and well and running rampant. One common misconception is that fecal material, when composted, remains fecal material. It does not. Humanure comes from the earth, and through the miraculous process of composting, is converted back into earth.

*

That’s also why humanure and urine alone will not compost. They contain too much nitrogen and not enough carbon, and microorganisms, like humans, gag at the thought of eating it. Since there’s nothing worse than the thought of several billion gagging microorganisms, a carbon-based material must be added to the humanure in order to make it into an appealing dinner. Plant cellulose is a carbon-based material, and therefore plant by-products such as hay, straw, weeds or even paper products if ground to the proper consistency, will provide the needed carbon. Kitchen food scraps are generally C/N balanced, and they can be readily added to humanure compost. Sawdust (preferably not kiln-dried) is a good carbon material for balancing the nitrogen of humanure.

*

A wide array of microorganisms live in a compost pile. Bacteria are especially abundant and are usually divided into several classes based upon the temperatures at which they best thrive. The low temperature bacteria are thepsychrophiles, which can grow at temperatures down to -10°C, but whose optimum temperature is 15°C (59°F) or lower. The mesophileslive at medium temperatures, 20-45°C (68-113°F), and include human pathogens. Thermophiles thrive above 45°C (113°F), and some live at, or even above, the boiling point of water.

*

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*

If a backyard composter has any doubt or concern about the existence of pathogenic organisms in his or her humanure compost, s/he can use the compost for horticultural purposes rather than for food purposes. Humanure compost can grow an amazing batch of berries, flowers, bushes, or trees. Furthermore, lingering pathogens continue to die after the compost has been applied to the soil, which is not surprising since human pathogens prefer the warm and moist environment of the human body. As the World Bank researchers put it, “even pathogens remaining in compost seem to disappear rapidly in the soil.” [Night Soil Composting, 1981] Finally, compost can be tested for pathogens by compost testing labs.

*

Allow me to make a radical suggestion: humanure is not dangerous. More specifically, it is not any more dangerous than the body from which it is excreted. The danger lies in what we do with humanure, not in the material itself. To use an analogy, a glass jar is not dangerous either. However, if we smash it on the kitchen floor and walk on it with bare feet, we will be harmed. If we use a glass jar improperly and dangerously, we will suffer for it, but that’s no reason to condemn glass jars. When we discard humanure as a waste material and pollute our soil and water supplies with it, we are using it improperly, and that is where the danger lies. When we constructively recycle humanure by composting, it enriches our soil, and, like a glass jar, actually makes life easier for us.




Snappi Diaper Fasteners

We buy cloth diapers for our baby, as a greener, cheaper and healthier alternative to disposables. Several companies make cloth diapers with snaps or Velcro fasteners, but those can hit $20 apiece or more.

Flat diapers are much cheaper, and can be folded to fit any size baby, but there’s no built-in fastener. The traditional approach used to be safety pins, but it’s a daunting task to pin a diaper without stabbing the baby or yourself with the sharp point.

The Snappi diaper fastener is a rubber elongated “T” with plastic teeth at each of the three ends. The teeth hold the diaper securely, but are too short to go through the diaper and into the baby. Putting the Snappi on is about as easy as using Velcro, and taking it off is even easier. It’s simple to clean and has a lifespan of about six months.

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We tried an off-brand version first, and it nearly sent us back to pins — the teeth wouldn’t hold, and the plastic bits that connect the teeth to the stretchable body of the “T” always separated from the rubber. The Snappi brand fasteners never gave us any trouble.

-- Scott Noyes  

Snappi Diaper Fasteners
$4
Manufactured by Snappi Baby

Available from Amazon



The Litter Robot

Litter Robot is a perfect example of how approaching a design from a completely different perspective can produce a vastly superior tool. This is the cat litter box they’ll use on the Death-Star! Its interior is a barrel which automatically rolls in such a way the catch basin opens, the poo is separated from the litter, it drops into a trash bag, and it all rolls back into place leaving the catch bin completely sealed and odor free and ready for the next use. To clean, just pull out the old bag from a front drawer and drop in a new one. Any plastic garbage bag will do.

Yeah, at $329 it’s expensive, but unlike other automatic litter boxes, once you buy it you don’t have to keep buying litter refills or disposable cartridge pans. You choose your favorite clumping litter and just remember to change the bag once a week and sprinkle in some fresh litter.

Did I mention it is as odor free as you can get? And it looks like a robot, so it’s cool. I recommend buying the lip extender/fence attachment for the door which keeps vigorous cats from kicking litter out the front. There is a neat animation on the website on how it works.

I replaced my ‘Scoop-free’ with this one. (Scoop free was also great product, and I have no complaints about it except refills were terribly expensive, and it was still a conventional ‘box’ design.)

-- Dana Reynolds  

[Yes, it's an expensive robot litterbox with digital cat sensors. It also plugs into the wall. Yet the Litter Robot comes with an "eco" version! This pricy/thrifty robot saves on cat litter, which has to be mined and ends up in landfills. So is a robot toilet for cats a Bright Green intervention -- or a consumerist assault on an endangered planet? Dog owners, please don't answer that. -- Bruce Sterling]

Litter Robot LRII Automatic Self-Cleaning Litter Box, Gray Eco Version
$330

Manufactured by Litter Robot

Available from Amazon

A device this unlikely surely requires a video:



Bemis Easy-Clean Toilet Seat

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This toilet seat’s plastic hinges are equipped with seat anchors that allow the seat to be removed for toilet cleaning. A simple twist of two locking knobs and the seat lifts off; reversing the procedure re-locks the seat. It makes an awkward job very simple. My toilet is so much easier to clean completely. The area around the hinges is much cleaner due to easier access. Still one of the best ideas for the bathroom I’ve ever seen. There are various colors and incarnations on Amazon that cost more than $30. I purchased the cheapest basic style at the local Home Depot for less than $12.

-- Lester Coats  

[Although we're recommending this product, I'm personally not thrilled with the manufacturer's "what women want" slogan. -- SL]

Bemis Easy Clean Toilet Seat
$17 – white (other colors avail.)
Manufactured by Bemis

Available from Amazon



Toto Washlet Toilet

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Compared with my previous visit to Japan 12 years ago, the most noticeable change I find today is in the bathroom. The “Incredible Squirting Toilet” has achieved almost total market penetration, and not just in middle-income homes. It even appears in fast-food restaurants and in public facilities in railroad stations.

As you lower yourself to the thermostatically warmed seat, a concealed motor whirs briefly, providing your first clue that you are about to encounter a piece of highly sophisticated technology. The toilet then remains silent and passive until you reach the point where you would normally apply paper. Instead, you hit the spray button. A hidden tube extends itself beneath you, and with the precision of a heat-seeking missile, it directs a spray of warm water that simultaneously tickles, stimulates, and cleans the place that needs it most. While its aim is meticulous, you can adjust its penetration by gently flexing your sphincter muscle. The experience is so unexpectedly and uniquely pleasurable, I found myself tempted to visit the toilet repeatedly just for recreational purposes.

Paper is needed only to mop up the water when the spray jet has done its work, but such is the effectiveness of the washing action, you will find no visible trace of fecal matter on the sheets of tissue, and can don your underwear in the happy knowledge that you have been cleaned by the same impeccable Japanese engineering that brought the world Honda motorcycles, 170-mile-an-hour trains, and robotic talking dogs.

Higher-end versions of the squirting toilet eliminate the need for paper entirely, by allowing the option of warm-air drying. They also provide adjustment of the water-cleaning jet, including a pulsatile flow which I found especially pleasurable. And for those in Western countries who are sufficiently uninhibited to allow themselves the pleasures of using this rectal equivalent of a water-pic, I have good news: The squirting toilet is available as an imported item and can be retrofitted to older bathroom equipment (you simply swap out the seat). Toto, the primary Japanese manufacturer, offers the most basic model under the name Washlet C100, and if you browse online you can find it for around US$500. This has only the most basic features; you can pay more for more advanced models, including one that welcomes you by raising its lid when it sees you approaching.

A note for female readers: The squirting toilet has a second tube which can be deployed by women who wish to cleanse their labial areas. For anatomical reasons, I was unable to test this personally.

Toto Washlet Toilet
$800
Manufactured by Washlet

Available from Amazon



Industrial Soap Dish

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A few years ago when my wife and I renovated our home, we found inspiration in some unusual places. But perhaps the oddest of all was AW Direct, a mail order catalog that sells parts and equipment for tow trucks. While browsing through the catalog one day, I noticed AW Direct offers a recessed aluminum step designed for use on service vehicle bodies. But when I looked at it, I saw something different: a soap dish!

We bought one and installed it in the shower I now use daily. This is by far the best-designed soap dish I’ve ever used. The open front allows water to drain away easily, while the diamond-plate surface secures and elevates the soap so that it dries without creating a lot of yucky soap-gunk. And of course, the aluminum doesn’t rust or corrode.

We ended up buying quite a bit from the AW Direct catalog for use in our house, and I heartily recommend it if your domestic tastes gravitate toward the functional/industrial. In the home or on the highway (or vice-versa), AW Direct delivers!

-- Todd Lappin  

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Industrial Soap Dish
$35
Available from AW Direct



Double Paper Holder

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Modern public toilets employ versions of these dual TP holders, and even though a private household has no similar absolute need for one, it’s very nice to permanently eliminate one of life’s little nagging gotchas. I’ve been using this model for 15 years, and it’s served its purpose admirably: having an at-hand spare roll when the primary roll unexpectedly runs out. It’s bound to happen someday to someone (maybe to a visitor), so why not attack the problem proactively? Rather than being haphazardly located under the sink, next to the john, etc., the spare roll is rather tidily found& #8212; neither in the way nor out of the way.

Also, there is no spool to thread through the roll(s), meaning there’s no detachable part to drop while re-threading or misplace while moving or painting. Instead, there are a couple of 3/8″ circular projections on each side that fit snugly into each roll’s cardboard center. Press a little black button and an arm on the side pivots out an inch. Insert one side of the roll onto the center (fixed) post and swing/click the arm back into place — fast and foolproof. This design also fits the roll more tightly than a spool, so the TP doesn’t rattle on its axis while being turned and thoughtfully stops turning when the pulling stops. There are slightly cheaper versions of this style of holder, but they have spools. Besides, in 15 years mine hasn’t failed, tarnished or scratched. I think building codes should encourage such dual TP holders.

-- Roger Knights  

Double Paper Holder
$14

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by World Wide Sourcing