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Posted on Oct 30, 2007 in Equipment, For Kids, Parent Hacks, SF Bay Area Local, Tips | 58 comments

Oshibori: We don’t need no stinking wet wipes!

Oshibori: We don’t need no stinking wet wipes!

Oshibori wet hand towel sets for packed lunchesWhen I lived in Japan, I loved getting a damp oshibori hand towel in restaurants to wash up with before a meal. Women would wipe their hands with them, and men would even wipe their faces, especially during the hot, humid summer. Here in San Francisco, having a baby meant carrying around a stash of wet wipes for diaper changes, which I found to be convenient for myself as well. Table dirty? Hands sticky or dirty? Drop your silverware? No problem! A wipe would take care of the job. But now that Bug is potty trained, wipes are no longer as essential and I find myself reaching for an oshibori instead.

DIY oshibori and cases for bento lunches

Japanese oshibori cases for bento lunches

Essentially just a damp washcloth in a carrying case, oshibori are great on picnics, cleaning up after a meal with finger food, or even just tidying up your utensils or eating space. After I pick up Bug from preschool, I often use his lunch oshibori to clean him up after he grubs around at a playground. Drop the now-filthy washcloth into the laundry when you get home, restock with a clean washcloth, and you’ve got an environmentally friendly alternative to paper napkins or disposable wet wipes for lunchtime. Although there are cute Japanese-made oshibori and cases out there on places like eBay, you can also make your own on the cheap with commonly available items.

Because Japanese travel oshibori are essentially just small, damp washcloths in plastic cases, I looked around and found that the ordinary baby washcloths we used when Bug was a baby were just the right size. A quick trip to Target turned up US$1 travel cases for bar soap or a toothbrush. This particular toothbrush holder was on the skinny side, so it only holds the thinnest of washcloths, but if you have a wider one you’ll be able to fit a thicker washcloth inside. The soap case was larger and more forgiving, fitting the largest child’s washcloth inside (shown at left in the photo above, click any photo for a larger view). You can find washcloths and cases in different colors, sizes and designs — experiment to find your favorite combination. Jazz up the case with stickers or markers, or leave it plain for a more adult style. Regular-sized adult washcloths are generally too big for a soap case.

Thomas the Tank Engine oshibori hand towel

If you’re sending one along with a child’s lunch, be sure that they’re able to open the case by themselves. The yellow case above is cute, but three-year-old Bug isn’t able to open it on his own yet. The soap case is beyond him too, as are the tube oshibori cases that Daiso sells at the moment. The lid of the Thomas the Tank Engine oshibori case unscrews easily and is quite compact, so that’s well designed for small children. (Bought at Moritaya in San Francisco’s Japantown. I got a three-pack of the Shinkansen washcloths in the first photo for US$2.99 at Belonging Gifts at 23rd & Irving — they also had Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Snoopy, and others.)

Disposable oshibori

I’ve heard of people tucking a damp washcloth into a freezer bag, which definitely gets the job done albeit with one disposable element. Last year I picked up individually wrapped disposable oshibori from Ichiban Kan (10 for US$1, also available at Daiso internationally), but have been hoarding them for times when I won’t get them back (i.e. with my in-laws’ disposable bento lunches for an airplane trip home, etc.). For an added touch, these can be chilled in the refrigerator in the summer, or warmed in the microwave during the winter.

Many other everyday containers can be used as oshibori cases, and they needn’t be food-grade plastic as they won’t be holding food. Long, skinny tubes that hold candy came to mind, but I’m interested in what you think! Do you have the perfect case repurposed from something else? Let us know in comments; feel free to include links.

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  1. Hey Biggie, this is a bit off topic but I hope you can help me out anyhow. I have seen a lot of bentos posted online that show pocky or pretzels packed in the same bento container with sliced apples or other “moist” foods. I tried this once and my pocky got soft. Not exactly mushy but definitely not crispy. What’s the deal? Am I doing something wrong? Even if everything is divided properly, the pocky goes soft. I have, of course, solved the dilemma by packing pocky and pretzels in separate containers but what am I missing? Is it possible to pack pretzels and cut apple in the same container without degrading the texture?

  2. @1 from Beanban: I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong; if you hold really dry food (like crackers or pretzels) in the same compartment as moist food for a long time, you’re going to get soft crackers/pretzels. I’d think that chocolate-coated pretzels would be immune, if you’re into those. I think when I’ve seen Pocky pretzel sticks packed in bentos, they’ve been in the lid area of a two-tier bento, so totally separated from the moist food (over the moist food lid, under the decorative box lid). If they were in the same container as moist food, perhaps the lunch wasn’t held that long before eating… I don’t pack pretzels for Bug’s lunch, so it’s not something I’ve experimented with much (and his preschool discourages parents from packing sweets like Pocky).

  3. Very interesting post! :) Sometime soon I think I’ll start packing oshibori along with my lunch.

  4. Marine stores sell a container/keychain that floats and is water tight for storing your keys. The top slips off and on. They are also giveaways at boat shows. They would be perfect for storing small oshiboris.

    There is also a very thick paper towel/napkin/wipe that is very cloth-like in texture and durability that would actually survive a couple of uses as an oshibori. Some swanky places w/ swanky rest rooms use these for paper towels–if you look around you will find them.

  5. @3 from Christina: It feels like I’m spoiling myself when I have an oshibori; very nice to have along when I don’t have wet wipes.

  6. @4 from Kate Schultz: Excellent tips on the marine keychain and thick wipes; thanks!

  7. Woah, sweet. :) I’ll have to see if I can get a little tiny washcloth. It’d be helpful with the messy eater I am.

  8. @5 from Yvo: That’s exactly what I do with the little oshibori cases — toss them into Bug’s kinchaku. The smallest one (Thomas) even fits into his insulated bento set (the navy blue one with a thermal food jar and two side dish containers) when one of the side dish containers is removed. Very convenient.

    If I didn’t have Bug’s oshibori around, I’d probably go the plainer route of a soap case and a baby washcloth. The Amazon link in the entry above has a number of plain colored washcloths in non-cutesy designs if you can’t find ones you like at Target, etc. in the baby section. I like having a week and a half’s supply of clean cloths so I can use a new/clean one each day and not sweat it if I don’t do laundry each weekend.

  9. @8 from Sennet: You should be able to find the little washcloths at any store that carries baby stuff — they can be pretty cheap! :-)

  10. Replacing wet naps with reusable wet oshibori is
    good for the environment, too!
    I never liked the strong scent of wet naps anyway.

  11. I really like the idea of Oshibori. I’ve been trying to find them but didn’t see them at Daiso. All they had were the disposable ones last I checked. I’ll have to look again when I go later this week.

  12. I like to pack them in little candy containers, like the plastic eggs you get at Easter. The super-thin cloths roll up and fit perfectly. You can also get holiday themed containers at Oriental Trading (like pumpkins, xmas trees, etc.) Plus they are so cheap that if it accidentally gets thrown out/broken, no big deal.

  13. After making my comment I went over to BentoTV and saw that they have tons of very cute Oshibori.

  14. @14 from Kaits: I popped over to that site after reading your comment. They sell two that I tried out at Daiso and found really difficult to open (esp. hard for a child): the ones entitled 1) Animal Train Oshibori Cloth and Blue Case for Bento, and 2) Butterfly and Flower Oshibori Cloth and Case for Bento. Just a heads up for anyone buying for a small child.

  15. @11 from yumimb: Definitely, there’s a green element to using reusable cloths instead of disposable!

  16. @13 from Fighting Blue Lamb: Great tips on the egg-shaped candy containers! Excellent point about their being so cheap it doesn’t matter if they get tossed; I’m sure there are a lot of parents out there wary of sending expensive gear to school with their kids.

  17. I love this idea and I’m definitely going to start doing it. Thank you!

  18. ooh this is a great idea! thanks!

  19. If you have baby cologne, splash a little of it on the wet towel, it feels good when wiping hands/faces. And I have a stash of wet towels in my freezer :D on hot days they are a life saver.

  20. @18 from Amanda: Glad you liked it!

  21. @19 from Tala: You’re welcome!

  22. @20 from mila: Baby cologne is a good idea for the scent crowd, thanks!

  23. If you’re looking for small washcloths (especially for kids), I’m using a “magic” towel I got from Disney World, and I’ve seen Hello Kitty ones at my mall! :D
    If you don’t know, magic towels are basically towels with a character of some sort on them stuffed in plastic wrap in a shape. You take the plastic wrap off and put it in a sink full of water, and it expands into a washcloth! They’re a hit with kids (and those young at heart ;3).

  24. I’ve used the travel soap dishes as well! I’m always looking for a way to reuse things so I have one of those generic travel first aid kits that I got from the Dollar store locally. It fits a folded washcloth in perfectly and to make it look cute, I just added stickers to the case. I really wanted to get some cute towels and found a seller on ebay that had a set of 5 Monokuro boo washcloths for a reasonable price. The shipping was a bit high but after I totaled it out the washcloths worked out to be $1.35 each!

  25. @25 from Teapriestess D: Are the travel first aid kits the ones that kind of fit together at one end like a toothbrush holder? I think I’ve seen those at Walgreens too. I was at Daiso today, and they’ve got a lot of cute terrycloth washcloths of the right size in the HANDKERCHIEF section! $1.50 each, though, so you can feel great about your Monokuro Boo washcloths!

  26. Biggie
    These are actual cases that have a hinge and hold band-aids and such. Works like a charm! Yay! Finally I got a good deal from overseas!

  27. I picked up a 5 pack of baby washcloths at Target in cool colors for $2.99- threw one of them out because they had little chicks and ducks on them and I’m using these for an adult (me). The travel Q tip plastic case I got in the travel toiletry aisle at Target is just perfect to put the washcloth in.

    Ta da! Instant oshibori! I also had some rosewater around the house and sprayed some of that on for a light fresh scent.

  28. The fliptop plastic tube containers from mini-m&ms might fit a baby washcloth – I have one that’s 6 inches tall and about 1 inch in diameter that I’ve been meaning to use for travel crayons/pencils for my kids, but I may need to repurpose it now. And then, of course, there’s always the bonus of getting to eat the mini M&Ms so you can reuse the container ;-)

  29. @29 from Chris: Very clever (and frugal)! The rosewater is a nice touch, too — I like what you’ve done there.

  30. @30 from Kaygray: Ha ha, go for those mini M&Ms, Kaygray! I think those might be the containers I’ve seen others pack Pocky pretzel sticks in — they look very secure. Are they?

  31. Yes, Biggie, the mini M&M containers are very secure. I tested it with a moist washcloth inside and tossed it around some – the lid stayed on. Then I tested it half full of water and still nothing spilled. The larger container is also the perfect size for Pocky, but a bit too short for the kid-sized chopsticks I have.

  32. Hi all! My company is the original and only US company that manufactures and sells real (100% cotton washcloth) oshibori. There are lots of options. Check us out at http://www.WTowel.com
    Best Regards!

  33. Jason’s link mentions his product uses lemon juice as a natural antimicrobial- I am so stealing that for my homemade ones. Thanks again for another great idea Biggie!

  34. @36 from NoL: Lemon juice totally makes sense, and wouldn’t smell overpowering like perfume. Sounds refreshing. I like it!

  35. I was wondering if they should have a spray of alcohol or a just a tad of detergent (dish soap) or something. Especially dealing with kids when they get really grimey. Also, it just seems it would keep the germ growth down throughout the day as its incubating in its plastic container?

  36. Jani~
    I do spray it with a dap of homemade cleaning solution for both of those reasons.

  37. Tea…
    What recipe do you use for your cleaning solution?

  38. Jani~Here’s the reciepe I use:
    Alice’s Wonder Spray All Purpose Household Cleaner
    from Karen Logan’s “Clean House, Clean Planet”
    Ingredients/Supplies: Dr. Bonner’s Liquid Castile Soap (I use the “Tea Tree” or “Lavender” oil flavor), white distilled vinegar, borax, purified or distilled water, 16oz. trigger spray bottle.
    Recipe: Mix 2 tbsp. of vinegar with 1 tsp. borax (I do this part in a bowl then add a little water to the mix before putting it in the bottle). Fill the rest of the bottle with very hot water. Shake until the borax is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup of liquid soap, shake to mix.
    Special Notes: Because minerals in the water inhibit cleaning, it’s best to use purified or distilled water. It’s also important to dissolve the borax in hot water so that it doesn’t clog the spray nozzle. And don’t mix the soap and vinegar directly together, because the soap will clump up mix the vinegar, borax and water first and then add the soap last. Borax is an eye irritant and can be harmful if swallowed. Keep out of reach of children.
    How to Use: Use as you would any other all-purpose household cleaner. Because it’s not as powerful as commercial cleaners, give it a little more time to work on difficult stains. One batch usually lasts about least 6 months.

  39. WOW…. I have all that on hand! Thanks so much for the info, I will give that formula a try. I love Dr. Bonner products!

  40. biggie is a 5 on genius scale

  41. biggie, I have trouble with apples becoming a brown color when I slice them and pack them in my bento can I keep them white and clean longer?

  42. In the toiletries section of Walmart, I just found a little 2oz screw-top jar that is just the perfect size for a baby washcloth. Also, since it is watertight, I think it could easily be used as a container for messy sauces, or to make homemade jello cups in reusable containers. I saw clear, green and blue colors available, and they were 2 for $1. I think a preschooler could probably open it without a problem, but I don’t currently have easy access to one ; )

    Though I do have a brand-new baby nephew, and thus ganked a couple of plain baby washcloths from the stack at my mom’s…heh.

  43. @46 from Lauren: Ha ha, no easy access to a preschooler! Do you know what the screw-top jar is made of? If it’s plastic, do you know if it’s food-safe plastic? Have a link?

  44. I love the idea of oshiboris. One thing I like to do is get the really cheap, thin washcloths from WalMart and take them to my mom. She has an embroidery machine and can put any design on them I want and put fancy edgings and such too. This year for 4th of July my friends and I are all packing bentos to take to the fireworks event (here it is an all day festival) and I am going to have her make me up some oshiboris with flags and such on them to give to my friends as gifts. These could be done for any party theme.

    Also, occasionally at various dollar stores (Dollar Tree, Everything’s a Dollar, etc) they have these neat travel washcloths that are compressed into cool little shapes like flowers and purses and fish, and they are only about 2 inches across and about a quarter of an inch thick but when you wet them they expand into a full sized thin washcloth. They fit very well into a bento bag and can be reused, though not recompressed.

  45. @48 from Rayne: And I love your idea of custom-embroidered oshiboris with your mom’s embroidery machine! Such a nice personal touch; I’m sure your friends will love their Independence Day oshiboris. :-)

    Nice tip on the compressed washcloths — other readers have recommended them as well as thin, pretty durable hand towels.

  46. yes the compressed washcloths are great also called “magic Towels” I use them as oshibori

  47. Thank you! I couldn’t remember the name of those washcloths. Maybe now I can find somewhere online I can buy them. I ran out of my stash of them before I started doing the bento thing.

    As soon as I get some of those oshibori’s made I will post pictures on my new blog if you are interested. I’ve gone on a mad hunt for Japanese themed embroidery patterns now. :D My mom says I should sell them but I don’t know about that.

  48. @51 from Rayne: Yes, color me curious about your embroidered oshibori — post a link when you’ve got photos so we can check them out!

  49. Brilliant! I have been feeling guilty about my addiction to Costco wipes (and I use washcloths for diaper changes!). This is a perfect alternative…one of those “duh!” moments. Thanks for your creativity and help.

  50. @55 from CarrieK: I hear you about those great Costco wipes! I’m slowly working my way through a big box leftover from when Bug was in diapers. They come in handy for really awful messes, but I do feel guilty about the waste.

  51. I am used to using heated oshibori. Can you just microwave the oshibori, in its case, for 10-15 seconds? I’m guessing so, but wondering if anyone else does this.

  52. @Cat – I would think it depends on what kind of case you are using.

  53. @58 from Cat: You can definitely heat the oshibori OUT of its case safely right before you want to us it, but it won’t retain its heat when packed up with your lunch for hours.

  54. I thought you might enjoy this – it’s on ThinkGeek’s website and advertising oshibori in ‘pill’ form which you add water to expand and ‘create’ the cloth.

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/japanfan/b235/

    (I’m not affiliated with the website — I have, however, been ogling your website for a few days, though. As an Australian in the US, I’m glad to see bento users over here!)

  55. yet another great japanese invention!! glad rosewater was mentioned, i was thinking lavender… burt’s bees makes an herbal deodorant spray that is really just a lavender-sage water with some alcohol, which would be perfect. or mountainroseherbs.com has other flower waters and aromatherapy sprays (cucumber!)… thanks for all the great tips!

  56. Hi! not sure if you’re still checking old posts/comments, but I had to leave a note. I was looking into oshibori options & came across your site!! Thanks for the great idea of using travel containers!!! I’m going to start packing them in m’s lunch (such a grimy kid)! Hopefully he’ll be able to repack after lunch-i’ll see soon enough.