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Posted on Oct 30, 2007 | 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. 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.

  2. @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.

  3. 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.

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

  5. @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.

  6. 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!)

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

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