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Toilet Paper – The Bottom Line

Updated on July 8, 2013

Toilet paper has graced lavatories since the 6th century, and has been in mass production since the 14th century. The modern paper we use today was first produced in the 19th century – but what do we really know about this unsung hero of the bathroom.


The long, perforated, history of loo paper begins in the Orient, as have so many great inventions. China's imperial court led the way in the use of toilet paper, which may have been the first deviation from the splash and shake approach.

In some parts of the world, the wealthy used lace, wool, cotton, and other soft furnishings to wipe their R's, while the poor have always used whatever came to hand... or just used their hand if nothing came to it.

Joseph Gayetty is hailed as the commercial father of toilet paper in the US (sold in 1857), an accolade not to be sniffed at. But in our documented history, anything and everything has been used to wipe the under-carriage. Items noted from historical texts have included pebbles, grasses, smoothed broken pottery, and one recorded case of the neck of a well downed goose!

Cultural differences

Many cultures today use water instead of paper for what many perceive as a more hygienic cleanse. This might be because of cultural norms or access to disposable income, but also due to the complexity and maceration capabilities of the sewerage systems in use.

Knowing some small, cultural differences can be important. In India, Nepal, and some other Asian countries, one must never offer food with the left hand, as this is used to cleanse!

Ecology and sustainability

Considering the frequency with which we use toilet paper, it doesn’t often get the scrutiny it deserves – butt when you scour the figures, it’s a big asset-ed cost:

  • According to National Geographic, over 270,000 trees A DAY are flushed in the form of loo roll and similar products.
  • Recycled paper is the ecological choice, but often consumers demand a softer wipe. According to Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, no trees should be used to make toilet paper, but presently only 2 per cent of domestic toilet paper is made from 100 per cent recycled fibres!

Noted engineering flaws of toilet tissue:

  • Ripping longitudinally – why can't manufacturers create a weave that prevents the accidental long dangling tail of tissue?
  • Break-through – always a problem, especially when choosing austerity over luxury
  • Perfumes – when impregnated in TP, they can cause reddening and sensitivity (and if unaware of using scented paper, then concerns over diet)
  • Izal medicated toilet paper (or tracing paper) – this was a paper once used in public lavatories (not so much now), and is more a redistribution than a removal device (why would they?).

And in an emergency…

There are a number of emergency operations that can save the day when the call of nature has been more urgent than the pre-check roll-count:

  • Dissect the cardboard roll – a timely, yet time consuming operation, but the best choice in this situation:

> Find the join that separates the layers of cardboard

> Carefully separate them (without ripping) and lay before you

> Decide if they might be used whole, or if more than one use can be gained from each piece

  • Portion up your glossy mag - another favourite! But referring back to the Izal medicated TP notes, this may be re-distribution again.
  • The daily paper – an excellent choice. But remember that squares missing from the front page may be a tell-tale sign. (My suggestion: remove all of the coupons and use them… no-one will be any the wiser.)
  • Wet wipes – a treat more than a hardship, but usually not biodegradable!
  • Douche (using water splash) – may be messy, but if you’re next to the sink this may save you. The splash zone may be your downfall when others notice the aftermath.

So Let’s Give Thanks

If you’ve ever given a thought to this little bathroom saviour, then you may be overwhelmed by how damned fantastic TP is. But if you haven’t, then after:

  • Finishing your important business and realising what you thought was half a roll is actually one sheet – and then
  • Wondering how small that sheet can be dissected and still be of use

You surely will be in… AWE.


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    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      So true, Mark! lol! What's the use of eating it in the first place now that we've got TP? :p

    • Mark S Waterhouse profile image

      Mark S Waterhouse 4 years ago from Christchurch, NZ.

      Randy, Randy, Randy... Where would HubPages be without your wealth of knowledge and insights! I think there's a little circularity to your story – because corn always seems to come out exactly as it went in :-s

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Interesting subject to everyone, no doubt. lol It wasn't too long ago when corn cobs filled in for TP in the old outhouses down south and elsewhere across America.

      The standard number of cobs to use was 3. Two brown cobs and one white one. First you used a brown cob, and then you used the white cob to see if you needed to use another brown cob. :p