Surely nothing is interesting about toilet paper? You’d be surprised. Toilet paper has a long and colorful history, stretching as far back as ancient China and Rome.
That humble little roll of toilet tissue that sits in your bathroom has quite a story to tell.
So, buckle up as we take a trip into the world of interesting facts about toilet paper.
What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?
Most people in the world now enjoy the luxury of toilet paper.
You may use a super-soft version or even a scented alternative, but what did people use before toilet paper?
- The Romans used a tersorium — a sponge on a stick, doused in sea brine or vinegar. It was communal, so when Claudius had finished wiping, he would pass it to his toilet neighbor (1).
- Communal toilets were the norm in Rome. Sometimes, these had up to 80 cess holes, so that meant one stick among 80 people.
- There is evidence that the ancient Greeks used shards of broken ceramics to wipe (2). This is our least favorite method, for obvious reasons.
- Other civilizations used grass, leaves, and even corn cob to stay clean in the nether regions.
- In 16th century France, wealthy people used hemp, lace, and even wool to stay clean.
- 17th century sailors would defecate over the side of the boat and then haul a rope that dangled into the sea. They would use this to clean their backsides.
- In many middle eastern countries, the left hand was for wiping, which is why in many places, it is still a custom to never shake with the left hand (3).
- A few other things people used before the invention of toilet paper: moss, dirt, sand, water, ferns, fruit skins, stones, and snow.
Toilet Paper History
The humble toilet paper had an interesting start and probably has a longer history than you would have guessed.
- The Chinese Tang Dynasty invented toilet paper in the 6th century (4).
- By 1391, toilet paper was scented to protect the noses of the Emperor and his family during the Ming Dynasty. The sheets were enormous — each measuring two feet by three feet (5).
- In 1857, New Yorker Joseph Gayetty invented modern toilet paper. He infused his sheets with Aloe and dispensed them from a Kleenex-like box. Gayetty claimed his toilet paper prevented hemorrhoids (6).
- German, Hans Klenk was the first to produce toilet tissue on a roll and sell it in Europe in 1928. He used silver-glue to join the brown paper sheets on his toilet roll (7).
Toilet Paper Statistics
Surprisingly, around 70 to 75 percent of the world’s population does not use toilet paper (8). That’s 4 billion people!
Some live in areas where trees are less abundant, others view toilet paper as dirty and don’t wipe for cultural reasons.
- The US spends over $6 billion a year on toilet tissue (9).
- The average person will use 384 trees worth of toilet paper in their lifetime.
- The average person uses 100 rolls of toilet tissue every year.
- Pulp from the Eucalyptus tree (a favorite of the industry) produces roughly 1,000 rolls.
- The UK has the highest toilet roll use per person, averaging two and a half times more than other European countries.
- The US is the largest user of toilet roll in the world. It averages per person, 57 squares of tissue per day.
- In the US, 34 million rolls of toilet paper get used every day. (10).
- The US makes up just 4 percent of the entire world’s population, but is responsible for using 20 percent of the world’s toilet paper (11).
- The average consumption of toilet paper across the globe is 100 rolls or 20,000 sheets.
- The global daily production of toilet rolls tops 84 million (12).
- It takes, on average, 71 toilet visits to use one roll of toilet paper.
- National toilet paper day is on August 26 (13).
The Importance of Toilet Paper
The importance of toilet paper cannot be understated.
It has been at the heart of personal hygiene for generations.
- Toilet paper acts as a barrier between you and fecal matter. Getting feces on your hands can be deadly, considering the bacteria and viruses that can breed inside it (14).
- Premium toilet papers infused with Aloe Vera, coconut, and other soothing balms can protect the skin on your bottom. No wonder premium toilet paper sales have risen by over 70 percent since 2000 (15).
Other Uses of Toilet Paper
Although originally designed for use in the toilet, toilet paper has more than one use — many outside the toilet.
- Blowing your nose: Toilet paper is super-absorbent, because it is designed to trap moisture. Unsurprisingly, this is the second most popular use for toilet paper.
- General cleaning: Toilet paper comes in handy when mopping up spills or wiping surfaces. It is also effective at cleaning dirt off our faces and hands.
Environmental Impacts of Toilet Paper
Toilet paper may be commonplace, and seem like a harmless bathroom staple, but toilet paper manufacturing causes significant damage to the environment.
- As a planet, we dump the equivalent of over 270,000 trees worth of paper into landfills. Over 10 percent of that total includes toilet paper (16).
- It takes one tree to make up to 1,500 rolls of paper (17).
- Recycled toilet paper accounts for just 2 percent of sales in the US. This means that 98 percent of American homes have virgin-pulp toilet rolls (18).
- Since 1996, Canada has cut down 28 million acres of 200-year old boreal forests to meet the demand for soft, plush, high-quality toilet tissue. That’s an area the size of Pennsylvania (19).
- This deforestation threatens the way of life of 600 indigenous communities who call these forests home.
- Besides the effect of felling of trees, 253,000 tons of chlorine and 473,587,500,000 gallons of water are used during manufacturing (20).
- To offset the environmental impact of cutting down all those trees, the US plants close to 1.6 billion trees annually.
- In Canada, the Prime Minister wants to increase the number of trees planted annually to over 200 million (21).
How to Use Less Toilet Paper
There are some simple things we can do to reduce our reliance on toilet paper. Many of these are simple daily changes to our lives that will have a major impact.
- Use recycled toilet paper. You can save as many as 424,000 trees if you replace just one roll of premium paper with recycled (22).
- Use standard-size rolls. When you see more, you use more.
Top TipAnother technique is to hide all the spare toilet rolls. Just seeing one extra roll has the same psychological effect.
- Make a conscious effort to use less. Memorize this slogan: if it’s yellow, one-sheets the fellow. If it’s brown, four can go down.
- Invest in a bidet attachment. These toilet attachments supply jets of water to wash both the back and front. Some even have an air-dry feature.
- Change your wiping technique. Fold your toilet paper instead of “Wadding” it. This creates a larger wiping surface area and wastes less toilet paper.
- Try flushable wipes. Using one of these wipes will remove more waste matter, meaning you use less paper.
Got Sensitive Skin?Go for the sensitive skin flushable wipes to protect your posterior from damage.
- Squash the roll. If you squash the toilet paper roll so it doesn’t rotate as easily, you make it more difficult to pull off wads of paper.
Toilet Paper Fun Facts
Did you know that the toilet paper industry in America is worth a staggering $200 billion?
You won’t believe some of these toilet paper fun facts.
- The average American, if they live to be 80, will have flushed over 1.5 million sheets of toilet paper in their lifetime (23).
- Japanese horror writer Koji Susuki, most famous for writing the “The Ring.” once wrote an entire novel on one roll of toilet paper. It was almost three feet long.
- You can buy glow in the dark toilet paper, as well as sudoku paper (24).
- Beyonce uses red Renova paper, one of the most expensive in the world (25).
- There is toilet paper on the international space station (26).
- Charmin produced the world’s largest roll, measuring eight feet high, with a diameter of nine feet (27).
- Flo and Richard Newman collect toilet paper and keep their collection in the Whole World Toilet Paper Museum (28).
- In the city of Penza, near Moscow, Russian workers once received a bonus payment of 150 rolls of toilet paper (29).
- In 1995, Ricardo Jefferson stole $34,000 worth of toilet paper from the Philadelphia Eagles stadium (30).
- In New York, there is an 8 percent sales tax on toilet paper (31).
- The Scott Company accidentally invented paper towels after producing paper that was too thick to use a toilet roll (32).
- In 1971, after a strike by shipping workers in San Francisco, Hawaii ran out of toilet paper because supplies were cut off (33). The strike lasted 134 days!
- The Pentagon uses, on average, 666 rolls of toilet paper every day (34).
- 7 percent of Americans admit to stealing toilet rolls from their hotel rooms (35).
- Popular toilet paper nicknames include bog roll, loo roll, bum wad, TP, and tissue.
- In 1973, Johnny Carson caused a toilet paper shortage by joking on his show that toilet paper was in short supply. People panic-bought as a result (36).
- The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has caused people all over the world to panic-buy toilet rolls (37).
- During Operation Desert Storm, the US military used colored toilet paper to camouflage their tanks and vehicles (38).
- Charmin challenged people to design a wedding dress using only toilet paper. The first prize was $2,000 (39).
Want Some Toilet Paper?
So, toilet paper is a fascinating subject. The next time you reach for the roll, spare a thought for the 80th Roman in the line for the sponge on a stick. Think about the ancient greek, scratching his behind with shards of pottery.
If you ever want to know how vital toilet paper is even now, look at the Coronavirus pandemic and the public’s response. Maybe it’s time to evaluate what is important in our lives, and recognize that the little things make the biggest difference.
At this stage, you probably don’t need to be reminded how thankful you should be to those pioneers who worked tirelessly to preserve your posterior. Wipe, and be grateful. All hail the toilet roll.