Toilet paper

Toilet paper
A roll of toilet paper.

Toilet paper is a soft paper product (tissue paper) used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination. However, it can also be used for other purposes such as blowing one's nose when one has a cold or absorbing common spills around the house, although paper towels are more used for the latter. It differs in composition somewhat from facial tissue: most modern toilet paper in the developed world is designed to decompose in septic tanks, whereas some other bathroom and facial tissues are not. Most septic tank manufacturers advise against using paper products that are non-septic tank safe. Different names, euphemisms and slang terms are used for toilet paper in countries around the world, including "loo roll/paper," "toilet roll," "dunny roll/paper," "bathroom/toilet tissue," "4 inch" "TP," or just "tissue." Toilet paper can be one-, two- or three-ply, or even thicker, meaning that it is either a single sheet or two, three sheets placed back-to-back to make it thicker, softer, stronger and more absorbent. Color, scents, and embossing may also be added, but fragrances sometimes cause problems for consumers who are allergic to perfumes. The biggest difference between toilet papers is the distinction between virgin paper products, which are formed directly from chipped wood, and those made from recycled paper. Most toilet paper, however, whether virgin or recycled, is wrapped around cardboard cylinders.



Anal cleansing intruments from the Nara period (710 to 784) in Japan. The modern rolls in the background are for size comparison.

Although paper had been known as a wrapping and padding material in China since the 2nd century BC,[1] the first documented use of toilet paper in human history dates back to the 6th century AD, in early medieval China.[2] In 589 AD the scholar-official Yan Zhitui (531–591) wrote about the use of toilet paper:

"Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes".[2]

During the later Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), an Arab traveler to China in the year 851 AD remarked:

"They [the Chinese] are not careful about cleanliness, and they do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper."[2]

During the early 14th century, it was recorded that in modern-day Zhejiang province alone there was an annual manufacturing of toilet paper amounting in ten million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets of toilet paper each.[2] During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD), it was recorded in 1393 that an annual supply of 720,000 sheets of toilet paper (two by three feet in size) were produced for the general use of the imperial court at the capital of Nanjing.[2] From the records of the Imperial Bureau of Supplies of that same year, it was also recorded that for Emperor Hongwu's imperial family alone, there were 15,000 sheets of special soft-fabric toilet paper made, and each sheet of toilet paper was even perfumed.[2]

Elsewhere, wealthy people wiped themselves with wool, lace or hemp, while less wealthy people used their hand when defecating into rivers, or cleaned themselves with various materials such as rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize, ferns, may apple plant husks, fruit skins, or seashells, and corncobs, depending upon the country and weather conditions or social customs. In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after usage, placed back in a bucket of saltwater. Several talmudic sources indicating ancient Jewish practice refer to the use of small pebbles, often carried on one's person in a special bag, and also to the use of dry grass and of the smooth edges of broken pottery jugs (e.g., Shabbat 81a, 82a, Yevamot 59b). These are all cited in the classic Biblical and Talmudic Medicine by the German physician Julius Preuss (Eng. trans. Sanhedrin Press, 1978).

A print by William Hogarth entitled A Just View of the British Stage from 1724 depicting Robert Wilks, Colley Cibber, and Barton Booth rehearsing a pantomime play with puppets enacting a prison break down a privy. The "play" is composed of nothing but toilet paper, and the scripts for Hamlet, inter al., are toilet paper.

The 16th century French satirical writer François Rabelais, in Chapter XIII of Book 1 of his novel-sequence Gargantua and Pantagruel, has his character Gargantua investigate a great number of ways of cleansing oneself after defecating. Gargantua dismisses the use of paper as ineffective, rhyming that: "Who his foul tail with paper wipes, Shall at his ballocks leave some chips." (Sir Thomas Urquhart's 1653 English translation). He concludes that "the neck of a goose, that is well downed" provides an optimum cleansing medium.[3]

In many parts of the world, especially where toilet paper or the necessary plumbing for disposal may be unavailable or unaffordable, toilet paper is not used. Also, in many parts of the world such as India, people consider using water a much more clean[citation needed] and sanitary[citation needed] practice than using paper. Cleansing is then performed with other methods or materials, such as water, for example using a bidet, a Lota, rags, sand, leaves (including seaweed), corn cobs, animal furs, sticks or hands, afterwards hands are washed with soap.

As a commodity

"Le Troubadour" (French) - 1960s package of toilet paper

Joseph Gayetty is widely credited with being the inventor of modern commercially available toilet paper in the United States. Gayetty's paper, first introduced in 1857, was available as late as the 1920s. Gayetty's Medicated Paper was sold in packages of flat sheets, watermarked with the inventor's name. Original advertisements for the product used the tagline "The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty's medicated paper for the water-closet."

Seth Wheeler of Albany, New York, obtained the earliest United States patents for toilet paper and dispensers, the types of which eventually were in common usage in that country, in 1883.[4]

Moist toilet paper was first introduced in the United Kingdom by Andrex in the 1990s, and in the United States by Kimberly-Clark in 2001 (in lieu of bidets which are rare in those countries.) It is designed to clean better than dry toilet paper after defecation, and may be useful for women during menstruation.


Toilet paper is available in several types of paper, a variety of patterns, decorations, and textures and may be moistened or perfumed. The average measures of a modern roll of toilet paper is ~10 cm (3 15/16 in.) wide, ø 12 cm (4 23/32 in.) and weighs about 227 grams (8 oz.).[5]


Toilet paper products vary greatly in the technical factors that distinguish them: sizes, weights, roughness, softness, chemical residues, "finger-breakthrough" resistance, water-absorption, etc. The larger companies have very detailed, scientific market surveys to determine which marketing sectors require/demand which of the many technical qualities. Modern toilet paper may have a light coating of aloe or lotion or wax worked into the paper to reduce roughness.

Quality is usually determined by the number of plies (stacked sheets), coarseness, and durability. Low grade institutional toilet paper is typically of the lowest grade of paper, has only one or two plies, is very coarse and sometimes has small amounts of unbleached/unpulped paper embedded in it. Mid-grade two ply is somewhat textured to provide some softness, and is somewhat durable. Premium toilet paper may have lotion and wax, and has two to four plies made of very finely pulped paper.

A German quip about Nazi Germany is that that the worst thing about it was the toilet paper. It was so rough and scratchy that it was almost unusable, so many people used old issues of the Völkischer Beobachter instead because the paper was softer.[6]

Toilet paper, especially if it is marketed as "luxury", may be quilted or rippled (embossed), perfumed, colored or patterned, medicated (with anti-bacterial chemicals), treated with aloe, etc.

Color and design

Colored toilet paper in colors such as pink, lavender, light blue, light green, purple, green, and light yellow (so that one could choose a color of toilet paper that matched or complemented the color of one's bathroom) was commonly sold in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s. By the late 1970s, with the rise of concern about environmentalism, many people came to think that colored toilet paper was bad for the environment because of the dyes used in it, even though they are vegetable dyes which are harmless to the environment, and therefore the public stopped buying colored toilet paper and the manufacturers stopped making it.[citation needed]

Today, plain unpatterned colored toilet paper has been mostly replaced by patterned toilet paper, normally white, with decorative patterns or designs in various colors.



A toilet roll holder, also known as a toilet paper dispenser, is an item that holds a roll of toilet paper. There are at least seven types of holders:

  1. A horizontal piece of wire mounted on a hinge, hanging from a door or wall.
  2. A horizontal axle recessed in the wall.
  3. A vertical axle recessed in the wall
  4. A horizontal axle mounted on a freestanding frame.
  5. A freestanding vertical pole on a base.
  6. A wall mounted dispensing unit, usually containing more than one roll. This is used in the commercial / away from home marketplace.
  7. A wall mounted dispensing unit with tissue interfolded in a "S" type leave so the user can extract the tissue one sheet at a time.


There are two choices of orientation when using a holder with a horizontal axle parallel to the wall: the toilet paper may hang over or under the roll. The choice is largely a matter of personal preference, dictated by habit. In surveys of American consumers and of bath and kitchen specialists, 60-70% of respondents prefer over.

People hold strong opinions on such a trivial topic. Defenders of either position cite advantages ranging from aesthetics, hospitality, and cleanliness; to paper conservation and the ease of detaching individual squares. Theories abound of what one's choice might say of a person: possibly it indicates age, or gender, or socioeconomic status, or political philosophy; possibly it offers insights into personality traits such as dependability and flexibility. Solutions range from compromise to using separate dispensers or separate bathrooms entirely. One famed enthusiast advocates a plan under which the United States will standardize on a single forced orientation. And at least one inventor hopes to heal the rift by popularizing a new kind of toilet roll holder: a mechanism that can swivel from one orientation to the other.


Toilegami refers to toilet paper origami. Like table napkins, some fancy Japanese hotels fold the first squares of toilet paper on its dispenser to be presented in a fashionable way.[7]


Alexander Balankin and coauthors have studied the behavior of toilet paper under tensile stress[8][9] and during wetting and burning.[10]

Toilet paper has been used in physics education to demonstrate the concepts of torque, moment of inertia, and angular momentum;[11][12][13] and the conservation of momentum and energy.[14]


Environmental considerations

One tree produces about 100 pounds (45 kg) of toilet paper and about 83 million rolls are produced per day.[5]

An average American uses 50 pounds (23 kg) of tissue paper per year which is 50% more than the average of Western countries or Japan.[15] Millions of trees are harvested in North America and in Latin American countries leaving ecological footprint concerns.[16] Americans also use "toilet paper" for industrial purposes such as oil filters,[17] which may distort the usage statistics.

According to a news report by The Epoch Times in 2004, 37.5% of toilet paper tested from Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces showed high levels of bacteria commonly found in human waste. A manager from one of the agencies involved in testing, Guangdong Consumer Associates, blamed "unsanitary raw materials used in production" for the high bacteria counts. Chinese hospital experts have warned that use of contaminated toilet paper can result in skin and gynecological infections.[18][19][20]

See also


  1. ^ Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 122.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 123.
  3. ^ François Rabelais (20 April 2007). "Gargantua and Pantagruel". The University of Adelaide, Australia: eBooks@Adelaide. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  4. ^ The first of note is for the idea of perforating commercial papers (25 July 1871, #117355), the application for which includes an illustration of a perforated roll of paper. On 13 February 1883 he was granted patent #272369, which presented a roll of perforated wrapping or toilet paper supported in the center with a tube. Wheeler also had patents for mounted brackets that held the rolls. See also Joseph Nathan Kane, "Famous First Facts: A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries and Inventions in the United States" (H. W. Wilson: 1964), p. 434; Harper's Magazine, volume. Q, 1941-1943 (Harper's Magazine Co.:1941), p. 181; Jules Heller, "Paper Making" (Watson-Guptill:1978), p. 193.
  5. ^ a b "Toilet paper fun facts". 
  6. ^ Read, Anthony and Fisher, David The Fall of Berlin London: Pimlico, 1993
  7. ^ "Toilet Paper Origami". Origami Resource Center. 
  8. ^ Balankin, Susarrey Huerta & Bravo 2001.
  9. ^ Balankin et al. 2002.
  10. ^ Balankin & Matamoros 2002.
  11. ^ Harkay 2006.
  12. ^ Goodwin 1985.
  13. ^ Walker 1975.
  14. ^ Ehrlich 1997.
  15. ^ "Soft Tissue Paper is Hard on the Environment". Simple Ecology. 2009-08-22. 
  16. ^ Lindsey (2009-02-26). "Destroying forests to make toilet paper is "worse than driving Hummers"". Green Peace. 
  17. ^ Toilet paper Oil Filters
  18. ^ "Unsanitary Chinese Toilet Paper Linked to Health Problems". EpochTimes. 2004-01-29. Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  19. ^ (pdf) Minutes of the 28th Meeting of the University Steering Committee on Environment, 28, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 01-17-08, pp. 4–5,, retrieved 2009-10-25 
  20. ^ "Wrinkled Tissue Paper Product Quality Checks Pass Rate of 65.4%" (in Chinese, English translation here) (Press release). Consumer Council in Hainan Province. 2004-08-16. Retrieved 2009-10-25. 


Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • toilet paper — toilet .paper n [U] soft thin paper used for cleaning yourself after you have used the toilet …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • toilet paper — toilet ,paper noun uncount soft thin paper that you use to clean yourself after using the toilet …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • toilet paper — or toilet tissue n. soft, absorbent paper, usually in a roll, for use in cleaning oneself after evacuation …   English World dictionary

  • toilet paper — noun a soft thin absorbent paper for use in toilets • Syn: ↑toilet tissue, ↑bathroom tissue • Hypernyms: ↑tissue, ↑tissue paper • Hyponyms: ↑toilet roll * * * noun [noncount] …   Useful english dictionary

  • toilet paper — 1. noun Paper, usually on a roll, to clean oneself after defecation, or for women, to pat themselves dry after urination. Syn: toilet tissue, bathroom tissue 2. verb To cover someones house (and trees and shrubs) with toilet paper or other… …   Wiktionary

  • toilet paper — N UNCOUNT Toilet paper is thin soft paper that people use to clean themselves after they have got rid of urine or faeces from their body …   English dictionary

  • Toilet paper (disambiguation) — Toilet paper may refer too:*Toilet paper, (also toilet roll in the UK) is a soft tissue paper product used to maintain personal hygieneee also*Toilet Paper (South Park episode), episode 703 of the Comedy Central series South Park …   Wikipedia

  • Toilet Paper (South Park episode) — Infobox Television episode Title = Toilet Paper Series = South Park Caption = Stan staring evilly at the Art Teacher. Season = 7 Episode = 99 Airdate = April 2, 2003 Production = 703 Writer = Matt Stone Director = Trey Parker Guests = Episode… …   Wikipedia

  • toilet paper — /ˈtɔɪlət peɪpə/ (say toyluht paypuh) noun soft, thin paper for sanitary use after defecation and urination. Also, toilet tissue, lavatory paper …  

  • toilet paper — a soft, lightweight, sanitized paper used in bathrooms for personal cleanliness. Also called toilet tissue, bathroom tissue. [1880 85] * * * …   Universalium

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