Toilet Paper History (Everything to Know)

Toilet paper rocks. No, really – what would we do without it? During the height of the pandemic, supermarket stores were selling out of toilet paper everywhere, as everyone was panicking about not having enough of this essential. 

Now that the panic has subdued and a wide variety of toilet paper is back in stock, it’s time to take a step back and assess what toilet paper is the right choice for you. After all, the average American family uses over 90 rolls a year – which can amount to hundreds of dollars annually. 

This history article is about the pros and cons of each type of toilet paper to help you best decide which one to reach for next time you’re at the store or scrolling through Amazon. 

History of Toilet Paper

We use toilet paper every day, yet how many of us actually know it’s evolution? Before toilet paper, various cultures used their own methods of cleaning up. In the Greco-Roman period, a common tool was the tersorium, a sponge on a stick. The stick would be used communally, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Greco-Romans also used pessoi, or pebbles, to wipe themselves as well. 

Other common materials used as toilet paper include but are not limited to corn cobs, animal furs, seashells, and leaves. During the Han Dynasty, long, thin bamboo sticks named salaka and cechou were used. (source) The first mentions of toilet paper actually date back to the Tang Dynasty. Back then, the fabric toilet paper was reserved only for Chinese royalty. 

The socio-economic divide in toilet paper permeated throughout many cultures. For example, during the Middle Ages, English nobility used book pages to wipe themselves while common folk used grass and hay. (source)

Modern toilet paper – that we know and love today – wasn’t available until the late 19th century. While Joseph Gayetty is credited for the invention of toilet paper, his invention’s popularity didn’t gain much traction due to the mass circulation of newspapers. Instead of paying for Gayetty’s medicated wipes, users could save money by wiping themselves with daily-delivered free newspapers. 

In the 1890s, Clarence and E. Irvin Scott introduced the concept of toilet paper on a roll. It wasn’t until the early-to-mid 20th century that toilet paper stopped being marketed as a medicinal product and more so as a common household need. With the support of doctors and plumbers behind them, the toilet industry started getting a real following. In 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company created the Charmin brand. (source)

We’ve come a long way since the dark ages. Even in the past century, natural bodily functions went from being completely taboo to talk about to being points of everyday discussion. Thanks to the Internet, we now have an endless selection of toilet paper at the tips of our fingers. It’s time to embrace the toilet paper options and figure out which roll works best for you. 

Types of Toilet Paper

Different toilet paper types vary in strength, cost, eco-friendliness, and comfort levels. When deciding which one best suits your needs, it’s all about figuring out what factor you want to prioritize. 

One-Ply Toilet Paper

The cheapest of the toilet paper types, one-ply has, as the name suggests, only one layer of paper. One-ply is cost-effective and lessens the risk of drain blockage due to its light-weight character. Because there’s only one layer, you might need to use more one-ply toilet paper to get the job done. However, when compared to multi-ply toilet paper, single-ply still tends to win in terms of cost-benefit. 

Two-Ply Toilet Paper

Just as the name suggests, two-ply toilet paper consists of two layers. Manufacturers starting producing two-ply paper once consumers requested a more durable wiping material. Two-ply toilet paper tends to be in a moderate price range. Less is more with two-ply so you don’t need to double up like you would with single-ply. The double layer also provides a softer feel that is easier on the body. 

Pro Tip: Before you buy multi-ply toilet paper, consider whether or not your toilet’s flushing system can handle large waste loads by learning more about your toilet’s water usage and MaP score. 

Three or More Ply Toilet Paper

No surprise here – three or more ply toilet paper is the most plush out of all the options. The multilayer design makes the paper very comfortable to use; the difference between this and single-ply is instantly recognizable. However, multi-layer toilet paper tends to be more expensive and less eco-friendly. The increased thickness of the paper also makes it more susceptible to clogging, especially in old toilets. 

Bamboo Toilet Paper

One of the more eco-friendly types of toilet paper is made out of bamboo. Because bamboo is a fast-growing grass, and not tree, more companies are trying to spearhead campaigns that encourage bamboo consumption in new products. Bamboo is also able to hold more water, in proportion to its weight, than its traditional counterpart. 

Recycled Toilet Paper

Recycled toilet paper is the most eco-friendly toilet paper. Made from recycled material, this toilet paper helps cut down on carbon footprint. Most recycled toilet paper is fairly thin, making it easy to flush down any toilet. Some brands use a chlorine-free bleaching process which also helps eliminate chemical usage. 

Unbleached Toilet Paper

You’ve probably seen unbleached toilet papers in public bathrooms. This cost-effective, easily flushable toilet paper is brown in color. Because it is not bleached, this toilet paper tends to be rougher to the touch; keep this in mind if you are someone with sensitive skin. 

Toilet Paper Alternative – Bidets

Bidets are bathroom fixtures that are a fantastic alternative to toilet paper. Instead of paper, you can use the nozzles in the bidet to clean yourself after toilet use. This helps cut down on toilet paper costs and keeps you in tip-top hygienic shape. 

Final Thought

The toilet paper you choose ultimately depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re worried about clogging your drain, opt in for the cost-effective single-ply or unbleached toilet paper. If you want comfort at the forefront, research multi-ply brands. The specific softness depends on the brand and it may take some trial and error to get it right.

Feel free to explore all of our other how-to articles and resource articles surrounding toilet paper and other toilet needs. We hope you enjoyed the history of toilet paper and the different types of toilet paper to choose.

Toilet History Resource Guide

old fancy toilet in with plants in the background

old fancy toilet in with plants in the background

History of the Flush

Flush toilets have been around for centuries, with their design staying fundamentally the same. Most toilets today use a flushing mechanism powered by water pressure to flush the toilet bowl, a system that can be dated back to 1596.

Take a look back in time to see how the flush toilet has evolved to what we now use today!

Before the Flush

ancient statue at daytime

Though the toilet’s exact history is difficult to pinpoint, early civilizations used variously sophisticated latrine systems for their bathroom needs. Oftentimes, waste was expelled into a hole in the ground, while users sat on a bench-like structure over the hole, as seen with Mesopotamians and the Indus Valley civilization.

During the Bronze Age, the Minoans of Crete were one of the first to utilize water in their toilet practices, connecting their latrines to a drainage system. Many historians credit them with the first flushable toilet, which used rainwater to clean out waste.

The First Flush Toilet

blueprint of the ajax toilet

The first flush toilet that most resembles what we use today was invented by Queen Elizabeth I’s godson, Sir John Harrington in 1596. Named the Ajax, the toilet used a system of levers and weights to open and close a leather-faced valve, which let in water from a cistern. Despite the queen’s stamp of approval, the flush toilet water closet didn’t gain popularity until many years later.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1775 that the toilet design was patented by Alexandar Cummings of London. Cumming’s invention used a cistern to store water that was sent into the bowl by a lever mechanism. The cistern would fill and then be emptied through a valve, but the design never caught on because it was difficult to clean and lacked a flushing mechanism.

Cummings used an overflow pipe with a float valve at its base instead of relying on gravity alone to empty the bowl after flushing. This made his flush-out toilet much easier to use because it required less water pressure from above-ground pipes. The system could work even when there wasn’t enough pressure for flushing toilets, such as when there was no gravity feed or when there were multiple users.

Thomas Crapper, an English plumber, patented the first toilet with an S-trap siphon system in 1860. The flush siphon toilet was a great improvement over earlier designs because it flushed completely and required less maintenance than other toilets of the time.

A few years later, the first public water supply in America began serving residents of Great Barrington, Massachusetts with water from Lake Quassapaug. Unfortunately, the lake had been contaminated by raw sewage due to a lack of sanitation facilities at that time, resulting in people drinking untreated water.

In 1891, William Sloan invented the first septic tank which allowed homeowners to dispose of sewage without having to connect their homes directly to sewer lines or other common disposal systems found in urban areas at that time. The septic tanks were located near residences so they could be easily emptied.

The Advancements Going into the 20th Century

20th-century-bathroom with pink walls

The 20th century brought plumbing to the masses, through new and improved toilets.

In 1925, John Jacob Guggenheim founded the American Standard Company and set out to revolutionize the design of toilets, creating a top-selling model known as the Champion.

The Champion’s most notable feature was its strong flushing action, which used up to four gallons of water per flush. It also boasted a curved bowl that was designed to prevent clogs by making it harder for solid waste to get stuck in crevices between the bowl and tank.

In 1932, the wash-down toilet was introduced by Kohler Co., which included a small sink built into its tank. This allowed people to wash their hands without having to leave the bathroom or go outside.

Here’s What You Need to Know about the Latest Generation of Toilets:

A modern toilet in an aesthetic bathroom

Today, flush toilets are made with two parts — a bowl and a tank. The bowl holds water that flushes waste down through a pipe system into a special tank called the septic tank or sewer system depending on where you live.

The water in the tank helps push waste through pipes leading to treatment plants where it’s filtered and processed before being discharged into rivers or underground mine shafts that lead back to our drinking water supply.

Modern flush toilets are much more efficient than their predecessors because they use at most, 1.6 gallons per flush. Older models required up to six gallons of water per flush and often had problems with clogs and leaks.

Bottom Line

The flush toilet is one of the most important inventions in history. It has improved our hygiene and quality of life in ways that are simply impossible to overstate. Getting to know the toilet’s history can show you truly show you how far we’ve come in bathroom advancements.

Toilet History of People Who Influenced



We can all agree that the flush toilet is a necessity in every establishment, but have you ever stopped to think about the people who worked to make this masterpiece complete? Take a look at the five greats that revolutionized the bathroom experience forever.

5 Important Figures in Toilet History

1. The Romans

Roman soldiers walkin in line

The Romans left us with several contributions to modern-day toilets. They invented the flush toilet, which uses a tank of water to wash away waste, and created public baths with communal toilets that were used by both sexes.
The Romans built their sewers underground to drain away human waste into rivers or streams. They had both private toilets in personal residences and communal toilets in public, that unfortunately did not have segregation between users.





2. Sir John Harrington

Black in white photo of Sir John Harington

In the late 16th century, English writer, inventor, and politician, Sir John Harrington was the first to devise a flushing toilet that used water. Harrington spent much of his time working on new ideas for plumbing systems that could help to improve sanitation in England at that time.
His version of the flushing toilet, which he named the Ajax, used a system of levers and weights to open and close a leather-faced valve, which let in water from a cistern.

This invention was not only a great improvement on previous designs but also helped improve the quality of life in towns and cities across England.

3. Thomas Crapper

Black and white Thomas Crapper

Thomas Crapper is considered to be the father of modern plumbing. He started his career as an apprentice and by the time he was 21 years old, he established his own company. Thomas took over his father’s business when he died and embarked on a venture that would make him one of the most famous names in history.
Thomas Crapper invented a ballcock for toilets that automatically refilled the toilet tank when it ran low on water. The original design was made from brass but was later replaced by plastic versions due to the high cost of producing these brass parts.

The current version of the ballcock is known as a float valve since it floats on top of the water in the tank using a float arm attached below it. This float arm moves up and down as more or less water enters it, which triggers a valve inside that opens or closes depending on whether there is too much or too little water in your toilet tank.

4. Alexander Cummings

Picture of Alexander Cummings

Scottish inventor and watchmaker Alexander Cummings is most famous for his work on the flush toilet. Cummings was known for his skills in plumbing and fixing broken pipes, which made him very popular among his clients.
In 1828, Alexander Cummings created the first flushing toilet in America using an idea from Benjamin Franklin’s gravity flush toilet design that was never actually built.

Cummings’ interest in water closets was sparked by reading about a new invention by American Luman Shurtliff that allowed water to be pumped directly into the bowl and flushed away with a lever.

Cummings’ first experiments were conducted in his own home where he used an existing gravity-fed flush system and connected it to a cistern that sat above the bowl itself. This allowed him to build up pressure inside the cistern before releasing it into the bowl via a valve operated by pulling down on another lever which then opened up an outlet pipe beneath the cistern’s trapdoor lid. Today, this design is known as a “trap-valve”.

5. Joseph Gayetty

Black and white picture of Joseph Gayetty

Joseph Gayetty was an American businessman who made his fortune by selling toilet paper. In the early 19th century, most people used rags and newspapers. Gayetty’s idea of selling rolls of tissue paper to the public was revolutionary.

In 1870, Gayetty began selling packages of flat sheets of Manila hemp toilet paper for 10 cents each at his store on Broadway in New York City. He believed the ink from newspapers was toxic and shouldn’t be used in one’s private areas.

Final Thoughts

Toilet history is a fascinating subject that goes back to the time of Ancient Rome. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that toilets became common in homes.

In recent times, toilets have become more sophisticated with advances in technology, now equipped with more efficient flushing mechanisms and water conservation systems than ever before. Still, wherever the future may take us, it’s always smart to take a look back and see where we came from.