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.