Toilet Paper was First Used by the Chinese

Today I found out that toilet paper was first used by the Chinese about 1300 years before it caught on with the rest of the world.  The first references of people using toilet paper dates back to the 6th century AD in the Chinese Imperial courts and amongst the other wealthy citizens of China.  This eventually spread throughout China and by the 14th century there was an annual manufacturing of around ten million packages of toilet paper in the Zhejiang province alone.

This however, did not catch on with the rest of the world for some time.  Indeed, a Muslim traveler to China in the 8th century noted “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.”  It wouldn’t be until the late 1800s when toilet paper would be introduced in America and England and it wasn’t until the 1900s, around the same time the indoor toilet became common, that toilet paper would catch on with the masses.

So what did people use before toilet paper?  What was popular depended greatly on region, personal preference, and wealth.  Rich people often used hemp, lace, or wool;  poor people often would poop in rivers and clean off with water, rags, wood shavings (ouch!), leaves, hay, rocks, sand, moss, sea weed, apple husks, seashells (Demolition Man much?), ferns, and pretty much whatever else was at hand and cheap/free.

The Ancient Romans favorite wiping item, including in public restrooms, was a sponge on a stick that would sit in salt water and be placed back in the salt water when done… waiting for the next person… *shudders* (kind of brings new meaning to the saying “the wrong end of the stick”)

Ancient Greeks were a little more sanitary, using stones and pieces of clay.  America’s favorite wiping item tended to be corn cobs and, later, Sears and Roebucks, Farmers Almanac, and other catalogs.  The Farmers Almanac even came with a hole in it so it could be easily hung in bathrooms for just this purpose.

The 16th century French writer Francois Rabelais, in his work Gargantua and Pantagruel, notes that after pooping paper was useless, “Who his foul tail with paper wipes, shall at his ballocks leave some chips.”  He instead recommended that “the neck of a goose, that is well downed” worked best.

In India and other middle eastern countries, even today, the preferred method is to wipe using nothing but your left hand and water and then, of course, wash your hand well afterward and don’t handle any food or the like with your left hand; as such, people who are left handed tend to be forced to become right handed early on in those regions.

For seaman, the common thing was to use old frayed anchor cables (seriously, how their butt’s survived, we may never know).   The Inuit’s and other peoples living in frigid regions tended to go with clumps of snow to wipe with, which, other than the coldness factor, is actually one of the better options it seems compared to many other of the above methods.

Around 1857, Joseph Gayetty came up with the first commercially available toilet paper in the United States.  His paper “The greatest necessity of the age!  Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet” was sold in packages of flat sheets that were moistened and soaked with aloe (about 130 years ahead of his time as it wasn’t until the 1990’s that toilet paper companies started doing this again).  Gayetty’s toilet paper sold for about 50 cents a pack, with 500 sheets per pack.  This wasn’t terribly popular, presumably because up to this point most people got their wiping materials for free from whatever was at hand.

Around 1867, brothers Edward, Clarence, and Thomas Scott, who sold products from a push cart, started making and selling toilet paper as well.  They did a bit better than Gayetty, presumably because their original toilet paper wasn’t coated with aloe and moistened, thus was cheaper; rather it was more just rolls of somewhat soft paper (sometimes with splinters).  They also had the somewhat innovative idea of putting the names of the companies that were buying the toilet paper on the paper.  This wasn’t initially done as a business move to help sell the paper, rather was because they were uncomfortable with having their family name literally soiled. Putting the company names, such as with the Waldorf Hotel, on the toilet paper was a huge hit with the companies they were selling to and helped them stay in business where Gayetty had failed.

As the indoor flushable toilet started to become popular, so did toilet paper. This is not surprising considering there was nothing really to grab in an indoor bathroom to wipe with, unlike outdoors where nature is at your disposal.  The age old Farmers Almanac and similar such catalogs also were not well suited for this purpose as in indoor plumbing it tended to clog up the pipes.

A few notable toilet paper innovations that came along were:

  • Rolled and perforated toilet paper made by the Albany Perforating Wrapping Paper Company in 1877 and shortly after the Scott Paper company in 1879.
  • In 1935 Northern Tissue boasted a “splinter free” toilet tissue, which would seem to imply that it was somewhat common for toilet tissue to have the occasional splinter before that due to poor manufacturing techniques of the day.
  • In 1942, St. Andrew’s paper mill in Great Britain introduced two-ply toilet paper.
  • In the 1990’s several toilet paper manufacturers began offering toilet paper treated with aloe, which they called a “great innovation”… as Joseph Gayetty rolls over in his grave.

Bonus Facts:

  • 44% of people wipe from front to back
  • 42% fold the tissue after wiping
  • 33% crumple
  • 8% fold and then crumple
  • 6% wrap it around their hands
  • Johnny Carson once caused a near month long toilet paper shortage in the U.S. in December of 1973.  In his show, he said, “You know what’s disappearing from the supermarket shelves?  Toilet paper… There’s an acute shortage of toilet paper in the United States.”  Americans promptly went out and bought up every piece of toilet paper they could find.  Supermarkets tried to ration it, but to no avail.  By noon the next day, pretty much all the nation’s supermarkets were sold out.  After several days of toilet paper shortages due to this hysteria, Carson went on the air to try to explain it had been a joke and apologized.  But because the shelves were almost always empty of toilet paper at this time, whenever some would come in, people would buy it all and hoard it.  This toilet paper shortage lasted a full three weeks.

Now to you oh good readers from all over the world:

  • What is your typical wiping implement (if not toilet paper)?
  • Do you tend to wipe front to back or back to front?
  • Are you a crumpler or a folder?
  • And are you an excessive wiper (not happy until your derriere is properly rubbed raw and toilet clogged) or a “good enough” wiper?
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  • – Toilet paper followed by baby wipe(s)
    – Front to back, then back to front
    – Folder
    – “Good enough” means I’m clean – I don’t consider that excessive.

  • -Toilet paper
    -Front to back
    -Neat folder
    -Definitely an excessive wiper. I’ve clogged a good number of toilets

  • -Toilet paper
    -Back to front
    -Excessive! Usually need two flushes

  • 1.Quilted toilet paper.
    2.Pinch to the center, fold and pinch again.
    3.started out a crumpler but fingers found holes, now a folder.
    Final wipe is sprayed alcohol on quilted paper.
    Yes it did burn a little at first.

  • -Toilet paper
    -Front to back, then back to front
    -Excessive wipper

  • water hygiene its the best to clean yourself-it doesnt make any sense to use paper and that its not hygiene at all-please use water its good for hygiene.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @zagoroki: I agree. If you got dog poop on your hand, you wouldn’t just wipe it off with toilet paper or a paper towel and call it good. 🙂

    • Of course, you would also use a soap agent along with water as well, yes?

  • Actually that IS the old/original meaning of “wrong end of the stick.”

  • To Zagaroski and Hiskey, if I got dog poo on my hands, I wash them. After I wipe with tp, I wash my hands. Either way….your hands end up clean.

  • -Toilet Paper-then water on more toilet paper then baby wipes
    -Front to back, then front to back as needed
    -Excessive wiper….excessive

  • First, front to back, then back to front.
    Baby wipes
    Pressure washer
    Sand paper
    Then paint

  • please use water ….your ass will still smell like poop if you only wipe

    use bidet , soap, more water ….dry your ass

    ass + paper = spreading poop in your pant

  • -Began just as the old man taught me, stood up and wiped from bottom to top.

    -One day realized I smelt like shit while sitting at my desk at school.

    -Began a new method of lifting my ballocks while seated and reaching beneath them to wipe from back to front.

    -Wipe til brown becomes yellow, yellow becomes white.

    -I fold carefully to conserve paper.

    -Try to limit my paper consumption but have been known to be excessive.

    -Rinse my foul tail whenever I shower.

    -Confident in my technique, but aware that I may need to upgrade to a last wipe with wet toilet paper.

    • -Also I sometimes read so long while seated that the shit left on the tout dries to a crust.
      -In which case I use an even greater amount of paper to break it off.
      -If really stuck on I will shower.

  • I crumple and wet the tp. Excessive wiper, but sometimes still not enough! I find aloe too slippery. I hate public toilets and ones that don’t have faucet within reach. Secretly wet some tp and bring into the stall when no one is around in that case.

  • Married an Asian and discovered the wonderful truth of water washing. Will never go back. Best way by far if you suffer from hemorrhoids or fissures. Hate it when I travel and don’t have access to a bidet. Spent $400 on a “Cadillac” home bidet 7 years ago and no regrets. I use the Toto washlet, which has retractable cleaning wand and seat heating. Makes a great conversation piece for visitors, and my young daughter’s friends are all fascinated…although some are scared to sit down!

  • Cleaning is a ritual and holistic for me. The wiping begins way before the paper. It’s about the entire atmosphere. I prefer ( hygeinic, color-free, fragrance free and lotion free). Just basic strong hygenic, straight forward white Scot tissue. The soft, perfumey and lotioned stuff is gross and breaks and crumbles easily.
    I hate warm, cozy, fuzzy bathrooms with aerosol freshner sprays. Only cool, clean, sterile, fragrance-free, unless scented by candle or inscent are suitable.

    Before I sit down I wash my hands and toilet seat to rid of any residue/germs before going.
    Secondly, I wrap tissue several times around four fingers to avoid any contact with my opponent.
    Always, front to back consecutively until the paper goes from color to white again. Literally white again.
    If the paper does not appear white you must wash with water regardless.
    You must leave the seat and flush handle clean for the next-its sanitary and civilized to do so.
    Dry with fresh tissue and wash hands, fingers nails and wrist if necessary at least two times with very warm water. Don’t forget to clean your sink bowl faucet which often have lots of germs.Dry hands thoroughly and have a nice day!

    I avoid public toilets at all cost-unless I absolutely have an emergency! When I have to absolutely use them I never ever sit. I also use tissue to open doors, turn on faucets, etc. I try not to touch or have any skin contact with any objects in a public restroom what so ever.

  • We Muslims do not believe in just toilet papers (unless it is in urgent necessity-darurah(no way to find water). We have to pray, and knowing that something on your body was not well washed off, or not clean enough how can we pray..?huhu..We will use water, and then dry the part off with the toilet papers..and for us, even using the wet tissues is never good enough..because only running water can wash away all the things from the excretion..not by just wiping them off..after finishing the business, we make sure to clean our hands thoroughly as well..i hope the world will get better and cleaner..yes, sometimes there are foreigners who came to my country and find it messy with all the pipes/ water buckets in our toilets, but for me, its better for the toilets to be wet than my body to be itchy and unclean..peace!

  • My friend’s dad was in the Korean War. He said that they used various magazines sent over from the States and that the ink or whatever in Collier’s irritated everyone’s butts.

  • ohh man the top 10 comments wauw, get a life lol , its like you people trying to prove that you have a lot of knowedge in toilet papers, did you guys mastered toilet paper usage in UNIVERSITY, which uni is that 😀 , get a life and stop the madness and go wipe your face please

  • What Americans call toilet paper, is commonly called toilet roll, in the UK.

  • Actually toilet paper like material was used in Ancient Egypt and various African civilizations BEFORE the Ancient Chinese used paper toilet papers or even discovered paper! But hey ignorance seems to be the norm!

    • Papyrus was not conventional paper and wasn’t mass produced as a toilet paper. The Egyptians used a form of sand stone that they kept for that purpose, combined with grasses from the Nile river. I don’t recall ancient African civilizations having conventional paper artifacts. Can you please cite your source.

      • Why must some people instinctively try to deny and dispute anything innovative relating to Ancient/modern African civilizations? (Thanks a lot to modern racism, Euro colonialism and the Trans Atlantic Slave trade). Most people don’t seem to be aware that Ancient African civilizations (not just Egypt) were engineers of agriculture, medicine, math, spices, crafts etc long before a lot of other civilizations. Stop the ignorance and give Africa the well deserving credit.

  • My mom said that the shiny pages of the Sears catalog always used to hurt.
    Crumple a little and dab the front.
    Crumple and wipe inner thigh…the area exposed to the hole…if pee went sideways and sprayed my leg (sometimes women don’t know which way it’s going).
    Crumple a lot and wipe sideways and front to back until clean.
    Use flushable wipes. One for front and one for back. Usually after flushing to avoid plugging the toilet.
    So I would say I’m excessive because I want to be clean. But I often plug the low flow toilet. I hate those things.

  • I hate when women don’t use the seats when they use public toilets because they end up spraying the seat and the next person has to clean the seat or they accidentally sit in it! So, for all you women who don’t want to sit on the seat…LIFT IT UP FIRST. Many people are handicapped or have bad knees and can’t squat like you do. They need the seat.

  • After reading all the comments, my reaction is to go out any buy a bidet… Cleans better and is sanitary.