Do We Really Need Toilet Paper

Why do westerners use toilet paper instead of water

Do we really need toilet paper? Well, for most of human existence, we haven’t. The first recorded use of paper, for sanitary purposes, was recorded in China in 6th century. However , it wasn’t until 1857 that manufactured toilet paper was first sold by American entrepreneur Joseph Gayetty.

Before that, humans use all kinds of things to clean up. The ancient Japanese used a stick. The Romans used a shared sponge in their communal latrines, which actually spread disease. Other common tools included; a washable cloth, corn husks, grass, animal skins, snow and even rocks.

different kinds of things used in place of toilet

Cost availability, comfort and even weather determined what methods were used. Initially, disposable paper was expensive, and only privilege for the upper classes. Often creating a silent classism around toilet culture.

During the cold war, much of the communist block countries used either scrap paper clippings, or a coarse state-manufactured roll made of recycled newspaper. In fact, one of the most fruitful Western spy operations of the Cold War, Operation Tamarist, involved British and American spies collecting and reconstructing sensitive documents that Soviet soldiers had torn up and used as toilet paper.

sensitive documents as toilet paper in Cold War

There are also places that rejected toilet paper altogether as disgusting and ineffective. In 1795, Narayan Singh, an official in Mughal India, expressed his disdain with colonising British merchants by asking “What honour is left to use, when we have to take orders from a handful of traders who have not yet lerned to wash their bottoms?” In India, like most of the world, water was and still is, the preferred method of toilet hygiene. Often, a water jug, known as ‘lota’, is kept next to the toilet and the water is splashed by hand (usually the left one).

In the Middle Wast, where Islamic custom encourages the use of water, this usually comes in the form of a water gun or ‘shattaf’ next to the toilet.


Japan is famous for its hi-tech, no hands, washing and drying toilets. And despite centuries of Western stigma about unsanitary Eastern toilet habits and the so-called ‘dirty left hand’ (which, by the way, is washed afterwards), science says that Narayan Singh may have had a point.

Japanese toilet

Study after study has proven that water cleaner than toilet paper. Think about it… If you fell into a pile of mud, would you try to wash it off with dry napkin? or get the hose out before you head back inside?

Toilet paper’s also terrible for the environment. Its use eradicates 27,000 trees per day, globally. It routinely clogs plumbing systems, and most countries’ infrastructures can’t handle it at all. So, why do some of us still insist on toilet paper?