While researching this subject, we found a lot of very graphic descriptions of things and procedures used before what we know as toilet paper was invented. We will try to be gentle in our description.
The earliest description of a paper used for cleaning your nether regions was in China in the 6th century. Those inventive Chinese pounded bamboo to a pulp and mixed it with rags soaked in water and then dried it to form paper sheets. And in the 14th century mass toilet paper production was documented in the Zhejiang province. The sheets were about 2’ x 3’ (yes, that’s right- feet). The thought of toilet paper being that large today puts a chill down any plumbers’ spine.
In other parts of the world, people used such items as hemp, rags, leaves, lace (for the well-heeled), corn cobs, grass, stones, seashells, moss, hay, fruit or animal skins; the list goes on. Nothing seemed to be out of the consideration. But one of the most widely used was: the hand, along with some water. It’s still used in some cultures today.
Many people believe it is the only way to do a meticulous job when needed, and the hand is thoroughly washed with soap after use. Most designate the left hand for the job, and this is why shaking right hands is the way of greeting or sealing a deal in many cultures.
The bidet was invented in the late 17th century in France. Its purpose was to be used after toilet paper did the initial job. Europeans quickly gravitated to this new invention and it’s found in most bathrooms outside of the U.S. today.
Around 1850, Joseph Gayetty introduced “Medicated Paper” for your toilette; it came in a book form. When Sears began sending out its mammoth catalog, outhouses all over were kept in constant supply of wiping material.
In the U.S., toilet paper began as a standard 4 ½” x 4 ½” single ply. Demands for greater comfort changed how toilet paper is produced; currently the paper has multiple plies and is manufactured with lotions or aloes to provide greater comfort. Also, the length of wood threads that make the paper are shortened to provide more softness (the wood pulp is finer).
In the 1960’s American toilet paper manufacturers began producing colored toilet paper, to keep up with consumer demands for paper to compliment the color palette in their bathrooms. That trend fizzled out by about 2004.
Americans have a love affair with their toilet paper, so much so that it’s the cause of most toilet clogs. Too much of a good thing!