In these uncertain times, people will bulk panic buy anything, especially toilet paper. But what if you're not one of those people stocking up? What do you do when the TP runs out? Luckily, we can take lessons from our ancestors. They had many toilet paper alternatives available, including corncobs and wood shavings. These 21 toilet paper alternatives will keep you clean when the real stuff runs out.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
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The History of Toilet Paper
The earliest known example of toilet paper as we know it today comes from China, about 1400 years ago. Experts debate the exact date, but there are records of Chinese Emperors and other wealthy individuals using paper to clean themselves in the 6th century. Unfortunately, it would take the rest of the world over 1000 years to follow the Chinese example.
In 1857, Joseph Gayetty developed the “Toilet Tissue” in New York. This medicated paper was made of hemp and aloe and represents the first example of modern-day toilet paper.
Toilet Paper on a Roll
By 1890, toilet paper was put on a roll, and the 20th century saw many improvements to the softness and quality of the product. One of the main concerns of early toilet paper was the occasional splinter found in the rolls, causing quite a painful surprise to many!
Thankfully, by the 1930s, the manufacturing process was fine-tuned to ensure there were no splinters in the paper. Fast forward to 2020, and there are dozens of varieties with different ply’s and designs to choose from.
What Cultures Do Not Use Toilet Paper?
Interestingly, toilet paper is mainly a western product. And many countries around the world do not use toilet paper for a variety of reasons. Majority-Muslim countries mainly use water due to the Islamic teachings of using water for cleaning. They will have jugs filled with water, bidets installed on toilets, or shower.
India uses the same idea of a jug of water next to the toilet, rather than toilet paper. In fact, it’s safe to say more than half of the world uses water for cleaning instead of a paper product. This might seem bizarre to Westerners, but many people believe using water is cleaner and safer than abrasive paper products. And if you think about it, they do have a good point.
What Can I Use Instead of Toilet Paper?
You will be surprised at how many toilet paper alternatives you can find around the house. Since you will need a paper alternative more than once, you want to find something that you either have a large stockpile of or something that can be reused. These 21 toilet paper alternatives will keep you clean when you don’t have access to the real stuff.
1. Maple Leaves
This Canadian symbol has many practical uses, including as a toilet paper alternative. The wide, thick leaves of the Maple tree can be found in most places in the northern United States and Canada.
2. Birch Bark
Another plentiful part of a tree, birch bark is a soft thin paper-like substance that can be peeled off of any birch tree.
If you live in one of the unlucky areas (like us) that still have snow at this time of year, use snow as an alternative. I swear it’s not as cold as you might think!
The ancient Romans used sea sponges on the end of sticks to clean themselves. Why not use repurpose some of your sponges the same way?
This will be more relevant during harvest season, but using corncobs isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Colonial Americans used corncobs to clean themselves, and many still preferred corncobs even after toilet paper was invented.
6. Cotton Balls
If you happen to have a large supply of them, a handful of cotton balls will work as a toilet paper alternative. They have a high absorbency and a high enough density to work perfectly.
Before the invention of toilet paper, many American settlers used pages of widely circulated catalogs. These included the Sears Roebuck Catalog, the Old Farmers Almanac, and sometimes phonebooks. These catalogs came printed on soft newspaper-style pages with high absorbency. You likely have similar catalogs around the house you can repurpose.
In theme with catalogs, newspapers are still printed on the same soft and absorbent paper that doubles as a resourceful toilet paper alternative.
9. Mullein Leaves
Known as “Cowboy toilet paper” or “nature’s toilet paper”, Mullein leaves can be found all over the world. They have a soft, woolly texture while also being large and absorbent.
If you didn’t already think of this, bidets can be installed on existing toilets or as a separate fixture. They clean with water and give you a renewable way of cleaning (assuming you have lots of water).
11. Dry Grass
This one should explain itself, but handfuls of dry grass provide a soft and efficient way to get the job done.
By fraying the end of an old length of rope, it turns into a sort of brush with soft ends. Plus, you can rinse the rope to use it again.
13. Paper Products
Baby wipes, wet naps, napkins, paper towels, coffee filters, or kleenex all perform the same function as traditional toilet paper.
14. Cotton Terry Cloths
These soft, small terry cloths provide a great alternative to toilet paper. To reuse them, wash them in a basin or outdoors.
15. Oyster or Clam Shells
This doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it works. Native Americans used to use shells to “scrape” themselves clean.
Hoses, or “Bum Guns” are an Asian version of a bidet. You can buy these hoses for next to your toilet, and they come with a nozzle attachment. Simply point and spray to use. Alternatively, if you have an outhouse you could just use a regular gardening hose.
17. Coconut Husk
Coconut husks were used by natives and settlers in sub-tropical coastal regions. This fibrous husk is plentiful and absorbent.
18. Old Clothes
Repurpose old clothes by cutting or shredding them into usable squares. Use soft and absorbent fabrics, and clean the squares to reuse them.
But not just any stick. Find a small flat stick with a smooth exterior to use the “scraping” method. These were commonly used in many ancient cultures.
20. Banana Leaves
If you live in a banana-producing region these large, thick leaves provide a perfect toilet paper alternative.
21. Old Flannel Sheets
Cutting up old flannel sheets into usable sizes will give you a soft, absorbent, and reusable toilet cloth.
Is it Safe to Flush Cloth Toilet Paper?
No! Don’t flush cloth toilet paper - especially if you have a composting or another type of off-grid toilet. It will clog up your piping and be a nightmare to fix. Besides, you should be reusing your cloth toilet paper. Have a disposal bin near the toilet to collect soiled cloth toilet paper, and wash them all at once.
How Do I Sanitize Cloth Toilet Paper?
To clean your cloth toilet paper, simply put it in your washing machine on a small hot cycle. Dry on a hot cycle as well to kill any extra germs. You can also add vinegar as an added rinse agent. If you live off the grid and have limited washing options, try one of our favorite off-grid washing machines.
How Do I Store Used Toilet Cloths?
Use a diaper pail for your used toilet cloths. These pails are specially made to be easily cleanable and many have storage spots for clean cloths as well.
During these toilet-paper hoarding times, it can be difficult to find some TP. Luckily, there are many toilet paper alternatives for your family to use. Modern-day toilet paper has only been available for about 150 years, so our ancestors' alternatives give us some interesting insight into what they used to use. Take some lessons from them, and get creative. You will find many ways to solve problems caused by world shortages.
Interested in learning more about life off-the-grid? Continue reading below.
This post is part of the Homestead Blog Hop #335!
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