"Can you spare a square?" 5 quick tips on toilet paper usage.

By Paul Michael on 20 May 2008 47 comments
Photo: GardenGhelle

That classic scene from Seinfeld got me thinking over the weekend. Is there a strategy for using toilet paper? Is it worth our time? But when I spend money to literally flush the product down the drain, I often wonder…how much should I be flushing? Am I wasting money?

As an adult, I had never given it much thought until a comedian I was listening to pointed out that even hardnosed conservationists seem to forget their scruples in the stall. Why use a few sheets when a massive wad of paper will do the job just as well?

My mother worked out, pretty quickly, that regardless of how good the toilet paper was that she bought, we’d use the same amount; way too much. So instead of buying the luxurious double rolls with extra absorbency, she’d get standard rolls. And as kids, we never really noticed the difference, and would still pull armfuls of paper from the roll, leaving the cardboard tube spinning on the holder for a good 10 seconds.

So, what to do? Pardon the pun, but even to a frugal guy like me it seems a little anal to have a toilet paper strategy. I mean, I don’t have much of a life but I’m not at the point where I’m counting TP sheets…at least, not yet. But there are a few things I can suggest, especially with kids around.

1) Think twice about getting those expensive, luxurious rolls of paper for the kids' bathroom. Regular paper works just as well, and kids will use either one with zeal.

2) Consider having a box of baby wipes in the bathroom. On those times when things get a little messy (stomach flu anyone?) a baby wipe or two will do the work of handfuls of toilet paper. They’re designed to handle much bigger messes than regular TP.

NOTE: As many readers have pointed out, buy FLUSHABLE wipes. Kandoo and Cottonelle are popular, but many stores (Walgreens for instance) now carry their own brand of flushable wipes for a nice saving.  

3) Buy standard sized rolls. Double rolls actually run down quicker than two standard rolls. The reason being, we see more of the roll and subconsciously use more because there’s plenty. It’s the reason you keep seeing manufacturers up the size of the roll, so that now we need extra equipment to fit these jumbo sized rolls onto the holder.

4) Go with store brand. As I’ve said many times, there is very little difference, if any, between name brand and store brand; especially in this instance when it all ends up being flushed down the drain anyway.

5) Practice restraint. There’s no reason at all to attack the roll and pull masses of paper away with the force of Rambo starting a speedboat. Grab what you need and nothing more.

These few simple tips will save you money on a product every single one of us uses on a daily basis. Let’s save a few trees and a few bucks at the same time.

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47 discussions

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Guest's picture
Anonymous Embarassed Coward

This is very interesting, because for whatever reason, the topic is so taboo. So, thanks to the anonymous internet (:)) maybe it will be a bit less taboo...

I am a male in my twenties, and I find myself generally using less than 10 total squares per 'trip' to the bathroom. I'm not sure what the point is in using more than 3 - 4 squares at a time as long as they are folded correctly; 3 squares of buffer space or 30 squares both seem to provide adequate buffer space between my oh-so-delicate hand and anything 'down there' that might 'get me'.

I guess all of this doesn't even matter unless you get yourself 'clean' each time, and I believe I accomplish that with well under 10 squares.

Guest's picture
j l

I've found, actually, that I use more paper when I buy the cheap stuff. Us chicks require more than one ply, sorry. I read somewhere or another that men tend to be "folders" while women tend to be "wadders" -- a quick survey of my household found this to be true -- and I think the peculiarities of our varying equipment explains this quite well. Bluntly put, a woman who folds (or uses too little tissue) is going to get her hand wet. So do cut the ladies some slack, won't you?

I've heard many strategies for keeping kids from using too much, though, that should work on adults, too -- count squares, make a mark on the wall below the roll holder and only take X inches, etc. At my friend's family beach house, there was actually a sign above the roll asking people to limit themselves to three squares.

Paul Michael's picture

...thanks j l. I certainly didn't want to offend our lady readers, and was unaware of the 'wadding' technique for obvious reasons.

Jason White's picture

I'm not touching this one!  Last time I tried to encourage conservation at the TP roll my wife and daughter gave me an evil eye and I knew danger approached.  Maybe I could print this out and conveniently leave it sitting around the magazine rack. 

Guest's picture

Gotta disagree with JL. My husband uses far more bathroom tissue than I do. And there's no real way to police it.

I do agree that one-ply won't cut it, but any two-ply is fine. In fact, the general consensus is that soft and fluffy brands are quite harmful for plumbing (both the house's and a woman's).

I've given up on trying to convince anyone else what I think is an adequate amount. I just do what I can to conserve on my own.

Guest's picture

I heard a great technique:

Before you put the roll on the holder, squash it. The fact that kids can't "pull it so hard that it leave the empty roll spinning" will force them to use less.

I tried it and it worked for us!

Paul Michael's picture

Or just put the rolls in the bottom of the shopping cart, then dump your weekly shop on top. That's what usually happens to mine anyway!

Guest's picture
Squares Light

Great post. I also disagree with buying the store brand, it is rough like sand paper. I am super frugal, just not a masochist. :) We purchase the deluxe soft double rolls and we have flushable wipes ready and available as well. My wife and kids (twin girls) use 1 square for #1, and a wipe for #2. I use either 2 squares for #2 or a wipe. The thickness and softness of the paper keeps our bottoms clean and soft. I never worry about getting my hands dirty, that is what washing up afterwards is for.

I do however catch flack with the un-initiated, like my mother, who visits and seems to use a whole roll for #1. :( But then again, she had an outhouse while growing up.

Guest's picture

Since we've started using flushable wipes our TP use has gone way down.
My daughter and I are both folders and neither of us seem to suffer from wet hand

Paul Michael's picture

I wish everyonehad clean habits. Last week at work, I heard a guy in the stall having 'major troubles.' As I was washing my hands, I saw him exit the stall, check himself out in the mirror, lick his finger (not kidding) and wipe it over his eyebrow and then walk out.  Now I know why Howie Mandell or Trump don't shake hands.

Guest's picture
Mike 2

I laughed out loud more than once at this. You're right, many of us "forget our scruples in the stall." But you know, I've always wondered why toilet paper is perforated in the way it is... does anyone actually ever use one square of TP?

Guest's picture
Baz L

Are you serios???

Guest's picture

We've been using baby wipes more often - not only do you feel cleaner, but it's what my mom's doctor suggested to her to cut down on hemorrhoids, and upon mentioning this to my grandmother, SHE'S noticed that it cut down on them as well - HER doctor is suggesting them now! Something to think about if you have that problem.

Secondly, we've been considering a bidet - living in an apartment, I wasn't sure that we could even DO a bidet...but they have toilet snap-ons that don't need their own water line, as well as portable (hand-held) washers...both for REALLY cheap. Yes, you'll need to have some sort of towel to dry yourself with nearby, but you'll be cleaner, healthier, AND save money at the same time!

Something to think about...

Guest's picture

Many baby wipes have a "do not flush" symbol on them. There is at least one brand of kids wipes that is flushable, it has a green frog on the logo.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

My husband uses a lot more TP than me because he is a bit OCD and wipes a lot.  I tend to use less squares when the TP is 2 ply so I just get those. 

Guest's picture

Store the container upside down. We use the Kandoo brand, with a group of wipes sealed in plastic, and a pull-off part to open the package. We leave the wipes in that pack, and put it into the plastic dispenser. Having the container upside down means there's very little air above the next wipe, so it doesn't dry out. Dry wipes are almost as helpful as writing paper... :P

Guest's picture

I cannot stress how well baby wipes work. Combined with TP, you only need 1 or 2 to get the job done. I feel much cleaner when using them. Oh, and regarding the bunch vs fold technique...We keep the roll on a hook thing. When I'm wiping, I take if off and hold it in one hand and kind of roll the paper around my fingers on my other hand. Finally, I remove the loosely rolled paper from my fingers and use get to the getting. Anonymity is fun.

Guest's picture

Great reminder; I used them when I was sick and they helped a lot. store brands, of course. when i was in israel, the paper was so stiff and dry it made me really appreciate store brands even more!

Guest's picture

women, please use white tissue: colored tissue can irritate our sensitive spots and give us infections. on my way...

Paul Michael's picture

I had no idea this topic would generate such discussion.  I think I'll write a book on the subject. Or is that a crap idea?

Guest's picture

I used to be a Charmin-aholic. I love the product! Until I moved into my new apartment...the Charmin keeps clogging the toilet! I've switched to Angel Soft and I'm working on keeping the toilet free of clogs :)

Guest's picture

Even the flushable wipes can cause major headaches to your septic system. Use with caution!!

Guest's picture

Everyone says use Baby Wipes to cut down on the use of the TP....But how much MORE do Baby Wipes cost than said TP???

Could you have False Economy here spending more than if you bought Toilet Paper alone???

Always buy mine on sale anyway and use the 2-ply jumbo role.

~ Roland

Guest's picture

I have a baby. I worked out the cost per wipe on a recent purchase. $0.04 per wipe.
Just remember that most brands are not designed to be flushed.

Paul Michael's picture

only 1 baby wipe instead of a whole bunch fo paper. Economically, it saves cash on those more 'difficult' jobs. But yes, do use flushable wipes.

Guest's picture

You will love this story. I work with international students, & was greeting 2 young men upon their arrival at a US university. Their mamas had packed their suitcases with dishes, food, cleaning supplies, etc.... but no toilet paper. So, as we shopped for apartment needs, I kept putting TP into the cart & they kept putting it back. Seems they WASH it off in India. Well, I informed them that they'd be wiping here! They bought the TP ;)

Guest's picture

As someone who is probably classified as a 'heavy user', I know I find it worth it to buy the Kirkland brand at Costco in bulk (and I live alone, at least it lasts me a few months). It sounds like baby wipes might be worth a try for some 'jobs' though.

Awesome post, very fun.

Guest's picture

I travel a lot and in Europe I was introduced to a bidet. Cleaner, cheaper and easier.

Guest's picture

If it requires a wet wipe, we use washcloths. My children quite happily went through an entire BOX of kandoo wipes (bought on sale with a coupon) inside of two days.

Guest's picture

I have to say that an alternative to TP is to use cloth wipes. Babies do so why can't adults? And for those people out there with sensitive skin this is a blessing. Just make sure that they are thick enough and you can even save money and make them yourself out of old clothing, washcloths, towels, etc...

Another option is to just use them with #1 and use TP with #2 to help save. As long as you rinse (this is where a bidet or diaper sprayer comes in handy) the mess off you can throw the wipes in the wash. You can either wash them with your clothes or once you have enough for a load you can wash them separately.

Just a thought. I know some people who do not supply TP in their house and when guests come to visit they either have to bring their own or use the cloth. Their is always a cute soaking pot or hanging bad strategically placed for depositing the used wipes.

Guest's picture

What do men think about waxing or shaving the hair around their anus? It seems to me that the hair in that region causes me to wipe more times than I should have to, using more toilet paper, and causing damage to the area. Anyone tried it?

Guest's picture

Umm....I shave around there and I'm a guy. It doesn't make you a one-wipe-wonder but it helps. One note: If you get sweaty and you recently "trimmed up", the sweat will run like a river to the lowest point (taint area). It seems that hair keeps moisture spread out across a large area and off your skin.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

I was in Mexico one summer down near Rosarita, and got sick as par for the course whenever I go down there. We stopped at a hotel on the day we were leaving and I ran to the bathroom and let nature takes it's course. When I was done, I was mortified to see that the TP dispenser was filled with tiny rectangular pieces of what looked like waxed paper. It was like wiping with Saran Wrap, and I would have killed for a roll of one-ply.

Guest's picture

Use your hands. Thats how it is done by BILLIONS of people around the world.

Guest's picture

The master bathroom in my house, due to a weird setup, doesn't have a door. You can see the user's knees and the roll of toilet paper if someone is in there. One day, I happened to look in and see my boyfriend setting one sheet back on top of the roll. As an unashamed "buncher" who wouldn't notice a difference of several sheets one way or the other, I thought this was hilarious. Until he gave me his reasoning: "Well, I pulled off two by accident."
So I am pretty sure that I have no one to blame but myself when we run out of paper.

Guest's picture

Please folks - do NOT flush any type of wipes down the toilet even if it says on the label that they are flushable. I work for the local sewer district and the public has no idea how destructive those things get in the sewer system. They clog up lift stations and weak havoc on the pumps at the sewer plant. This is a relatively new phenomena that is happening across the US. We have even seen people's laterals from their own house out to the sewer line in the street get clogged because of using wipes and flushing them.

Paul Michael's picture

How can they be called flushable if they're not flushable? Aren't the manufacturers guilty of misrepresentation?

Guest's picture

Well, technically they are "flushable" in that they won't clog up your toilet. If copious quantities are used in a relatively small period of time, however, they do have the potential to clog up your lateral (your house's connection to the sewer line in the street), as I stated in my previous post. So "technically" the manufacturer's aren't lying, but they don't care what happens past the point of you using their product. What most people don't understand is that sewer treatment plants are publicly owned, so everyone's taxes go to support them. If they have problems, it's everyone's hard-earned money that is going into fixing the problem. The purpose of my original post was to educate people of a potential problem caused by their actions, that in the long-run will cost their taxes to fix. And it's something that doesn't even need to occur in the first place if everyone will just use a trash can for the wipes.

Paul Michael's picture

a Diaper Genie of some kind.

Guest's picture

Wow I loved this post. I just started using baby wipes and I use the wipes for 1 and drop them in the little trash bin near the toilet.

I use TP for #2 but I sometimes swipe with a baby wipe after. It makes me feel so fresh and happy...I can see why babies smile so much. :-)

I think I am going to move towards the use of wipes more because it just feels better.

Guest's picture

TP is the one thing I refuse to skimp on! No thanks.

Guest's picture

TP doesn't get you particularly clean. If you got fecal matter or urine on your hands, would you wipe them with dry toilet paper? Doubt it. That's just gross.

It's cheaper and more environmentally friendly to use a wet washcloth to clean yourself. And the girls will notice that we have less irritation when using this method.

Maggie Wells's picture

Those of us in the sticks can't put the TP down the septic much less a wipe! Yikes. Great blog though.



Guest's picture

I'm so printing this out for my boyfriend. When I was living with him for awhile while looking for my own place, I bought all the TP (because of course being male, he forgot), and after going through two 24 packs in a month, enough was enough. I bought a 24 pack for my new place when I moved in and between my roommate and I've we've gone through just 10 rolls in 3 weeks, which is still excessive (probably due to my boyfriend's visits) but far better than 48 rolls a month!!

Guest's picture
J. M

My teeenage nephew is the toliet paper hog in our house. He is always stopping up the toliet with MOUNDS of tp. It is disgusting because he then leaves it for us to find and unclog. How do you teach a teenage boy that half a roll of tp is too much for one poop session? I don't buy the cheapest tp but I don't buy the most expensive. We are on a septic tank and flushable wipes are NOT an option. They clog the lines up, not the toliet. Around here boys are way worse on too much tp than girls. Short of sending him outside to do his business I need a solution.

Guest's picture

I've recently worked out a way to use 2-3 squares each time I 'sit down'.  It's difficult to achieve this, and I feel utterly foolish -- knowing that businesses waste colossal amounts of paper every second. 

I didn't know there were easy bidet snap-ons available - I'll have to look into that.

Guest's picture

I've heard of a new product that helps to limit the amount of paper that you pull off of the roll to what you need. It seems like a great way to not waste paper, help preserve the enviroment and save money on wasted paper. rollitrite.com is the web site. Made in USA and eco-friendly, too.