December 18, 2010

Make It Last: Toilet Paper (Or How To Wipe With One Square Or Less)

Could you live without toilet paper? 
Sheryl Crow, singer and environmentalist, once famously said that we should only use one square of toilet paper each time we went to the bathroom. The media thought she was joking, but I don't think so. It is possible to do your business with one square or less.

Standing in front of the items, formerly known as trees, in the disposable paper product aisle of my grocery store, I spotted the 100% post-consumer variety of toilet tissue (98% of tissue is made from virgin trees). A pack of 24 rolls was $14.00 with tax. It made me pause.

I realized that I am part of a tiny portion of humans that use toilet paper, and it seemed like an outrageous expenditure both personally and environmentally. Millions of trees are cut annually to make fibre for a cleaning method that few use. But the few use a LOT - the bum tissue market is a multi-billion dollar per year enterprise. I decided it was time to change my routine and initiate Sheryl Crow's One Square Limit immediately.

I am adopting the ways of over a billion people on the planet, and have been using water and my left hand. I visited India several years ago for a few months so feel somewhat comfortable with this method. Still, after a lifetime of being exposed to the all pervasive advertisements for the softest toilet paper in the known universe, it is hard to overcome the programming. For the time being I will allow myself one square to dry off afterward.

Taking living with less to extremes, I calculated how long I could stretch my current tp stash. The package has 24 rolls, and each roll has 280 squares. In all there are 6720 squares. That means the pack should last for about 15 years. My patient partner in simple living will need some too, so including her allotment let's say we have about 5 years worth. We're good to 2015.

After that I am quitting toilet paper altogether. The period of weaning should make it a gentle transition to joining the majority of the human race that has never seen ultra-plush, four-ply, pillowy soft tissue. Or scratchy single ply for that matter. One small wipe for a man, one giant swipe for sustainability. Thanks, Sheryl.


  1. Good Lord I couldn't believe my eyes- you are actually wiping yer bum with your hand and water..?

    Now there's just one more reason I won't be shaking people's hands anymore. lol

    And I'll be using *your* share of the friggin toilet paper too!


  2. Loki - Wash with the left hand, shake with the right. Using water instead of paper is definitely a different way of doing things for a North American. It is common in many other countries I have visited, like Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Malaysia, and India. Now I am still automatically reaching for toilet paper, rather than grabbing water. But I like trees, and using water is much cleaner. Of course, a proper hand scrub with soap and hot water after is a must, but it is anyway. Still, in countries where this method is used it is usual practice to not eat with the left hand. I think after a while using water will feel as natural as toilet paper. And I promise there will always be 100% post-consumer content toilet paper at my house for guests. It's soft and more tree friendly.

  3. I made reusable baby wipes out of old t shirts and receiving blankets last year. A few months ago I ran out of toilet paper and had my son grab me the tub of cloth wipes. That day a light bulb went off... If I can save the money and trash on my babies buts, why not my own? I just throw them into a bucket of bleach water and wash them with my cloth diapers.

  4. Becky,

    What an excellent realization you have come to. Thank you so much for sharing - for most of us toilet paper is sacred. It takes a very brave person to do things differently, especially in this department.

    Good-bye wasteful practices, hello not buying anything.

    Thanks again for commenting, Becky.

  5. Anonymous9/29/2011

    I have a mom who grew up in hard depression times, they saved everything. foil balls was a big one saving the littlest bit the foil off a gum wrapper etc. and my grand mother remembers when toilet paper didnt exist- not for the common man anyway. She would be 106 this year God rest her soul. I asked her well what did you use then Gram? she said News paper. she said they would sit around and ball up the news paper and then smooth it out to make it soft and cut it into strips. So there ya go a new way to recycle . I t really disgusted my children when grandma would burst into the bathroom and grab the paper out of there little hands and count the sheets, telling them they had one too many! so embarASSing! I I forgive her, and vowed never to skimp on TP! I will do with out elsewhere in life happily BUTTT not it comes down to a clean BEHind-( I am laughing now!) When mom comes to my humble abode I tell her not to skimp that she can use all the stinking TP she desires. Until there is a ban on it or we run out

  6. Anon,

    Like I said, "For some toilet paper is sacred", and switching is unlikely. All the same, using water is superior in so many ways, and is my preferred method. But we haven't given up toilet paper completely, yet.

    I like the idea of crinkling the newspaper first to soften it, then cutting it into strips. That shows a resourcefulness that is sadly lacking in today's wasteful world.

    Have you ever tried using water? Even the four-adjective toilet paper can't be as smooth or as effective at bottom cleaning as water.

    I agree, though, that your poo paper policing grandmother might have gone a little too far.

  7. Anonymous10/01/2012

    I'm really trying to simplify and use and buy less, but I just don't think I can give up TP!


    1. Once you are used to one way or another it is difficult to change. I still use toilet paper, although less than I once did.

      As far as reducing ones impact, there are more effective ways of cutting back that have a larger benefit, like eating less meat, or driving less often.

      100% post-consumer content TP is a greener alternative that is more gentle on our... forests.

  8. If you use the bum gun then you don't need to skimp on cleanliness as they are way cleaner than using toilet tissue. Why we've all been using it for so long is beyond me. Using a jet of water is by far superior in every way.

    1. Helen - thank you for vouching for the effectiveness of using water.

      Most of the population of the world uses some variation of this, and really, toilet paper users are the odd ones.

    2. No problem Gregg. I encourage all my girlfriends to also use the bum gun. A few have have already installed one and are converted to using water. Others need more work. The bum gun also has an added benefit for us girls every month helping keep us fresh and clean through these difficult days. I still use a bit of TP to pad dry but thats it.

    3. Helen, you are doing good work that will benefit the environment, and NBA readers.

  9. Anonymous1/12/2013

    Fully agree Helen & Gregg, since i found the bum gun on a trip to Vietnam I realised how awesome it is to use a jet of water than toilet paper. I'll never go back to paper either. I love the bum gun!!

    1. Our first experience with a water wash was around the Mediterranean, Portugal or Spain. Then, after spending a couple of months in India, we were permanent converts.

      Thanks for weighing in on the toilet tissue issue.

  10. Anonymous2/12/2013

    I been following your blog forever its amazing!! Im interested in this subject, but im confused on what you do and how you do it? It may be to gross to talk about lol, but I cant figure out what your doing, I found a few bum guns on ebay but they don't explain where they hook up to. Anyway, this blog has changed my life.


    1. Hey Rod,

      You are a brave man both for following this blog forever, and for asking a sensitive question about alternative toilet methods.

      I don't know much about the Bum Gun - I just use a small water bottle. The water method is kind of like wiping, but using water instead of paper.

      Pouring and wiping can be done from front or back if you are a guy, and should only be done from the front if you are a women. I use my right hand to pour water from behind and above while my left hand does the dirty work also from behind.

      In the beginning you just have to experiment and "play around", if you can call it that. You will catch on pretty quickly, and will no doubt enjoy the cleaner, fresher feeling over using paper.

      Good luck, if you try it, and let us know if you make the switch successfully. Thanks for the motivating feedback.

  11. Anonymous6/23/2013

    Hey Gregg

    Just come across your blog, sounds very interesting, especially this post as i've often thought about a replacement for toilet paper which i think is not clean enough, and often hurts. I just googled thebumgun and came across a website which sells them, so I'm going to contact them and hopefully this is a solution. I'll let you know how i go. Thanks for the lead and the blog!

    1. After using water for a while, toilet paper doesn't measure up. Paper is unsanitary, can be painful, is beached with harsh chemicals, and is often made with wood from old growth forests.

      When we traveled through Europe, countries like Portugal, Greece, and Turkey advised travellers to NOT flush toilet paper since their sewage systems could not handle it. All the toilets had what we called "vegetable washers" (because they were like the sprayers sometimes found on kitchen sinks).

      The bum gun looks to be a similar type of device. Some day I may take the plunge, but for now I simply use a 500ml narrow mouth water bottle that sits next to the toilet. My bathroom is so small that I can fill the bottle in the sink while sitting on the toilet.

      In India there was often a bucket of water beneath a tap on the wall in the bathroom next to the toilet. You used a plastic cup or scoop to draw water from the bucket, then use it to clean up. It was also quite handy.

      Welcome to NBA - we are glad you found us (and this post). Please do let us know how your experiment with water vs toilet paper goes.

  12. I always use the method of folding the paper double, wiping, then folding again (covering up the "mess") and repeating - until the paper is too small for my comfort or I'm done. This way I don't need to get several long strips of paper, and I'm sure it's less wasteful than, say, crumbling.

    1. Theo, I am familiar with the 'fantastic fold method' and agree that it does indeed give the most wipe for the least amount of paper.

      Crumbling is craziness. But water is wonderful!

  13. Anonymous10/30/2014

    You have got to be kidding me! How UNCLEAN to wipe fecal matter on your hand. India is no role model when it comes to hygiene they pee and crap in their own water systems such as lakes and the Ganges River which is suppose to be so holy! I would not want you touching anything especially in the grocery store where I shop! Ecoli not to mention other harmful bacteria and viruses are in fecal matter. I can't believe you are so cheap you would wipe your own butt with your hand! This is disgusting!

    1. Anon,

      One word - soap.

    2. Considering hospital grade Lysol takes 10 minutes of air drying to kill it's lauded 99.9% of germs, you aren't cleaning much unless you wash with hydrochloric acid. I shudder to think of the disease you unintentionally left behind and those who suffered as a result.

      I admit TP is wasteful, but digestive and diarrheal diseases are the 3rd leading cause of death in India, perhaps their example isnt the best to follow here?

      I'm sure you can use that fervor and energy to find a better way?

    3. Josh,

      Why ever wash our hands with soap after using the bathroom, if it is so ineffective? Do surgeons scrub with hydrochloric acid before work? Your comment is an understandable over-reaction to this method, and is unlikely to deter anyone that uses it.

    4. "Hand washing with soap and water is important during C. difficile outbreaks and is one of the best defences against further spread of the bacteria."

      - Public Health Agency of Canada

      No reason for panic here, although definitely a good heads up considering the repercussions of these nasty diseases.

  14. Anonymous1/12/2015

    Interesting, to say the least. I live in Poland (Europe) and still remember the times when toilet paper was simply a luxury commodity. Using crumpled and cut newspaper was, therefore, something natural, though maybe not the most comfortable. Nowadays we have the full range of tp available - from the pink, plushy, multi-ply and scented (I always wandered - WHY scent something you're gonna flush down the stinky drain anyway) to the humble grey rolls made of recycled paper. My choice is always the latter. It really seems ridiculous to me to wipe my butt with something resembling a posh wallpaper rather than a hygienic aid.

    To the point though. I took a fancy to water-rinsing once, although I just used a jet of water from my shower handle and didn't do the wiping with my hand. Very handy to have a bath tub standing nearby - you just hang your butt over the brink and use the shower handle. But where I currently live water is more of a luxury than paper, and it still kinda bothers me - what's actually more eco-unfriendly: wasting paper or water? Then again... I certainly used more than half a litre of water when using my shower. Maybe your bottle is my answer.

    And one question which had not been satisfied through all the main text and the comments: what do you do AFTER rinsing your behind with water? Surely you don't just pull up your undies and go? Do you use some kind of butt towel (reusable?) to dry it off? Just curious :)

    Kind regards,

    1. Anna,

      Good question about the finish. In India where I first learned this method it was hot enough that you could just rinse and go on your way. Here in Canada sometimes I rinse and go, and sometimes use one square of paper to dry off.

      A person could also use a "butt towel" as you say. That would work just fine as long as you didn't mix it up with a face cloth or something.

  15. Anonymous4/13/2016


  16. Anonymous7/28/2016

    If you've been to Turkey, you must have seen that little spout inside the bowl. If you equip that with an adjustable tip, you have the most efficient and clean yet the cheapest solution in the entire world. I think that little invention might be the greatest thing Turkey contributed to the world in the last half century. I simply cannot believe how it is overlooked and not adopted by any nation.

  17. I got converted to using water in South America and Southern Europe. I've had a bum gun installed at home - as I'm in chilly London I got a thermostatic one that feeds from both hot and cold water pipes and produces a pleasantly warm jet of water. The whole idea of using paper seems ridiculous when you think about it.

    1. Ben,

      That is luxury in all the right places.

  18. Have to share as a main comment too. Even hospital grade lysol needs 10 minutes of air drying to kill it's 99.9%.

    Average consumer hand soap will not kill the sorts of germs leading into CDiff and ecoli to name a couple nasty diseases. Regardless of whether the bottle says "antibacterial."

    Please also consider that digestive and diarrheal diseases are one of the leading causes of death in India so perhaps rather than use our hands, we can find a better way if we see a problem with TP use.

    1. Josh,

      A better way? What do you suggest?

      I suggest you keep your hands away from your mouth and mucous membranes as much as possible, whether you use water to clean up, or not.

      Always wash your hands with soap and hot water after a movement, and keep your bathroom as clean as possible. Change and wash towels often.

      "Hand washing with soap and water is important during C. difficile outbreaks and is one of the best defences against further spread of the bacteria." - Public Health Agency of Canada (nothing about washing with hydrochloric acid here)

      “Fecal transplants” appear to be the most effective method for helping patients with repeat C. difficile infections." - CDC

      That sounds pretty gross, too, but I guess it works.

    2. The point of soap is to physically remove dirt and germs, not to kill them.

    3. Cameo,

      Thank you for pointing that out.

      Wash your hands, people!

  19. I decided to give up tp because the fuzz and stuff like bleach from the tp made my lady parts unhappy. I used a stack of wash cloths on the back of the commode for tp. I used cloth diapers for three kids, so it was not gross to me. Actually, there was less poop on my washcloths than on a cloth diaper. I could rinse away poop before throwing it in the washer. I used hot water and vinegar and detergent and dried them in the sun. I save so much money and have less irritated lady parts when not using tp. I hate to hurt trees.

    1. I use cloths made from old towels when I am helping Linda. We both use warm water in a bottle to clean up after poop. However, after the water, we usually dry with a couple of squares of TP. There is no reason not to take up the practice you describe if one loves trees. And we do. Thank you for your contribution. That is thrifty indeed, and the forest, and everything that lives there, appreciates your efforts.


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