What to do When You Run Out of Toilet Paper?

Four sustainable alternatives to TP

I walked into the grocery store the other day and saw whole shelves cleared of essentials for stocking up a pantry. One of the main things I noticed gone was toilet paper. It has become a national stress that TP is the thing that people have over-bought, and now some people have none. In this time of fear that your essential needs will not be met, let’s take a step back and consider what we could use instead.

Before toilet paper, people mainly used whatever was free and readily available for personal hygiene. Wood shavings, hay, corn cobs, moss, leaves and rags. Wealthy people used wool, lace or other fabrics.

In the late 15th century, paper became readily available, so newspaper and old store catalogs were commonly used as toilet paper. As a matter of fact, photos of the Old Farmers Almanac from the 1800s and early 1900s show the book was made with a hole in the corner, so it could easily be hung up in the outhouse. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, indoor plumbing and flush toilets were becoming more common, and in 1928, modern-day toilet paper was invented.

Many of the predecessors to modern toilet paper can still work for you today. Note: It is important to not flush anything down the drain that is not toilet paper. Keep a wastebasket by the toilet and dispose of any alternative products used.

Now that we know the history of toilet paper, what, you may ask, is in each roll?

It takes thirty-seven gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and some 1.5 pounds of wood to make a SINGLE roll of toilet paper! Not to mention all the energy it takes to process it from our sewer system! Toilet paper is one of the leading industries that causes us to clear cut forests and over-use tree products.

So what can you use if you don’t have toilet paper?

1. Bamboo Paper

Fortunately, there are many toilet paper substitutes. The first is bamboo. Bamboo is a quick-growing, sustainable plant source that has similar fibers to paper and now is being commercially made into toilet “paper” rolls. These rolls look and feel exactly like toilet paper and flush in the same way. My family and I made the switch to bamboo products after reading the book “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. Reading about the tree activists, giving their lives to the cause of saving the ancient redwoods and not winning, made it super hard for me to continue to use paper products that I knew may have come from these ancient trees.

Bamboo Paper

You can purchase bamboo toilet paper at many local health food stores and online. One great resource for sustainable products is the Grove collaborative https://www.grove.co/home. We purchased bamboo toilet paper from them and got lots of other free, sustainable cleaning items as well.

In this time of shortage, even bamboo toilet paper is hard to come by. That is when we turn to good old-fashioned rags.

2. Cloth Rags

Rags can be made from old clothing you cut up, old washcloths, basically any extra fabric you have lying around. The key with switching to fabric instead of disposable is having a way to easily clean them and keep everything hygienic.

Cloth Wipes

In my house we keep a basket on top of the toilet with all our clean washcloths and rags. Right next to the potty we have a trash bin with a lid. To make a cleansing wipe, you can make a solution and keep it in a squirt bottle next to the clean rag bin. Add one part white vinegar to two parts water mixed with three drops tea tree oil and lavender essential oil. Squirt the solution onto a clean rag and voilà, you now have wipes!

Once you are done using the cloth, you put it in the trash bin. When we start to get low on clean rags, I take the trash bin out to the washing machine. I do a separate load with the used rags. I wash them first in hot water, followed by a second cycle on warm to make sure they are squeaky clean.

3. Bidet

Another alternative to toilet paper is using a bidet. Europeans and many other cultures have used bidets as a sustainable alternative to toilet paper. For those of you who don’t know, a bidet is a water bath for your bum. You use the water to cleanse the area so you don’t need to use any paper. Bidets are actually more hygienic then using paper and leave you feeling cleaner afterwards.

Bidet Hose

Old-school bidets are separate little squatty sinks with a nozzle that you turn on like a water fountain. More modern bidets are built into the toilet seat and activated with the press of a button. A simple version is also installing a water hose on the side of your toilet. These can be purchased online and easily installed.

4. Leaves

Lastly, if you are in the great outdoors you can always use leaves. The leaf of the Mullein plant is particularly good for this because it is large, soft and water absorbent. Make sure you have identified the leaf you use before wiping to confirm it is not a poisonous plant.

Common Mullein

Not only does toilet paper pollute the earth, create unnecessary waste and take a lot of energy to make, it is also completely unnecessary. The switches we make now in this time of shortage can easily translate into our normal, daily lives. This is an unprecedented time in our society; make sure you are helping each other and reaching out to see what the people around you need. If you have an abundance of toilet paper, see if your neighbors need some, too. Good luck!

About Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek

Margaritte Arthrell-Knezek is a naturalist, writer and community educator committed to teaching the skills of sustainability and instructing children and adults on how to connect with the natural world that surrounds them daily. Arthrell-Knezek hails from New Haven, Connecticut where she began her work in the arts and environmental activism in 1997.

She graduated from The Evergreen State College In Olympia WA, 2010, with a bachelor’s degree in multi-media art and sustainability studies. She has traveled the world and landed in Tulsa, OK, where she is the Executive Director and Lead Educator of Under The Canopy LLC. Margaritte is a parent to two awesome children and wife to Mykey Arthrell-Knezek.

You can learn more about the programs she teaches at www.underthecanopy.org She is a regular contributor to TulsaKids.com and also keeps a personal blog about parenting in all its real and messy forms called Tap the Root. She was also published in Hilary Frank’s 2019 book, “Weird Parenting Wins.”


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