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What Ancient Romans Used Instead of Toilet Paper (nautil.us)
181 points by dnetesn on May 18, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 202 comments

Funny story, as a Venezuelan and having toilet paper shortages I was forced to go water and soap.

Never comming back, not even with all the toilet paper in the world

The feeling is shared with alot of friends (we joke about this as a way to keep the good mood agains the crisis) but a lot of people have realized that toilet paper is not the correct way plus a huge waste of money (we have to pay around 0.5$ per roll nowdays)

Bidets are not a thing here but since alot of Venezuelans are on my same position and also alot of venezuelans have migrated to Argentina, a country where bidets are pretty common, I foresight it becoming a thing in the next few years.

Invest in bidets!

The legend goes that bidets where associated with whorehouses in literature from europe (as most literature not focusing on body fluids would not have reasons to mention bidets), so that when apartments started to be retrofitted for plumbing (initially for a kitchen!) in the USA, the extremely puritanical society left the bidets out.

Bidets are quite common in France and Spain, but I haven't seen many anywhere else in EU.

A really practical solution to simulate a real bidet is to buy bidet cleansing foam and/or a portable bidet.

You spray the cleansing foam into regular toilet paper, and it does improve performance a lot. Afterwards, just use the portable bidet.

Italians are quite keen on bidets. My (Italian) partner always complains about the lack of bidets here in Germany (and anywhere else we go).

Rightfully soo.. the forrest cut for the butts stinks to heaven.

Germany should have bidets like any other civilized country.

I dare to mention, that a lot of bidet development has to do, with the lack of piping that could handle large congesting cellular clumps of matter.

So - the more recent the canalisation - and the bigger the pipesizes used, the less need for biddets.

Dude you can spit into the toilet paper for free and that works pretty well too

Forgive my ignorance, but how does ‘water and soap’ work?

I can immediately see the application of a tersorium, but not water and soap.

Use a small hose to wash off the stuff. Use soap, a hand, and water to wash off anything remaining.

In the Philippines, we didn't have fancy hoses most of the time, so we just leaned over, poured water down the crack, and used our hands to knock off anything that didn't fall on its own. We'd then wash our hands thoroughly afterward, usually using alcohol and lotion to sanitize.

That sounds disgusting, but is it really more disgusting than the stuff toilet paper leaves behind? A friend of mine once explained, "you wouldn't use a dry rag to get peanut butter out of carpet, you'd use water and potentially some soap, so why is the bathroom any different"? I don't know about others here, but I'd rather be clean than have little bits of feces being carried around all day, and I already touch poop fairly regularly since I have small children in diapers, so it's really not that gross to me anymore.

Here in the states, I use toilet paper again, but that's not because I prefer it, but because people here don't have small buckets or bidets (and I'm not bringing one with me), and I feel those disposable wet wipes for bathrooms are too wasteful.

Just shower after you do your business, you can imagine the rest.

My ‘business’ area and shower are not one and the same though :P shall I make a trip through the living room first?

And how do you get dry after showering at a friend's house?

I imagine the underwear will absorb the excess water and evaporate it over time.

Sometime back I remember reading a paper where it was hypothesised that using hands is less hygienic than using toilet paper.

And to demonstrate this they used human stature (height) as a way to workout the effect of this practise on health and well being, and the results were constinent with the hypothesis.

Conclusion: People are taller in the countries where toilet paper is used.

Unfortunately, few minutes of googling didn't turn up any links now.

The problem with using hands is that the people often shortcut and do not wash hands properly now if you don't use hands, then this entire problem disappears.

What do you value more, then money spent on toilet paper or the time spent washing your hands properly?

The law of life is that people will often take shortcuts where it is possible to take one and along the way suffer consequences which weren't in their mind at that point because all they wanted to achieve then is to get through this fast enough to do something else later.

To get best of both, there can be a service where someone else washes you but then you lose privacy and you need to allow others to touch you but then it's also possible if that person's health suffers then you might also suffer on subsequent contact.

Aren't they just correlating poverty?

Bidets are cold water? And you need a "rag"?

You can get heated bidets if that's your thing (just mix the hot and cold water pipes), and a rag is to help you dry off afterward.

When I lived in the Philippines and used a bucket and my hand (and yes, alcohol afterward to disinfect), I didn't bother with a rag because it was so hot and I'd dry off quickly anyway. However, in fancier places with bidets, a rag to dry off after is completely normal. And it's just as sanitary as using a hand towel after washing your hands because you're already clean.

Advanced bidet models also include heated air drying.

> Venezuelans are on my same position

I see what you did there.

Americans don't have a high ground here.

The first time I used a modern bidet was eye-opening.

It eliminates the funk. It's environmentally friendly. It's easier on the bum, if you have hemmaroids (I don't, but this is the report from friends and family that do suffer). And it just feels refreshing.

The toilet paper is only needed to sanity check cleanliness and dry out.

The American squeamishness over the bidet is irrational and overdue for a change.

OK I've seen the bidet crowd grow for years. Never used one but how does it actually remove all the filth? If I got shit on my arm or something I wouldn't be satisfied squirting some water on it - I'd scrub scrub scrub. I just can't see how it does as good a job. Any input?

Also - how do you prevent the bidet from becoming a fecal squirtgun? It sits inside the toilet no? Aren't you in effect washing off with everyone's shit mixed in?

If you had shit on your arm you'd just scrub it without water?

Filipino uses a system called tabo, or sometimes a hand hose bidet (I call it the bum gun). If the pressure of bum gun is strong enough, well, it's like a pressure gun. You shoot it at 45 degrees angle (cause 90 hurts lol).

If the pressure is not strong enough, then use it like tabo. Tabo is a water scoop. You water your hand, you water your butt, then you soap both of them, and wash it out. It's a shower but just for your butt.

This sounds a little bit weird and disgusting but it is the cleanest since it's like a shower. Nothing beats a soap and scrub.

If there's tissues, take a tissue, pat down your butt so it's dry, put it in the bin.

Hope that explains it!

I also wouldn't just rinse it with water.

And what of the fecal aggregate?

1. One can adjust the strength and width of the stream. It often starts out gentle anyway, to wash off the loose crud.

2. The area that needs cleaning is within a valley formed by your butt cheeks. So there's really no splatter.

3. Bidets are for the home. It's not an impossible problem to solve, but I wouldn't use a public one. I do know that the squirt gun is washed before and after use automatically, but really. When you poop, how do you avoid the inevitable water splash as the poop dives in?

In any case there are manual portables that one can carry in a pocket or purse, however. I don't bother but the option exists.

Yes, you are scrubbing with your (usually left) hand. It may sound disgusting but actually feels really, really clean.

> how do you prevent the bidet from becoming a fecal squirtgun?

I have the same concern about the bidets installed inside toilets. Using "bum guns" which hang next to the toilet solves that problem though!

The hemroid thing 100%. For all us desk jockies, they'll happen! Paper hurts, bidet/water all the way.

I read somewhere that everyone has hemorrhoids, they just become noteworthy when significantly prolapsed or inflamed.

For all us desk jockies, they'll happen

Sit-stand desk https://jakeseliger.com/2015/01/24/geekdesk-max-sit-stand-de...

Importantly, if you're a world traveler, is to know if the culture uses toilet paper at all, and if they do, is it safe to flush or do you put it in a nearby trash bin?


Memorable advice:

> Loving your work, not many people go to Myanmar (Burma), and if you happen to find a toilet (and these days they tend to be Western-style sitters rather than squatting over hole sorts), put the paper in the basket or bin provided. It's worth noting here, that if you're caught short on the road, it's best not to go too far off track to find a bush as there are an awful lot of landmines littered about.

A can for TP next to the toilet seems the default all over the developing world, assuming TP is used. I guess the plumbing is fragile.

I have read the glowing endorsements of bidets on reddit and HN for a long time. I've researched after-market bidets that would be suitable for my bathroom. I've bookmarked a few that seem suitable and have good reviews.

But there is one thing which stops me. I'm not sure of the exact details. Even in this thread, I don't know the brass tacks of using one. Do I turn on the sprayer and that is that? Or do I mechanically rub my ass with my hand during/after the anus gets wet? Then do I use toilet paper to dry? Just how much of my ass is going to get wet? Then of course I need to use soap and water to clean up my hands. But someone else below said they use soap and water on their butt. Too much is left to the imagination.

Does anyone want to provide a detailed, step-by-step process of what I should do once I install one?

Yeah, if you just spray and pray you’re going to have a bad time.

The way I was taught as a Middle Eastern man was: first use toilet paper at least three times to remove the majority of the material. Secondly, hold the spray hose or the bottle in your right hand and point downwards towards your perineum from the FRONT of your legs. Use your left hand to lift your junk and have two fingers down there. Now pour water over your left hand towards the perineum, and let the fingers carry the water and rub to clean out the ass crack. Usually a single litre water bottle is enough to feel extremely clean and refreshed. This method obviously works better if you’re squatting, but I use it with western toilets too. The most common mistake people make is to try and put their hands behind their back or pour the water from behind - makes a mess and doesn’t clean right. The imagery of the cleaning motion is like a woman fingering herself.

...so you have to use your hands to clean shit out of your ass? This does not sound like a good thing.

It doesn't sound like a good thing until you have tried it!

More detailed instructions in case you want to try it: https://www.thailandclimbing.com/chiang-mai/how-to-use-a-squ...

They wash their hands. What's so gross about them going extra lengths to cleanse themselves? Its not like they're going to then ignore their very hands, considering for many, its a religious law to be clean.

It seems like bidet fear but 10x. For no good reason.

Have you ever got poop on your hands? That smell does not go away with just soap and water.

I think for millions of people around the world who get poop on their hands daily, the smell does go away.

You sound like you enjoy eating shit lol

There are lots of instructions just a Google click away.

But for a short answer:

1. Just water, the pressure is more than sufficient. Hell, it's too much sometimes.

2. You can get models that air dry, but even the good ones aren't too quick, so it's pretty common to use a few squares of TP to dry.

3. Depends on you. If you habitually sit off-center you might actually get a wet cheek. Otherwise it's eerily spot-on.

4. I don't know about using soap on my butt. That seems like it would be ... irritating. Water is plenty by itself.

I recommend trying one of the cheapo ones (Neo, for example), as they will give you an idea of what a washlet is like for a tenth or less of the cost. No heated seat or water, but I found that to be less of an issue than I expected. I bought the cheap one to see what I thought, and a couple years later I still haven't bothered upgrading to a Toto. I like the cold water. But where I live, it's not that cold.

By "Neo" do you mean the "Luxe Bidet Neo"? The one where you attach it to an existing toilet?

Yep, that's the one. They have several models. Looking through my order history, I got the Luxe Bidet Neo 185. Looks like I got it four years ago. I kinda still intend to get a Toto some day (or maybe a Brondell), but it's not a high priority to go spend $600 on, I'm pretty satisfied with the cheap model.

Having been to Japan since fully acclimating to my sub-$50 one, it turns out I actually prefer the tap-cold water. Most of the higher end ones heat the water and seem to use a lower water pressure (even on high).

The one I have attaches under the seat, and sends a little jet of water up at what I imagine is about a 45 degree angle. It would make the opposite wall wet (with clean water) if I ever turned it on not sitting on it, which I haven’t.

Mine isn’t fancy, it doesn’t use power, just water pressure. The only setting is for front (for people without a penis) or for back (for everyone with an anus), and a knob for pressure.

You poop, and when you’re done, without getting up, you turn it on, and the jet of water shoots upward and hits you in the butt. It’s within an inch or two of the hole, and you can easily feel where it’s hitting you. A little wiggle/adjustment of your body on the seat to get it aligned (oh, you’ll know) and then you wait about 2-4 seconds. A little leaning of your body in the forward/backward axis (an inch or two, maybe) to sweep the crack, then you’re clean and you turn it off. Usually a second flush (if you’re the courtesy flush type like me) and the whole event is like it never happened.

Your hands are never involved, except to turn the knob on and off.

I don’t end up wet enough that I need TP at all—haven’t bought it in a year or more. It works more on pressure than water volume, sort of like the sprayer on a sink to rinse out a glass. Pretty much only the crack gets wet, it is more of a single focused jet than a spray. Some people like to use TP to dry afterwards, but there isn’t much water on you once you turn it off. It’s focused and it doesn’t really spray your cheeks or anything.

Mine was under $50 on Amazon. I buy one for every place I live in now, and couldn’t imagine going back. It’s night and day.

There are other kinds which are more of a sink sprayer kind where you hold the sprayer and have to do some aiming and whatnot; I have little experience with those. Mine is the squirting type that installs between the toilet seat the the ceramic bowl (“lux neo 120”).

Fantastic -- just what I was looking for!

I grew up using bidets and as an adult moved to a bidet-less country. I've installed handheld bidet sprays in all bathrooms in my house and they work great.

Here's a pretty affordable one: https://www.amazon.com/Abedoe-Upgraded-Handheld-Sprayer-Oper...

I replaced the lid of my toilet seat to one that has a bidet installed in it. It was easy to plumb into the existing cold water connection and cost around £30. It is the best thing I have ever bought.

In answer to your question: I find that the bidet gets rid of all of the poop the vast majority of the time. I just pat myself down with a small amount of toilet paper to dry myself off. If I see poop on the paper I give myself another rinse.

I can't handle dry wiping now. I save my poops for home.

You're stuck in perfectionist paralysis. Just get one and figure out what works for you, trial and error.

There's a YouTube channel, called Invicta, that produces videos that cover how ancient civilizations handled commonplace tasks; their "How They Did It" series includes videos on things like how ancient Romans ran elections, paid taxes, and went to the bathroom.

Not part of that playlist, but a beginning recommendation of mine is their video "Everyday Moments in History - A Roman Soldier Prepares Dinner"(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-l_EbXE3LU).

> Speaking of which, it’s high time that we consider changing how we clean ourselves after we use the toilet. Tersorium, anyone?

Rather than the Tersorium (basically a shitty sponge), the answer is the bidet or the bidet shower[1] which is common in the Middle East and Asia.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bidet_shower

Just two degrees of click separation to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shit_stick

That was way more enlightening than a wiki page on excement wands ought to be. A gem hidden in the muck so to speak.

I'm still surprised how many people here get defensive when it gets pointed out that toilet paper is not the best solution for cleaning up. Everybody should try using a bidet sometime and see the difference for themselves.

It's not the best, but it works pretty great in the end: one is reasonably clean until one can properly clean themselves. It's available everywhere (not just at home), easy to carry and easy to dispose of.

Wet wipes are a nice upgrade for those that can't stand the thought of TP, although they're usually not that easy to dispose of when not at home.

And wet wipes are kind of expensive and wasteful. A bidet is just so much simpler (jet of water cleans you, washable rag dries you).

Honestly, I don't get what the big deal is. People latch on to a solution that still leaves something behind, when another solution is both cheaper and more effective (and eliminates the occasional itching you get if you didn't do a good job with TP). My only complaint is that there not common.

When we moved from Bangladesh to the US in the late 1980s, there were a couple of things that made us go “WTF?” One was the taste of chicken. In Bangladesh, you go buy a scrawny live chicken from the market and butcher it. It took me the better part of a year to be able to stomach American chicken, which tastes like wet cardboard in comparison. The other “WTF” thing was toilet paper. In Bangladesh, you rinse with water and soap after doing your business. The idea of just dry wiping was...

(To this day, whenever I go to Japan and sit on a bidet, I can’t help but think “ahh, civilization.”)

As an Indian, I too had this WTF moment. It makes me wonder why paper is still used in the western world. Makes one wonder if there is a TP lobby out there ? We used to make jokes what if a TP user have diarrhea, how many trees will that be ?

If a bird shits on your hand will you use paper or water to clean it ? Its just that simple to comprehend. Just use water damn it. Cheap, hygienic, no left overs and green too !

I wouldn't consider anything clean just by spraying water on it either. It takes soap and some mechanical action. With that in mind I don't view wiping versus spraying as being much different than each other, im not trying to sterilize my ass so someone can eat a meal on it. In certain situations, water might be preferable or not, but 95% of the time I don't find one to be more or less sanitary, neither is truly "clean" from the start.

> If a bird shits on your hand will you use paper or water to clean it ? Its just that simple to comprehend. Just use water

I would use both soap and water. Do people just use water without soap?

>If a bird shits on your hand will you use paper or water to clean it ?

If I didn't also have soap, I'd use paper over water. Water might leave you visibly cleaner, but you'll spread microscopic poop particles and microbes over a much larger area.

I wouldn't say paper spread things around less. Paper and water is the way to go (absent soap), and that's what bidets are.

I would. You can use paper on a very small area. Water gets everywhere, often unnoticed.

In the vein of recommendations against washing poultry (it increases your risk for food poisoning), I'd put money on bidets being less sanitary.

> We used to make jokes what if a TP user have diarrhea, how many trees will that be ?

Diarrhoea is pretty much water, so it cleans up with paper very well.

> If a bird shits on your hand will you use paper or water to clean it ?

That's a misleading analogy. Do you eat off your butt? If I got bird poo on my bare foot, I'd wipe it off in the dirt and move on. Most people shower every few days anyway. I don't care how clean my butt is, just as long as it doesn't smell and it doesn't itch.

(FYI, in English, a space is only used after end-of-sentence punctuation, not before. I've never understood why Indians consistently get this wrong.)

>> If a bird shits on your hand will you use paper or water to clean it ?

>That's a misleading analogy. Do you eat off your butt? If I got bird poo on my bare foot, I'd wipe it off in the dirt and move on. Most people shower every few days anyway. I don't care how clean my butt is, just as long as it doesn't smell and it doesn't itch.

I think this hits at the root of the disagreement. If I get bird poo on my bare foot, I am totally washing that off with water - i am not comfortable wiping it off with paper and then tracking that onto my hand/clothes. To each their own. I believe it is harder to get your butt not to stink or itch when just using paper. I use water/soap when possible, and fallback to paper when not, usually public washrooms - so I’m familiar with both, if that needs saying.

> (FYI, in English, a space is only used after end-of-sentence punctuation, not before. I've never understood why Indians consistently get this wrong.)

Interesting generalization. I haven’t seen too many Indians do that. But as long as you get the point the OP was trying to make.

Disclaimer: Am Indian.

Here's my WTF moment. My grandmother told me, she was born in 1901 as a kid on a rural PA farm. They used pages from a Sears wish book or dried corn cobs,out at the old out house!

Exactly. The downfall of Sears began with indoor plumbing and high-gloss paper in their catalogs.

At least in northern Europe it was common to use a stick to scrape. "More civilized" city dwellers used old newspapers.

> green

Well, increased water consumption has a lot of ecological problems as well. Plus most of us westerners would probably balk at using cold water, so we'd waste a lot of energy heating it up too.

> Well, increased water consumption has a lot of ecological problems as well.

Well, using paper costs more water than using water itself. Also, the ecological problems of using paper is far worse than using water alone[0][1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_paper

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper#Environmental_con...

Water has a really high heat capacity, meaning that it takes a lot of energy to heat.

Intuitively, how much water do you think the toilet paper of one bathroom visit would heat, if usef as fuel? (Answer: much less than what you would use to replace TP)

How much energy is used to make TP and transport it to your local store?

Sure, there's that. Otoh the water will alo have a big energy footprint before heating in the avg municipal water service case. But these things don't really change the order of magnitude energy difference that exists in the setup.

I got curious and did a napkin calculation.

A sheet of TP weights 1.5 grams and you might generously use 10 sheets per visit. Assuming fuel properties of wood, that's 250 kJ of heat energy when burned. That's enough to heat only 1.5 kg of 10C mains water to body temperature.

There’s a lot of water and energy used turning trees into paper as well that this neglects.

Also just thinking about how much energy is in the TP doesn’t account for shipping it around at all.

I have no idea what the energy balance is, i just think this thread had vastly oversimplified.

Even the water volume may or may not be an issue. If you live somewhere that water is precious it’s a much different concern than if your location uses surface water that just ends up back in the same river downstream after a trip through your plumbing, for example.

Absolutely, I wouldn't call TP "green" either.

My bidet uses less water than it uses to flush, which in turn is less water than was used in creating the paper. If you need it heated, it doesn’t take a lot of energy to heat that small amount of water (as it doesn’t need to heat continuously, at most just when you sit down).

Water consumption is not an ecological problem everywhere.

It doesn't take much water

Water is not universally abundant though and much more costly to transport than paper or wood.

It's pretty abundant in developed countries that primarily rely on toilet papers, one would presume.

Water is a scarce resource in Australia, and it changes rather rapidly. Most cities are under permanent water restrictions, which include fitting water-saving flush systems to toilets.

The western toilets we're talking about are flushed with water, so this seems to be a non-issue.

Exactly, a western toilet will use about 4-5litres for a flush. To clean yourself with water will use a mug or two of water.

The people in this thread talking about the increased use of water, are quite literally talking out of their arse

Transporting water in pipes under pressure does not seem that expensive intuitively.

And the water spent growing the trees?


Many things are becoming more and more homogenous globally - but I found that weddings, funerals, and indeed toilets appear to be somewhat resistant to that creeping homogenisation.

Many regions don't really use toilet paper, such as Iran, parts of Indonesia, etc. Personally, I like to have it handy, though in case of emergency pages from a Lufthansa flight plan work (try that with an iPad... (and yes, flight plans were printed and freely distributed decades ago)).

More importantly though, many many regions provide an opportunity to wash with water, either via a separate bidet, or built into the toilet ("washlet", as famously in Japan), or with a hose (bidet shower) next to the toilet. A revelation.

If you think about it, using only dry toilet paper is really rather primitive and disgusting. When I build a house, it'll have a German washing machine and dryer (maybe Korean), and a Japanese toilet.

Sometimes I wish there was a website where immigrants could list things that are far superior in their country of origin than the one they immigrated to. It’d be very useful for other immigrants so they can temper expectations before committing to such drastic change. Other than toilet practices & the taste of chicken, there’s so many areas where the third world is light years ahead of america. Often I have to fight the urge to lecture my pampered american kid on how much better it was back in india even though i was dirt poor when growing up there.

What else do you miss?

Shutki mach. Mangoes. People having kids and families living together.

Shukti match is long gone. Now dolfin match rules :) Kathi o ekhon onek kom thake.

Oh sorry you were talking about Shutki fish.

Having just recently returned from Kolkata, India ... I agree the chicken tastes so much different, and better.

The bananas too ! No comparison to the bananas in the US.

What else suffers in comparison? The fruit?

Mangos are better.

But fruit that doesn’t come in a wrapper, due to the water exposure and things can be somewhat dubious quality at times. (By wrapper I mean a skin that’s removable).

Potatoes and eggplant generally tasted the same to me, as did carrots.

Jackfruit is much better in India too.

Interesting note about the chicken, and this is anecdotal, but I’m pretty sure the chickens are a different bread then what we consume in the US. The bones always seemed thicker with less meat. (Which I believe is a chicken that’s been less bread for consumption )

They almost certainly are a different breed; there are a bunch of chicken breeds indigenous to India. The are Indian chickens bred for egg-laying and those for meat. Also, the age of the chicken when slaughtered is a pretty big factor in how much flavor it has, as is the diet, which is probably the major reason supermarket CAFO chicken is flavorless.

Obviously, another problem America has with chicken is its addiction to chicken breast, which is really tricky to do well.

Can I just point out that this is a pretty weird combination of topics for a thread?

To understand why the US breeds are different to other countries, have a read of:


It describes a competition to breed large breasted chickens in the US, post WW2. The downside to that larger breasts is a decrease in flavour.

Another factor is that the fancy chicken just wasn’t a thing 30 years ago, at least in suburban VA where I was. Either I’ve gotten used to it, or Whole Foods chicken is markedly better. (I even enjoy a nice pan fried chicken breast these days.)

I imported a Toto Washlet from Japan for this very reason. When you get literal shit on your hands, do you wipe it, or wash it? Why is your ass different?

I'll tell you the difference since you asked; If you wanted to eat a hamburger, and i handed it to you with my hand.. you would eat it...

I really hope i don't need to finish that thought for you.

I swear this is where the saying 'Don't know your arse from your elbow' comes from.

depends on which country this is and with which hand. the left hand, i would probably take offence, despite being left handed myself.

IIRC I read somewhere that in some places people use the right hand to wash their bums, open doors, shake hands, and other dirtier stuff. Left hand is used when needing tottouch food and other cleaner things.

The other way around :)

Oh dear..

So the left hand is for dirty work, and the right hand for clean?

But why do we shake hands with the right hand then? I guess there could be some "social respect" reason, but from a germs-and-stuff point of view it seems nonsensical?

The right hand is your weapon hand. So by offering it, you are stating that you do not intend to fight.

That makes no sense. Don’t you use your hands to scrub back there when you shower in the morning? If soap is good enough for that, why is it not enough for post toilet hand cleaning?

Edit; i just wanted to point out that i was answering the question whats the difference between your hand and your heiny not how to keep good hygiene for either. so with that in mind;

let me just, ahem, pass you a hamburger...

> Why is your ass different?

I don't go around touching people with it, or eating food; it's enclosed in fabric. That same fabric also makes it harder to fully air dry, which can be uncomfortable.

If I got shit on my hands I would do significantly more than spray it with a bidet.

American chicken taste like that because it's raised in a cage, fed nutritionless corn, and bred for sheer size. It's not worth eating.

A stand-alone bidet which can be used to wash with soap and water is indeed much better than toiler paper when it comes to hygiene and to be honest also comfort. But it has to be liquid soap and running water, otherwise you're just growing E. coli, especially if it's some sort of shared bathroom.

Nevertheless, bidets are unavailable in (I would say) most households and definitely unavailable when not using the toilet at home. Furthermore, it's rather inconvenient to use it every time after going to the bathroom because one has to pretty much take off their pants and underwear in order to have proper access. Their only advantage is that they are still more convenient than showering.

The Japanese water toilets don't seem like such a great idea to me, for the same reason that properly washing ones hands after using the bathroom requires thoroughly rubbing them together for some time with soap, not just rinsing them with water: using just water doesn't work. Spraying pressured water will help with cleaning, but also spread fine particles of crap everywhere.

Toilet paper may not be as efficient as a bidet, maybe less efficient than using just water, but it still works and using those Japanse toilets or a bidet is really not the mind-blowing revolution that it's made to look like. As long as one cleans up after using the toilet, washes their hands properly and showers reasonably often, I don't see any advantage to all these contraptions. It's more of a squeamishness or comfort thing. And there's always wet wipes.

> In Bangladesh, you rinse with water and soap after doing your business.

The only use of toilet paper in that case would be to dry yourself off after.

Seriously. Especially camping, where the choices are: carry around TP and then some used TP, or, just use water.

According to the book "How to shit in the woods", the most environmentally friendly thing to do when camping is to collect your poop and take it with you. So you can take your TP with you also.

There are places where you have to pack out your poop, like the Grand Canyon, but many places have nice composting toilets. Mount Rainier has some lovely places to take a shit. In any case there is still no advantage to bringing TP.

I sure hope you're not suggesting that you wash your poop into a river or other natural body of water.

Does a bidet really clean you?

Did you buy one in the states?

Yes, it’s a nice high pressure jet of warm water. At least in Tokyo, toilet paper is also provided, and you can double check by wiping after. They’re definitely going in when we redo the bathrooms in our house.

This misrepresents it, at least in my disappointing experience. The jet is nowhere near powerful enough to spray off poop. You are going to be getting most of it with your fingers and the jet just helps wash it away.

I found it to work pretty well, the the only use for toilet paper being to dry off quickly. The jet spray power can often be varied. For health reasons, it is usually set to quite soft though (Washlet Syndrome).

I’ve got a BioBidet (that’s the brand name) and never once has it not fully gotten everything off. There’s a lot of varieties of bidets, you were just using a less automated style most likely.

The trick, at least for the hose based system, is to put your finger in front of the stream to increase pressure.

Sounds like a gigantic mess.

> getting most of it with your fingers

Please tell me you don't mean this like it appears you do...

Absolutely... cleaner than TP will ever get you! Usually, a 30-second blast is all it takes.

$35 on Amazon. Worth every penny!

30 seconds seems long enough that it has passed from business to pleasure by the end.

I started using integrated bidet after the last move within US last year. The previous owners had that installed. It is great! Don't think you need to use wipes after.

Oh. I just googled "bidet".

I thought it is "integrated" in a Japanese toilet? Or do you mean this additional "installation"?

Search for bidet seat. Pretty fancy thing. Heats up too.

I am now frustrated whenever I have to use paper.

> I am now frustrated whenever I have to use paper.

I so strongly agree. It’s funny how I used paper much of my life, but now find it so disgusting.

The brand I bought is a BioBidet. Watch for sales on Amazon, I got mine for ~$200 as a lightning deal a while back (usually $350-500).

It is integrated in a washlet/electronic bidet/japanese toilet, but in Europe, you still commonly see bidets as separate ceramic bowls.

Maybe it’s possible that the shared poop cleaner had some unknown health benefits as well. Obviously we all understand the risks, but there are potential upsides as well. I’m not familiar what they could be precisely, but I know there’s a lot of ongoing research into stool transplants and other poop-related remedies.

I can't imagine living in a society before they invented the three seashells.

All the unecessary swearing...

Not sure, but ...

Pro-Tip: If you come to the US, please throw poopy toilet paper in the toilet and not the little trash can next to the toilet which is meant for women's hygiene products.

In Kosovo: its the opposite, you put the used paper in a bin specially placed for the purpose.

I was very, very confused about the hygienic requirements during a recent visit - turns out that they don't have the plumbing to handle the paper in the loo.

Nearby in Greece the pipes are 2 inch diameter, not 4 inches as is expected in the UK. Apparently the pipes were a British addition to Greece, I would like to know the story and if in nearby Kosovo you have the same diminutive pipe problem - 2" diameter.

This is not true in all cases, if unsure, ask, or look for any helpful hints (signs, presence of tp in garbage) Its really fine either way. Many places not in large cities are on well and septic and perfer you not flush tp unless absolutely needed. "If it didnt come out of your body, it does not belong in sewage" is a better rule of thumb. Just because many americans harmfully use their toilet as a trash can does not make it correct to do so.

Note that OP was specifically referencing America. If there is anywhere in the US where leaving toilet paper in the trash can is the cultural norm I haven't been there, and I've lived with septic tanks for probably half my life.

Say what? I've lived with septic systems all my life (aside from a few years in a big city) and we've always flushed toilet paper.

Wet wipes, paper towel, tampons never get flushed. Toilet paper always does.

Human urine is full of ammonia and other chemicals that are great natural detergents. If you worked in a Roman laundromat, your job was to stomp on clothes all day long—barefoot and ankle deep in colossal vats of human pee.

It gets worse, the ancient Romans also used urine as a mouthwash to whiten their teeth.

wait, our urine doesn't contain ammonia, we convert nitrogen to urea as it is far less toxic than ammonia.

> Because urea in urine breaks down into ammonia, urine has been used for the cleaning properties of the ammonia therein. In pre-industrial times urine was used – in the form of lant or aged urine – as a cleaning fluid.[25] Urine was also used for whitening teeth in Ancient Rome.


The most annoying part about this article is that he never specified how they cleaned his son’s butt.

[Narrator voice] They didn't.

Today, toilet paper is ubiquitous in Western cultures; it’s a US$9.5 billion-a-year industry in the United States. Americans, in their typical excess, use more than 50 pounds per person per year! About 1.75 tons of raw fiber are required to manufacture each ton of toilet paper. That doesn’t seem sustainable, and frankly, I’m surprised that people haven’t protested more as a result.

Given these numbers and the marketing efforts behind them, it’s hard to argue that the use of toilet paper is somehow natural. On the contrary, toilet paper is nothing more than a technology. So the next time you’re enjoying a morning constitutional, think about the fact that defecation and urination are more than biological functions; they are cultural activities that involve artifacts and technologies that change through time.

My takeaways:

* Lots of opportunity in taking on the "dirty jobs" that don't get the glamor.

* Something so ubiquitous and integral to our daily lives is a relatively recent introduction... It's not "perfect," nor "finished;" thinking about this mainstay as a piece of technology that can be made better holds opportunity.

“One tree produces about 200 rolls (100 pounds (45 kg)).” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper

Now, how much land each tree needs, and how long it takes to grow is not exactly easy to calculate. But, something like 2 * 200 trees per acre / 20 years for fast growth forest ~= 1/20 acre of forest per person for sustainable production does not sound bad.

And that’s assuming you can’t use waste streams from some other processes like sawmills.

That article links at the bottom to the original source, https://www.sapiens.org/column/curiosities/ancient-roman-bat...

I pee in a sealed orange juice jug. It takes me about 3-4 days to fill it, at which point I take it with me during my morning garden walk about and pour it on top of my compost pile.

The resource is too valuable to piss away.

Very similar article by the same author a year ago: https://www.sapiens.org/column/curiosities/ancient-roman-bat...

There was even a HN discussion about it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16757044

Just try a bidet, please. It's so worth it.

I had a "itchy butt" for the longest time. Tried many methods, saw many doctors (not fun!). Found no real solution. Flushable wet wipes helped somewhat, but didn't completely solve the problem and it would come back from time to time. Plus I was seriously concerned about clogging.

Then tried a bidet for a week, and... years of pain (I mean, itchiness), gone, just like that.

Great documentary I watched today that touched on this very subject "Toilet the Unspoken History"


Here in Brazil is chuveirinho, we used to use the bidets but it just takes up took much room and it looks ugly after usage. Inside the toilet the chuveirinho works well then we use the paper to finish the cleanup.

I really like the water gun next to the toilet in Thai bathrooms. It's multi-functional, not only can you use it as a bidet, but you can use it to wash other things.

It is called a 'bum gun'. =) So much better than paper!

Toilet paper vs. water.

The decision is clear, at least in my opinion: Water.

Water, by far.

And from so many angles (hygeine, cost, ecology, availablity, ikkiness, etc.)

seems like the sponge can spread disease.

an ancient Roman would often grab a tersorium (or, in my technical terms, a “toilet brush for your butt”).

Picture: http://static.nautil.us/16038_96fb9b48825b741083d35b0137af1b...

I thought they used the 3 shells...

One up, one down, and one to polish?

"no business is complete until the paperwork is done" (author unknown)

TL;DR: An ancient Roman would often grab a tersorium.[...] A tersorium is an ingenious little device made by attaching a natural sponge (from the Mediterranean Sea, of course) to the end of a stick

I wonder why so many articles today have so many words but yet so little content? This one has a mile-long introduction. The headlines question could have been answered in rather few words. I feel a short answer had satisfied me. To make it even more frustrating to me the article teases different but-wiping techniques used today without telling me which ones. Thanks for that...

I said I wonder why, I guess that was a lie. It's about having marketable content, "making the reader feel related to the situation", etc. It does strike me as bad practice though, especially when it comes to actual news. Sometimes I read an investigative piece and think to myself that it might be over soon, after all what could the author possibly have left out at this point, only to take a look at the scrollbar and realize I am at 50%. I wished for a bit more brevity, not the brevity of leaving out facts for the short clickbaity stuff but leaving out all the unnecessary filler material.

For real, I can’t stand this kind of longform. They take three simple facts and write an article that is more a short essay. And when the write starts with an accurate description of weather, place or person, “It was a foggy winter day in …”, “we reached a hidden part of the shore”, “is a tall woman with bright expressive eyes" you know you’ll be stuck in a fifteen minutes reading without learning anything.

Do you actually keep reading? If the first sentence is that way, I immediately close the tab.

From the articles about occurrences and domains I have personal knowledge of I learnt not to trust in the factual correctness of media articles. If they on top of that start with a story, I'm off.

That's Nautilus for you. Pages of fluff for a few lines of facts...

Once upon a time their articles had more substance.

I might be wrong but this longform is called "feature article". It's not meant to be for quick consumption. I'm not sure what is happening with our brains, but I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate and appreciate longer writings. Nowadays everything is about getting info in small chunks. No time for meandering flow of thoughts.

Not all writing is utilitarian.

People in tech, on average, prefer the utilitarian. They also, as a whole, on average, are considered to have below average social skills and below average art skills. Their coincidence is not a coincidence.

> To make it even more frustrating to me the article teases different but-wiping techniques used today without telling me which ones. Thanks for that...

For an introduction to South Asian "toilet technology", both very accurate and very humorous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKkryfdtMNQ

[EDIT: also quite humorous is how this is getting down-voted into the toilet. Is it defensiveness? Angry denial?]

So, the article about the stuff ancient Romans used instead of toilet paper is an art piece? Well, fine, why not.

It's just posted to a wrong forum then. Hence the readers being nonplussed.

most people don't click on something titled "What Ancient Romans Used Instead of Toilet Paper" to read an anecdote about a stranger's vacation to denver or the history of toilet paper, hn audience aside

> most people

or, perhaps, most tech people. Not all tech people, of course, as is evident from other comments on this page.

The article was on Nautilus, not The New York Times or Scientific America or Linux Journal.

Why do you wonder about "down votes" on a comment that basically insults people in tech on a forum primarily visited by people in tech.

Why would tech people, who pride themselves on objectivity, find it insulting?

Do tech people deny that they, AS A WHOLE, ON AVERAGE, have below average social skills and below average art skills?

A lot of men in tech also deny that current tech culture is sexist, often misogynist. That's male objectivity for you. Perhaps a similar "biased objectivity" is at play here.

It's all a bit ironic given that the two comments to which I replied are essentially insulting the author of the article and anyone who appreciates things beyond the utilitarian. They are essentially saying, "It's garbage. It's worthless."

Would you please not take HN threads further into the weeds like this?

I apologize (sort of) dang. I believe social and cultural change is far more important than the technological. Even SV is belatedly starting to realize this in the Trump era. Gaining a broader perspective, and more honest self-perspective, are critical to our progress as a society, as a species.

You might tell me that even if true, it's not what Hacker News is for. But people in technology are having an outsized impact on our culture, and many people question whether this impact is ultimately good. Where else should people in tech be exposed to thoughts outside the SV bubble?

Note that when I made the comments above, the ones I was responding to where at the top of the page. I felt compelled to counter.

I'm not arguing with you. I barely post on HN anymore, since it is clear such discourse isn't really welcome.

I'm not disputing your point about social and cultural change. The issue is that the comments you posted were too low-quality (generic, venty, and off topic) to be good contributions to a Hacker News thread—a thread about the Romans and toilet paper, of all things. If you get from there to Trump, you've gone on a generic tangent, which is exactly the sort of low-quality, all-the-same discussion we're trying to avoid here.


I understand. I only responded because they were the top comments, and I'm a believer in calling things out (the narrow-minded i-don't-have-time-for-humanity dismissiveness common in tech), even the little things, as that is how change happens, from the grassroots. In the same way sexist culture will if sexism is called out most every time it happens.

But I will refrain, here on HN.

My social skills are just fine. You don't waste my time, and I won't waste yours.

If you ain't got nothing to say, don't waste my time.

Sir, this is a Denny's.

* Writing is cheap, research is expensive.

* People are rewarded for how long they can keep people looking at ads, not how much value those readers find in their work.

* Finding/re-engaging an audience via aggregator sites such as this one is cheaper than maintaining an audience loyal to the quality of your journalism. For the most part, people click on titles, rather than domain names.

The end result is small amounts of content, disbursed as slowly as possible, with a clickbait title.

You prefer 10 Ways Roman toilet practices were weird! Number 2 will shock you!?

No thanks, I like a conversational story. This Wis written like how the author would tell it live. Humans remember things best when there is a bit of narrative to root the facts to.

Personally narrative only helps me remember when I care about it, which usually isn't the case when I read this kind of article.

For me the endless fluff around the information is just wasted time.

I enjoyed your comment, but would have appreciated it even more if some of the words had said what the Romans used instead of making me look at the TFA.

OK here: But instead of reaching for a roll of toilet paper, an ancient Roman would often grab a tersorium (or, in my technical terms, a “toilet brush for your butt”). A tersorium is an ingenious little device made by attaching a natural sponge (from the Mediterranean Sea, of course) to the end of a stick. Our ancient Roman would simply wipe him- or herself, rinse the tersorium in whatever was available (running water and/or a bucket of vinegar or salt water), and leave it for the next person to use. That’s right, it was a shared butt cleaner. (And of course, there were other means of wiping as well, such as the use of abrasive ceramic discs called pessoi.)

Thank you for posting this - you added more value than that entire article.

The wikipedia article used quite similar wording and images, and you can click through to some more topics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylospongium

TIL that "In the middle of the first century Seneca reported that a Germanic gladiator had committed suicide with a sponge on a stick. The German hid himself in the latrine of an amphitheater and pushed the wooden stick into his gullet and choked to death."

In that alone Seneca thus reported that Roman culture had every right to be dismantled. If you push a man so far that he'll kill himself with a sponge recently up someone's butt, your entire society has gone too far.

here's the picture that should have been in the lead


Oh you made a meta comment on his comment. Inception

Dude, an article about Roman anal hygiene is not to be read for important facts. It's feuilleton, reading as pleasure per se, light-hearted entertainment, path, not destination.

Having said that, I agree that a) this article was extremely light on facts, b) many other long articles about actually important topics digress way too much on setting the scene.

Agreed. This is a perfect article to read, while sitting and taking care of #2.

I still follow the "Wadsworth Constant" from several years ago, which says one can skip the first 30% of content to get to the heart of the thing being discussed. Otherwise, I just skim through, looking for anything relevant to the title.

Works on HN too, apaprently. (This thread, QED.)

I was equally annoyed by the narrative intro, angrily skimming to find the answer. Unfortunately, I think its a trend within information media – I find myself skimming Atlas Obscura the same way I skim Nautilus. These articles are good for keywords to prompt the real search…

This style is leaking into documentaries too. The best example is "Wild Wild Country" – a six hour long docuseries where I still had to read the wikipedia page afterwards.

As a father I found the tangent about the kids doing their business on a family vacation relatable, funny, pleasant, joyous. You may find it extraneous but others of us are enjoying the odd tangents in our lives.

I wonder why so many articles today have so many words but yet so little content?

Because short articles are penalized in search engine rankings.

all those digression are used to spam links to third party blogs, which in turns cross link back on some other article.

if it was just the answer paragraph + affiliate paragraphs you'd notice it, rule of thumb is one paragraph of content per one of cross-linking.

Can't you just skim over that stuff?

I wonder how anyone could consider this as being "so many words", or being so time poor that they couldn't spare 4 mins to read it...

I share the GP's complaint. It's less about the length -- it's not all that long -- but about the meandering nature of the form. The introduction of the author's family is not extensive enough to grab my attention as a reader, nor does the banality of the situation make them feel like anything other than a small bit of padding, nor do I feel closer to the author for our shared experience. Had the article started at "Modern American society..." this would have been a much snappier opener, though I'd argue that paragraph 4 should be rescued in some fashion.

I wonder any of this is real.


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