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How toilet paper is made (2014) [video] (youtube.com)
112 points by jonbaer 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

I always wondered how people used toilet paper to clean themselves as I tried it once before when I travelled to a place where they only have toilet paper and it is a bad user experience and incredibly messy for me. The amount of paper required to totally clean myself (pardon) properly is massive.

I live in a a place where we use a bidet to clean ourself, or the water jet thing if it doesn’t have any bidet. Then we put a soap in our left hand and wipe it (pardon) on the area of interest to clean everything as we wash it with water. Then we wash our hands and its clean and refreshing.

Additionally, I combined both. First cleaning with water and soap, then wipe it with toilet paper. I personally think this combination is good, its clean, and it does not waste a lot of paper.

(I'm going to assume you're Indian by your username)

My parents are from India, but I was born & raised in Canada. I haven't been back to India since I was 10 years old, so nearly 25 years ago. But we did several trips, and I remember my sister and I hated using the latrines in the outhouses. We lived in the village, so squatting while doing our business, and using a lota of well water to wash up was so foreign and bizarre to us. When we returned to Canada, my 4 year old sister ran to the bathroom and hugged the toilet.

With the wisdom of age (if you can call me wise at 35), I now realize that toilet paper is inferior in all ways. It's wasteful, and it doesn't accomplish it's purpose. Now that I've had a child, we wash him with soap and water on every messy diaper change. We joke that he has the cleanest bum in the house.

You're not wrong, but it's completely cultural. I've experienced both sides of the culture, and I agree with you completely.

But we haven't installed a bidet. We're still a TP household. I was considering one before the current crisis. I think this year I might get one.

It’s an Indian name but I am not Indian and quite far from India :)

It’s an interesting story from your side! Wish for your children to be healthy, and for everyone else that are having crisis of TP and other essentials items to be able to get through it. Stay safe!

Having never used a bidet or water jet, I wonder, is the process the same at public facilities or at work? Do you bring your own soap, towel, etc?

Water tends to spray _stuff_ around. Do those public facilities need extra or more frequent attention?

Does a bidet or water jet change the cleanliness perception of a public or community toilet?


Hi, thank you for asking!

Most of the public facilities in my town are equipped with bidet/jet + toilet paper (some might provide soap at the toilet, if not; they always provide soap in the hand sink. In this case, it's better not to touch your private parts with bare hands and use the toilet paper to fully clean it). All of the office that I went to always provides soap and toilet paper. So you don't have to bring your own kit.

The shape of the toilet and the positioning of the bidet/jet definitely could reduce the amount of water going outside the (pardon) hole. But there's always some of it that got out. It is advised that we wipe the water on the seat with toilet paper to make it dry. Some also provide a cleaning solution to wipe the seat before using it.

Usually, there's a cleaning service nearby that always wipe the floor and clean everything.

From my personal experience with toilet paper, I need to use a load of it to make sure its thick enough to protect my hands from touching it directly as there's no water to wash it later except outside in the hand sink. I could easily use half of the roll to fully clean myself and make sure there is no residue at all (further wipes doesn't leave any mark behind the paper). Also, we don't throw the paper into the (pardon) hole, there's a dedicated bin for it and the smells (pardon) when it is opened is a whole new problem (I don't know if the gas is dangerous, but its really something). But then again, as it is not cleaned with soap, I am sure there are some bacteria left behind and it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I don't know what to say about the perception of people, but I do think it does change the perception, I am just not sure how :)

Interesting. Thank you for answering.

Seems the water splashing about is a pretty easy problem to solve. Your bum shoudl cover move of the opening and a simple shroud would block the gap between the seat and the rim.

The amount of TP used goes down dramatically with experience and the idea that you cannot get super clean with it is not entirely accurate. It will not be soap and water clean, for sure, but clean and dry to the touch is easy to accomplish.

The amount used goes down with experience. 4 sheets wrapped around 3 fingers and sort of folded and held by the thumb provides protection to your digits and adequate surface area for cleaning. . Do that 2-4 times and all done. Or as some might say - once forward, once back, once to polish. Don't ask. Just ... imagine. :D

Ready to have your mind blow? within the TP user community there are 3 distinct strategies for cleaning. As the joke goes - Most don't realize people do it differently than they do, and when they find out think they are very weird.

Stay seated, scoot forward, lean forward, hand behind you.

Stand up, lean forward, hand behind you.

Stand up, squat down, lean forward, hand behind you.

There may be some variations on each of those creating sub-groups; hand positions, one foot on seat, etc. Imaging the logistics of those different groups is sort of fascinating.

Wow! Thank you! It is embarrassing and might be impolite to ask people how do they clean themselves, but today I learned something that might be useful when I travel. Thanks!

Happy to help. Hope the world calms down in the near future and you find yourself in a position to travel to TP land. :D

I will have to find myself a .. .hose I guess? (Just kidding) going to give it a try!

I recently learned that moving one buttcheek out of the way while wiping with the other significantly decreases tp use.

Great topic :)

> I could easily use half of the roll to fully clean myself


In the US only small children do this because they haven't learned any technique yet. The adults who actually pay for the toilet paper and who don't enjoy unclogging their toilets use far less.

Exactly - That's why I wondered how because I really want to know how in case I traveled to a place that only uses toilet paper again :)

But in my place, you are not allowed to throw anything into the toilet and use a bin instead.

The reverse combination also works: remove the larger particles with paper, use soap and water to finish the job.

It's amazing how most of the western world gets by with paper only. Try holding a piece of ... in the hand, then clean it with paper only. No amount of paper will make it clean enough.

Here's the thing though. I don't pick up food or shake hands or touch the doorknob or keyboard with my anus.

I agree that a bidet can get you cleaner. But if you are using your bare hand to clean with, you are getting a cleaner rear at the expense of a dirtier hand. No matter how well you wash.

I would agree but using paper can also make the hand dirty, except perhaps in an invisible way. I think it might be all in our heads and we need a scientific study to show which method is safer/more hygienic. This also could take into account the question of whether spreading some bacteria could have a positive effect on e.g. our immune systems somehow.

What do you use to clean yourself down there in the shower?

I use my fingers. that and just soap and water like the rest of the body?

Dramatically reduce your carbohydrate intake.

You'll be down to a single square in no time.

Thats why you have two hands

Is your ass that dirty though ? Honestly gotta wonder about diets here. Most of the time I wipe clean or almost, and I am never constipated nor have diarrhoea... Eating lots of greens yada yada

As with all culturally different ways to do something, switching costs make individual comparison almost impossible. A lifetime of experience with paper/bidet/whatever will inevitably make you so good at it that it ends up being the best process for you. It's really just like emacs/vi I think.

> It's really just like emacs/vi I think.

Do you mean that one of these techniques is a major mode, and the other is hard to quit?

There is also the option of wet paper towels, which works also very nice.

Apparently those wet paper towels are a real strain on the sewer system, clogging it.

There's a general conflation of two types of wet towels.

1. "Wet Wipes" which are commonly used to clean babies and young children, these must be disposed of in the bin and can't be flushed

2. "Wet Toilet Paper" which is a far less durable version of the above, and flushes and disintegrates as normal. In the UK, these come with a "Flushable" symbol on the package.

In the US "paper towel" usually refers to kitchen roll. Kitchen roll is designed to be strong when wet, unlike toilet roll, which is designed to dissolve when wet.

I don't know about the UK but if you ever come to the US please don't flush anything that says flushable in the pack. if it has to say flushable on the packaging, it likely isn't.

Once you get used to it, it takes less than 10 squares to get fully clean, so there's not much wasted paper. That said, there's nothing like the clean feeling of a bidet (or soap or wet wipe) combined with the paper.

I miss the toilets with the spray in Japan so much. Never feels fully clean with just paper.

You can buy add on toilet seats with bidet functionality for a couple hundred dollars and they are easy to install. If you can turn a wrench, you can install one. As long as you keep the old seat to put it back on when you move out, you can do it in an apartment even and not risk penalty on move out. I highly recommend everyone get one. The brand I have is BioBidet, but I’m sure most are comparable.

You can't easily install the nice washlets in many places, because they require power to operate. If a bathroom wasn't designed for it, it's very likely to not have a power outlet near the toilet. In Japanese bathrooms, there's an outlet right next to the toilet just for the washlet. In my American bathroom in my condo built around 15 years ago, the only outlet is on the other side of the sink (meant for plugging in an electric razor or hairdryer), so you'd have to run an electric cord literally across the sink, which obviously is a no-go.

I bought the basic Luxe non-heated bidet attachment from Amazon for $35 last year. They are closer to $70 now, but you don’t need to spend hundreds.

Are these sprays always in the same position or is it something that is off to the side and when you press a button they move into position? I worry about getting matter on it but maybe I'm imagining it to be longer than it really is.

There's different ways. One where it moves into position, and others where the outlet is fixed but it's not in a position where you'd have any problems.

Ive used one for the first time 5 days ago. Im installing one if I buy a house. The warm seat is amazing

One of my first engineering jobs in the late 70's was working at a paper dryer manufacturer in southern Maine. The owner's son had a little side company the was building process control systems for the dryers with Multibus based computers and 8080 processors.

Since the company was so small, we all had multiple roles including installation. I ended up visiting many different kinds of paper mills such as oil filter paper and roofing paper. But the most insane sites were the toilet paper mills. Just ginormous machines spewing out TP at 5000 feet per minute. Noise so deafening, you had to wear heavy duty ear protection and use hand signals.

One time we were installing a system in Medford, Oregon. The plant electrician was inspecting our install and the owner's son is showing off our relay rack to him. He pulls out a random relay (they were in octal sockets) to show the electrician what we were using. Turns out the relay was in series with a live circuit on the dryer, and the line goes down.

After they get the line back up, the foreman comes over and tells us how much money that mistake had cost them. I can't remember the figure, but it was pretty embarrassing. Doh!

Somebody mentioned their surprise in seeing the metric system here in a since deleted comment. I wanted to mention it’s not that unusual given the How It’s Made show is produced out of Quebec. https://www.manufacturing.net/home/article/13055620/the-maki...

The show listed all of the filming locations on its website. Via Internet Archive I discovered this was filmed at Cascades paper in Canada (likely a Montreal, QC production location)

I saw that too.

Interested to see the use of metric system (75 km long roll, 165 cm wide inner tube). I presume that the narrator is just reading a script which is based on the actual units the toilet paper company uses. I used to travel to Europe often and always been the butt of the metric system jokes (I am American) but I think people do not understand is that metric system is used more widely than they think in the US. It is the official system of the USA (Pub. L. 94-168, §2, Metric Conversion Act 1975 § 205b 1.). Furthermore, entire industires such as semiconductor, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medicine and dentistry, sports (100 meter runs) and the U.S. Military uses metric system extensively if not exclusively in many areas. There are still areas in our life where we do not have nice divisibility by decimal numbering system (which is one of the advantages of the metric system of units) - time (0-24 hours), angle (0-360 degrees), font sizes (Swiss points), aviation / navy, Space industry, etc around the world including nations in Europe. IMO if we had to rewind history and start over again, we should have chosen a base-12 duodecimal system instead of decimal. Imagine how the world would be like if we had 12 fingers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duodecimal

One example that always sticks out to me is hearing about German cars being limited to 155mph when of course it's really 250kph.

Often you'll find a metric value being quoted as authoritative that's the conversion of an imperial measure though. It wouldn't surprise me at all if that 165cm wide tube was originally set there because something was 65 inches.

I remember that saw blade (4:48) from when I first saw it years ago and I'll never forget it. There's something terrifying about it. Probably the rapid organic movement and complete lack of cover.

Every automated industrial process is a miracle and a wonder to behold.

Hence the popularity of How it's Made. One of the few shows where I can enjoy the episodes more than once.

Not all toilet papers use recycled paper. "Major toilet paper brands have refused to use more sustainable materials, the report says, because Americans tend to more concerned than the rest of the world about ideal toilet paper texture in their homes, largely due to decades of marketing around toilet paper softness."


Toilet paper is relatively new in human's history. I'd love to see the current crisis as an incentive to go back to some alternative... All this cellulose could then be allocated to other uses.

I am surprised to learn most toilet paper come from recycled paper. The whole bleaching it white seems rather unnecessary. Do consumers really demand their TP be white?

Since toilet paper goes out into nature it is better to not use recycled, less heavy metals and contaminants in fresh paper. Contraintuitive but true.

All but the most corner-cutty TP manufacturers (hopefully) remove those contaminants during the pulping process (as shown in the video; the video mentions ink and metal/plastic debris specifically, but this is where you'd filter out any other contaminants). If it's a danger to your water supply, then it's probably a danger to your behind, too.

Not sure where you live, but in areas with public sewage of course the treatment plants remove as much as possible from the water before it reaches nature.

Exactly, family member is researcher on water quality and waste processing, and claims that new toilet paper is the way to go.

I'm pretty sure TP disintegrates in the sewage system, there's no hope nor need of separating it from feces.

That makes it sound as if the feces are just flushed out into nature, which is very far from my understanding.

Of course the purpose of a sewage treatment plant is to remove as much as possible of the material in the water, regardless of what it is, ending up with water that is as pure as possible so it can be let out into nature.

A large part of the US depends on septic systems. After flushing, the water, feces, and toilet paper all end up in a tank on the property. The toilet paper and feces there dissolve into the water thanks to bacterial action and other processes, and then eventually flows into a field line that distributes the water into the soil. This is entirely a passive process that can go decades without maintenance, though newer designs in wetter areas sometimes have a pump that sprays the water on the surface after chlorinating it.


My understanding is that the solids are separated from the liquids and in the case of the MWRD of Chicago [0], air dried before being put to reuse.

The point is TP just becomes part of the solids and there's no need to separate it from the rest of the solids, it's complementary being derived from trees.

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

Depends on where you are. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria, just dumps their raw sewage into the ocean.

I think they're just finally going to start treating it this year (if they haven't already).

So? Flocking etc aims to remove everything but the water itself. Still, heavy metals is not something you want in the sludge either.

Citation needed...

Not OP, but a quick google returned this one.


"Recycled paper is an important raw material to provide sustainability of natural resources and reduce the environmental impact of the use of paper from recycled pulp in the packaging industry. Hence, recycled paper production is higher in terms of volume and utilization. Recycled paper products are used in the packaging industry partially or fully. Such usage leads to the presence of heavy metals due to recycled and chemical additive sources. The present study aims at determining the amounts and also identifying the sources of heavy metals such as Pb, Cd, Zn, Ni, and Cu contained in recycled testliner (TL) and fluting (FLT), which are main products used in production of corrugated cardboard. The metals in the structure of the paper used in packages directly or indirectly in contact with foods are heavy metals. Mean values of 2.6 mg kg-1 Pb (lead), 2.8 mg kg-1 Zn (zinc), 0.094 mg kg-1 Cd (cadmium), 1.8 mg kg-1 Ni (nickel), and 25.4 mg kg-1 Cu (copper) were detected in test liner and fluting papers using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES). The main sources of heavy metals are colorants, mainly consisting of conventional paint and pigments as well as spot and Pantone Matching System (PMS) colorants."

I don't doubt that there are residuals in recycled paper, I'm doubting that they outweigh the downsides of using fresh wood. It just seems like a convenient thing to tell yourself to calm your conscience when buying extra-fluffy TP.

People associate white with cleanliness and the reason is straightforward. Any dirt on a white object is immediately obvious.

Some TP does come from recycling (Cascades, shown here, appears to also have a recycling division) but some doesn’t — https://www.nrdc.org/media/2019/190220 for example.

Seventh Generation (as one particularly notable example) sells both bleached and unbleached toilet paper.

yes, white, pastel colors and perfumed

If you speak any German, the children's TV show "Sendung mit der Maus" did a more in-depth movie about making toilet paper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwSPihWGOCI

Flashbacks to my childhood...

For more context, The History Guy recently did the history on toilet paper: https://youtu.be/IVTRpTHPs3o as did Today I Found Out: https://youtu.be/1Xiu-L0BYak

How are toilet paper companies affected as the world is going more and more to a paperless world if the first product is mostly recycled paper?

Sadly, I don't think the world is a paperless as one might hope. I'd imagine the bulk of the first recycled product is cardboard. The amount of paper saved in paperless billing or not printing out emails is easily outweighed by the amount of cardboard packaging increases.

haven't recycled papers, now cannot find toilet papers.

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