Most of the toilet papers in this price category felt like the rough TP you’d find in an airport or an office bathroom, not the pillowy stuff you’d want at home. But our low-budget pick, the two-ply Charmin Essentials Soft, feels just as luxe as pricier papers without sacrificing absorbency. You won’t need a wad of sheets to get the job done right, your rolls will last longer, and you get to enjoy fluffy toilet paper while saving your hard-earned cash.
Unfortunately, if you have a septic system, both our test of Charmin Essentials Soft and a Consumer Reports test of Charmin Basic, an earlier incarnation of Essentials, found it doesn’t dissolve nearly well enough for us to recommend it — despite the “septic safe” stamp on the front of the package. For the softest TP that actually passed our septic test, try Scott Extra Soft (which isn’t our official pick because it’s not even close to as soft as Charmin Essentials and was the least absorbent at this price point). Seventh Generation 100% Recycled and Angel Soft also passed with flying colors, and though they’re somewhat less soft than the Scott, they performed better on the absorbency tests. Do you have a family member who consistently uses way too much TP, like an eager kiddo or a nervous teen? Opt for one of these that dissolves faster, and you’re less likely to have a clog on your hands.
Almost all toilet paper comes from trees, which, as any elementary school social studies class can tell you, are technically a renewable resource. But every few years there’s buzz about TP made by chopping down an endangered species’ habitat or encroaching on old-growth forest. That’s why we like that Charmin Essentials Soft is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified “mix”, which means the virgin wood pulp it’s made from is probably sourced from responsibly managed forests or controlled wood. (This is better than no certification, but not as stringent as FSC 100%. The alternative to “virgin” is pulp made from recycled paper).
FSC forests meet 10 human rights, environmental impact, and management requirements, so their stamp right on the package means you probably aren’t wiping your butt with 300-year-old trees. (Procter & Gamble’s website clarifies that while it prefers FSC wood, it depends on what’s available on the market). You also can recycle the paper tubes curbside and the plastic packaging wherever retailers take plastic bags. While these small things don’t magically make it as low-impact as recycled, and most brands have the same or a similar certification and recyclability, at least it’s a start.
If you prefer a truly sustainable toilet paper, Seventh Generation 100% Recycled is the softest of all of the eco-friendly TPs we tested at all price points — although, compared to Charmin, it feels somewhat thin and rough. Seventh Generation is also FSC Certified and is Processed Chlorine Free (PCF), meaning the paper it’s recycled from may have been chlorine-bleached, but they didn’t use any more bleach or use alternative bleaching when they made the TP. Charmin Essentials Soft, like most of the papers we tested, is only Elemental Chlorine Free, or ECF. So it’s bleached using chlorine dioxide, which releases cancer-causing chemicals into the environment during manufacturing. You might have to use more of the Seventh Generation to get clean, but recycled toilet paper takes 64% less energy and 50% less water to produce, and makes 74% less air pollution, according to Your Best Digs. Consider whether you personally think that offsets the extra sheets.
If you have a typical sewer system and want a cheap TP that’s incredibly pleasant to use day after day and plenty absorbent so the roll lasts as long as possible, we think Charmin Essentials Ultra Soft is definitely your best bet.
FYI if you’re an obsessive Amazon review reader (like we are): Charmin replaced a single “Basic” toilet paper sometime in the past two years with this Essentials Soft and an Essentials Strong, so many reviewers give the new version a low rating because they’re upset that this replaced their go-to TP. Try sorting by “most recent” to see actual reviews of Essentials Soft.