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A Brief History Of Toilet Paper: Why Some Countries Use It, And Other Countries Don't

What do you prefer?

Ever wondered why some countries use toilet paper to clean their butts post-poo, while some countries stick to water?

Fox/ Deedle-Dee Productions

Well, I HAVE, so here’s some research to satisfy this eternal query of mine (and hopefully, yours too).

FYI, toilet paper is preferred across Europe, USA and many East Asian countries. Most countries in Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Southern Europe, favour the use of water.

But first, have you thought about what people used before toilet paper came along?

London Express / Getty Images

The first recorded use of toilet paper was in 6th-8th century China. In other places, wealthy people would reportedly use wool, lace and hemp to clean themselves.

Those who couldn’t afford it used everything from dry leaves and corncobs, to sticks and stones, and even their own hands.

Ancient romans used a communal gompf stick – a piece of sponge tied to the end of a stick to clean yourself.


It was then put into a jar of vinegar for storage, so it's safe to assume that it probably caused a shit-ton of diseases.

Toilet paper wasn’t packaged and sold in the United States until 1857.

Mac Gramlich / Getty Images

Before that, Americans were known to use the absorbent pages from the Sears Catalog and the Farmers' Almanac, which started circulating in 1818. The Almanac eventually added a hole in the corner of each edition, to make it easier for patrons to tear, read, and wipe, hopefully in that order.

And it wasn’t until 1935 that any manufacturer in the country was able to promise “splinter-free toilet paper”. The country has been pooping pain-free for less than a hundred years, people. Let that sink in.

One of the reasons some countries have always favoured toilet paper, it appears, is the climate.

HBO / Via

Most countries in Northern Europe are cold for a good part of the year, and although we live in the 21st century and water heating is available today, it's just a habit that's been passed down the ages.

This very vivid explanation from a Quora post pretty much sums it up.

Quora / Via Sanjay Nandan

"Try putting crushed ice in your underwear down there and you will immediately get your answer- no words needed, experiential."

Yup yup yuppppppp. Not trying that out for myself, but I'll take this dude's word for it.

However, it might actually have more to do with history than the weather.


Harvey Molotoch, a New York University professor, speculates that Americans "owe it to the English".

During the 18th & 19th centuries, Englishmen first encountered bidets in Paris, where they went to lead a more salacious lifestyle. This in turn led to bidets being associated with Parisian brothels and prostitution, and this notion in turn passed down to the United States.

"So many of the conventions of American life come from the British", Molotoch adds.

BUT HOLD ON. Countries that use water instead of toilet paper really, REALLY swear by that shit.

BuzzFeed India

"I find it rather baffling that millions of people are walking around with dirty anuses while thinking they are clean," says Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters.

She adds, "You wouldn't shower with a dry towel; why do you think that dry toilet paper cleans you?"

And there are often a number of water-based techniques to choose from. Like the classic lota –

The lota has been known to exist for over 2,000 years. It's a classic, to say the least.

The good ol' bidet –

Yunava1 / Getty Images

The bidet has become popular in Southern Europe of late.

Or the most pioneering innovation in the recent history of butt-wipage, the inimitable bidet shower.

There are different ways to use it, and once you get used to it, it's the most pleasant experience ever.

More than anything, the most plausible reasoning on both ends is, "Well, we've always cleaned our butts this way so will you please just leave me be."

  1. So now you have all the info. What do you prefer?

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So now you have all the info. What do you prefer?
    vote votes
    Water sounds like the answer to all my post-poop problems.
    vote votes
    No thanks, it’s cold AF outside, so toilet paper is my only real friend.
    vote votes
    Maybe a combination of both would provide optimum cleanliness.
    vote votes
    Screw these internalised social norms. Where’s my corncob at?????