Unusual and interesting toilets from all around the world.

Wipe or Wash? Toilet Paper or Water?

Wipe or Wash?
Paper or Water?

"Squat or sit?" is probably the biggest toilet question for international travelers, especially for Americans. That may be the case partly because Americans don't even know that they need to also ask this question: What do the locals use to clean themselves, and therefore what will they provide for me: Toilet paper or water?

Imagine that you are an American traveling overseas.

You check into a hotel, only to discover that you don't have a shower or tub in your room. Nor is there one down the hallway.

Quickly, you go back downstairs to the front desk.

You inquire at the front desk about where you should take a shower, and the desk clerk is horrified that you would want to do such a thing.

You are told that what you should do is rub dry paper all over your body. That is the very best way of getting clean. Spraying water on your body would be a dirty practice! Don't behave that way in our hotel!

Jim Morrison's bidet and sink in l'Hôtel de Medicis in Paris.

A bidet just like the one in Jim Morrison's room in l'Hôtel de Medicis in Paris.

OK, now you know how everyone else feels when they hear an American say that toilet paper is extremely clean but using water is a filthy practice.

Skanky American toilet in West Lafayette, Indiana.

My North American toilet and its roll of toilet paper.

It's not just toilet paper versus water.

For one thing, just what do we mean by "paper"? And for another, there are many other possible choices. Sticks, stones, broken pottery, and more — read on for the details.

Origins of Toilet Paper in China During the Zhou Dynasty

China had toilet paper for centuries before it appeared in Europe.

The Chinese scholar and government official Yan Zhitui wrote about toilet paper in China in 589 AD:

Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.

Paper had been produced and used in China since the 2nd century B.C. for other purposes, some of it based on hemp. Pulp based paper was developed in China in the 2nd century AD.

In 851 AD, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), an Arab travelling through China wrote this about the locals:

They do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper.

It was recorded in the early 1300s in what today is Zhejiang province that the local paper industry annually manufactured ten million packets of toilet paper, each containing 1,000 to 10,000 sheets.

In 1393 an official of the Ming Dynasty (136-1644) recorded that 720,000 sheets of toilet paper, two by three feet in size, were produced for the imperial court at Nanjing. That same year, the Imperial Supply Bureau recorded that the imperial family of the Emperorer Hongwu consumed 15,000 sheets of special perfumed soft-textured toilet paper.

Nearby, in Japan, the Sticks Come Out

Starting in ancient times, and continuing all the way to today for real traditionalists, a chūgi was a special wooden stick used for cleaning the anus after defecation.

Its name means "wooden skewer", coming from the kanji for skewer and tree. Chūgi seem to have been depicted in scroll paintings since the 12th century AD, and must have been in use for some time at that point.

They're narrow thin sticks of wood, maybe 200 mm long, approximately 10 to 20 mm wide and a few millimeters thick.

Ancient Greek toilets in Ephesus, in west Turkey.

Public latrine at Ephesus in Asia Minor, now western Turkey. Notice the water channel running in front of the seats.

Meanwhile, in Europe...

Europeans didn't have toilet paper until recently. The Romans used a tersorium, a sponge mounted on a stick. The sponge could be dipped into a water channel running in front of the row of communal toilets in the latrine, and rinsed off in that channel after use. If there was no channel of running water, a bucket of salt water or vinegar water would be used, as Seneca described in his Letters of Lucillus [70,20].

If neither a tersorium nor water were available, the Greeks and Romans used πεσσοι or pessoi, small stones. The tradition started with the ancient Greeks that three stones should be enough to finish the job. This convention has been very long lived, with a hādīth attributed to Muhammad specifying three stones as the ideal number for anal cleaning. The pessoi were also used in an ancient board game in Greece. Aristophanes wrote a scene involving pessoi in Peace in the 5th century. Here's the Penguin Classics translation:

Arms dealer [displaying a cuirass]: And what, alack, shall I do with this rounded cuirass, a beautiful fit, worth ten minas?

Trygaeus: Well, that one will not make a loss for you, anyway. Give me that at cost price. It will be very convenient to crap in ...

Arms dealer: Stop this impudent mockery of my goods!

Trygaeus [placing the cuirass on the ground like a chamber pot and squatting on it]: Like this, if you put three stones beside it. Is it not clever?

The Greeks would use όστρακα or ostraka, small pieces of broken ceramic goods, to vote to shun or ban their opponents. This is where we get the word ostracize. Some scholars have suggested that the ostraka could be used as pessoi, literally wiping your feces onto the names of hated individuals. The abrasive characteristics of broken ceramic material suggest that long-term used of these as pessoi could have resulted in localized irritation at the least, progressing to skin or mucosal damage or the irritation of external hemorrhoids. For more on toilet use of pessoi and ostraka and the medical implications see the paper "Toilet hygiene in the classical era", Philippe Charlier, Luc Brun, Clarisse Prêtre, and Isabelle Huynh-Charlier, in BMJ (the British Medical Journal) 2012;p345-346.

Paper technology spread from China through the Middle East to medieval Europe in the 13th century. Water-powered paper mills were first built in Europe in the 1200s. Paper remained an expensive and uncommon material until industrial production greatly reduced its cost in the 1800s.

The first patent for roll-based toilet paper dispensers was issued in Europe as late as 1883.

The wealthy classes used cloth made from wool, cotton lace, or hemp. The majority of people, however, had no such luxury. Some might have some rags they could use, but the simplest method was to defecate into a stream and use your hand and the running water. Otherwise, it depended on the location and the season. Stones and sand were indestructable, and could be reused after running water or precipitation had washed them. Plant material would be less harsh: wood shavings, leaves, grass, moss, and corncobs. Snow in the winter in northern areas would really wake you up. And there were seashells by the seashore.

The squeamishness of Victorian times forbid referring to toilet paper explicitly. Women might ask a shopkeeper for "curling papers", which were used for making hair-curling rolls, and it would somehow be implied that she really mean toilet paper. Or it would be called "wrapping paper". The squeamishness continued for a long time. Until 1975 ABC, the American Broadcasting Company network, prohibited the use of the phrase "toilet paper" in advertising and required that it be called "bathroom tissue" instead.


Toilet Paper in the United States

The inventor Joseph Gayetty was born in Massachusetts and lived in New York City by 1860. On December 8, 1857, he started marketing his toilet paper, Gayetty's Medicated Paper. US$ 0.50 purchased a package of 500 sheets of paper bearing Gayetty's name as a watermark and impregnated with aloe. His paper was marketed as "unbleached pearl-colored pure manila hemp paper, a perfectly pure article for the toilet and the prevention of piles [hemorrhoids]". His design was licensed to other manufacturers, and was sold into the 1920s.

The product was needed, as residual fecal contamination of external bodies surfaces and therefore clothing and bedding posed serious health hazards, especially in the military. During the American Civil War, the incidence of typhod fever reached 80 cases annually out of every 1000 soldiers. In the Spanish-American War, when toilet paper was used some among the civilian population but not in the military, the typhoid rate grew to twice that of the Civil War.

Seth Wheeler obtained the earliest U.S. patents for toilet paper in roll form and its dispensers in 1871. The Scott Paper Company was then founded in 1879. The earliest roll paper was essentially the same paper that was used to produce newspapers. It wasn't until 1907 that a creped paper roll introduced a trend toward softer paper.

General William Tecumsah Sherman.

"Do I have to come down there again? Because I will."

The Old Farmer's Almanac has traditionally been produced with a hole drilled through one corner so it can be hung on a nail in an outdoor toilet and its pages used as toilet paper.

The celebration of ignorance and backwardness found many places in the American south (and some places not really all that far south) leads the publisher to keep drilling the holes. Toothless hillbillies and people who like to play that role joke about wiping themselves with corncobs and pages from the Old Farmer's Almanac and the Sears and Roebuck Catalog.

After Gayetty, American toilet paper went back to all dry, all the time, until Kimberly-Clark started marketing packages of moistened toilet paper in 2001.

Meanwhile, in 1905, a report from the Surgeon General of the Army specified "the issue of toilet paper is now authorized where posts have sewer connections." During World War I the incidence of typhoid fever fell to about 3 cases annually per 1000 soldiers. During World War II is was less than 0.1 cases annually per 1000 soldiers, and it was even lower during the Korean War.

Recent Developments in Toilet Paper

Colors (or not)

The Printemps department store in Paris carries toilet paper in a a wide variety of colors and patterns.

High fashion designer toilet seats and toilet paper, in the Printemps department store in Paris.
High fashion designer toilet seats and toilet paper, in the Printemps department store in Paris.

A variety of light colors were available in the U.S. starting in the 1960s. But by 2004, Scott was the last U.S. manufacturer of colored toilet paper and they stopped production that year.

Why is there no colored toilet paper in the U.S.? Two beliefs became widespread, that physicians were warning against its use because it caused some people to develop a rash, and that the dyes made it environmentally harmful. Is there any truth to either one? The French seem to be able to put up with colored toilet paper, that's for sure. The paper or water issue is also an environmental issue. Certain wipes that are used cannot be flushed and can cause problems to your cities' plumbing systems. Green cleaning products should be used to help insure that your bathroom and toilets work properly and are environmentally friendly.

Toilegami

Toilegami or toilet paper folding has become a worldwide trend in hotels. James P. McCauley, the executive director of the International Association of Holiday Inns, explained it:

Hotels want to give their guests the confidence that the bathroom has been cleaned since the last guest has used the room. To accomplish this, the maid will fold over the last piece of toilet paper to assure that no one has used the toilet paper since the room was cleaned. It is subtle but effective.

Fancy hotels do it. In this first picture we see what, honestly, is a not very sharp job of folding the toilet paper at a Hilton hotel in Rockville, Maryland, on the northwestern outskirts of the Washington, D.C. area.

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Hilton hotel in Rockville, Maryland.

Toilegami at the Hilton hotel in Rockville, Maryland.

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Residence Inn hotel in Herndon, Virginia.

Toilegami at the Residence Inn in Herndon, Virginia.

The Residence Inn in Herndon, Virginia makes a sharper crease in their toilet paper. This is the location of the Toilets of Terror, where one group of 9/11 hijackers stayed the night before their attack.

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Residence Inn hotel in Herndon, Virginia.

Toilegami at the Residence Inn in Herndon, Virginia.

Kitchentoweligami at the Residence Inn hotel in Herndon, Virginia.

Folded kitchen paper towel at the Residence Inn in Herndon, Virginia.

The Residence Inn provides an apartment type of accommodation with a full kitchen. They even fold the end of the paper kitchen towel roll! Kitchentoweligami, I suppose.

The Four Points Sheraton in Romulus, Michigan, just outside the Detroit Airport, gives you one roll folded and one roll tucked to avoid inadvertent unrolling.

Toilegami at the Four Points Sheraton in Romulus, Michigan.

Toilegami and counter-roll tucking at the Four Points Sheraton in Romulus, Michigan.

Toweligami at the Four Points Sheraton in Romulus, Michigan.

Bathtoweligami at the Four Points Sheraton in Romulus, Michigan.

The Sheraton also makes an attempt at bathtoweligami.

Everyone gets into this trend. The Baltimore Hostel even folds their toilet paper, both in the shared bathrooms (in the first picture) and in those in the rooms (in the second).

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Baltimore Hostel.

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Baltimore Hostel.

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Baltimore Hostel.

Toilegami or folded toilet paper at the Baltimore Hostel.

How to Install a Modern Toilet Paper Roll

This is very simple.

Install it the civilized way.

This isn't just my opinion, this has been established scientific fact since 1891. See U.S. Patent 459,516, "Wrapping or toilet paper roll" by Seth Wheeler. The paper must come out over the top of the roll, not dangle down against the wall. Also see his other U.S. Patents:

465,588, "Toilet-paper roll" 447,419, "Toilet-paper fixture" 438,457, "Paper-roll holder" 954,709, "Paper-holder"

Incorrect orientation of toilet paper roll.

INCORRECT

Correct orientation of toilet paper roll.

CORRECT

Cleaning Yourself With Water

The bidet was invented in France in the 1710s. It's a device that makes it easy to clean yourself with water.

The Fawlty Towers hotel in Rome offers you a choice between this very well supplied toilet and a bidet. An entire laundry hamper filled with toilet paper!

This standalone bidet is about the same size as the toilet bowl. The two knobs control the hot and cold water so you can adjust the temperature.

Toilet in the Fawlty Towers hotel in Rome, Italy.

The bidet functionality can be added to a toilet, as in the following unit.

Toilet with built-in bidet in Genova, Italy.

Toilet with added bidet functionality in Genova, Italy.

But to really add functionality to a toilet, see the high-tech toilets of Japan, with their multi-paragraph instruction manuals explaining their operation on the bottom side of the lid.

High-tech Japanese toilet at the Tokyo Haneda Hotel.

High-tech Japanese toilet at the Tokyo Haneda Hotel.

Turkish train toilet.

Turkish train toilet with copper water line for cleaning.

A simpler water cleaning modification simply adds a valve and copper tube as seen on this Turkish 1st-class yataklı vagon, or sleeper car, on the Pamukkale Ekspresi train between İstanbul and Denizli.

The Turkish name for this toilet-mounted water tube is taharet musluğu. Literally, that's bidet faucet. Taharet is bidet, musluğu is faucet or nozzle. The Arabs say shattaf, see the Islamic toilet regulations page for details.

The Mavi House guesthouse in the Sultanahmet district of İstanbul, Turkey, has a squat toilet with a water spigot and a small red bucket. For some reason the Turkish toilet buckets are almost always red.

Toilet at Mavi House, İstanbul, Turkey.

Mavi House squat toilet with water spigot and standard red plastic bucket.

Toilet at Muhamed Aly Bedouin village, Dahab, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

Some times it's just a hose, as at Muhamed Aly Bedouin village, Dahab, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

To summarize the water-vs-paper situation:

North America

Nothing but paper, except for the bidets of Quebec.

Europe

Paper is provided (or, as you get further east, it isn't provided but neither is water, they expect you to bring your own paper). However, water is preferred by many or most locals in some western European countries such as France and Italy.

Middle East

In Turkey, toilet paper is only found in places catering to tourists. Beyond Turkey, I would be very surprised to find toilet paper. It is expected that you will use water.

If you bring your own paper, there will be a small rubbish bin into which you should place your used toilet paper.

Asia

It is expected that you will use water.

A lota is a roughly spherical small water vessel made from brass, copper or plastic, and found in India and other parts of South Asia. Its name is from Hindi and Urdu. In Bangladesh, it's called a bodna or badna.

In Southeast Asia, you encounter a wide plastic dipper. It's called a tabo in the Philippines and a gayung in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The next question:

All of this leads to a further question: If you are using paper, possibly paper from a personal supply:
Where do you put the used toilet paper: in the toilet bowl or in the waste bin?