Substitutes for Toilet Paper

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

I recently posted about being off-grid for 48 hours, and using a lot of baby wipes due to the lack of water during our adventure.  One thing that would run out quickly in a survival situation if you did not have a huge stockpile would be toilet paper.  Not having a lot of space we have about three months worth on hand right now, but that can run out quickly.  Also, a large stockpile of toilet paper is not portable in a bug-out situation, and in a shelter in place scenario, the TP supply is bound to run out.

Space saving tip:  Remove the cardboard insert and flatten the roll and you can fit more rolls in a small space.

What are some substitutes for toilet paper?

Back in ancient times, the Romans used a sea sponge on a stick.  They would clean themselves with it, rinse it in the running water (public bathrooms had them on the floor) and leave it soaking in salt water in between uses.

In colonial times, people used corncobs, and later, old newspapers and catalogs were used in outhouses.

Here are a few ideas:

1.  Wet wipes or baby wipes

These would work just like toilet paper, but again, a large stockpile would have to be accumulated.

2. Paper Substitutes

Newspaper may work, but the ink would turn everything black.   I read other people prefer The Yellow Pages but these days, a lot of people don’t keep phone books around.  Store catalogs may be more common, and flimsy pages instead of high end glossy paper would work best.  Just crumple up the sheet until it softens up, then wipe.

3.  Cloth

Cloth, such as wash cloths, terry cloth or  cloth diapers can be used as toilet paper substitutes.  You can even cut up old, soft t-shirts into squares.  If you want to make reusable cloth wipes, this article from Food Storage Moms has good instructions.  The method would be to wet the cloth, wipe, then launder the cloth.  Supporters of this idea feel that most people would have nothing against rewashing cloth diapers, therefore personal washcloths should be okay.  I would think it would be a good idea to throw the soiled wash clothes into a bucket of water with some bleach before washing.

4.  Plant material

Sage leaves are said to be soft and fragrant enough to use, some say banana leaves would work too..  You must have some knowledge about which plants are safe; you would not want to use something like poison ivy, poison oak or sumac by mistake!   Remember: Leaves of three – let it be!

5.  Water

Many countries already use a spray water fountain called a “bidet” as part of their bathroom facilities.  Since this is being considered in an emergency scenario, we would need an alternative to that too.  In many countries, use of the left hand in combination with pouring water in a pan or small bucket with the right hand is the way to clean up.

Possible water carriers:

Fill any of these containers with plain water, add a drop of essential oil for fragrance and wash up.  (Don’t use mint or and don’t overdo the quantity of drops, or you may irritate those sensitive areas.)  After washing, dry the area with a clean towel that can also be reused.

To avoid disease, one would have to wash the hands well with water or antibacterial gel right after.

I’m not ready to give up toilet paper but you gotta do what you gotta do to stay clean.   In an emergency, the water route seems like the most likely one to try.  I may try making those clothes one of these days.  We will keep stockpiling toilet paper for now, and store them efficiently by flattening them for maximum use of space.   Another idea would be to decrease the use of toilet paper by combining with the methods above, thereby extending the life of the stockpile.

Toilet paper shortages sounds unlikely, but it has happened:  a year or so ago, Venezuela faced a toilet paper shortage and the government had to take over a toilet paper factory.   Before I got interested in preparedness, I can recall snagging the last package of toilet paper and waiting in a long line right before a hurricane.  Toilet paper is one of the first items to disappear if a disaster disrupts supply deliveries.  It’s good to know some alternatives just in case.

© Apartment Prepper 2014

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    1. We use a bidet hose that connects where the water is plumbed into the toilet. it is a stainless steel flexible hose with a spray nozzle…totally washable. Once you start using water to clean after a BM you will never want to go back to paper! We think paper is a nasty way to clean one s self and very irritating to the skin!

      1. When I was stationed in Korea, I loved staying at their upscale hotels which all had heated bidet toilet seats with fans that would even blow you dry. Unfortunately, I was hoping they’d have caught on here in America by now, but it’s been 10 years and the only place I’ve seen them for sale is on Ebay and shipped directly from China and still quite expensive. It’d be nice if Home Depot and Lowes would catch onto the trend, I am sure they would sell well. I think I’ve seen what you’re talking about, and it wasn’t as cool as a robot arm that moves at the command of a button, sprays back and forth and then retracts again under the seat when done.

      2. My wife’s family is from the Philippines and they use a bucket (tabo) and poor water to clean themselves.. IF you think about it, rubbing your BM against your butt with paper until it’s “gone” is kind of disgusting and less than “clean”..

        Funny or disgusting side note depending on how you look at it.. Hotels in the USA do not provide tabo buckets but they DO have ice buckets.. You can see where this is going.. –> There is a reason they give you those little plastic liners for the Ice Buckets.. USE THEM!

        1. Hi Steve, Using a bucket is a workable solution, at lot of people say they don’t go back to TP once they get used to that. Heh, now I will have to think twice about those ice buckets! Thanks for the comment.

      3. When I have the slops, I save on TP by using a large squeeze bottle with about 100 degree temp warm water. Since poo contains greasy oils, warm water melts it away better than lukewarm or cold. If you have hemorroids, this is the best soothing way to clean and you don’t hurt tissue this way by wiping.

        I save on septic pumping costs by not flushing TP down the toilet and burn it as wood stove fire starter. When I ran out of TP, I used paper towels, napkins, lambs ear, baby wipes, and other soft leaves. My great grandma used torn pieces of cotton before TP was invented and boiled them in a soap mixture to use again. Women used this as sanitary napkins back in the day too, well known as “being on the rag”.

  1. To your plant list add lambs years. In the old days out on the prairie these grew hardy & the cowboys/cowgirls used them. They’re much bigger than a sage leaf

      1. Hi Diane,Glad you brought that up-we don’t have any lambs ear around here, but that is good to know its best left for medicine.

  2. I think another important aspect is “efficiency.” I know my kids use handfuls of the stuff when they go (trying to break them of that habit.) So the key is not to use more than necessary, or use a combination of two (a little water and a little paper) to conserve what you have. In desperate times, I think I could find some old bedsheets and a scissors to hold us over until/if things get back to normal.

    1. Hi Kristian, Good point – using less is something that can be learned now. Old sheets could be used to make those family cloths. Thanks for the comment.

    2. Mine also had that bad habit, and man, that kid could stop up a toilet. Have you tried the around the hand trick? Around the hand twice, wipe, fold, repeat. Seemed to work for mine.

  3. I’ve purchased plain white washcloths to use as pee wipes and they go into their own container after use. They’re easy to wash and bleach clean. From brown flannelette, I made poo wipes. I put two layers together and stitched them at the outside edges only and after use they’ll go into their own container for washing later. Those who can’t sew can easily substitute dark washcloths like black or navy. Stock lots because when things get tough, your toilet needs will likely increase.

    1. Hi jeff, The recycled paper does sound like a better option than some of the others, and you can use it for other stuff. Thanks!

  4. Everyone should calculate how long it takes 1person to use up 1roll in normal situations. In my home, where I am the only person here 3out of 7 days, with no children, it takes me/us 7-8 days to use one roll.
    To do this for your situation, use a pen or magic marker and write the date you start a new roll inside the cardboard roll or where ever you’ll remember it. When you put on a new roll you can do the math as to how many rolls you’ll need for how many ppl for how long. My calcs ( for 5 to 7 ppl ) came out to each person got one roll /wk. If they use it up before 1wk they use the cloth squares & are then responsible for laundering them.
    So 1 roll /1p /1wk = 52 x 2= 104, 52×5= 260, etc

    1. Hi Brescon, Yes, that is a great idea, calculating how long a roll would last. Everyone can also start conserving now and get used to using less, making the supply last longer. Thanks!

  5. I buy toilet paper by the case and find the best value brands come individually wrapped in tissue paper. I save all the tissue paper wrappers plus the cardboard inner cores. The wrappers will work as backup TP and the cardboard can be tinder or fuel for my Swiss army stove.

    1. Hi Bearean Betty-that is true, the Scott and some other tps do come with tissue – additional backup paper. I appreciate the comment.

  6. Your article stinks: Sorry, couldn’t resist, haven’t had my coffee yet. Good read and appreciate the tp substitutes and I couldn’t agree more, we never have enough tp. Christ bless, have a great day and thanks.

  7. I buy the cheaper generic brands for my emergency supply. It’s less expensive and I don’t think more “quilting” or “fragrance” is going to be my biggest concern in an emergency. Also, I have used several of the substitutes you mentioned for one reason or another and all work well. I would also suggest storing your flattened rolls in large ziploc baggies, or better yet if you have a vacuum sealer ( such as they sell for kitchen use), to keep it dry.

    1. Hey Lance, Having even the cheap generic brand would be appreciated by all esp if there is no tp in stores. Great idea, using the vacuum sealer to keep it dry. Thanks for the comment.

  8. On the farm we used corn cobs. 2 red ones, then a white one. The white one, was to see if you needed 2 more red ones. You’ll never get your B.C. cleaner than with a nice corn cob .Oh, by the way, its up and down, not in and out, get yer mind outa the gutter.

    1. Hi Curt, Good to hear from someone who has tried the corn cob method (yup, up and down not in and out LOL) Thanks for the comment 😀

  9. I really like Gloria’s idea for the 2 different colored cloths for separate use. I am luckily blessed with an extra deep linen closet so I can buy extra toilet paper and stash it behind all of our regular use items. I have thought about using cloth wipes at least for #1s. A family full of girls can go through quite a lot of tp.

    1. Hi Erin, I agree, girls tend to use more tp. I think they also be more willing to try the cloth wipe for #1, since it seems easy enough. Thanks for the comment.

  10. Hi! I just wanted to mention that my family (and some others that we know) have a vacuum sealer. What we do is buy the rolls, take the cardboard tube out (a chopstick works great if the last layer is stuck to the tube) and put them in the vacuum sealer. This way we can keep them compacted because you’d be surprised how much if that bulk is air, and we don’t waste room by buying the pre-sealed bags.
    It also helps keeps costs down cuz we buy the rolls in bulk.

  11. You guys make me feel old The times we spent on my cousins farm in Canada we did use corncobs and finished up with the sears catalog. We made the paper softer by wadding it up and then rolling it between the hands it broke down the fibers and did make it softer. Out in the field we would use moss. It is very soft. and grows about any damp shady area. even dry it can be used so if you see some in the woods you know for certain you will need it sometime. best be ready and pick up a good piece when you are not in a hurry. The simplest thing becomes important when needed.

    1. Hi Grampa, Wow, great to hear from someone who has tried all these substitutes for TP. Good to know they do work. Thanks for the comments!

  12. PS we had a two seat outhouse and we didnt have the same hangups you city folk have. Many times your partner was the opposite sex. Civilization brings many hangups. Nature is much more easy going. Is that why farmers live longer?
    Showers save water too!

  13. I have a lot of it stored, but remember, you don’t know what your situation is going to be. Water is great, but what if you are rationing it to drink? Plants, water, rags, etc. Remember our rule; 3 is 2, 2 is 1 and one is none.
    BTW, thanks for the idea of a spray bottle.

  14. My hubby has Crohn’s disease; trying to calculate how much tp we consume is difficult! His flare – ups are unpredictable as is the severity of each flare – up. It’s just the two of us, but I’m stocking up for three.

  15. As a former confirmed bachelor,I came up with a great substitute for TP. Always on hand,and extremely cheap. Coffee filters!

  16. I have a few 8 foot lengths of PVC pipe full of TP in the garage stored in the rafters.

    I did have it stored in the basement, but a few mice got into it and made a real mess and destroyed all of it before I found them and gave them quick death in a trap.

    I wanted something that would keep the mice out of the TP and the PVC has worked well. You need a place to store a piece of pipe, but if you have the room it works well.

  17. I don’t throw away most old raggedy underwear or T-shirts. I cut some up and store them in a bag in the bathroom. If there is an extended emergency then we will use these for pee (put used ones into a bucket with water and bleach for washing later). For feces, we will use a combo of water in a perineal bottle and TP if conditions allow…..or lambs ear, corn cobs, or old rags if TP/water runs out.

    By using old cloths for pee, you conserve more of the existing TP supply for the really important needs. It’s one way to stretch your TP supply. And it helps make use of the fabric from old underwear or shirts which otherwise mostly go to waste.

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