Tuesday, 24 March 2020


Ever since this pandemic caused panic buying of toilet paper, I’ve been thinking about what people did before it was invented. Every year seven billion rolls of toilet paper are used in America alone. It has bothered me for years how wastful and damaging to the environment this practise is, but while big business is in charge it wont change. Here are some clues to the past and future possibilities.

LOUIS-LÉOPOLD BOILLY - La Toilette Intime ou la Rose EffeuillĂ©e - circa 1800 

The Bidet's Revival - Invented centuries ago in France, the bidet has never taken off in the States

In the middle east communal eating makes it a custom to use the left hand for wiping and the right hand for eating. A left handed westerner that doesn't know the rules would naturally be seriously frowned upon at dinner.

Romans were known for their love of bathing and hygiene. They used natural sea sponges tied to sticks and dipped into troughs with running water.

In the interim there was always the great outdoors, using leaves and grass to clean up.

Castles started to have purpose built rooms with shafts in the 12th century and they possibly used buckets with water and their hands to clean themselves. Its amazing we have evolved into using a handshake for greeting, something we possibly need to rethink.

I’m assuming that for most of modern history, especially among the general population, clothing was the nearest thing to grab. I read somewhere that ladies used to wear seven petticoats; each day the bottom one was removed and washed and the clean one from yesterday was put on top to protect the overdress, which was rarely laundered. One can imagine what the bottom petticoat was used for.

For the very rich, the first flushing toilet was invented during Elizabethan times, but the poor carried on as they always had.

Ironically, the first known toilet paper was used in China in the 14th Century, but it didn't make it to North America till 1847 when it was purely for medical use. The general population didn't want to pay for something they could get for free. (see below)

The printing press was invented around 1440 and the demand for mass produced paper was born. Early printing was reserved for valuable books, but in 1605 the disposable newspaper was born in Germany. Very quickly people discovered what to do with the outdated sheets. From then on free pamphlets and religious tracts were all the rage and I’m sure they were well used.

In medieval cities waste was tipped into a trough that ran down the center of the streets. Communal outhouses used leaves and straw which was shovelled out regularly and dumped in the countryside.

Georgians and Victorians were famous for their chamber pots, but they gradually became more conscious of hygiene and inside toilets became more common, especially when a better system for flushing was invented by Thomas Crapper in the 1860s.

Meanwhile, in the outhouse. Dried corn cobs in water, torn up Sears catalogues and yesterdays newspaper were the norm. 

In the 1890s toilet paper took a surge with Scott eventually achieving over 50% of the market. The first toilet paper was like stiff shiny tissue paper folded into a box like modern facial tissues. It wasn’t very practical or popular. The luxury soft paper came about 50 years ago and that’s when it took off. With newspapers taking a dive since the dawn of the internet and the majority of people living in cities with sewage systems, toilet paper manufacturers have developed close to a monopoly. Hence all the panic buying. People have forgotten there are other options.

Now you know there are options will you make some life changing decisions for the sake of the environment? It doesn't have to be difficult or disgusting, there are many options on the market if you spend a little time with my pal Google. One of my pet peeves is that North American bathrooms are so tiny that its difficult to fit in a stand alone bidet, but there are other possibilities.

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1 comment:

  1. Corn cob? Glad I live in modern times. LOL. :) Interesting post Sea, thanks for sharing. I had watched a documentary on the plague, and how dirty people were during that time. Much of it simply from lack of knowledge. Knowledge is power! ;)


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