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Most of us can't imagine living without toilet paper. The average American uses over
100 single rollsabout 21,000 sheetseach year. It's used not only for bathroom
hygiene, but for nose care, wiping up spills, removing makeup, and small bathroom
cleaning chores. Manufacturers estimate that an average single roll lasts five days.
Toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, and facial tissues are sanitary papers, personal
products that need to be clean and hygenic. They're made from various proportions of
bleached kraft pulps with relatively little refining of the stock, rendering them soft, bulky,
and absorbent. Sanitary papers are further distinguished from other papers in that they
are creped, a process in which the paper is dried on a cylinder then scraped off with a
metal blade, slightly crimping it. This softens the paper but makes it fairly weak, allowing
it to disintegrate in water.
Toilet paper can be one-or two-ply, meaning that it's either a single sheet or two sheets
placed back-to-back to make it builder and more absorbent. Color, scents, and
embossing may also be added, but fragrances sometimes cause problems for
consumers who are allergic to perfumes. The biggest difference between toilet papers is
the distinction between virgin paper products, which are formed directly from chipped
wood, and those made from recycled paper. Most toilet paper, however, whether virgin
or recycled, is wrapped around recycled cardboard cylinders.

Before paper was widely available, a variety of materials were employed. The Romans
used an L-shaped stick (like a hockey stick) made of wood or precious metal; at public
toilets people used sponges on sticks that were kept in saltwater between uses. In arid
climates, sand, powdered brick, or earth was used. Until the late nineteenth century,
Muslims were advised to use three stones to clean up. One favorite tool was
a mussel shell, used for centuries. Until the early twentieth century, corn cobs were
In the late fifteenth century, when paper became widely available, it began to replace
other traditional materials. Sometimes old correspondence was pressed into service, as
were pages from old books, magazines, newspapers, and catalogs. People also used

old paper bags, envelopes, and other bits of scrap paper, which were cut into pieces
and threaded onto a string that was kept in the privy.
Toilet paper is a fairly modern invention, making its debut around 1880 when it was
developed by the British Perforated Paper Company. Made of a coarser paper than its
modern incarnation, it was sold in boxes of individual squares. In America, the Scott
Paper Company made its Waldorf brand toilet paper in rolls as early as 1890. The first
rolls were not perforated, and lavatory dispensers had serrated teeth to cut the paper as
needed. It was a nearly "unmentionable" product for years, and consumers were often
embarrassed to ask for it by name or even be seen buying it. Timid shoppers simply
asked for "Two, please," and the clerk presumably knew what they wanted. To keep
things discreet, toilet paper was packaged and sold in brown paper wrappers.
During the 120 years since its introduction, toilet paper has changed little, although it's
now perforated, and may be scented, embossed, or colored. Recently, toilet paper
manufacturers increased the number of sheets on a roll, allowing consumers to replace
the roll less frequently.

Raw Materials
Toilet paper is generally made from new or "virgin" paper, using a combination of
softwood and hardwood trees. Softwood trees such as Southern pines and Douglas firs
have long fibers that wrap around each other; this gives paper strength. Hardwood trees
like gum, maple and oak have shorter fibers that make a softer paper. Toilet paper is
generally a combination of approximately 70% hardwood and 30% softwood.
Other materials used in manufacture include water, chemicals for breaking down the
trees into usable fiber, and bleaches. Companies that make paper from recycled
products use oxygen, ozone, sodium hydroxide, or peroxide to whiten the paper. Virginpaper manufacturers, however, often use chlorine-based bleaches (chlorine dioxide),
which have been identified as a threat to the environment.

The Manufacturing Process

A diagram of toilet paper manufacturing process.

1. Trees arrive at the mill and are debarked, a process that removes the tree's outer
layer while leaving as much wood on the tree as possible.
2. The debarked logs are chipped into a uniform size approximately 1 in x 1/4 in.
These small pieces make it easier to pulp the wood.
3. The batch of wood chipsabout 50 tonsis then mixed with 10,000 gallons of
cooking chemicals; the resultant slurry is sent to a 60-ft (18.3-m)-tall pressure
cooker called a digester.
4. During the cooking, which can last up to three hours, much of the moisture in the
wood is evaporated (wood chips contain about 50% moisture). The mixture is
reduced to about 25 tons of cellulosefibers, lignin (which binds the wood fibers
together) and other substances. Out of this, about 15 tons of usable fiber, called
pulp, result from each cooked batch.
5. The pulp goes through a multistage washer system that removes most of the
lignin and the cooking chemicals. This fluid, called black liquor, is separated from
the pulp, which goes on to the next stage of production.
6. The washed pulp is sent to the bleach plant where a multistage chemical process
removes color from the fiber. Residual lignin, the adhesive that binds fibers
together, will yellow paper over time and must be bleached to make paper white.
7. The pulp is mixed with water again to produce paper stock, a mixture that is
99.5% water and 0.5% fiber. The paper stock is sprayed between moving mesh
screens, which allow much of the water to drain. This produces an 18-ft (5.5-m)
wide sheet of matted fiber at a rate of up to 6,500 ft (1981 m) per minute.
8. The mat is then transferred to a huge heated cylinder called a Yankee Dryer that
presses and dries the paper to a final moisture content of about 5%.
9. Next, the paper is creped, a process that makes it very soft and gives it a slightly
wrinkled look. During creping, the paper is scraped off the Yankee Dryer with a
metal blade. This makes the sheets somewhat flexible but lowers their strength
and thickness so that they virtually disintegrate when wet. The paper, which is
produced at speeds over a mile a minute, is then wound on jumbo reels that can
weigh as much as five tons.

10. The paper is then loaded onto converting machines that unwind, slit, and rewind
it onto long thin cardboard tubing, making a paper log. The paper logs are then
cut into rolls and wrapped packages.

Recycled toilet paper

Toilet tissue made from recycled paper is made from both colored and white stock, with
staples and pins removed. The paper goes into a huge vat called a pulper that combines
it with hot water and detergents to turn it into a liquid slurry. The recycled pulp then goes
through a series of screens and rinses to remove paper coatings and inks. The pulp is
whitened somewhat and sanitized with oxygen-based products like peroxide. It then
goes through steps 7 through 10 like virgin paper products, producing a cheaper, lesswhite paper.

Quality Control
Paper companies often maintain their own tree stands in order to ensure the quality of
the paper they manufacture. The chemicals used in the pulping process are also
carefully tested and monitored. Temperatures at which a slurry is cooked is ensured,
too, by checking gauges, machinery, and processes. Completed paper may be tested
for a variety of qualities, including stretch, opacity, moisture content, smoothness, and

The first waste product produced in the papermaking process, the bark removed from
tree trunks, burns easily and is used to help power the paper mills. In addition, black
liquor, the fluid removed from the pulp after cooking, is further evaporated to a thick
combustible liquid that is also used to power the mill. This reduction process, in turn,
yields a byproduct called tall oil that is widely used many household products. About
95% of the cooking chemicals are recovered and reused.
But other problems associated with the industry are less easily solved. The production
of virgin toilet paper has spawned two current controversies: the destruction of trees,
and the use of chlorine dioxide to bleach the paper. While virgin paper processing does
necessitate the destruction of trees, they are a readily renewable resource and paper
companies maintain large forests to feed their supply. Despite this, some activists have

proposed that toilet paper be manufactured only from recycled products and suggest
that consumers boycott toilet paper made of new materials.
These activists object to new paper processing because it often uses chlorine
bleaching, which produces dioxins, a family of chemicals considered environmental
hazards, as a byproduct. Paper and pulp mills are the primary producers of dioxins, and
manufacturers must carefully assess their effluvia to counteract the emission of dioxins.
Increasingly, virgin paper makers use alternative bleaching methods that substitute
oxygen, peroxide, and sodium hydroxide for chlorine. Some simply reduce the amount
of chlorine used in the process. Others experiment with cooking the wood chips longer,
removing more lignin earlier in the process, which requires less bleach. Better pulp
washing also removes more lignin, and reduces the amount of bleach needed for