Toilet paper has made an enormously (soft) impact on both American and worldwide society and culture. One cannot conceive of a world without toilet paper, or a bidet, being available to clean up after one’s self. In America, one expects to find toilet paper in every private bathroom or public restroom and is quite perturbed whenever it is absent. Toilet paper is a source of humor in American society. Hollywood movies like Along Came Polly comically portray this dilemma within our culture as a universal experience to which everyone can relate.

An American cultural debate exists as to which is the proper way for toilet paper to hang from its holder. A Scott Paper Company survey from an unspecified year found that sixty percent of people surveyed preferred toilet paper to hang over the top, twenty-nine percent hang toilet paper rolls underneath, and seven percent had no preference.[1]

Data from Paul Spinrad’s in depth survey on bodily functions reports that forty-two percent of survey respondents fold their toilet paper while thirty-three percent crumple it. Eight percent of responders do both, six percent wrap it around a hand, and three percent said that it depends on their mood or the type of paper. On average, people use six squares of toilet paper per tear, wipe twice with each tear, and use two tears per loaf. Other questions included, “Do you look at the paper after a wipe?” and “Ever moisten the paper for improved cleaning ability? How?”[2] These questions only reference toilet paper. The general interest in bodily functions and the humor that surround them is a cultural phenomenon all to itself.

Toilet paper is also a source of practical jokes. Toilet-papering or “TPing” houses is a common practical joke done by teenagers on October 30th otherwise known as “Mischief Night.” However, “TPing” is not an exclusive prank only to Mischief Night, but occurs all the time.

One can now order custom-made toilet paper with images scanned onto each individual sheet.

The impact of toilet paper on America has not been only comical. In January of 2006, a church in Oregon found an oddly practical way of using toilet paper to advance the Kingdom of God.

Toilet paper has made a far-reaching impact on American culture and society that goes well beyond comfortably cleaning one’s rear. Toilet paper permeates manners and social taboos, what people perceive as funny, and past the dividing line between the secular and the sacred. It would be incredibly hard to imagine a world without the mental and spiritual comfort that toilet paper provides— let alone its physical relief.

[1] Horan, Julie L., The Porcelain God: A Social History of the Toilet (Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1996), 149.

[2] Spinrad, Paul, The RE/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids (San Francisco: RE/Search Publications, 1994), 11-13.

First image “The Penny Saved,” (accessed February 24, 2009).

Second image “How Does Your Toilet Paper Hang?” Toothpaste For Dinner, (accessed February 24, 2009).

First video from “Along Came Polly,”… (accessed April 1, 2009).

Second video from “TP My House,”… (accessed March 31, 2009).

Leave a Reply