What is the History of Toilet Paper?

Ever taken a glance at the humble toilet roll sitting in your bathroom and thought to yourself “What is the history of toilet paper?”

Turns out, it’s quite a story. One that dates back to the latrines of ancient Rome, through to the perfumed sheets used in China’s imperial courts and beyond. In this blog, we’ll explore just how this everyday staple has evolved over the centuries.

We’ll look at the obvious question “When was toilet paper invented?”, reflect on changes in human hygiene and social customs along the way. Then, of course, there was the great toilet paper roll shortage that occurred in the peak of the global pandemic of 2020.

From the earliest forms of toilet tissue to the modern perforated toilet paper rolls we use today, join us as we explore the key innovations and even the occasional crisis that have shaped the world of the loo roll.

Multiple toilet rolls sitting in a pile

The Dawn of Hygiene: Ancient Times to the Medieval Period

Long before the invention of toilet paper, ancient civilisations had unique solutions for personal cleanliness.

The ancient Romans, for instance, famously used a sponge on a stick, which they dipped in salt water after use. The ancient Greeks? Well, they weren’t afraid to get creative. They would use stones, corn cobs, and even pieces of clay to maintain some semblance of hygiene. Meanwhile, the imperial court in ancient China took bathroom etiquette to a new level. People wiped with individual squares of perfumed paper sheets to keep themselves fresh and clean.

These early methods set the stage for the evolution of toilet paper, from rudimentary tools to the more sophisticated paper products we rely on in our homes today.

The Evolution in the East: From Chinese Emperors to the Common Folk

In ancient China, using paper for toilet purposes began as a luxury for the Chinese emperor family. They enjoyed the exclusivity of individual sheets of perfumed paper. Over time, this practice trickled down to the common folk, evolving from a symbol of imperial privilege to an everyday essential.

By the sixth century, toilet paper production had become well-established, with large quantities being manufactured specifically for that purpose. This early adoption by the Chinese showcases the innovative spirit that would later influence global sanitation practices.

Today, as we choose from the many brands on the supermarket shelf, each claiming to be the leading toilet paper company in the market, it’s fascinating to think that this humble product has such a regal beginning.

Paper’s Journey Westward: Introduction to the Western World

As it happens, it took some time for the idea of toilet paper to really take hold across the Western world. It first caught on as a luxury item among Europe’s wealthier classes, who were always keen to adopt refined Eastern practices.

By the time toilet paper became a staple in the Western toilet routine, it was clear this wasn’t just about luxury. It was about hygiene. Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to imagine life without a full roll of toilet tissue sitting on the holder.

Here in Australia, with our vast array of soft, quilted, and even eco-friendly options, toilet paper is something we might take for granted but its journey here is a testament to centuries of cultural exchange and innovation.

Innovation in the 19th Century: The Birth of Modern Toilet Paper

The 19th century marked a revolutionary period for toilet paper as it evolved into the product we recognise today. In 1857, an American inventor named Joseph Gayetty created Gayetty’s Medicated Paper, the first packaged toilet paper marketed specifically for its hygienic benefits. Gayetty was widely credited as the “inventor” of the toilet paper that evolved to what we know and use daily.

This product was originally sold in flat sheets and touted as a medical accessory. As the century progressed, toilet paper began to evolve rapidly. This era of innovation laid the groundwork for the toilet paper industry, impacting even the choices we have today in Australia, from ultra-soft to eco-friendly varieties.

The Rise of Perforated Sheets: Scott Paper Company and Beyond

The real game-changer in toilet paper history came when the Scott Paper Company, founded by brothers E. Irvin and Clarence Wood Scott in the late 19th century, introduced the concept of perforated rolls. This innovation made it incredibly convenient to use just the right amount, without any fuss. Their idea quickly caught on, revolutionising the way toilet paper was distributed and used across the globe.

Today we see this legacy every time we effortlessly tear a sheet from a roll. Whether it’s soft, triple-ply, or recycled, the core idea remains grounded in the Scott brothers’ pivotal invention.

The 20th Century: The Golden Age of Toilet Paper

The 20th century is often hailed as the golden age of toilet paper, marking major leaps in comfort and convenience.

Innovations such as splinter-free and perfumed paper sheets emerged, dramatically improving the user experience. Brands began to compete on softness and strength, leading to a variety of options flooding the market.

The development of toilet paper over this century reflects a broader trend towards enhancing everyday products for better personal care. It made what was once a mere necessity into a marker of household quality and comfort.

empty toilet roll sitting on a holder, with Don't Panic written on the cardboard roll

COVID-19 and the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020

Throughout history, toilet paper shortages have highlighted the impact of global crises on everyday essentials.

The global COVID-19 pandemic vividly demonstrated this in 2020 when fear of shortages triggered worldwide panic buying of toilet paper. As consumers rushed to stockpile, shelves were stripped bare in supermarkets across Australia, creating a sudden and unprecedented demand.

 

This episode didn’t just emphasise the vulnerability of supply chains. It also prompted Australians to rethink their resource management. Additionally, it spurred interest in alternative hygiene solutions like:

  • bidets
  • wet wipes (the scourge of local plumbers constantly dealing with toilet blockages caused by them)
  • sustainable toilet papers

It encouraged more creative thinking about our consumption habits and the resilience of our household supplies.

Toilet Paper Today: Modern Commercially Available Products

Today, the toilet paper aisle in any Australian supermarket is a showcase of innovation and consumer choice.

Modern toilet papers cater to a full spectrum of loo roll preferences and needs, ranging from ultra-soft and quilted options for luxury comfort to eco-friendly rolls made from bamboo and recycled materials. Leading toilet paper companies continually develop new technologies to improve softness and absorbency. This ensures that even the most basic of household items can offer a touch of indulgence.

With an added growing awareness of environmental impacts, more Australians are choosing sustainable toilet paper options. This reflects a known shift towards more responsible consumption practices in everyday products across the board.

Wrapping Up the Toilet Roll

As we’ve seen, the history of toilet paper is not just a tale of hygiene but a fascinating reflection of societal evolution and technological innovation.

From ancient cleaning methods in the Roman latrines to today’s plush rolls found in any luxurious bathroom, each twist in its story highlights our ongoing quest for comfort and cleanliness.

For us here in Australia, it’s more than just a bathroom staple — it’s a testament to our adaptability and ingenuity. As we continue to choose from the plethora of options available, let’s appreciate how far this humble product has come. It’s important to recognise the subtle yet significant role it plays in our daily lives.

Please note: Thanks for reading our blog “What Is The History of Toilet Paper?” This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.


Published: 2024-05-14

Need a Plumber Today?

Electrical, plumbing and air conditioning work is essential and we will be available to do the jobs you require in your home. Our friendly technicians are taking all precautionary measures and keeping to best hygiene practices.

Plumbers You Can Trust

Our Promise to You

Honest Plumbing Services Icon

Honest

We believe in transparency. We will guide you through our process, answer your questions and provide you with an upfront, no obligation fixed prices.

Committed to Plumbing Service Excellence Icon

Committed

No matter how big or small the job is, whether you're a new or returning customer, we treat every job as important and strive for success.

Professional Expert Plumbers Icon

Professional

We know our job site is your home and we completely respect that. We arrive neat and clean, and tidy up after we've completed the job.

zip pay Options
Zip Pay Payment Options Image

Now Available!

Interest free plumbing with trusted pay later options

What Our Happy Customers Have to Say

This is why we do, what we do!

Metropolitan Plumbing are proud winners of 2021 and 2020 Product Review awards in the plumbing category. These awards highlight our dedication to outstanding customer service. Product Review provides a platform for real-life experiences. Check out some of our customers' reviews below:
5 stars rating

Dave.C was very friendly and professional especially for a Sunday. He was able to identify the cause of the leaky shower head, and provide two quotes. He was also able to show what the issue was and was able to advise what he had done to fix it. Thank you.

Tyrell Tongz - QLD
5 stars rating

They replaced our old, malfunctioning toilet. The installation was quick, and they checked for any leaks thoroughly. Reliable service we can count on!

Anna Cunning - QLD
5 stars rating

I had a toilet that wouldn’t stop running, and it was wasting so much water. They arrived promptly, diagnosed the issue, and replaced the faulty parts. Now my toilet works perfectly. Great service and reasonable rates.

Caity Waters - QLD
  • Wilson Hot Water Logo

    Wilson is an Australian owned and operated hot water system supplier with products to suit any need. Rest assured our technicians can install and service your Wilson hot water system.

  • Vulcan Hot Water Logo

    Vulcan hot water systems are forged tough so that they can handle Australia's changeable climate without missing a beat.

  • Thermann Hot Water Logo

    Thermann is one of the most efficient water heating systems around, with a range of options from solar boosted to heat pumps. We can install, service and repair your Thermann system.

  • Saxon Hot Water Logo

    Unfortunately, Saxon no longer produces heating units, but Metropolitan can still service, repair or replace your old Saxon system.

  • Stiebel Eltron Hot Water Logo

    Stiebel Eltron was established in Germany, 1924. With over 95 years of experience in making hot water units, you can expect quality.

  • Rinnai Hot Water Logo

    Rinnai is one of the biggest names in hot water systems. Metropolitan Plumbing has worked with Rinnai hot water systems for more than 25 years.

  • Rheem Hot Water Logo

    Rheem has been going steady, hot and strong since 1939 with a comprehensive range of solar, heat pump and gas hot water solutions.

  • Everhot Hot Water Logo

    No matter how big or small your requirements are, Everhot has the right system. We at Metropolitan can help install or service your Everhot system.

  • Edwards Hot Water Logo

    Edwards is recognised for its superior performance and outstanding range of ground and roof mounted units offered in a range of colours.

  • Dux Hot Water Logo

    Dux is the big name in residential and commercial solar, heat pump and gas water heating. We can service and repair your Dux hot water system.

  • Chromagen Hot Water Logo

    Chromagen is an internationally recognised manufacturer of highly efficient hot water systems.  Metropolitan can service, replace or repair your Chromagen system.

  • Bosch Hot Water Logo

    Bosch provides quality hot water to thousands of Australians with its wide range of solar, gas and electric units.

  • AquaMAX Hot Water Logo

    AquaMax is the household name in hot water. We can take care of all of your Aqua Max needs from installation to repair.

Metropolitan Plumbing - Product Review img Metropolitan Plumbing - Product Review img