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Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  The Battle in the Bathroom, #2 Edition

 

What is your go-to for #2?  Or do you use some alternative to wet wipes and toilet paper, like toilet paper spray, showering, bidets, or your hand?

We previously addressed the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate in our first Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: The Battle in the Bathroom article last year.  Because of the interest in the topic, we are writing an updated #2 Edition to the wet wipes vs toilet paper article in order to address the topic in greater detail.

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  A Historical Perspective

The wet wipes vs toilet paper debate is surprisingly recent, primarily because both wet wipes and toilet paper are surprisingly recent in the long history of human hygiene.

Toilet paper was introduced first.  China is widely believed to have invented toilet paper.  Yan Zhitui made the first known historical reference to paper used for wiping in the 6th Century, saying:  “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.”  In other words, out of respect, Yan Zhitui avoided wiping with paper inscribed with the Five Classics and the names of sages, implying that paper was a known wiping method in those times.  However, it was not until nearly 900 years later that China was believed to manufacture paper specifically for wiping on a large scale. 

At this time, the Americas were still many centuries away from using toilet paper.  Prior to the late 1800’s, the Americas used what we have dubbed the “closest smooth-ish object” method (i.e., identifying the closest object that was relatively smooth and using it to wipe).  For example, early Americans used corn cobs, straw, newspapers, catalogs, and magazines to wipe.

Patents related to toilet paper started to appear in the late 1800’s.

And it was not until the early 1900’s that toilet paper began to be manufactured on a large scale in the form that we know it today.

The wet wipes vs toilet paper choice saw its birth in the mid-1900s.  Wet wipes were originally known as “wet naps” and were invented in the 1950’s.  Wet wipes were not originally used to wipe the backside, but instead were first sold to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to wipe dirty hands.

It was not until the 1990’s that wet wipes became popular to wipe baby bottoms in the form that we know them today.

Wet wipes remained a toilet paper alternative primarily for wiping babies bottoms for the next 10-15 years.  However, in the last decade, wet wipe demand has grown by 50%.  This is due in part to the adoption of wet wipes by all ages.  And in this last decade, the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate has begun to rage. 

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  How Are They Made?

Many of the differences in wet wipes vs toilet paper arise from the way that each is made.  And the way that each is made is directly related to the original purpose of each product.

Toilet paper is made from trees.  The manufacturing process includes stripping trees of bark, cutting the trees into wood chips, creating a pulp, bleaching the pulp, and pressing it to drain water and flatten the pulp.  Toilet paper is designed in this way so that it will break down and dissolve easily when exposed to water.

Wet wipes were originally made to wipe dirty hands.  They were made to be durable in order to clean up messes and to be thrown in the trash, not to disintegrate when introduced to water.  In fact, disintegration when in contact with a fluid would defeat the very nature of a wet wipe – wet wipes are supposed to be wet; therefore, they should be durable enough to withstand being wet so that consumers do not purchase a disintegrated product in the store.

To provide durability, wipes are typically composed of various nonwoven fabrics, such as polyester, polypropylene, viscose pulp, and cotton.  It may come as a surprise, but some of these non-woven fabrics are actually plastics.  The integration of natural and synthetic materials offer wet wipes their durability.

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  Polls on the Internet

What can the metrics tell us about who is winning the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate? 

We polled the audience in our first wet wipes vs toilet paper article to determine how people wipe.  Wet wipes currently have a commanding lead with 62% of the vote followed by toilet paper with 16% of the vote.  Toilet paper spray (which is sprayed directly onto toilet paper so that the toilet paper functions like a wet wipe) came in third with 9% of the vote.

TreeHugger.com has a similar wet wipes vs toilet paper survey.  Toilet paper took the lead in this poll with 59% of the vote, followed by a relatively even split between a bidet and wet wipes at about 17%.  Despite the lopsided results, TreeHugger.com noted an increasing trend in wipes use, especially among millennials.

We found a third wet wipes vs toilet paper poll on a BodyBuilding.com forum.  The survey has wet wipes in the lead with almost 47% of the vote, followed by toilet paper at 32%, with an astounding 20% of participants opting to jump in shower instead.

The polls demonstrate the relatively even split, depending on the readership, in the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate.

 Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  Price Comparison

Toilet paper typically offers better pricing than wet wipes.  It is best to think of the cost of wet wipes vs toilet paper in terms of cost per wipe – how much are you spending each time you wipe? 

We have analyzed the cost of wet wipes extensively in our wet wipes cost article here.  Cost per wipe for wet wipes is influenced primarily by whether you are buying:  (1) in bulk, (2) online or in store, and/or (3) natural, high end brands or brands that may contain synthetic materials or ingredients.  The cost per wet wipe ranges from $0.023 per wipe all the way to $0.123 per wipe.  On average, you will pay about $0.06 each time you wipe your rear.

Toilet paper is cheaper in the wet wipes vs toilet paper cost analysis.  For example, take this Charmin toilet paper with 24 rolls, each roll having 363 sheets, available on Amazon for $28.49.  That equates to 8,712 sheets of toilet paper.  Assuming you use about 6 squares per wipe, you are spending about $0.019 per wipe.  On the cheaper end, this Presto brand toilet paper with 24 rolls, each roll having 308 sheets, is available on Amazon for $19.43.  That equates to 7,392 sheets of toilet paper.  At 6 squares per wipe, you are spending about $0.016 per wipe.

In sum, when you are considering wet wipes vs toilet paper, keep in mind that the cost of wet wipes may average 2-3 times the cost toilet paper on a per wipe basis.

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  Hygiene Issues in the News

One of the primary drivers behind increased wet wipe use is the improved hygiene that they provide.  Recently, some doctors went so far as to suggest ditching toilet paper entirely in favor of wet wipes.  These doctors warn that wiping with toilet paper alone could “leave feces behind” and could lead to excessive wiping that “could cause health problems such as anal fissures and urinary tract infections.”  Indeed, they point out that toilet paper may wipe, but it does not actually clean because it does not contain cleansing ingredients.  Wet wipes, on the other hand, can contain ingredients that actually clean, which improves hygiene and potentially prevents health issues.

While wipes may prevent some health issues, it is important to choose your wipes carefully.  Some chemicals in wet wipes have been linked with skin irritation and rashes.  For example, a preservative known as methylisothiazolinone found in some wipes was linked to rashes (see this article discussing the effects of methylisothiazolinone).  As another example, a preservative in some wipes known as phenoxyethanol has been reported to be a potential irritant as well.

If hygiene is a top priority to you in your wet wipes vs toilet paper choice, wet wipes may be preferable, but be sure to research ingredients prior to purchase if you have sensitive skin.

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper:  Environmental Issues in the News

Toilet paper is the most eco-friendly option in the wet wipes vs toilet paper discussion.  As we previously pointed out, the TreeHugger.com audience preferred toilet paper to wet wipes, which we believe could be due to environmental issues with wet wipes that have recently come to light.

We have written about the eco issues with wet wipes extensively in our article here; however, here is a brief introduction.  As we discussed above, wipes are designed to be durable enough for heavy duty tasks and to avoid immediate disintegration when in contact with fluid (hence, a “wet” wipe).  Therefore, wet wipes do not break down very easily when exposed to toilet water. In fact, an experiment performed by Consumer Reports (watch the video, it is fascinating) indicates that even “flushable” wipes may not break down quickly enough.  On the contrary, toilet paper immediately begins degrading when it touches water, so it does not cause issues after flushing.

We performed a similar test on wet wipes vs toilet paper, and here are our results:

So what’s the big deal with whether wet wipes vs toilet paper disintegrate quickly enough?  If a wipe does not disintegrate, it can congeal with fats and greases in the sewer system to form enormous “fatbergs” that block sewers (click here if you have not seen a fatberg).  Most recently, the United Kingdom claimed that wet wipes are behind 93% of its blockages or “fatbergs.”  Some of the most publicized instances of cloggings, fatbergs, and sewer damage on a global scale are:

(1) a fatberg the weight of a school bus found in the London sewer system,
(2) a 1,600 pound fatberg found in an Australian sewer system; and
(3) a fatberg the length of two soccer fields found in London (which subsequently became so famous that it inspired a musical and a museum exhibit).

Fatbergs can also cause sewage overflows into natural bodies of water.  For example, this year, 5,453 wet wipes were recovered from a portion of the Thames river embankment not bigger than half of a tennis court.   This was nearly 1,000 more wipes than were collected the previous year, further demonstrating the increasing demand for wipes.

In other words, if you are concerned about your environmental footprint, the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate may lean toilet paper for you.

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper – Alternatives to the Big 2

It’s true – the debate is not exclusive to wet wipes vs toilet paper.  There are alternatives to wet wipes and toilet paper that we have written extensively about here.  If for whatever reason wet wipes and toilet paper are both not satisfying you, you could try a bidet (either a fixed bidet or a less expensive attachable bidet) or toilet paper spray (which is sprayed directly onto toilet paper so that the toilet paper functions like a wet wipe). 

We like to say that there are more than two ways to wipe a rear.

Where do you fall in the wet wipe vs toilet paper debate?

Please take our poll below to further our extensive research into the fascinating issue of wet wipes vs toilet paper.

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