You never realize how important toilet paper is until there is a shortage. Shelves are empty from panic buying, fights are breaking out in stores, people are resorting to crime, or even calling 911. Why? All because of toilet paper. Or more accurately, the lack thereof.
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If your supply is dwindling, if the store shelves are empty when you get there, or if you can’t leave your house to shop, you may find yourself asking the same question as me: What do I do if I run out of toilet paper?
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First off, stay calm and don’t panic. And don’t call 911. The situation is temporary, and there are lots of ways to solve this problem with things you already have in your home.
Ask a Neighbor
The simplest way to replenish your supply is to see if your neighbors can help. All that toilet paper that used to be on store shelves is now in people’s homes, and they just might be willing to share. While difficult times often bring out the worst in people, they also have a way of bringing out the best. And even if they say no, you will be no worse off than you were before.
Check Back or Try a Different Store
Toilet paper is still being manufactured and shipped, and stores are receiving shipments and restocking their shelves as fast as they can. Just because a shelf is empty one day does not mean it will be empty the next, and just because one store is out does not mean they all are. If you can’t find toilet paper today, check back another day.
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You may have better luck finding toilet paper at less obvious places like dollar stores or gas stations. You can even buy toilet paper on Amazon. For the best chance of finding toilet paper in stock, try to visit your shopping center or grocery store as early as possible. That way the shelves are freshly stocked and fewer people have come before you.
If you try these tricks and still can’t find any, don’t despair. There are other options you can use to keep your backside clean and comfortable.
Napkins, Paper Towels, and Tissues
Paper towels and tissues are probably the most similar to toilet paper, and probably the first alternative that comes to your mind. They certainly will do the job, but be sure not to flush them down your toilet. Put them in the garbage instead.
Baby Wipes and “Flushable” Wipes
Wipes are a convenient and effective method for cleaning your back side. In fact, many people chose to use them in conjunction with toilet paper, even when everything is normal. They are definitely pricier than toilet paper, but if you have some on hand, you can certainly use them to stay clean on the toilet.
Wipes should not be flushed. Even though some wipes say they are “flushable”, they can still cause sewer backups and plumbing problems inside your home. Just because they can be flushed doesn’t mean they should be.
If you choose to use wipes, please be considerate of all the parents who need wipes for their children! Buy only what you truly need.
While less appealing and less effective than paper towels, tissues, or wipes, paper can still do the trick. If you are in dire straits, old newspaper, magazine pages, or blank printer paper can all be used to help keep yourself clean after using the bathroom. Try to avoid glossy pages or colored ink, as they can leave ink in unwanted places. Receipts may seem like a good option, but many are treated with chemicals that makes them a bad choice. You may want to wet your paper before use to make it less abrasive.
Reusable Cloth Toilet Paper, AKA “Family Cloth”
Reusable toilet paper is exactly what it sounds like–cloth squares or strips used to wipe, then laundered and reused. While this option may sound disgusting, it is not much different from using cloth diapers, which have been around since before our grandparents’ time. It is possible to spend lots of money on fancy, hand-crafted, reusable toilet paper, but all of that fluff is not necessary. In a pinch, squares of cloth scraps, flannel, old washcloths, hand towels, and towels, or even old t-shirts cut into squares and stored in a box or bin on the back of your toilet will work just as well. Generally, thin layers are better than thick. Cut your cloth with pinking shears (zig-zag scissors) to help cut down on fraying. You can use cloth wipes wet or dry.
Storage and Washing. Feces carry all kinds of disease-causing bacteria, so proper handling of cloth wipes is essential. Store soiled cloths in a designated, covered container (like a lidded bucket or garbage can used only for this purpose). Although you can line it with a wet-bag, it is not a good idea to fill it with water to pre-soak your wipes. This creates a drowning hazard for children and provides an ideal breeding ground for many bacteria.
Wash used cloth wipes every day in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer to ensure they are sanitary. You can start with a cold rinse if you want, but make sure the wash cycle is hot. Cloth wipes should be cleaned in a load by themselves, not mixed in with other laundry. Stay away from bleach and harsh detergents, since these can irritate your skin when the wipes are used again. Likewise, skip the fabric softener and add a small amount of vinegar to the rinse cycle instead. Be sure to wash your hands after putting them all in the wash.
If you run out of toilet paper and choose to use paper or cloth alternatives, make sure you dispose of them in the right way. The wrong choice can lead to disastrous consequences, as California is finding out the hard way. Just yesterday, quick acting sanitation workers averted a a dangerous sewage spill cause by shredded t-shirts being used as wipes and then flushed down the toilet. Northern California is facing dozens of smaller sewage spills, probably caused at least in part by flushing inappropriate items.
The fibers in paper, wipes, and cloth do not break down the same as toilet paper. This can cause clogs, back-ups, and spills and cost you a lot of money to fix it. To save yourself and everyone else a lot of time and money, don’t flush them. Put them in the garbage, preferably a trash can lined with a plastic bag for sanitary reasons.
The least expensive way to clean yourself when you are lacking toilet paper is simply with water. Bidets, which provide a convenient stream of water for washing while still on the toilet, have suddenly become very popular in the wake of the coronavirus. You can buy toilets with built-in bidets or fixtures to attach to your current toilet, but they are not cheap. However, there are other ways you can utilize water to stay clean when your toilet paper is gone.
Portable bidets or peri bottles are small plastic bottles, often with directional spouts, used to squirt a stream of water for cleaning. Mothers often use them for hygienic washing after giving birth. While not exactly cheap (you can find them on Amazon for $10 or $20) they are much less expensive than traditional bidets. They are also reusable, so that cost only needs to be covered once. You can also use a spray bottle, but they provide a weaker stream of water and are therefore less effective.
Hop in the Shower. Do your business, then take a shower to wash yourself clean. While this option may be less convenient because it requires complete disrobing, it also offers the most thorough cleaning–even more than toilet paper itself.