Informational Guide

How Is Toilet Paper Made?

Whether it be sheer curiosity or you want to become an expert, you can learn how toilet paper is made in this complete guide.

by Ian Haynes

A lot happened in 2020, and one of the most memorable events of the year was the worldwide toilet paper shortage that made most of us realize just how valuable TP really is. Not only did we start to become aware of its value, but questions like “how is toilet paper made?” were asked much more frequently than in the past.

Whether you want to know out of sheer curiosity or you want to become an expert on all things TP, you can learn all the details on how toilet paper is made in this complete guide.

Looking at the history of toilet paper, it’s said that

“before the introduction of mass-produced, commercially available toilet paper in the mid-1800s and the continued improvements made into the early 20 century, people relied on less luxurious ways to wipe their bums.”

The words less luxurious are an understatement; in ancient times, people used whatever they could find, everything from moss to leaves - even stones! But everything changed by the early 14th century when China began mass-producing toilet paper.

From then on, TP became much more widely available, but it wasn’t until 1890 that perforated toilet paper became common. Some modern toilet paper is even scented to help eliminate bathroom odors.

toilet paper

Materials Used in Manufacturing Toilet Paper

Just like the paper you write on, toilet paper is made from tree pulp combined with other raw materials. Here’s a complete rundown of the materials used in manufacturing TP:

Primary Ingredients

  • 70% Hardwood
    Tree pulp from Gum, Maple, and Oak trees contain short fibers that allow the finished product to be soft enough for delicate areas of the body.
  • 30% Softwood
    Softwood trees like Douglas Firs and Southern Pines contain pulp with longer fibers that are great for giving toilet paper its strength.
  • Chemicals
    Certain chemicals are needed during manufacturing to break down and extract the tough tree fibers.
  • Bleaches
    A common bleaching agent used in making toilet paper is chlorine dioxide, which gives the paper its white coloring.
  • Water
    Water is a necessary element; it mixes with the tree pulp fiber to make something called "paper stock."

Hidden Ingredients

The materials listed above are ones that you’ll always find in your toilet paper, but there are also a few more not-so-ideal ingredients that could be present. Keep in mind not all toilet papers contain these; just be aware that there is a possibility in certain TP brands:

  • Bleach Derivatives (PCF and ECF)
    When a TP product is labeled as "Process Chlorine Free" or "Elemental Chlorine Free," it indicates the bleaching process that was used. When you can, go for PCF over ECF.
  • Formaldehyde
    TP products that are labeled “Ultra Strong” generally contain formaldehyde, which can irritate the skin and even increase the risk of cancer.
  • Petroleum-Based Mineral Oil
    Many toilet papers claim to contain lotion for a more soothing effect, but be wary of potential petroleum-based mineral oils within these
  • Bisphenol A
    BPA for short, this hidden ingredient is most common in recycled paper products since recycled TP is made from many different post-consumer products, some of which contain BPA.

How Toilet Paper Is Made: The Manufacturing Process

The very first step in the process of making toilet paper is preparing the trees. In order to extract the tree pulp, trees must be stripped of their bark, which is done with large commercial-grade machinery. After the bark is stripped, logs are collected and then chipped into small pieces.

Once that’s done, next up is the digestion process. In this step, the wood chips are added to a massive pressure cooker and combined with the chemicals that are necessary for extracting fibers. The chips stay in the pressure cooker for about 3 hours, eventually turning the chips into a pulp-like material - this material will eventually become your TP.

From there, the pulp is cleaned and bleached until no color remains. This is also when lignin - an adhesive-like substance that binds the fibers together - is removed so that the finished product can retain its color over time (and not turn yellow as it ages).

After the pulp is washed and bleached, it is combined with a large amount of water. Adding water will create paper stock, which is about 0.5% fiber and 99.5% water. This paper stock is then sprayed onto mesh screens, allowing the water to drain and the paper to start forming.

Once the paper has dried to a moisture level of 5%, it is scraped off the screens and wound onto reels. From there, it’s cut into long strips and perforated for easy tearing. Finally, it’s cut into rolls, packaged up, and shipped to its next destination.

shopping

Differences in Production

The production steps depend a lot on the type of toilet paper being made, like bamboo vs. hemp or Scott vs. Charmin. Here are some of the key differences in the production of TP types and brands:

  • Making bamboo toilet paper
    When examining the question "how is bamboo toilet paper made?" the key difference is that the production process starts with bamboo plants instead of oaks, firs, maples, or pines.
  • Making a hemp toilet paper
    Another common question is “how is hemp toilet paper made?" and just like bamboo TP, it’s all about the starting materials. In this case, the majority of the virgin pulp is collected from hemp plants.
  • How is Scott toilet paper made?
    As one of the biggest manufacturers of TP globally, Scott follows the manufacturing steps listed above. You can read all about the process and materials used on the Scott FAQ page
  • How is Charmin toilet paper made?
    Like Scott (and all other major TP manufacturers), Charmin makes its TP products from a combination of softwood and hardwood trees. The company mixes together wood pulp, water, water-based adhesive, and conditioners to create its Ultra Strong, Ultra Soft, and Ultra Gentle products.

Making Toilet Paper: Trees Vs. Recycled Paper

Much of today’s TP supply is made from recycled paper. When looking at the steps for “how is recycled toilet paper made?”, there are a few key differences. With recycled paper, the paper itself is turned into pulp instead of starting from wood chips. It’s combined with hot water and chemicals to make a liquidy substance.

This substance is then laid out onto mesh screens, whitened, and sanitized before being dried, perforated, and rolled onto cardboard tubing. The only noticeable difference is that recycled toilet paper is usually less white than TP made directly from trees.

How Much Toilet Paper Is Made from Recycled Paper?

Only a small fraction of the world’s toilet paper supply is TP made from recycled content. According to Medium,

“each U.S. citizen uses about 140 rolls of toilet paper per year — the most of any country — and only about 2% of what we use is 100% recycled. That means 137 of those 140 rolls use at least some freshly cut down trees.”


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can you make your own toilet paper?

While it’s technically possible, it’s not recommended unless you absolutely need to make your own toilet paper because of the time and work involved. Healthline says that “it’s possible to make your own toilet paper, but you can also use other items around the house before you get to this point.” That includes things like tissues, baby wipes, and napkins.

What are the best alternatives to toilet paper?

The standard go-to’s are things like tissues and napkins, but you can also use items like actual paper, rags, sponges, and even just plain water. To use water, you can use a spray bottle or garden hose to make a DIY bidet.

Why is recycled toilet paper more expensive?

The majority of recycled paper products are purchased on the open market. This costs a lot more than creating a pulp from virgin trees, so the higher manufacturing costs mean higher market prices for recycled TP.

What brands of toilet paper are made in China?

One source says that “in 2018, the key toilet paper companies were Hengan, Vinda, C&S Paper, and Dongshun, which accounted for a total market share of about 24.92 percent.” Popular brands like Scott and Charmin are manufactured in US-based facilities.

Is toilet paper 100% safe for plumbing pipes?

Toilet paper is designed to dissolve, so generally speaking, it’s 100% safe for pipes and plumbing systems. However, some paper products dissolve slower than others, which raises the risk of getting caught in pipes and creating build-ups. The other thing to be aware of is whether or not you have a septic system. If you do, always go with a septic-safe TP brand.

What toilet paper do plumbers recommend?

Some of the best toilet paper for plumbing systems is from popular brands like Angel Soft and Scott. The Family Handyman says that “the winner is Scott 1,000. This 1-ply toilet paper broke down considerably faster than all the others.”


Conclusion

Even after the events of 2020, many of us still take toilet paper for granted. Perhaps that you now know all the steps involved to create each of those small white sheets, you’ve come to value your TP more than before.

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.

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