toilet paper roll
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21 Things You Never Knew About Toilet Paper

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Trivia to Stockpile

It's been awhile since toilet paper (or the lack thereof) has made headlines, which got us wondering: How much do we really know about this humble household staple that we usually take for granted? Where did it come from, how has it evolved, and how much of it do we really use? For that matter, why are we so obsessed with it when the rest of the world is happy to rinse off with water? (Okay, maybe we'll never understand that last one.) Here are some fun facts about toilet paper to ponder the next time nature calls.

map of china
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Toilet Paper Originated in China

The use of toilet paper has been traced as far back as 6th-century China. In 1393, while medieval Europe was still wiping with rags, wool, and hay, the Imperial Court in Nanjing was documented to have used 720,000 sheets of toilet paper, and we're not talking small squares — each sheet was roughly 2 by 3 feet. The emperor and his family alone used 15,000 sheets of "a particularly soft and perfumed" type of TP.

burlap
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The First Commercially Available Toilet Paper Was Made From Hemp

Whether it's been with leaves, corn cobs, or pages of the Sears catalog, people have been wiping long before toilet paper was available or popular. But it was a New York man named Joseph Gayetty that invented sheets of aloe-infused hemp in 1857 that were specifically meant for cleaning up our nether regions. A few decades later, Clarence and E. Irvin Scott popularized toilet paper on a roll, but the embarrassed brothers didn't claim their innovative new product for years.

French Revolution Toilet Paper
French Revolution Toilet Paper by Library of Congress (CC BY)

Toilet Paper Used to Have Splinters

Ouch. Today's toilet paper is noted for its softness and smoothness, with fancy additives like lotion and aloe, but that wasn't always the case. It used to be far more rough and coarse, and nascent production techniques meant that your most delicate bits could be in for an unpleasant surprise. It wasn't until 1935 that the brand Northern Tissue (now Quilted Northern) began to specifically market "Splinter Free" toilet paper.

tissue box
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Commercials Weren't Allowed to Call it 'Toilet Paper'

Despite Americans' burgeoning love affair with toilet paper, talking about it was considered uncouth. Until close to the turn of the century, magazines wouldn't accept ads for toilet paper, and it wasn't until 1975 that TV commercials could even call it toilet paper instead of the euphemistic "bathroom tissue."

colorful toilet paper
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Years Ago, You Could Match Your Toilet Paper to Your Towels ...

In the 1950s, toilet paper in shades of pink, blue, and other cotton-candy hues started crowding shelves. It only made sense: New bathrooms were being outfitted with all manner of colorful, coordinated toilets, sinks, tubs, and tile. Colorful toilet paper eventually fell out of favor in the '80s, apparently when health officials started warning that the dyes could have adverse effects on users' skin and the environment.

colorful toilet paper rolls
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… and You Still Can (If You're Rich)

Europe-based Renova, a luxury paper products company, sells scented three-ply toilet paper in a variety of colors, including red, fuschia, and black. It doesn't come cheap, with a pack of six 140-sheet rolls selling for more than $8. Still, it has attracted some notable fans including Beyonce, who reportedly requested the red rolls while on tour, and Kris Jenner, who is said to buy black toilet paper to match her black bathroom.

shelf shortage
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Johnny Carson Helped Touch Off a Toilet Paper Shortage in the '70s

In late 1973, the iconic late-night talk show host joked about toilet paper potentially running out after reading media reports about a pulp-paper shortage. Carson's audience, wary from shortages touched off by the OPEC oil embargo, flooded stores to buy all the toilet paper they could find, keeping store shelves bare and reinforcing the notion of a shortage where there really was none.

Mr. Whipple
Mr. Whipple by Roadsidepictures (CC BY)

Mr. Whipple Appeared in More than 500 Charmin Commercials

The timid grocer who pleaded with patrons not to squeeze the Charmin appeared in a staggering 504 ads for the toilet paper brand during a 21-year span, from 1964 to 1985. At one point, he polled as the best-known American behind only Richard Nixon and Billy Graham. His ubiquitous (but perhaps not quite as iconic) successors? Cartoon bears who have a disturbing habit of "leaving pieces behind."

stack of toilet paper
Viktoria Ruban/istockphoto

Americans Each Use 100 Rolls a Year ...

The average American uses 57 squares of toilet paper every single day, or roughy 100 rolls a year. Worried about how much you need to get through a toilet paper shortage? We plugged that data into the FlowingData Toilet Paper Calculator and found that the average person would go through about three Charmin mega rolls or two larger Costco rolls of toilet paper every two weeks.

bidet
phototropic/istockphoto
toilet paper wad
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Women Are More Likely to Wad It Up

In the raging debate about how best to hold toilet paper during a wipe — folding or wadding — 40% of people wad it, 40% fold it up, and 20% wrap it around their hand, mummy-style, according to a survey conducted by Kimberly-Clark. It seems that women are more likely to wad, while men prefer a neat, clean fold. The survey also found that 49% of respondents would choose toilet paper over food if they were going to be stranded on a deserted island.

writing on toilet paper
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A Novella Was Written On Toilet Paper

In 2009, notable Japanese horror author Koji Suzuki released a nine-chapter story titled "Drop" that was printed on continuous sheets of toilet paper. As if sitting on the toilet long enough to read a novella isn't frightening enough, the story was about "a goblin who lives inside the walls of a public restroom."

world's largest roll of toilet paper
Karen K./Yelp

Procter & Gamble Made a 10' Wide Roll of Charmin

In 2011, to celebrate National Toilet Paper Day, Procter & Gamble unveiled a roll of Charmin that measured 8.5 feet tall and nearly 10 feet across. Made to scale in Missouri from the same paper that goes into regular rolls of Charmin, it dwarfed the previous world-record toilet paper roll, which was a mere 5.5 feet across.

gold toilet paper
AlexSava/istockphoto
toilet paper hanging "over"
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Hanging the Roll 'Over' Is More Hygenic

It's an ongoing fissure in bathrooms around the world: Do you hang the toilet paper roll "over," with the loose end on top, or "under," with the loose end closer to the wall? With the latter, there's more chance that your dirty hand will have to touch unused portions of the roll, potentially spreading viruses and bacteria. In a similar vein, it's also better not to cover a public toilet seat with toilet paper, because the paper is way easier than the seat for germs to cling to, experts say.

wet wipes
Kurgu128/istockphoto
Paper products and goods storehouse with boxes
Garsya/istockphoto

The U.S. Imports 9.4% of its Toilet Paper

One thing is for sure: Today's toilet paper shortage doesn't stem from any breakdown of the international supply chain. Just shy of 10% of our toilet paper comes from other countries, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, though that still makes us the biggest toilet-paper importer in the world. Of the percentage that is imported, close to half comes from Canada, while the rest is mainly from China or Mexico.

small toilet paper rolls
Matze Fotograf_Bln/istockphoto

Manufacturers Have Been Sneakily Shrinking Toilet Paper Rolls

Once upon a time, a square of toilet paper was 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches, but manufacturers aiming to squeeze more profits out of the product (apologies to Charmin) have increasingly shrunk squares a half-inch in each direction. Consumer Reports has also documented fewer square feet per roll for many brands.

Charmin Forever roll
Charmin

Charmin's Forever Roll Requires a Special Stand

Charmin sells a 2-pound, 12-inch Forever Roll of toilet paper that can last up to a month before it needs to be changed. Since it won't fit on most standard wall-mounted holders, it comes with a special stand that can accommodate its weight and girth. There are 1,700 sheets per Forever Roll, compared with about 500 sheets for most other two-ply rolls

phone controlled robot
guvendemir/istockphoto

Charmin Recently Unveiled a Toilet Paper-Fetching Robot

When it's just too much to get a new roll on your own, never fear: the Charmin RollBot is here. Unveiled to a perplexed public at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the bear-faced bot is controlled via smartphone and is specially designed to stay balanced as it delivers a fresh roll to the indisposed (or just plain lazy). Sadly, it doesn't appear RollBot will be available for purchase anytime soon — making that Forever Roll look better and better.

Related: 20 Cool Gadgets From CES That You Can Actually Afford

 Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest
Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest by (None)

There Is a Yearly Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest

The bride wore white, indeed. An annual Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest, sponsored by Charm Weddings and Quilted Northern, challenges TP creatives to design a wedding dress using nothing but toilet paper, tape, glue, or a needle and thread. Fabric is strictly prohibited, though unattached undergarments are allowed. Finalists are flown to New York City, and the winner gets $10,000 for their loo-inspired labor of love. (This year's contest has been postponed.)