Four Letters Re: Paper or Plastic? — That is the Question


The question of how much toilet paper one must store is an important issue indeed.  One thing I feel that is often overlooked, and that some readers can personally attest to is that the method of “doing your duty” can play a role in how much paper is required.  I currently live in mainland China , and have for some time now.  The venerable “squatty potty” is much cleaner for the user and therefore easier on the supply of precious paper.  We have three children and as a whole, China does not supply paper in its restrooms, so I know how much paper we have with us and how much we need daily.  Squatting, like all skills, takes some practice.  Cement blocks on either side of our western “seat” may help also.  This, unfortunately, is worth consideration.             

I must also add that increasing dietary fiber is also important to reducing paper usage.  At least that has been my experience, not that anyone wanted to know.  – Jonboy in Hangzhou


The notion of needing endless cases of toilet paper in a SHTF scenario is a bit far fetched when considering the alternatives to TP that is practiced around the world.

In Asia, toilet paper is only needed sparingly as the use of a bidet sprayer is common.

I am not talking about the French separate toilet looking thing, but rather the simple sprayer that is tied into a T fitting at the water pipe that supplies water to your toilet.

The sprayers come in many colors and styles, some plastic, some fancy chrome. All however do the same thing, they spray water.

To use one, you simply lean forward and hold the sprayer behind you. Direct the spray towards your dirty parts. The force of the water will clean you 100% better than paper any day. After finished use a bit of TP to dry off. If you do it right, you will not spray water on anything but your rear. Water should not splash on your back or the floor or shoes etc.

For added cleanliness and to fight off sweat rashes in hot climates; after you clean yourself with water, apply some liquid soap to your hand and use with water to complete the job.

To clear up common misconceptions about this method, you do not touch feces with your fingers (unless you are doing it wrong with the sprayer in the first place or using the water bottle/dipper bucket method which is something else entirely)

For female use, the principle works as well. Most women in Asia wash themselves with soap and water in this manner every time they use the toilet.

Many Americans are squeamish about this method, however every American I know who has been in Asia for a decent period of time; has been converted to this method. Ask yourself this: Would I clean my dishes with wads of dry tissue paper and expect them to be clean? Of course not. So why should a part of your body that gets far dirtier be cleaned this way? You can also ask yourself, why do you wash yourself in the shower but not on the toilet?

Good hygiene is important in our day to day lives. Good hygiene in a SHTF scenario will save your life. – B.M.


The letter about the challenge of storing enough toilet paper overlooked an important point: The diameter of a roll of toilet paper (and thus the volume of space it takes up) is not the most important consideration when stocking up–what matters most is how many sheets (and thus the total surface area) are available per roll. Some time ago I realized that rolls of the bulk packages of Member’s Mark toilet paper from Sam’s Club seemed to be depleted rather quickly at my house, and upon further examination, I realized that although the paper was rather thick, there were only 200 individual sheets per roll. So I made a point during my next trip to Sam’s Club to see what other brands of toilet paper were on sale. And what I found really surprised me.

At that time, a 36-roll multipack of Member’s Mark toilet paper was $14.98, or 41.6 cents per roll, while a 40-roll case of POM toilet paper was 18.88 for 40 rolls, or 47.2 cents per roll. However, the POM had 450 sheets per roll–more than twice as many as the Member’s Mark toilet paper–but the POM was not as thick (although in my opinion still very comfortable) so I got more than twice as much toilet paper surface area for approximately the same volume of storage space. If your readers find that their toilet paper supply diminishes more rapidly than they expect, they should probably see how many sheets they are getting per roll. I essentially doubled how long each roll of toilet paper lasts at my house simply by looking at how many sheets I’m actually getting and then switching brands accordingly.

On another note, I’ve seen comments on a couple different preparedness forums suggesting that to save on paper usage, people should use something akin to a bidet. But what these well-intentioned people don’t stop to think about is that in a grid-down situation, water will be a vital and possibly hard-to-come-by resource. I’ll take toilet paper any day over chronic thirst because I used my last potable water for something other than drinking.

Merry CHRISTmas and happy new year to you and Avalanche Lily, Jim. God bless, – Chad

Mr Rawles,
Thanks again for publishing SurvivalBlog. Rarely a day goes by that I do not learn something from the posts here. In response to D.D.L.’s “Paper or Plastic” letter, I admire D.D.L.’s out-of-the-box thinking with regards to hygiene, but I wonder what will be done with the wash water (hopefully not being dumped in a river or stream!)

While recently traveling in rural India & Nepal, I was forced to come to grips with the fact that people there simply have *no* toilet paper, and learned to do as the locals do. Here’s their solution:

An “Eastern Toilet”, as they call it, or “squat toilet”, consists of a hole in the ground (if indoors, often a porcelain fixture), a bucket, and a plastic mug with a handle, called a “dipper”. The bucket is kept full of water, either by carrying your own in, or by way of a faucet. When you’re done with your business, you hold the dipper in your right hand, fill it from the bucket, reach behind you, and simultaneously with your left hand reach between your legs. Pouring water from the dipper over your left hand, you splash a little upwards (like a bidet), and, continuing to pour the water out, use your left hand to clean the dirty area. The dipper and your right hand should never come in contact with anything dirty. Refill the dipper as needed until everything is clean, and use the same water to flush the toilet (if it’s an indoor toilet).

It must be pointed out that good hand washing practices with soap are to avoid spreading disease when using this method. Some stockpiled hand sanitizer might not be a bad idea, either. Incidentally, this method is also the reason why it is considered a grave insult to touch anyone or eat with your left hand in the Muslim & Hindu world.

The downside to this method is that it does not work well with a western toilet; a squat toilet is much cleaner, but much harder on the knees for people not used to them. – Adam W.


After reading the article, Paper or Plastic? — That is the Question, by D.D.L., I was re-inspired to bring up this issue that I have been meaning to write about for a long time.

My wife is from the Philippines and very few people there use toilet paper. Most actually think of it as being unsanitary. Instead they prefer to use the “Tabo”, which is essentially just a small bucket that you fill up with water.

The Vu. has this description: “Called the tabo in the Philippines but known by other names in South Asia, this system is basically a jug of water, filled in a bucket or barrel or from the tap. The user raises up slightly from the toilet seat and pours water towards the small of the back where the space between the butt cheeks is. The water naturally flows down and over the skin and washes the area.  In practice, although rarely talked about, the user usually puts soap on his or her fingers and washes the butt, just like everyone does in the shower and then rinses with the tabo. Of course this means touching the unclean substance in question (poo) but the hand is using soap and water so with practice it ends up clean when all is over. In the Philippines, bathrooms are wet, meaning there is usually a floor drain and a faucet on the wall, which is used to fill the vessel. The tabo is difficult for lifelong wipers to accept, but it does remove all traces of waste and associated bacteria, so should not be criticized. Anyone with a sink within arm’s reach of the toilet, and a plastic jug or jar, can try the tabo right now, with nothing to install. In rural areas, the tabo is also used for outdoor, full body bathing.”

As I told my wife, we should stock up on toilet paper, but only for bartering purposes. We’ll wait a good 2-4 weeks before starting to barter the toilet paper because by then most people will have ran out and will become very desperate. I would suggest that all Survivalblog readers obtain a tabo and practice using it. For my wife and I, it only takes one tabo full of water but we are well experienced. Beginners should first practice with a 5 gallon pail of water so they will be able to refill their tabo.

Since I grew up on toilet paper it was quite a shock for me to experience the tabo when I was in the Philippines. After learning the tabo method, I had to agree that the affected area is much cleaner after using a tabo. I would recommend that beginners try to hold the tabo in one hand while splashing water towards their rear end while somewhat slowly letting the water drain from the tabo (no need to touch the area during this first rinsing). After doing this with the first tabo (note that by now you haven’t touched any poo), I would add a little bit of soap in the hand that did the splashing and then use a second filling of the tabo to then wash the area. You may need to use more water to rinse, but this should usually be enough to clean the area. If not then you will need to work on your technique.

The other interesting thing in the Philippines is that they use small, bowl only, one-piece toilets and I frankly like them better as well because they require less water to flush. For urine you just fill up one tabo [with water] and flush it down the toilet. For poo, you may need to use a gallon or so to get it all down. See this article for a picture.

Here is another article about Tabo technique.

So I should ask, why rely on storing years of toilet paper when you should be storing or learning how to make soap? – KJP