So Which Toilet Paper Really Is the Best?

Toilet Papers

Story at-a-glance -

  • Consumer Reports highlighted top-recommended toilet paper brands based on strength, tearing ease, softness and disintegration
  • Toilet paper made from ‘virgin fiber’ is contributing to the destruction of forests around the world, and is often bleached using chlorine, which leads to the production of cancer-causing dioxins
  • Toilet paper made from recycled content, and that is not bleached using chlorine, is a preferable option
  • The best choice for superior hygiene and protecting the environment is to use a bidet in lieu of toilet paper for hygienic cleaning

By Dr. Mercola

If you’ve bought toilet paper recently, you know that there are more than a handful of brands to choose from, but how different can two rolls of toilet paper really be? Quite different, actually, as a new investigation from Consumer Reports recently revealed.

In their tests of 25 toilet paper brands, they rated products based on four key criteria: strength, tearing ease, softness and disintegration (how well the paper moves through your home’s plumbing system).

A few clear “winners” emerged based on their results, however they missed some very important variables to consider before you buy your next roll…

Consumer Reports Top-Recommended Toilet Paper Brands

Three of the top five brands, according to Consumer Reports’ evaluation, are found exclusively at Walmart, a store I believe most people would be far better off avoiding. These included two White Cloud products and one called Great Value Ultra Strong.

Other top-rated toilet paper options included brands from Quilted Northern and CVS, while Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value and Walgreens’ Big Roll brands came out on the bottom for strength and softness.

However, there’s much more to choosing toilet paper than simply softness and strength, namely whether or not it’s bleached and comes from “virgin” fiber (paper made from virgin fiber, typically obtained from trees, is manufactured without the use of any recycled or alternative fibers).

Consumer Reports did evaluate some eco-friendly options, and although none made the top-recommended list, Seventh Generation did receive positive marks for softness.

How Many Trees Are Being Flushed Down the Toilet?

Cutting down a mature tree to make a product that’s going to be thrown away (toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, facial tissues, etc.) is an environmental tragedy virtually any way you look at it.

Americans use close to 8 million tons of toilet paper every year,1 and forests are being destroyed to keep up with this demand. As reported by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):2

Giant paper producers are forcing the destruction of our continent's most vibrant forests, and devastating the habitat for countless wildlife species in the process.

Instead of making better use of materials such as post-consumer recycled fiber and agricultural residue to meet the escalating demand for toilet paper, paper towels and other disposable tissue products, these companies buy virgin pulp from suppliers that reach deep into North American forests for timber, from northern Canada to the southeastern United States.”

If every US household replaced even one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with one made from 100% recycled fibers, 423,900 trees would be saved!3 Toilet paper made from 80-100 percent recycled fibers is widely available, but if you do purchase toilet paper made from virgin fiber, be sure that it is at least sourced from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which ensures it has been harvested responsibly.

That said, even toilet paper that comes from specially planted tree plantations is not a sustainable choice in the long run, as these single-species plantations cannot compare with the species-rich forests that have formed a natural habitat for centuries. NRDC continues:

“… sprawling plantations of single-species pine are quickly taking the place of crucial forest habitat and food sources in [the southeastern United States]. The southern United States now contains approximately half of the world's tree plantations, and due in part to increasing demand for paper products, the area of these plantations is expected to increase by 63 percent -- to 52 million acres -- by 2040.”

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The Process Used to Make Your Toilet Paper White Is Toxic

Did you ever wonder how toilet paper (or any paper, for that matter), gets to be so white? Paper made from wood would ordinarily be brown (like paper bags or cardboard boxes) and would yellow in time (as newspaper does), so the pulp and paper industry, which some say is among the worst-polluting industries on Earth, uses chlorine and its derivatives, such as chlorine dioxide, to bleach it.

This process leads to the creation of cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and furans, which not only enter the air but also waterways, soil and the food chain. Exposure to even low levels of dioxins has been linked to hormone alterations, immune system impairments, reduced fertility, birth defects and other reproductive problems.

At this point, virtually everyone has some level of dioxins stored in their body fat and the chemical has been detected all over the world, including the Arctic and Antarctic.4 And it is (in part) because of this toxic bleaching process that the pulp and paper industry is so detrimental to the environment. NRDC stated:

The pulp and paper industry may contribute to more global and local environmental problems than any other industry in the world. Paper manufacturers reach deep into species-rich forests for virgin timber, razing trees, polluting waterways and destroying precious wildlife habitat. Pulp and paper mills that use virgin timber are major generators of hazardous air pollutants, including dioxins and other cancer-causing chemicals. And the industry is the third largest industrial emitter of global warming pollution.

If you purchase toilet paper, look for non-bleached varieties or those with the following labels:

  • TCF (Totally Chlorine-Free): Paper produced without chlorine or chlorine derivatives
  • PCF (Processed Chlorine-Free): Contains recycled content produced without elemental chlorine or derivatives, but the original fiber components bay have been bleached with chlorine

Think Outside the Box: Toilet Paper Is Not Actually a Necessity

Obviously, toilet paper hasn’t been around that long. Before its invention, people around the world turned to their environment for the best ways to clean up, using whatever items were most practical and available. This included objects like corncobs, leaves and coconut shells to handfuls of snow… but no, I’m not suggesting you give this a try (unless you’re so inclined!).

That said, many environmentally- (and cost-) conscious families use what’s called “family cloths” in lieu of toilet paper in their homes. Similar to using cloth wipes for a baby, you can use cut up flannel, sheets or any soft cloth (such as an old t-shirt) to make reusable wipes. This works even better when paired with one of my personal favorite hygiene items, a bidet, and makes toilet paper absolutely unnecessary.

If You Want Superior Cleaning and Comfort, Use a Bidet

There are many reasons why I prefer a bidet to toilet paper, and I’m far from the only one. Bidets are the norm in Europe and nearly everyone that I know who has received one just loves it. I have been using the bidet we sell in our store for years and I love it so much that one of the worst aspects of traveling for me is that I am unable to pack my bidet.

A bidet is refreshing in a way toilet paper could never be, is gentler and less irritating than wiping with paper, and practically eliminates potential hand contamination. But more importantly, it cleans your bottom far more effectively than simply using dry toilet paper. Plus, a bidet pays for itself in no time with the money saved on toilet paper, and helps save valuable environmental resources while reducing pollution.

When you use a bidet you still need a sheet or two of toilet paper to dry yourself, but that is a tiny fraction of what you would need to clean yourself and can easily be done using reusable cloths, as mentioned, if you choose. My favorite bidet is available in the Mercola store.