Roll of toilet paper made from pineapple fiber by Asao Shimura
Due to the recent shortage as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have been asked this question repeatedly.
First consider what type of toilet paper you desire. Are you going for soft, extra soft, premium extra soft, or are you okay with what the industry refers to as ‘brown’ toilet paper, which is made from recycled paper and not known to be soft. Next to consider is how thick you need to make your toilet paper in order to get the job done. The industry layers their toilet paper into 1-ply, 2, 3, and even 4-ply. As hand papermakers, we don’t have to layer the sheets-we can simply make our sheets thin, medium, thick or extra thick. The trick is to balance the degree of softness with thickness, yet maintain the strength and pliability for proper cleanliness. You must also factor in cost; not only of the raw material, but also what your time is worth.
My fiber of choice would be cooked, cleaned and hand beaten Japanese kozo, formed on a bamboo su with formation aid to make traditional sheets, then pressed and board dried. Because I can, I would spritz my favorite Italian perfume onto each sheet when wet, and once dry, again because I can, I would use my ink jet printer to print an image of my least favorite politician onto each sheet. As satisfying as the end result would be, I personally would never spend that much time and expense making toilet paper.
A quicker and cheaper option would be to throw some cotton linters into the blender and make a stack of 8.5 “ x 11” sheets of medium thickness, press them, and let them air dry. They will be soft and you should be able to fold or crumple, depending on your preference, and hopefully they will be strong enough to get the job done. Next, does size really matter? A standard square of toilet paper is 4.5” x 4.5” and according to more than one reputable site on the internet, the average consumer uses 8.6 sheets of toilet paper per bathroom visit. You could cut your 8.5 x 11 sheets into 4 sheets, and each would measure 4.25 “ x 5.5”. According to my calculation, based on 10 visits to the toilet per day, you would need to make at least 560 sheets of paper in order to have enough toilet paper for one week for a family of 4.
This next obvious step of the process is so important that I am devoting a new paragraph to it. DO NOT FLUSH. You will clog the toilet. It’s handmade paper. Even flimsy soft cotton paper will not immediately disintegrate in water.
If you feel discouraged after reading this description, then perhaps you may prefer to heed the advice of a prominent physician in Florida who offers this: “As a gastroenterologist I'm doing my best to help people with GI issues during this difficult time. Here's my hot tip: take your stash of 2-ply toilet paper, separate the plys of the first piece you would use, then grabbing each piece, have two people walk in opposite directions and unroll the roll, leaving each person with one long 1-ply piece. Then re-roll each piece, giving you two 1-ply rolls. This doubles your wiping capacity!!”