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Americans use million of tons of toilet tissue a year. No wonder toilet-paper makers are plying consumers with more sheets, more layers, and the added sanitation of wet wipes. More rolls made from recycled products also promise to be softer and greener.
But extensive tests by Consumer Reports show that some promises are mostly puffery. Our latest tests of the biggest national and store brands of toilet paper show that you don't have to pay the most for rolls that are strong yet soft.
Mixed results for ‘green' products. Several new products answer the call for greener toilet paper. One brand, for example, says it's made of paper from responsibly managed forests, is chlorine free, and is packaged in environmentally responsible plastic wrap. In our tests, it was soft, but lacked strength and its tearing ease was poor. Toilet papers made from recycled content fared worse. Several are at the bottom of our Ratings because of their roughness and middling strength and tearing ease. At least they offer excellent disintegration, making them an option for larger households or those with clog-prone plumbing.
Missing the tube. Rolls that do away with the cardboard tube seemed the latest thing in toilet-paper marketing when one brand debuted it. But when we put it on a standard toilet-paper holder to take it for a "spin," it wasn't as easy to unravel, and the paper didn't tear off as easily. The roll was also harder to place on the holder.
The incredible shrinking roll. As commodity costs have risen, downsizing has become a common way for manufacturers to avoid a direct price increase. Often, it's hard to tell that a package has gone on a diet.
Differences in toilet paper can be subtle or not and some users prefer some attributes over others. Balancing strength over softness is the manufacturer's biggest challenge, especially for those toilet papers made with recycled materials. Here are the toilet-paper features to consider.
Typically used to describe recycled toilet papers in which the process used to make them white does not involve chlorine. It's not considered environmentally friendly because the chlorine can pollute air and water.
Reflects the amount of time needed for a 2- x 2-inch-square section cut from a sheet of toilet paper to break up in swirling water, making it easier on plumbing systems.
Toilet paper that's made from recycled content or from trees from responsibly managed forests but from fibers that would otherwise end up in a landfill or incinerator.
One brand rolled out a tubeless version of its toilet paper without the cardboard cylinder, touting it as environmentally friendly.
Stock up and save. Keep an eye out for sales and use coupons to lower costs. Larger packages often reduce costs per roll. But use your supermarket's unit-pricing labels or the calculator on your cell phone to make sure a 24-roll pack is actually a much better deal than smaller ones that will eat up less storage space.
Because the number of sheets per roll can vary significantly among brands, use the number of square feet per package to compare costs. Also consider that you're likely to use fewer sheets with multi-ply rolls than with single-ply ones.
Understand the green claims. If a product that's eco-friendly is your top requirement, look for toilet paper that's made not just from recycled content or trees from responsibly managed forests but from fibers recovered from paper that would otherwise end up in a landfill or incinerator. And avoid recycled products that have been bleached white using chlorine, as that can pollute air and water.
Be kind to your plumbing. Though most of the papers we tested disintegrated quickly, a few didn't. That could present a problem for homes with septic systems, old pipes, or large families.
Think you're picky about toilet paper? Consumer Reports uses machines and specially trained sensory panelists to see which rolls combine strength, softness, and convenience.
How strong? We stack and insert 15 sheets of each toilet paper into an Instron, an apparatus normally used for sturdier stuff. It slowly pushes a steel ball through the sheets. The force required to punch through the paper is measured and recorded using computer software. Stronger papers can withstand three times as much pressure as the weakest ones before ripping. The Instron also determines how hard you'd need to pull to rip two sheets along their perforation, called tearing ease.
How soft? Sensory panelists check for softness in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room so the toilet-paper fibers are evaluated under controlled conditions. They first make soft, circular motions over each sample with their fingertips to form an overall impression of softness. Next, they test for pliability by gently manipulating the paper into a ball. The roughest, stiffest papers feel pointed, ridged, and cracked; the softest tend to be more pliable and conform smoothly to the hand.
Going with the flow. Disintegration testing reflects how well a paper will move through a home's plumbing. We put a 2- x 2-inch-square section cut from a sheet of toilet paper and a 2-inch stirring bar into a water-filled beaker set on a stirring plate. The time it takes for the sheet to disintegrate provides the score.