The average American uses nearly 21,000 sheets of toilet paper a year—roughly the length of 23 football fields. Talk about yardage: No wonder toilet-paper manufacturers want you to reach for their rolls.
Because the number of sheets per roll of toilet paper can vary significantly among brands, we suggest you check the number of square feet per package to compare costs. You should also figure that you’re likely to use fewer sheets with multi-ply rolls than with single-ply ones.
We tested the biggest national and store brands of toilet paper and found that you don’t have to pay the most for rolls that are strong yet soft—though the cheapest toilet papers were neither strong nor soft.
When it comes to toilet paper, names and labels don’t mean much. Our latest tests of more than 20 toilet papers found an “extra soft” toilet paper that wasn’t as soft as others; an "ultra strong" toilet paper that was pretty weak; and one “great value” that was neither great nor much of a value. Here are some things to remember:
Rolls Are Shrinking
Since 2009, we’ve tested bathroom tissue several times; we looked at current products and compared the number of sheets and the size of the sheets to earlier versions, using double rolls as our benchmark. (It’s the most popular size.) Shrinkage ranged from 9 to 23 percent. One brand kept size constant, but decreased the number of rolls per package. And once one company downsizes its product, others tend to follow so that their products don’t appear more expensive.
Offerings Are Increasing
Even as companies shave sheets, they’re expanding product lines to include "mega," "triple," and "jumbo" sizes in addition to single and double rolls. That makes comparison-shopping harder and more confusing. It also increases the odds that a consumer randomly buying toilet paper will buy a specific brand.
Re-Imagining the Roll
One brand has done away the cardboard tube but when we put the tubeless TP on a standard toilet-paper holder and took it for a spin, it wasn’t as easy to unravel, and the roll was also harder to place on the holder. Also note that some rolls are so bulky they may not fit in the toilet paper holder, especially in older homes.
Beware of Wipes
The packaging may say that wipes are flushable or safe for sewers and septic tanks but based on our past testing, we beg to differ. It took at least 10 minutes for the wipes we tested to break down into small pieces in our mixer filled with water, which is more churning than they’ll get in waste pipes. When we left the wipes in water overnight, some disintegrated, and some didn’t. So if you use wipes, toss them into the garbage can, not the toilet.
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 take up less storage space.
Differences in toilet paper can be subtle. Some users prefer some certain attributes to 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.
Chlorine free: Typically used to describe recycled toilet papers in which the process used to make them white does not involve chlorine. Paper bleached with chlorine is not considered environmentally friendly because the chlorine can pollute air and water.
Green claims: Toilet paper made from recycled content or from trees cut from a responsibly managed forest, using fibers that would otherwise end up in a landfill or incinerator.
Plies: The number of layers, typically ranging from 1 ply to 3 plies.
Sheets per roll: What the manufacturer claims on the packaging.
Softness: A common claim. Consumer Reports uses trained panelists to make this judgment.
Strength: A paper’s resistance to puncturing.
Tearing ease: Based on the separation of sheets at their perforation.
Tubeless: One brand rolled out a tubeless version of its toilet paper without the cardboard cylinder, touting it as more environmentally friendly.
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.
We stack and insert eight sheets of each toilet paper into an Instron, an apparatus normally used for sturdier materials like fabric and plastic. 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.
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. Next, they softly drag their fingers over the tissue in straight lines. Both tests help them form an overall impression of softness. Then 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.
Down the Drain
To find out what happens once toilet paper is flushed, we check how easily it disintegrates. That gives you an idea of how well it will move through a home’s plumbing and septic systems. We put a 2x2-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.