Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: A Historical
The wet wipes vs toilet paper
debate is surprisingly recent, primarily because both wet wipes and toilet paper are
surprisingly recent in the long history of human hygiene.
Toilet paper was introduced first. China is widely believed to have invented toilet
paper. Yan Zhitui made the first known historical reference to paper used for wiping in the
6th Century, saying: “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five
Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.” In other words, out
of respect, Yan Zhitui avoided wiping with paper inscribed with the Five Classics and the
names of sages, implying that paper was a known wiping method in those times. However, it
was not until nearly 900 years later that China was believed to manufacture paper
specifically for wiping on a large scale.
At this time, the Americas were still many centuries away from using toilet paper.
Prior to the late 1800’s, the Americas used what we have dubbed the “closest smooth-ish
object” method (i.e., identifying the closest object that was relatively smooth and using
it to wipe). For example, early Americans used corn cobs, straw, newspapers, catalogs, and
magazines to wipe.
Patents related to toilet paper started to appear in the late 1800’s.
And it was not until the early 1900’s that toilet paper began to be manufactured on a
large scale in the form that we know it today.
The wet wipes vs toilet paper choice saw its birth in the mid-1900s. Wet wipes were
originally known as “wet naps” and were invented in the 1950’s. Wet wipes were not
originally used to wipe the backside, but instead were first sold to Kentucky Fried Chicken
(KFC) to wipe dirty hands.
It was not until the 1990’s that wet wipes became popular to wipe baby bottoms in the
form that we know them today. There are also make up wet wipes, and
wet wipes bucket.
Wet wipes remained a toilet paper alternative primarily for wiping babies bottoms for
the next 10-15 years. However, in the last decade,
baby wet wipe demand
has grown by 50%. This is due in part to the adoption of wet wipes by all ages. And in this
last decade, the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate has begun to rage.
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: How Are They Made?
Many of the differences in wet wipes vs toilet paper arise from the way that each is
made. And the way that each is made is directly related to the original purpose of each
Toilet paper is made from trees. The manufacturing process includes stripping trees of
bark, cutting the trees into wood chips, creating a pulp, bleaching the pulp, and pressing
it to drain water and flatten the pulp. Toilet paper is designed in this way so that it
will break down and dissolve easily when exposed to water.
Wet wipes were originally made to wipe dirty hands. They were made to be durable in
order to clean up messes and to be thrown in the trash, not to disintegrate when introduced
to water. In fact, disintegration when in contact with a fluid would defeat the very nature
of a wet wipe – wet wipes are supposed to be wet; therefore, they should be durable enough
to withstand being wet so that consumers do not purchase a disintegrated product in the
To provide durability, disinfectant wet wipes are typically composed of various nonwoven fabrics,
such as polyester, polypropylene, viscose pulp, and cotton. It may come as a surprise, but
some of these non-woven fabrics are actually plastics. The integration of natural and
synthetic materials offer wet wipes their durability.
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: Polls on the Internet
What can the metrics tell us about who is winning the
adult wet wipes vs
toilet paper debate?
We polled the audience in our first wet wipes vs toilet paper article to determine how
people wipe. Wet wipes currently have a commanding lead with 62% of the vote followed by
toilet paper with 16% of the vote. Toilet paper spray (which is sprayed directly onto
toilet paper so that the toilet paper functions like a wet wipe) came in third with 9% of
TreeHugger.com has a similar wet wipes vs toilet paper survey. Toilet paper took the
lead in this poll with 59% of the vote, followed by a relatively even split between a bidet
and wet wipes at about 17%. Despite the lopsided results, TreeHugger.com noted an
increasing trend in wipes use, especially among millennials.
We found a third wet wipes vs toilet paper poll on a BodyBuilding.com forum. The survey
has wet wipes in the lead with almost 47% of the vote, followed by toilet paper at 32%,
with an astounding 20% of participants opting to jump in shower instead.
The polls demonstrate the relatively even split, depending on the readership, in the
wet wipes vs toilet paper debate.
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: Price Comparison
Toilet paper typically offers better pricing than wet wipes. It is best to think of the
cost of wet wipes vs toilet paper in terms of cost per wipe – how much are you spending
each time you wipe?
We have analyzed the cost of wet wipes extensively in our wet wipes cost article here.
Cost per wipe for wet wipes is influenced primarily by whether you are buying: (1) in bulk,
(2) online or in store, and/or (3) natural, high end brands or brands that may contain
synthetic materials or ingredients. The cost per wet wipe ranges from $0.023 per wipe all
the way to $0.123 per wipe. On average, you will pay about $0.06 each time you wipe your
Toilet paper is cheaper in the wet wipes vs toilet paper cost analysis. For example,
take this Charmin toilet paper with 24 rolls, each roll having 363 sheets, available on
Amazon for $28.49. That equates to 8,712 sheets of toilet paper. Assuming you use about 6
squares per wipe, you are spending about $0.019 per wipe. On the cheaper end, this Presto
brand toilet paper with 24 rolls, each roll having 308 sheets, is available on Amazon for
$19.43. That equates to 7,392 sheets of toilet paper. At 6 squares per wipe, you are
spending about $0.016 per wipe.
In sum, when you are considering wet wipes vs toilet paper, keep in mind that the cost
of wet wipes may average 2-3 times the cost toilet paper on a per wipe basis.
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: Hygiene Issues in the News
One of the primary drivers behind increased wet wipe use is the improved hygiene that
they provide. Recently, some doctors went so far as to suggest ditching toilet paper
entirely in favor of wet wipes. These doctors warn that wiping with toilet paper alone
could “leave feces behind” and could lead to excessive wiping that “could cause health
problems such as anal fissures and urinary tract infections.” Indeed, they point out that
toilet paper may wipe, but it does not actually clean because it does not contain cleansing
ingredients. Wet wipes, on the other hand, can contain ingredients that actually clean,
which improves hygiene and potentially prevents health issues.
While wipes may prevent some health issues, it is important to choose your wipes
carefully. Some chemicals in wet wipes have been linked with skin irritation and rashes.
For example, a preservative known as methylisothiazolinone found in some wipes was linked
to rashes (see this article discussing the effects of methylisothiazolinone). As another
example, a preservative in some wipes known as phenoxyethanol has been reported to be a
potential irritant as well.
If hygiene is a top priority to you in your wet wipes vs toilet paper choice, wet wipes
may be preferable, but be sure to research ingredients prior to purchase if you have
Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: Environmental Issues in the News
Toilet paper is the most eco-friendly option in the wet wipes vs toilet paper
discussion. As we previously pointed out, the TreeHugger.com audience preferred toilet
paper to wet wipes, which we believe could be due to environmental issues with wet wipes
that have recently come to light.
We have written about the eco issues with wet wipes extensively in our article here;
however, here is a brief introduction. As we discussed above,
non woven wipes are designed
to be durable enough for heavy duty tasks and to avoid immediate disintegration when in
contact with fluid (hence, a “wet” wipe). Therefore, wet wipes do not break down very
easily when exposed to toilet water. In fact, an experiment performed by Consumer Reports
(watch the video, it is fascinating) indicates that even “flushable” wipes may not break
down quickly enough. On the contrary, toilet paper immediately begins degrading when it
touches water, so it does not cause issues after flushing.