Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: A Historical Perspective
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 Yan Zhitui made the first known historical reference to paper used for wiping in the 6th Century, saying: “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare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.
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 product.
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 store.
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 the vote.
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.