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The Life and Mind of DamnBlackHeart
This is to help me stay actively writing. So expect to see rants, tips on writing, thoughts on subjects, me complaining of boredom, reviews, anime, movies, video games, conventions, tv shows and whatever life throws at me.
What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?
Different materials were used as toilet paper, which depended on the country, weather conditions, personal preference, and status in society. For example, wealthy people often used wool, lace or hemp. While the less wealthy people used their hand when defecating into rivers, or cleaned themselves with various materials such as rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stones, sand, moss, and so on.

The first recorded use of something resembling toilet paper comes from 6th century China where the more affluent members of society would use wads of paper (squares made from rice paper which was cheap and plentiful) to clean their nether regions. The Chinese emperor commissioned large 2ft x 3ft paper sheets to use. However, even after the invention of the flush toilet in 1596, commercially produced toilet paper didn’t catch on until 300 years later.

In Ancient Rome, they were a bit more sophisticated than the Greeks when it came to cleansing. The wealthy used wool and rosewater to clean themselves. But the rest of the people cleaned themselves after using a public latrine with a tersorium; a sea-sponge lashed to a long stick, which was stored in a bucket of salt water or vinegar. It was considered polite to give the sponge a cursory rinse and a squeeze before putting it back in the bucket to get it ready for the next person.

In Ancient Greece, they too had a sponge on a stick called a xylospongium, but the preferred method was round pieces of ceramic called pessoi. These were used in a left to right scraping motion and historians have estimated that your average wipe would use three pieces. Sometimes these pottery fragments would be inscribed with the name of an enemy before being used.

In Ancient Japan, they used a flat wooden stick called a chügi that looked similar to a tongue depressor to clean themselves. In earlier days seaweed was used for cleaning, but by the Edo period, these had been replaced by toilet paper made of washi (traditional Japanese paper). In the mountainous regions, wooden scrapers and large leaves were used too.

For those living in the cold, northern regions of the world, tundra moss was readily available during the summer, and clumps of snow would do the trick for the rest of the year.

People in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent use the water (from the tap and a jug or maybe even the luxury option of a little hose pipe) and their left hand to direct the stream of water to their nether regions. Of course, they make sure to thoroughly wash their hand afterwards. This method is still in use in some developing countries, which is why it’s offensive to greet someone with your left hand or to use it to eat with, even touching food.

Parts of Europe, too, use strategically aimed jets of water, or separate fixtures known as bidets. In those cases, toilet paper is simply used to dry off. In Europe it was common to use rags which could be washed and used again, many of these rags ended up in the sewer system, so it’s impossible to know how many times these rags were used before being thrown away.

In the Middle Ages, the wealthy had built stone toilets called garderobes, which jutted out of the sides of their castles. The waste would fall threw the vertical chute and land outside in the courtyard or bailey. Some garderobes emptied into the moat (or ocean, depending on where the castle was built). The wealthy people might’ve used sheep's wool to wipe their behinds (or cloth in which their servants would wash it for them). Chamber pots existed too and they were often used to collect waste overnight. When they were finished, the contents would be thrown over the balcony or out the window (some would be toss out into the river). Ordinary people often used a plant called common mullein or woolly mullein. They might’ve even used hay, grass, moss or rags too.

In pre-colonial America the Native Americans dug latrines away from their homes and fresh water. During the most brutal weather, these latrines would be placed close by. Human waste froze in the winter and didn’t smell nearly as much as in the summer. They used whatever that was available: twigs, dry grass, small stones, leaves, and even oyster or clam shells.

Pioneers would used grass, leaves or just plain dirt. Bark was also a option. When they made camp, they would find a private spot away from a source of water and dig a deep hole. It would be for everyone to temporarily use until it was time to travel again. The dirt they dug out would be off to the side with a shovel and when someone poop, the dirt would be sprinkle on top.

The rural agrarian communities had outhouses and would used handfuls of straw as toilet paper. But the most common material was the corn cobs, specifically when the corn kernels had been removed from the cob. This was a popular option because the cobs were readily available and surprisingly soft and flexible (especially when boiled first).

Later on they realized they could use squares of old newspapers, telephone directories, and Sears Roebuck company’s catalogues to clean themselves with. Some would even resort to using the pages of the Old Farmers’ Almanac, which was often faithfully (and conveniently) hanging in the outhouse. There was also a bag of lime with a scoop usually placed in the corner of the outhouse. After every use they would sprinkle a scoop of lime in the hole as a chaser to keep down the smell. As for what happens when the outhouse gets full, easy—they’d simply dig a new hole, and move the outhouse over it.

It wasn’t till 1857 that Joseph Gayetty came up with the first commercially available toilet paper in the United States. They were sold in packages of flat sheets that were moistened and soaked with aloe. Gayetty’s toilet paper sold for about 50 cents a pack ($12 today), with 500 sheets in that package. This wasn’t terribly popular, presumably because up to this point most people got their wiping materials for free from whatever was at hand. Such as old newspapers, or something more natural like a piece of moss, piles of dirt, or a bit of fur, fruit peels, or even in some cases mussel and oyster shells.

But in 1867 Philadelphia, the brothers Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott managed to successfully market their own toilet paper. It was much cheaper because it wasn’t coated with aloe or moistened, but was just rolls of somewhat soft paper (often with splinters). This was the year when the perforated toilet paper in rolls, as we know it today, saw a wider use.


DamnBlackHeart
Community Member
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