Return to nonfiction

The Ultimate Wipe
Article by Carrie Martin


Pack a bag and bring a bar of soap. Our journey for the ultimate butt wipe begins in Ancient India, 5000 years ago...

Just like us, the people of the Indus Valley civilization enjoyed a tinkle in their own private stall. Only, toilet paper had yet to be invented. They used the old left-hand-wipe-and-wash technique instead. Could this be why we shake with our right?

Around 1250 years ago, men and women shared communal washrooms in Ancient Rome. They also shared a spongia — a sea sponge stuck to a long stick — to wipe their robed behinds. A basin of salt water cleaned the sponge out for the next person.

The lucky emperors of Ancient China were graced with perfumed toilet paper, almost 1500 years ago. And it was huge — the size of a road map, two by three feet. 720,000 sheets of them a year, too.

300 years later, the Vikings in Europe snatched-up stray scraps of sheep wool, blowing about the hills, to wipe their hardy derrieres. If they got chance, between all that pummeling and pillaging.

In the late 1700s, the British got crafty with newspapers. They cut them into smaller squares, tied them together with string, and hung the wad from a nail in the outhouse. And if that wasn't available, you had to get creative. Or rich, so you could sit on your chamber pot and dab with wool, lace or hemp.

In colonial America, dried corn cobs did the job, when grandpa used up all the newspaper. And if you were really lucky, the Sears catalogue had just popped through the front door. Free and absorbent, until they switched to glossy paper.

Things picked up in 1857, when Joseph Gayetty invented the first commercially sold toilet paper. His "medicated" sheets were dampened with aloe, watermarked with Gayetty, and sold in packs of 500 for 50 cents.

The Scott Paper Company got in on the act in 1890, when brothers Irvin and Clarence introduced the very first toilet roll. Wrapped and disguised in plain brown paper and sold to other sellers and stores.

Victorians were a prudish lot, which made marketing next to impossible. You can thank indoor plumbing for what came next. Suddenly, this luxury roll was a necessity in households everywhere. Sold under the Waldorf trademark, Irvin's son beefed-up the marketing and manufacturing, and slapped the Scott family name on their product.

By 1953, TP was marketed as "splinter-free." Today, the choice is mind-blowing: ultra strong, extra soft, quilted, low grade, luxury, eco-friendly, flushable wet wipes, 1-ply, 2-ply, 3-ply, jumbo, mega.

We may have gotten a little carried away — we can't all wipe like emperors. A grown man gets through a hundred rolls a year. That's 384 trees in an average lifetime. Now multiply that by so many billions.

Recycled may be the way to go, if we value a planet to pee on. Or perhaps the refreshing squirt of a bidet, now they're getting slicker and cheaper.

Could the ultimate butt wipe be no wipe at all?


Carrie Martin Designs ©2014-2020
Return to the main menu