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It’s been said that toilet paper will be worth its weight in gold after the shit hits the fan. I don’t think this is far from the truth. Toilet paper is a modern luxury that people tend to take for granted until the moment they reach for it and find nothing but a cardboard roll. When that happens, they would gladly pay top dollar for a few squares.
You know you’ve been there. Of course, all you have to do is waddle around the house until you find some more toilet paper or at least some paper towels. But what if you don’t have any more? What would you do then?
This is why it’s important to store plenty of toilet paper. But that’s not enough. What if the crisis lasts a long time and you run out? What if you have to abandon your home? What if your toilet paper is destroyed by flood or fire? In case that happens, you’ll need to consider some substitutes for toilet paper.
1. Paper – We’ll get the most obvious one out of the way first. If you don’t have any toilet paper, just use another kind of paper. Paper towels, newspapers, phone books, notebook paper, printer paper, envelopes, etc. Look around the house and see what you can find. (By the way, most magazines don’t work very well because of the gloss coating.) Some people have suggested using books, but I have too much respect for books to recommend that. Maybe as a last resort, but first look for other options. This article contains instructions on how to make toilet paper out of paper you find around the house.
2. Wipes – Before you start yanking paper out of your printer, wrack your brain and make sure you don’t have any wet wipes or baby wipes in the house. If you do, they make great toilet paper.
3. Kleenex – Again, this is just a reminder. I’d hate for you to be tearing up newspapers only to later realize there’s a perfectly good box of Kleenex on the bathroom counter. However, you might have to use several of them since they’re so thin.
Less Common Alternatives
4. Sponge – These were used in Roman times. When the people finished, they would wash the sponge with water and vinegar so they could reuse it later. But even if you do this, damp sponges are still breeding grounds for bacteria. If you go this route, you’ll need to either boil the sponge or soak it in bleach water before rinsing it out and using it again.
5. Rock – But not just any rock. You’ll have to find a smooth, flat (but not sharp) rock like the one in the picture (it’s not as big as it looks). With it you can do what’s known as the “scrape method,” which was very popular in ancient societies. Stir the rock in water to remove excess debris before scraping again.
6. Water – In many countries toilet paper is unheard of, and instead people wash themselves with water. To do this, use a plastic cup or other pouring device. Fill it with warm water, pour it into your cupped left hand, and do the necessary cleaning. Obviously you’ll want to wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done. You could also use an irrigation bottle so you can spray the area clean without having to touch it as much.
7. Cloth – This method is more accurately referred to as “family cloth” and is used by people who are trying to be as frugal and/or eco-friendly as possible. The idea is to use cloth rags to wipe yourself, then wash them afterward so you can continually reuse the fabric. Soft fabric sourced from old flannel diapers or nightgowns works best for this, but you can also use towels, wash cloths, or even old T-shirts. Whatever you chose, simply rip the fabric into suitable sizes and trim them with pinking shears to prevent fraying.
Used in connection with the water method mentioned above, this could be an effective way to get by without toilet paper indefinitely. Just make sure the fabric doesn’t accidentally get flushed down the toilet. Instead, put it in a sealed container next to the toilet and once you have enough for a load of laundry, wash them. But don’t mix them with your regular laundry. (Here’s how to do laundry without power.)
If none of the above options are available, or if you have to bug out to the wilderness and use up all the toilet paper in your bag, you may have to turn to nature’s toilet paper: leaves.
8. Corn Husks – Because the pioneers grew and harvested so much corn, corn husks were one of their most popular toilet paper options. The leaves, when green, are relatively soft and a good size for bathroom or outhouse use. They can be dried for using during the winter months, and if that’s too rough you can always soak them in water to soften them again before use.
9. Maple Leaves – Specifically from the broadleaf maple. The leaves are large, don’t have irritable hairs, and are easily identifiable in the woods. Maples also produce an abundance of leaves, as anyone who has had to rake up after a maple tree can testify. Broadleaf and Sugar maples have the largest leaves, but in a pinch a mountain or vine maple could also be used, though the small leaves of these varieties would be awkward for an adult to use.
10. Mullein Leaves – This low growing, biennial plant flourishes in dry and sandy soils. Its leaves are a fair size and coated with a soft fuzz. The fuzz can be an irritant or a benefit, so use caution when using this plant and wash with water if irritation develops.
11. Large Leaved Aster – Also known as “lumberjack toilet paper,” and for good reason. The large, smooth, heart-shaped leaves are perfect for wiping, and the plant can be found in abundance across the eastern United States and Canada.
12. Cottonwood Leaves – Specifically, the larger leaved variety. It has smooth leaves that would make the perfect emergency toilet paper. The leaves are a little on the tough side, so they won’t tear during wiping. Cottonwood also has a bit of an anti-pain effect, and the leaves can be used for things like emergency bandages as well.
13. Bolted Lettuce – Finally, any garden plants with large smooth leaves can also work as emergency toilet paper. Bolted lettuce is a prime example. Once lettuce bolts it becomes too bitter to eat, but the leaves are large enough for most wiping purposes. But be careful which leaves you take from your garden. For example, squash plant leaves would be too irritating due to the hairs on them.
14. Hazelnut Leaves – Hazelnut also makes good emergency toilet paper, though they’re slightly on the small side. Also, they have a bit of fuzz on them which could potentially be irritating for people with sensitive skin. They’re very soft and completely non-toxic.
15. Thimbleberry Leaves – These beautiful plants grow and flourish in damp areas, near streams, and next to drainage on mountainsides. Their exceptionally large and soft leaves make them the ideal for emergency toilet paper. They’re also easy to identify from the large toothed leaves, thimble-like fruit, and fair-sized white flowers. Thimbleberry can be found in nearly any mountain region in North America. They die back in the winter but regrow from the root in the spring and summer.
Warning – If you decide to use Thimbleberry leaves, make sure you’d able to identify its nasty look-alike, the dreaded Devil’s Club (seen below). This nasty plant flourishes in many of the same areas as the Thimbleberry and would be a nightmare to wipe with because it has thorns and is a severe irritant. While the leaves of the two plants are very similar, Devil’s Club has thicker stems that are covered in sharp thorns, and the veins on its leaves are also lined with thorns.
There are several other types of leaves that could be used for toilet paper such as dandelion and hazelnut, but before you use them or any of the leaves mentioned above, make sure you have real world experience identifying them in the wild.