How is Toilet Paper Made?

It’s a household staple so important it became one of the hottest, hardest-to-find commodities at the start of the Pandemic in 2020. But few people realize what toilet paper is made of, let alone how it’s made. So, here’s a fun primer detailing how toilet paper is made, the differences between virgin and recycled paper, and some fun facts, including which we recommend for use in your septic system.

Virgin Paper vs. Recycled Paper

Toilet paper is available in two varieties­—virgin and recycled. Because they are sourced from different materials, the manufacturing process for each varies. While virgin toilet paper is made from chipped wood (usually a blend of 70% hardwood and 30% softwood), recycled paper is made from recycled paper. Despite many people’s misconception, recycled toilet paper is never made from recycled toilet paper.

Which toilet paper is better for septic systems?

Both virgin and recycled toilet paper are safe for your septic system, though we recommend recycled paper because it is better for the environment. Recycled paper breaks down faster inside your septic tank, but as long as the tissue you use passes the tissue test, either option is equally safe for your septic system. It is worth noting, however, that we can always tell when homeowners use certain, fluffy, virgin toilet paper because it takes longer to break down.

Virgin Pulp Method

Wood used for making virgin toilet paper.

The process for making virgin toilet paper begins by harvesting and stripping trees of their bark. From there, the wood is chipped into small pieces, separated into batches, and then pressure cooked with other chemicals for about three hours. During this phase, moisture within the wood evaporates while the mixture is reduced to cellulose fibers and lignin. Once this phase is complete, the wood pulp is ready to be made into paper. In fact, this initial phase is the same process used to make paper of all sorts, not just toilet paper.

Once the pulp is ready, it is washed to remove lignin and the cooking chemicals and then bleached. The cleaned pulp is then mixed with water to create a paper stock. Most people are shocked to learn that toilet paper stock is 99.5% water and only 0.5% wood fiber. This is why it dissolves so easily and completely in water.

The paper stock is sprayed onto mesh screens and then pressed and dried until it reaches about a 5% moisture content. The paper is then scrapped off the screens and wound into rolls. From there, a machine cuts the paper into long strips and perforates it into squares. Finally, the long logs are cut into rolls before heading off to be packaged.

Recycled Paper Method

The biggest difference between virgin and recycled toilet paper is in the finished color. Recycled toilet paper, made from 100% recycled paper, is less white than virgin paper. However, recycled paper, as we mentioned above, breaks down faster in the septic tank and is much more environmentally friendly. In fact, if every household replaced just one roll of virgin toilet paper with its recycled counterpart each year, more than 425,000 trees would be saved every year.

The process of making recycled toilet paper begins by washing recycled paper in warm water to create a pulp. Air is injected into the water to create agitation that removes ink and color from the paper. From there, the pulp is bleached and sanitized before being pressed between rolls and felts to remove excess water. The pulp is then placed on a large, flat surface where it dries and is embossed for added strength. From there, the dried paper is wound into rolls, cut, perforated and packaged.

Fun Toilet Paper Facts

  • In the US, the average person uses 140 rolls of toilet paper every year, creating a $4.9 billion US toilet paper market. Globally, we use 184 million rolls of toilet paper each year. That’s enough paper to reach all the way to the sun and back seven times!
  • In the 1950s, it became fashionable to match the color of your toilet paper to your bathroom décor. The trendy homemaker could purchase rolls in a wide array of pastel colors. In the 1980s, this fad started to fade away, but brightly colored toilet paper is still wildly popular in parts of the world today, including France. 
  • In his 1891 patent for toilet paper, Seth Wheeler included a diagram that clearly proves the “correct” method for hanging toilet paper as having the flap hanging over, not under. This 2015 discovery by Owen Williams not only settles the over vs under debate, but it also makes us shockingly aware of how recently toilet paper was invented. We don’t know about you, but this is yet another reason we are grateful to be living in this century!

Trust Supeck Septic with Your Septic Servicing Needs

You can trust Supeck Septic to have the knowledge and expertise to keep your septic system running smoothly. As Northeast Ohio’s largest septic provider, we have been working tirelessly for the past 53 years to provide exceptional routine and emergency septic care to all of our customers. Is it time for a septic service visit? Schedule one today!

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