What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

Julia | 12 - 07 - 2023

Toilet paper is a common everyday item people use on a daily basis. It’s once again in high after the shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, what did people use before toilet paper was invented? 

Leaves, moss, sticks, water, and sand were the toilet paper alternatives used by people in the past. Let’s have a look at the fascinating history of toilet paper.

History of Toilet Paper

Throughout history, people used a variety of things instead of toilet paper. When was toilet paper invented? Joseph Gayetty, a New Yorker invented toilet paper in 1857 and called it “Medicated paper for the water closet.” We can delve into the historical toilet practices that might shock modern sensibilities. 

When was toilet paper invented?
  • A. 1890
  • B. 1857
  • C. 1760
  • D. 1500

Nature Makes Excellent Toilet Paper 


Early humans used whatever they had on hand as toilet paper. Leaves, sand, sticks, and more were the common choices. Additionally, people had options like corn and hay husks when they developed agriculture. Those who live on the coast and islands make use of shells and scraping techniques. 

Romans Wiping Methods in History

In ancient Rome, individuals used “Tersorium,” a sea sponge stuck on a stick end that was kept in vinegar or salt water. Most people used communal latrines containing various holes cut into a marble slab in Roman times. They shared the tersorium at that time, like one stick sponge for each latrine. Later, it was soaked in brine or vinegar to avoid severe diseases and other infections. 


Ancient Greece: Hygiene Practices in the Past

If you thought ‘tersorium’ sounded uncomfortable, ancient Greeks used ostraca or pebbles. Ostraca was a broken piece of ceramic pottery that smoothed around the edges. Greeks used these pieces as toilet paper. Here are some other interesting facts about Greek mythology. 

Ancient Toilet Solutions in China 

Scientists discovered the 2000-year-old Chugi, Salaka, and Cechou in the archeological sites of China. All these are bamboo sticks shaped like a spatula. Chinese were the first people to use toilet paper in the 6th century AD. 

Other Toilet Habits through the Ages


Europeans mostly used bidets, wash basins instead of toilet paper. Some cultures still use water as the best way to clean up. People in North Africa, Asia, and The Middle East commonly wiped with their hands and cleaned up with water. On the other hand, early North American settlers used corn cobs that were soft and easy to handle. Sailors used a tow rag, a long piece of folded rope that hung in the water. There are some countries where you can’t flush toilet paper such as Mexico, Russia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and more. 

Now, you have a clear understanding of the history of toilet paper. There have been a lot of hygiene practices progress over the past years. We are so grateful with the modern toilet paper that gives us more comfort and freshness. 

Read Next