Maybe there's a blizzard forecast and families are stocking up. Or worse there's a global pandemic and every store's toilet paper supply has been wiped out (all puns definitely intended). Don't panic — yet. Remember that indoor plumbing is a pretty recent development for humans, and toilets that flush weren't widely available until the late 1800s. It was plumbing and toilets that created the need for toilet paper.
Before that, we were using outhouses, and there were no pipes to clog. Who cared what anybody wiped with when we were just going to throw it in the hole? Pretty much anything even vaguely not scratchy was fair game — corn cobs or husks, newspaper, pages from the old Sears catalogs.
Fine, you say, but we don't have outhouses anymore. We have nice bathrooms — inside — with fluffy towels and sinks and proper flushing toilets. And no Sears catalogs in site (whatever that is). And, crap, we need to wipe! Stat!
In times of dire need, there are alternatives to toilet paper, though most are far from the squeezably soft Charmin you're used to. But they'll do in a pinch. Here are five of them.
- A sponge. Just go ahead and think of yourself as royalty as you wipe your derriere, because you'll have something in common with kings. OK that might not be what you want to share, but in ancient Rome, royalty cleaned their behinds with communal sponges on a stick. We, of course, do not recommend you share your sponge — just use it and toss — in the trash, though, not the toilet.
- Family cloths. This idea has gained some steam among both eco-conscious and disaster-prepper types. It's a stack of soft cloths kept near the toilet for wiping. Use each cloth once and drop it into a small, sealed hamper designated for these cloths — and these cloths only. Wash in hot water and bleach for maximum cleanliness. People highly recommend using these only for pee, not poo.
- Wet paper. If you'd like to kick it a little old school, and you're really at loose ends, use any paper you have around to clean up. Some live-off-the-grid types recommend getting it a little damp first if you can so it's not so dang scratchy. They would probably know. But don't flush it! You'll have to just throw it away.
- Mullein leaves. Hikers and campers have known the secret of mullein leaves for ages. It's even been called "cowboy toilet paper." Its leaves are soft and large, and the plant grows just about everywhere in North America. Bonus: You can brew its leaves — that you have not wiped your bum with — into a tea that helps soothe a cough. Wooly lamb's ear has similarly soft leaves and is also found nearly everywhere.
- Snow. This is another outdoorsy alternative, but when you gotta go, there might be snow. Take a handful, clean up and toss it away. Yeah, it's not great. Try one of the others first. Or maybe a piece of corn husk? That wet paper is looking better now.