What are you wiping your bottom with? When it comes to toilet paper brands, most people focus on quality & comfort. If you are into green & non-toxic living, you’d likely select a recycled brand to be more sustainable. But did you know that your toilet paper could be treated with harsh chemicals regardless if it’s “sustainable” or not? And if you are a woman, this could be a bit more problematic. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover topics like the safest teas, safest disposable plates, and safest food packaging. Now join us as we delve into the places others dare not go–toilet paper.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and was fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, Registered Nurse.
Toilet Paper Is Incredibly Problematic to The Environment. It Disrupts The Largest Carbon Sink We Have In The World–The Canadian Boreal Forest.
Americans use close to 8 million tons of toilet paper per year according to Consumer Reports. Paper production like toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, tissue paper, coffee filters, & writing paper are incredibly toxic to the environment and depletes forests all over the world. In fact, this industry is the 3rd largest polluter. The National Resources Defense Council reports:
“The pulp and paper industry may contribute to more global and local environmental problems than any other industry in the world. Paper manufacturers reach deep into species-rich forests for virgin timber, razing trees, polluting waterways and destroying precious wildlife habitat. Pulp and paper mills that use virgin timber are major generators of hazardous air pollutants, including dioxins and other cancer-causing chemicals. And the industry is the third largest industrial emitter of global warming pollution.”
One of the most important regions in the world for capturing carbon is the Boreal Forest in Canada. Your toilet paper likely started there as a tree in the largest carbon sink in the world. Cutting down on toilet paper made from wood pulp and looking for alternatives like bamboo & sugarcane helps this effort. Watch how your choice of toilet paper helps fight climate change.
According to a report by the National Resources Defense Fund, “industrial logging claims more than a million acres of boreal forest every year, equivalent to seven National Hockey League rinks each minute, in part to meet demand for tissue products in the United States.” Long story short, if you want to become part of this solution, looking for alternatives would be the way to go. They are only logging the Boreal forest because we demand toilet paper made from wood pulp. Start demanding toilet paper made from bamboo & sugarcane instead. Not only is it a good thing to do for the planet, but also for your health, which we will get to now.
Are There Toxins in Your Toilet Paper? Pay Attention Especially If You Are Female.
Thousands of chemicals are used to process commercial paper products like baby wipes & toilet paper. And as a woman, what I put inside me to wipe can have an impact on my health because I’m very vascular down there. One of the worst chemicals used in the processing of toilet paper is chlorine. So it’s important to be cognizant of what chemicals touch our most porous area because toxic substances can easily enter into our skin and get into our bloodstream. Selecting toilet paper that does the least amount of harm to both our bodies and the environment is wise.
Toilet paper has also been suspect in chronic irritation of the vulva. In a 2010 study, they found that toilet paper may be the blame for chronic irritation of the vulva because formaldehyde was found present to improve the strength of the toilet paper. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.
3 key areas where toilet paper can cause you harm:
- Toxic additives
- Bleaching with chlorine
- Recycled paper and surprise contaminants–bisphenols (BPA & BPS)
Toxic Additives Don’t Belong In Toilet Paper
Toilet paper with scents or lotions and flushable wipes likely contain problematic ingredients.
- PEGs: This was a problem with flushable wipes. Many of them contained a variety of PEG compounds. Ethoxylated ingredients (like PEGs) on their own are of low concern to humans, however, the process of ethoxylation can leave behind trace amounts of carcinogens: ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
- Undisclosed fragrances: Because there’s no way to know what components are in the fragrance, we have no way to know if the ingredients are harmful or can cause an allergic reaction. Synthetic musks and phthalates typically hide in hidden “fragrance” that is undisclosed. Phthalates are potent endocrine disrupting chemicals linked to obesity, hyperactivity in children and degraded sperm quality.
- Paraffin wax: This is made from petroleum by-products and can be absorbed into the skin. It may also be contaminated with carcinogens.
The Bleaching Process of Toilet Paper Is a Bummer!
Bleaching is the process by which toilet paper is whitened. Most companies do this process because unbleached products are typically harsher to the touch. Bleaching often involves the use of chlorine, which can produce dioxins. Dioxins are extremely toxic, with risks including reproductive and developmental problems, damaging the immune system, acting as endocrine disruptors, and can be a carcinogen.
The best course of action is to go with the least amount of chlorine as possible, so chlorine dioxide is better. After interviewing some brands we discovered that it’s not possible to avoid chlorine derivatives all the time when it comes to alternative fibers. It’s just not available yet. For fibers like bamboo, manufacturers are all doing chlorine dioxide instead of the harsher elemental chlorine. Sugarcane fibers have the ability to be bleached without use of chlorine derivatives. As this becomes a more popular selection, I’m sure there will be more options. We’ve recognized this difficulty when making our selections.
The American Forest & Paper Association (AFPA) recognizes these ways of bleaching:
- Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF): While they don’t use the harsh element chlorine, they do use a chlorine derivative like chlorine dioxide. This process is far less toxic than using elemental bleach to process.
- Process Chlorine Free (PCF): This process is typically used by recycled paper products that have not been re-bleached with chlorine-based compounds.
- Totally Chlorine Free (TCF): No chlorine or chlorine compounds were used to bleach the pulp. Unfortunately, TCF is primarily done in China, which uses poor and unsafe standards.
- Unbleached: Means it’s untreated and typically very rough to the touch.
The Trouble With Recycled Paper & Suprise Contaminants–BPA Hiding In Your Receipts Contaminates The Recycled Toilet Paper.
While recycled paper is, of course, the best option for the planet, there is one dirty little secret it is hiding–bisphenols like BPA and BPS. Bisphenols like BPA have been discovered as a hideaway inside recycled toilet paper. This is because thermal receipt paper, which is contaminated with bisphenols BPA & BPS, ends up finding its way into recycled paper products like toilet paper. Bisphenols like BPA are endocrine disruptors and studies have linked them to reproductive problems, early puberty, low sperm count, and breast cancer.
One thing to put into perspective is recycled toilet paper is likely the least worrisome exposure to bisphenols you have during the day. Alternatively, you get a whopping dose of bisphenols every time you handle a receipt. Have you ever noticed that powdery film on the top? That’s a coating of powdered bisphenol powder and it easily gets on your hands and into your bloodstream. (Sign this petition to tell Target to reformulate to a bisphenol-free receipt.) It’s estimated that over 90% of our exposure to bisphenols comes from handling receipts, followed by canned food, drinking canisters & then finally, toilet paper.
Mamavation’s Toilet Paper Investigation
Mamavation scoured the internet for the most popular conventional and alternative toilet papers. We also enlisted help finding brands from our Facebook group & interviewed some experts to create standards and categorize brands. Here’s our rankings.
Worst Brands for Your Booty
These products contain additives or are bleached with chlorine. Chlorine bleaching exposes us to dioxins and furans which build up inside our bodies. Some of these brands could also be using formaldehyde. Most of these brands are made from virgin wood fibers, so they do not contain trace amounts of bisphenols but they are also not sustainable. These brands are cutting down the Boreal Forest in Canada, which is the largest carbon sink in the world.
- Angel Soft: No recycled products; ECF or PCF but no further details.
- Aria Toilet Paper: No recycled products; ECF or PCF but no further details.
- Cashmere Envirocare Toilet Paper: No recycled products: ECF or PCF but no further details.
- Charmin Ultra Products: Undisclosed conditioners and processed with ECF. Charmin Ultra Gentle also contains paraffin wax, a petroleum by-product.
- Charmin Flushable Wipes: PEG and undisclosed fragrance.
- Cottonelle Flushable Wipes: PEG and undisclosed fragrance.
- Cottonelle Toilet Paper: Uses ECF and virgin wood fibers only.
- Purek Envirocare Toilet Paper: No recycled products; ECF or PCF but no further details.
- Scott Toilet Paper: No recycled products; ECF or PCF but no further details. One product may
- Scott Flushable Wipes: PEG and undisclosed fragrance.
- Quilted Northern: Virgin wood pulp so not recyclable but no BPA. ECF or PCF, no further details.
- Wegman’s Toilet Paper: No recycled content. ECF or PCF but no further details.
- White Cloud Toilet Paper: No recycled content. ECF or PCF but no further details.
Better Brands for Your Booty
These brands are light years better, but there are some issues. This is where it gets murky. These brands contained recycled paper, bamboo or sugarcane. Using chlorine dioxide is preferable to elemental chlorine, so we recognize that. These products are either 1) recycled so we assume it could contain trace amounts of bisphenols like BPA/BPS, 2) are made with bamboo using elemental chlorine free (ECF) processing or 3) are made from unbleached trees or bleached with hydrogen peroxide.
- Bambootiful: 100% bamboo toilet paper likely using ECF bleaching process
- BimBamBoo Toilet Paper: 100% bamboo paper bleached using ECF
- Best Value: Recycled paper but uses PCF.
- Brandless: Use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine to bleach.
- Dream Bright 100% Bamboo Toilet Paper: Uses 100% bamboo likely bleached with ECF
- Kirkland Signature (Costco Brand): Uses PCF in recycling and ECF for pulp, most likely with chlorine dioxide. 0 to 50% recycled, depending on where purchased.
- Marcal: All recycled pulp but avoid receipts as much as possible.
- Noo Trees 100% EcoLuxe Bamboo Toilet Paper: Uses 100% bamboo likely processed with ECF
- Quilted Northern EcoComfortTM: Uses virgin pulp but plants 3 trees for every one used, so this would be an example that was alluded to in the video above. Bleaches using ECF.
- Seventh Generation: Recycled and using their own very sensitive testing devices, they’ve found BPA. However, they are very transparent that they are aware of this issue and are working with a large group of organizations to find a solution. Use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine to bleach pulp.
- Silk & Soft No Trees Bamboo Toilet Paper: Bamboo toilet paper likely bleached via ECF
- Thrive Market Hybrid Bamboo Toilet Paper. Bamboo likely bleached via ECF and uses recycled paper that likely contains traces of bisphenols
- White Cloud Green Earth Toilet Paper: 100% recycled content possibly containing trace amounts of bisphenols like BPA/BPS
- Who Gives a Crap 100% Bamboo Toilet Paper: Bamboo toilet paper likely bleached via ECF
- Who Gives a Crap 100% Recycled Toilet Paper: 100% recycled content possibly containing trace amounts of bisphenols like BPA/BPS
- WholeRoll Organic Bamboo Toilet Paper: Uses 100% bamboo likely bleached with ECF
- 365 Everyday Value 100% Recycled Bath Tissue: Uses recycled paper which is likely contaminated with trace amounts of bisphenols like BPA or BPS
Best Brands for Your Booty
These products are made from either a mixture of sugarcane and bamboo together or simply unbleached bamboo. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a clean bamboo bleaching process that doesn’t have at least a little bit of chlorine derivatives. But these bleaching processes are light years ahead of elemental chlorine bleaching, which is way more toxic. We recognize this so are deciding to put the sugarcane/bamboo blends as “best” because they would contain less contamination by adding the sugarcane. Sugarcane is much cleaner as well. If you want to go 100% chlorine free, select unbleached. However, it’s unlikely to be soft and it’s rare.
Caboo Bamboo Sugarcane Bathroom Tissue: Bamboo bleached using ECF and sugarcane bleached using TCF.
- ECOS Treeless Bamboo & Sugarcane Toilet Paper: Likely bleached using ECF for bamboo.
- Fanny Unbleached Bamboo Toilet Paper
- Pure Planet Tree Free Bamboo & Sugarcane Toilet Paper
- Public Goods: Bamboo/sugarcane bleached with ECF. Bonus points for non-GMO ingredients.
- Seedling by Grove Collaborative: Bamboo & sugarcane blend. Bamboo likely bleached using ECF.
- Tree Free Green 2 Bamboo & Sugarcane Toilet Paper
- Tushy Bamboo Toilet Paper: 100% unbleached bamboo
Alternatives to Toilet Paper–The “Family Cloth”
There are alternatives to toilet paper. Some more eco-minded families have ditched the toilet paper altogether for rags instead. An entire cottage industry on Etsy has sprouted up touting the sustainability of using “family cloths” instead of toilet paper. These are basically cloth rags you use, then store safely, rewash and keep using. You don’t really need to purchase special ones. Cutting up old clothes and towels will suffice just fine. Go browse Etsy if you want to see the creativity.
If you are going the reusable route, I also recommend our laundry detergent investigation so you know which laundry detergents are the least problematic to your health and the health of our environment. But be aware of the contamination. Make sure to store used “family cloths” in a bucket next to the toilet in a solution of vinegar, water & essential oils. That way, it stops the spread of most of the bacteria. The utmost precaution must be made when transferring the “family cloths” out of the bucket lest not contaminate any other part of your home. Simply dump the bucket into the laundry machine and make sure the setting is very hot.
But these rags would suffice if you wanted to purchase them on Amazon:
- Colors of the Rainbow Reusable Baby Wipes
- Christmas themed 12 pack of family cloths
- 60 simple cotton washcloths
Have You Ever Used a Bidet? It’s Pleasant & Gets You Very Clean.
If you’ve ever traveled in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia, you may have crossed by a bidet. The bidet uses warm water to perform a similar function to toilet paper, but cleaner. Some bidets are stand-alone washbasins that are located close to the toilet, while other bidets can be hooked up to a regular toilet.
Hello Tushy Classic Bidet (This is the one I have!)
- Lux Self-Cleaning Bidet
- BioBidet Bliss Elongated Toilet Seat
- SmartBidet Electric Bidet Seat
- Brondell Swash Elongated Bidet
- Bidet Dual Model for Special Feminine Cleaning
- Brondell Advanced Bidet
The average American uses over 50 lbs. of paper pulp and close to $250 every year on toilet paper. We hope you have some good options to chose from for a safer wipe!