Beyond Paperless: The Paperless Bathroom

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to not only be more minimalist, like my colleague Matt Ryan, but also to try to save the Earth by going a little more green. I started refusing shopping bags at grocery stores (or bringing my own instead), as well as consolidating shopping trips into one massive shopping spree to reduce fuel consumption. Not only does this benefit the planet, but it also saves me a little more money in the long-term. Another popular trend in this eco-friendly movement is for office-dwellers, like me, to switch to paperless methods of billing, document archiving, and note taking.

One aspect of going paperless that is especially new and trendy, however, is creating a paperless bathroom. That’s right, people, we’re talking no Kleenex, no paper towels, and especially no toilet paper where you do your other daily business. Sound impossible? Think again.

While we haven’t reached a three-seashell Utopia like the one Sandra Bullock teases Sylvester Stallone about in Demolition Man, being paperless in the bathroom is a reality for some people.

Before I dive into the details about how some of the craziest people like Tom Cruise actually make this work in their home, let’s look at a few cold, hard facts. According to the New York Times, approximately 98% of toilet paper rolls sold to consumers in America contain at least some fibers derived from virgin forests. Americans buy more toilet paper than any other country (shocking, I know). Not only are Americans who enjoy soft toilet paper contributing to the demise of forests around the world, but the process required to turn these trees into your favorite luxury brand of toilet paper comes at even higher environmental cost when you consider the chemicals used in the process. Even if you buy cheaper, generic forms of toilet paper, such as the Kirkland brand from Costco, you are still contributing to this ecological disaster.

Some other countries around the world, including Japan and the UK, however, rarely use toilet paper at all. In fact, some people in Tokyo view the “use of tissue paper as odd, outdated, and wasteful.” Instead, many homes in Japan use a bidet instead of toilet paper. A bidet is basically a sink you sit on to gently cleanse your behind with an aerated spray of water after using the toilet, in lieu of you cleaning yourself with toilet paper. Intrigued? Frightened? Keep reading.

In 2008, the Madison Square Garden in New York City even added a paperless washroom, which was really nothing more than an automated toilet with a self-contained bidet. Though the idea of a “bidet” may sound too fancy and beyond your means, this aspect of a paperless bathroom is fairly easy on the budget.

Yes, it’s true: The use of bidets are actually becoming more mainstream, even in the US. They effectively remove the need to buy dozens of rolls of toilet paper for your family every month, and can be purchased from name brands you know like Kohler, as well as locally from the industry leader in bidet systems, Toto. In addition to an actual bidet toilet to replace your traditional toilet system, Toto makes something called a washlet, which is essentially a lid that fits onto your existing toilet and is activated by a simple touch of a convenient, easy-to-read control panel on the side of the unit — now that is fancy. From this panel, you control the temperature and pressure of the “soothing warm aerated water, self-cleaning dual-action spray, and streamlined wand.” The technology, integrated with some of Toto’s new washlets, is indeed quite advanced — especially for a toilet; priced at a point around $400, the low cost may be enticing enough to offset any modern eco-friendly family that already pays thousands per year in paper products for their bathrooms.

Beyond Paperless: The Paperless BathroomFor those of you who aren’t quite ready to convert their normal toilet to a bidet — and I don’t blame you — you can choose to install a bidet sprayer next to your toilet for you and your guests to use at their convenience. While you may be comfortable going paperless and instead getting cleansed after using the toilet with a gentle spray, your mother-in-law may have, well, a different opinion about your new lifestyle. These portable sprayers may remind you of an attachment to your shower head, but they promise cleanliness and hygiene at your own control. (For those with other ideas about this attachment instead, you can stop right there. This is a gentle, aerated bidet spray, after all.)

If the idea of a bidet is just not for you and your family? That’s okay. There are other ways to create a paperless bathroom experience without investing in a new toilet or moving to Japan. You can try cotton cloths as toilet paper, which is what Sayward Rebhal at Bonzai Aphrodite has done in her paperless bathroom. This takes a slightly DIY approach, which is typical for many eco-friendly lifestyle trends.

Sayward basically took old softened tee shirts, and then cut the fabric into strips the width of regular TP. Finally, she cut them into lengths so that when they’re folded in half they’ll make a perfect square. Sayward places new cloths into the a basket behind the toilet. While using cloths for #1 does not leave behind much odor, adult households using cloths for #1 and #2 may want to consider using a wastebasket that is also used for cloth-based baby diapers, such as a Diaper Genie, to reduce odor and prevent bacterial growth. You will also want to wash these towels often and with a bit of lemon juice, Borax, and possibly hydrogen peroxide as a natural bleach.

For those who are strongly considering a paperless bathroom, you likely already use other paperless products, such as cotton bathroom towels and hand towels for drying washed hands. If you are not using cotton towels in your bathroom, hopefully you’ve upgraded from soft, soothing towels to a Dyson Airblade for drying your hands. At around $1200, an Airblade is a little pricey, but you won’t have to worry about washing hand towels or wasting paper towels ever again.

If you still use paper, but aren’t ready for a bidet, how can you baby step toward a paperless bathroom? Be sure to use cloth towels after washing your hands. Cotton handkerchiefs make a comfortable replacement for Kleenex, as well as an easy way to transition into creating a paperless bathroom.

Have you considered going paperless, not only in the office, but in your bathroom too? Or is this idea just a little too crazy? If you have already switched to a paperless bathroom, or have started a paperless project, we’d love to read your ideas. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

This article has been updated to clarify the percentage of toilet paper that is derived from virgin forests. We apologize for any confusion.

Image of paperless toilet cloths via Bonzai Aphrodite.

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  • Math is Hard

    the low cost may be enticing enough to offset any modern eco-friendly family that already pays thousands a month in paper products for their bathrooms.Just exactly what kind of family is spending over $1000 per month on paper products for their bathroom? A family of 5 should be able to get enough toilet paper for a month for under $50, even if they are buying 3-ply ‘luxury’ toilet paper. If they insist on drying their hands with disposable paper towels, this adds a maximum of another $100 / month, and likely much, much less. There’s no way a typical family would spend anywhere near $1000 per month, no less ‘thousands’.

  • http://kvmswitchdvi.org/ phpguy

    Not a chance. I can go “almost” paperless but wiping my bottom is still the province of Charmin.

  • Vonskippy

    According to the Daily Mail 98% of toilet paper rolls in America are made from paper derived from virgin forests.

    What a load of crap.  The Daily Mail needs to site it sources, or flush that whole sentence down the tubes.

  • http://kvmswitchdvi.org/ David Switch

    Id say a $100 a month max. I mean how many times can you take a dump.

  • Scott

    I visited Google’s Mountain View campus this summer and was surprised to find all of the toilets in the building I was in had built-in bidet functionality—it was the best toilet experience I’ve ever had! I wish I’d written down some make and model information—can any Googler’s help?

  • John Tapalin

    Well, in India it’s normal to use water instead of toilet paper. You don’t need anything fancy, just a small pourer next to your sink.  Then wash your hands after.

  • http://www.kelly-clay.com Kelly Clay

    Whoops – that should have read per *year*, not per month (at least for a family of that size.) 

  • http://www.kelly-clay.com Kelly Clay

    I do love the idea of going paperless in the bathroom — but I’m not sure I can ditch the TP for #1 AND #2. 

    • http://kvmswitchdvi.org/ David Switch

      Yeah, honestly though every little bit helps.

  • David B.

    I think you’re a little confused here. Toiler paper is very much the norm in the UK. In fact, I believe I have only ever seen one bidet in the UK. Source: 25 years living and travelling in the UK.

  • Scott W

    I installed bidets in all if my toilets last year. I still need something to dry off with afterwards. So I still need some paper. I’m afraid an Air Blade might do permanent damage down there…

  • Bbbloodbrothercccx

    That is interesting. 

  • http://michaellemley.com/ iTwinswebshow1

    No way! I’m using my toilet paper no many how tree’s i’m killing! My comfort is better than than these trees!

  • Zaxan

    Some of my family uses them however, the problem is drying yourself after. Using cotton towls produces more laundry to wash.

  • Siusld

    “Some other countries around the world, including Japan and the UK, however, rarely use toilet paper at all.”

    I live in the UK. Virtually everyone uses toilet paper.

  • Beachdawg2004

    I wonder how much more water a person uses per year by going paperless? Tree are renewable, water isn’t.

    • Pie21

      You know water evaporates, right?

  • Chris

    That’s great.  Unless there’s a drought (Australia).

  • Decimus

    This brings up a question I have:  Would this be considered a waste of more water?  Only less than 3% of water in the world is fresh water, and we also need water to survive.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not more than the water you use to wash dirty hands after using TP.

      • Jim

        it’s also less water than is used in the production of the paper in the first place

      • Rsundeen

        AND these toilets in Japan are marvels. From the mains, the water line is split. One line feeds the bidet directly. It is instantly heated before reaching our bottoms or other private parts. The other line of course fills the tank but is first routed to a fountain like pipe that falls on the top of the tank that has an inverted lid with a hole in it. When you flush after finishing your business, you turn around and wash your hands using the fountain which then fills the tank! 

  • http://www.theluckyladybug.net/ Cheryl Free

     I lived in England for three years and Italy for four years.  It might have been a bit scratchy, but there was always TP ヅ

  • http://www.theluckyladybug.net/ Cheryl Free

     I had a bidet in Italy and still used paper.  I believe bidets are more European than UK.

  • Mrcoolcm

    That’s just stupid.  I for one do not want a wet ass.

  • NoSprite4u

    I grew up overseas.. They didn’t have toilet paper because they couldn’t afford it, not because there were any alternative means of cleaning oneself.. Also, strangely enough, the men in my household use way more toilet paper than the females.  Why?? At least I have taught my son to use wet wipes.. one is sufficient – while my ex husband will use an entire roll for the same ‘project’.  

  • Anonymous

    I live in the UK and have never heard of anyone without loo paper in their lavatory or who’s got an electric hand dryer and no hand towels.  The same goes for Ireland.  Few have bidets either.  In France the bidet is de rigueur, but I’ve yet to see a French lavatory without loo paper or hand towels: they wipe themselves with loo paper first, then use the bidet to make sure they’re squeaky clean.  The bathroom in the UK, btw, is for having a bath or shower, not for going to the loo: for that purpose you go to the lavatory, loo or toilet.  During the Swine Flu scare, companies and institutions all over the country replaced cotton handtowels by disposable ones to prevent contamination – and that was just hands: the thought of wiping your backside on cotton, then recyling it, is disgusting and a health hazard compared with paper that you flush away.  As to the ecology argument: what about all the water being used by the bidet and by washing all those extra reusable bottom-cloths?  I can assure you the UK is not going to go over to a paperless lavatory anytime in the foreseeable future: it’s unhygienic and just as wasteful of the earth’s resources as using disposable (and hygienic) paper.  At home, everyone has cotton hand towels, not paper ones, and I’ve never seen or heard of any home that has an electric hand dryer.  Whichever approach you use, it’s no good appealing to sustainability: you can’t avoid using the earth’s resources for hygienic cleaning yourself after going to the loo.

  • Anonymous

    We’ve got a Bidet installed in my family house since it was built in 1955, you get much, much more cleansing than rubbing with TP or the like.
    The back is perfectly clean as well as your hands, this extends to the basin faucets handles keeping them a way from dangerous contamination.

  • Anonymous

    The first time I heard of the bidet was from a Filipino lady.  It was apparently a way of life for her in the Philippines that she wanted to maintain when she moved to the US.  I always buy the “rough stuff” AKA toilet paper made from recycled paper (it’s also less expensive).  However, I wouldn’t be opposed to trying a bidet sometime in the future (though, I’ve never actually seen one in person).  What I have seen in person are all these new buildings going up in America, all of them equipped with auto-flush toilets.  I think they were a hot “techie” item when they were first invented.  But on many occasions (including the newer models in new buildings) the sensors are touchy and they often flush more than once with one “sitting”.  It’s a horrible waste of water, money and energy (not to mention a shameful failure of technology in general).  I don’t see why they can’t just install the “double button” flushing toilet.  One button for #1, using less water than the second button for #2.  Very simple… and if nobody likes to touch the buttons or levers, I don’t see why they can’t just install floor levers for flushing.

  • Visualvirtue

    We could all become like Sheryl “one square” Crow. LOL!

  • GODLiKE

    For those of you who think the bidet wastes too much water, how about using rain water for it? In fact, how about using rain water for EVERYTHING minus drinking? It’s perfectly doable.

  • http://sambeal.com/ Sam Beal

     Robyn Davidson, in her book based in India “Tracks”, said there were two kinds of people: those who touch their feces and those who can’t. Just a thought 

  • http://sambeal.com/ Sam Beal

     Robyn Davidson, in her book based in India “Tracks”, said there were two kinds of people: those who touch their feces and those who can’t. Just a thought 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks to remind us of the huge “potable” water quantities spoiled in the process of making all kind of papers and Kleenex in particular.

  • Anonymous

    Self centered

  • Curtis Coburn

    My dad will be remaking the bathroom soon, I will suggest this to him. Though, it will be a bit weird. But I think it will be cool to make the change, and if people ask where the toilet paper is, then it will be funny for them to figure out what kind of toilet it really is.

  • Davalc

    I haven’t used paper in several years. I buy baby wipes, tear them in 1/3, which is usually plenty. If needed, I will soap up a wash cloth to get myself extra clean. I think my method helps cut down on other issues aggravated by no being able to clean well with just paper.

  • Davalc

    I haven’t used paper in several years. I buy baby wipes, tear them in 1/3, which is usually plenty. If needed, I will soap up a wash cloth to get myself extra clean. I think my method helps cut down on other issues aggravated by no being able to clean well with just paper.

  • Davalc

    I haven’t used paper in several years. I buy baby wipes, tear them in 1/3, which is usually plenty. If needed, I will soap up a wash cloth to get myself extra clean. I think my method helps cut down on other issues aggravated by no being able to clean well with just paper.

  • Davalc

    I used a bidet in a hospital, at a time when I needed one. I works very well. TP rubs me a new one, then the vicious cycle begins. 

  • Impingdoing

    You may want to try this Scottish toilet paper method: Take 1 sheet of toilet paper and tear a small hole in the center. Now insert your middle finger through the hole and wipe. A single sheet may be used over and over again.

  • Impingdoing

    You may want to try this Scottish toilet paper method: Take 1 sheet of toilet paper and tear a small hole in the center. Now insert your middle finger through the hole and wipe. A single sheet may be used over and over again.

  • Thomas L

    I, too, have only ever seen 1 toilet bidet in my life in the UK. It was also accompanied by toilet paper so you could make the choice. Please change this in the article, it is unfounded and not true.

  • Deino .

    Here in Chile, Tp is in every home…I think is not a matter of how much money you save..is mostly related to your habits and having the will to change…I used to have a bidet in the house and it was used to wash your behind after you wipe…I live in a part of Chile where water is kind of expensive so the use of TP is the cheaper way here…other thing, some people flush it, some others like me, dump it.(because the amount of tp create caos sometimes in the sewers)

  • Marshall Balick

    For those of you afraid to use a bidet (I use a hand bidet like every single person in all of thailand does), let me ask you if you clean your dishes or you clean yourself by rubbing paper all of your dishes or body and calling it good. 
    For those of you who think it is disgusting, think about which one gets you closer to touching excrement: sprayed water or paper? 
    Although it may take some getting used to, using a bidet is by far the most comfortable way to go (and no, you don’t really have to dry yourself afterwards if you do it properly), the cleanest way to go, and certainly the most environmentally friendly (way less water is used spraying than in the production and transportation of paper). Try it… you might like it.

  • Lulu

    My brother had a bidet about 25 years ago. he never got another one installed when he moved. I must ask him why. you still had to dry. Also, not only water used but heat for the water. Charmin super soft, on sale, 2 people, 8 dollars a month. We don’t flush for #1, put toilet paper in covered waste basket….septic system. Cloth hand towels of course.

  • Lulu

    My brother had a bidet about 25 years ago. he never got another one installed when he moved. I must ask him why. you still had to dry. Also, not only water used but heat for the water. Charmin super soft, on sale, 2 people, 8 dollars a month. We don’t flush for #1, put toilet paper in covered waste basket….septic system. Cloth hand towels of course.

  • Cblp

    I use cut up old t-shirts in the washroom for #1 and #2.  I place them in  a covered wastebasket afterwards, and wash them twice a week.  Yes, it does use more water, but I figure it can’t be as much water as it takes to produce toilet paper.

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  • Columbo

    Dyson Airblades should come with hearing protection. They sound like jet engines. One would wake the whole house if used in the middle of the night.