What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

The human body is quite efficient, but the process of eating still creates waste. Everyday we have to eat and everyday we have to find something to squat over (please adjust your diet if it’s less often) and deposit the leftover food our body didn’t have any use for. Defecation (the fancy word for pooping) is what unites every level of the animal kingdom. If you’re not taking dumps, you’re not alive, dude. 

Because everybody poops, everybody must get clean. No matter the country, each culture has adopted certain bathroom rules and etiquette. But before we get into that, what did they do before the advent of toilet paper or the bidet? 

Toilet Paper Alternatives in Other Countries

After the primitive haze of early-human history (when we were stumbling around and accidentally killing ourselves by peeing where we drank and pooping where we ate), the Greek and Roman cultures revolutionized getting clean with a few simple, yet effective innovations. For the Greeks, it was the pessoi, or broken bits of ceramic, that people would use to scrape their bums. Fun, huh?   

For Rome and China, the innovations were more comfortable but also more disgusting. Both incorporated “hygiene sticks,” a bamboo or wood stick wrapped with cloth or a sponge that people would use and share (eww) in communal latrines. 

Interestingly, the upper crust of China seems to have been WAY ahead of the curve when it comes to toilet paper. They would use bamboo paper that was too poorly made for historical scrolls to clean themselves. This custom dates back to the sixth century which means it predates modern toilet paper usage by over a thousand years. 

Even more interestingly (or stupidly), bamboo toilet paper has experienced a bit of a resurgence thanks to aging millennials who like to fetishize Asian customs. (“My toilet paper,” a white woman might say while sipping rosé on a patio, “is from China.”) But, no matter how in-vogue bamboo toilet paper might become, it still is toilet paper. Bidets are just better. 

Modern Bathrooms around the World

But what about now? How does going to the bathroom compare across the world? Apart from the near universal adoption of bidets (minus Americans), each culture has their own code of conduct when it comes to taking a dump. Here are just a few. 

Pinching a Loaf in Europe

The first major difference is that no one says the word “bathroom.” You can call it a “loo” or “water closet” or “WC” or simply “toilet,” but if you use “bathroom,” you’ll immediately flag yourself as an American. 

Other areas of difference are the extreme prevalence of paid public restrooms. Unlike America – where you have to dodge into a private business and pretend you’re going to buy something – public bathrooms are everywhere. The only catch is that they typically have a nominal fee of around 25 cents to use. Sometimes they also have an attendant who you’ll feel pressured to give a large tip to. Don’t do it! They’ve just put a big bill into their tip jar to try to confuse you. Throw them a few coins, and you’ll be fine.

Squatting in Asia

If you visit a public restroom in Asia, you might be forced into a strange situation. These toilets you don’t sit on but instead squat over. Weird, huh? This flattened porcelain contraption has a place to put your feet and a pedal to flush. With these, it’s easy to accidentally drop your wallet into the bowl or cover your pants in toilet water, so it’s best to do a quick inventory before squatting.

Don’t Flush Toilet Paper in South America

That’s right. The same goes for most of Mexico. The pipes just can’t handle it, my guy. You’ll have to throw your used toilet paper into the wastebasket next to the toilet, or might we suggest just using a bidet. Most South American bathrooms are equipped with one. 


Like what was said at the beginning – pooping is a necessity. It unites us in the face of life’s confusing turns and unanswerable questions. If you look at the scope of human history, you’ll see a clear progression from primitive and uncomfortable origins to modern-day comforts. We’ve all collectively discovered and understood Mark Twain’s observation, “There is nothing so underrated as a good bowel movement.” 

At the forefront of making our bathroom time more comfortable, Swan Toilets offers an experience unmatched in smart bidets. You want it hands-free? Check. You want it self-cleaning? Check. You want the settings customizable? We’re way ahead of you. The way we think about it is this: if you have to spend time in the bathroom anyway, you might as well make it the best it can possibly be.    


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