In the “old world” we once knew before covid came, not many people would have thought much about stockpiling toilet paper, but in our new post-virus reality, having lived through the pandemic, people stocking up on the stuff suddenly seems much more normal.
However, this throws up a problem, because if you have mountains of TP at home, might there not be a problem with it going bad? In this post we bring you the answer to this and other related issues as we answer the question, does toilet paper expire?
Does toilet paper “go off”?
Let’s start with the simple answer.
When you buy fresh food from the grocery store, you only have a couple of days to eat it – and after that, if you still haven’t finished it, you’ll need to throw it away or it might make you sick.
With other items such as dry or canned food, they last much longer, but you’ll still find an expiration date advising you about how long you have to consume it.
However, with paper products, things are a bit different. Unlike food, toilet paper never “goes off”. Under certain conditions, it can deteriorate to the point where it’s no longer useable, but if stored correctly, it can be kept indefinitely, which in practice, can mean years or decades.
So in a word, no, toilet paper doesn’t expire.
In a moment, we’ll talk about how to store toilet paper for a prolonged period so that it lasts as long as possible, but before we do that, first, we need to discuss what can cause toilet paper to go bad.
What causes toilet paper to go bad?
There are several different reasons why toilet paper can go bad, rendering it useless. Here are some of the most common ones to look out for:
The number one reason for toilet paper to go bad is if it gets wet. Toilet paper is designed to dissolve in water to prevent clogs, and this process can happen in as little as five weeks.
However, even before this, if a roll of toilet paper gets wet, it will become soggy. It may be possible to save it by drying it out, but in most cases, when this happens, you just throw it out and start a new one.
But that’s not the only problem. Even if toilet paper doesn’t get wet, it can still begin to deteriorate if it is stored in a moist environment.
If you live in a hot and humid area, the moisture in the air will quickly cause mold to form on the toilet paper, and within a very short amount of time, the whole roll will be spoiled.
Bacteria can also build up in the same kind of warm, moist conditions, making the paper unhygienic to use.
This means water and moisture need to be avoided if you want to maximize your toilet paper’s life and keep it for extended periods.
2. Heat and sunlight
To a lesser extent, heat and sunlight can also cause toilet paper to break down. If you leave a toilet roll in a place where it’s exposed to heat and light, it will dry out and become brittle, eventually turning to dust.
For this reason, toilet paper should be stored somewhere cool and dark.
3. Rodents and other small critters
If you store a large amount of toilet paper in a place where rats, mice or other critters can get to it, you are providing them with an extremely inviting place to make their nests.
To animals like this, a large pile of soft tissue paper is as comfortable as the Hilton hotel, so you shouldn’t store it anywhere they can reach it.
Certain insects and bugs can also destroy good toilet paper. Some, such as silverfish, will eat it, and others may also make their nests in it. So in short, don’t store large quantities of toilet paper where insects can get at it either.
How to store toilet paper indefinitely
Now we’ve seen the different reasons toilet paper can go bad or otherwise be ruined – so let’s move on to looking at some tips for the best ways to store it.
1. Keep it in a sealed box
Moisture is the enemy of toilet paper, and so are critters and bugs, so the first thing you can do to ensure it lasts as long as possible is to store it in a sealed box.
If you buy a waterproof, airtight plastic box and put your stock of TP in there, there’s no chance of it becoming wet or moist, it will be protected from dirt and it will also be safe from animals making their nests in it or insects otherwise wreaking havoc with it.
This will mean the paper will still be in perfect condition, even if you come back to it several years later.
2. Keep it in the original packaging
Another tip for long-term toilet paper storage is to keep it in its original plastic packaging.
Even if you don’t keep it in a sealed box, this will still give it some protection from moisture and critters, and if you keep it in the original packaging and then store it in a sealed box, it will give it an extra layer of protection. In this case, it will keep practically forever.
Some brands of toilet paper are also packaged in smaller plastic wrappings within the main plastic packaging. This means even once you open the main packaging, if you leave the inner wrappings on, it will also help preserve the toilet paper.
3. Don’t store it under the basin or sink
Many of us store our toilet paper under the basin in the bathroom or perhaps under the sink in the kitchen, but this is a mistake.
The space under the sink or basin is a convenient spot for storing a few rolls, but it’s not where you want to keep your main supply.
This is because the space under a sink or basin is necessarily a moist environment at the best of times – and is also at risk of flooding if your pipes burst or if the sink leaks.
4. Keep a small amount in the bathroom and the rest somewhere else
A better strategy for storing toilet paper is to keep a few rolls under the bathroom sink and to store the rest somewhere safer in a watertight container or elsewhere in a dry place.
This way, if someone uses the last sheet from the previous roll and forgets to change it for a new one, another roll will never be far away, potentially averting one of those no-toilet-paper crises most of us have faced at one time or another.
If you just keep a few rolls under the sink, they probably won’t have time to go moldy, and even if there is a leak, you won’t lose your whole supply, so it won’t be such a serious matter.
5. Don’t store it in the garage unless it’s in a sealed box
As we saw above, a large store of toilet paper is a dream home for a family of rats or mice, so keeping your main hoard unprotected in a garage is a big no-no.
Garages can be great places to stash toilet paper since they are usually dry, dark and cool and offer plenty of storage space for the bulky TP. However, if you decide to keep your stock in your garage, make sure it’s safely stored in a sealed plastic box or something similar.
Other options when the toilet paper runs out
You may be the kind of person who bought toilet paper in bulk when the pandemic struck, or perhaps you didn’t – but you resolved that if anything like that ever happens again, you’ll be first in line to make sure you don’t run out of paper to wipe with during the next wave.
However, despite all our best intentions and planning ahead, sometimes we can find we have no toilet paper left in the house and we need to find something else to use in a pinch.
To help you out if you ever find yourself dealing with this kind of disaster, here are a few suggestions for things you can use instead of traditional toilet paper.
1. Baby wipes
If you have baby wipes or wet wipes in your home, they can be pushed into service as a toilet paper replacement.
Furthermore, some people even prefer to use baby wipes since they leave your behind cleaner than basic toilet paper.
Other options include adult wipes and clean-up wipes, which are very similar.
The only thing to remember is that products such as these contain plastics and don’t decompose, which means you need to throw them in the waste can – you should never flush them since they can clog up the sewers and pollute the environment.
Note that you should check the ingredients for things like alcohol before using wet wipes if you have allergies since some types can cause skin irritation.
If you don’t have any baby wipes to hand, paper napkins can also be a useful substitute. You might not have a large stock of these in your closet, but they should be able to help you get through a day or two until you can procure a few more rolls of the real thing.
3. Facial tissues
Just like napkins, facial tissues are an obvious replacement if you suddenly run out of toilet paper.
4. Kitchen paper towels
Paper towels from the kitchen can also get you out of trouble if you finish the last roll of toilet paper and can’t get hold of any more.
This kind of paper might be a little rougher than you’re used to, but it’s a logical option – and it’s certainly better than nothing!
5. Towel or cloth
This might seem a little unpleasant to many people, but using a towel or other similar cloth that can then be washed and reused is an option. Old bed linen could also be used for this purpose if nothing else were available.
Remember, in the old days, babies used to have reusable diapers – which were much better for the planet than modern disposable ones – and this idea is hardly much worse than that.
You can also use a sponge, which you can then wash and use again.
In Ancient Rome, communal restrooms had sponges on sticks for people to wipe with and then put back in place for the next person to use. However, nowadays, this would definitely be considered more than just a bit gross.
7. Bum gun
In some East Asian countries, a device affectionately referred to as a “bum gun” is often used instead of toilet paper. It consists of a hose and a trigger, and you use it to wash yourself after defecating.
For many Westerners used to using toilet paper, this might take some getting used to, but there is an argument that it’s more hygienic than using paper since it leaves you cleaner than just wiping (of course, you should wash your hands after using it).
If you don’t have one, you can also use a shower head in the same way. It might not be something you like at first, but in the depths of a pandemic when toilet paper is unavailable or in the midst of the apocalypse, it’s still a better solution than no solution at all.
Toilet paper will keep almost forever if you store it correctly
So, as we have learned, toilet paper rolls can go bad for several reasons, but if stored correctly, TP can last practically forever and has no meaningful shelf life, which is great news if you’re stocking up for the next covid wave or preparing for the end of the world.
However, there are also several other options if you run out of regular TP – including some that might take getting used to but that you’ll do well to remember if civilization falls and toilet paper is no longer available.