There is a debate that has been a major part of our society for decades. Ever since the advent of modern toilet paper, and modern toilet paper rolls, people around the world have had to make a serious decision that puts their entire moral fabric on display for visitors to their home. The question: should the toilet paper hang over or under.
The History of Toilet Paper
The great toilet paper debate began with the invention of toilet paper, defined by Wikipedia as “a soft tissue paper product primarily used for the cleaning of the anus to remove fecal material after defecation or to remove remaining droplets of urine from the genitals after urination.”
One thing almost all users agree on is that toilet paper is far preferable to the older method, using the left hand as a wipe. Toilet paper’s earlier recorded use was in 6th century China, over 1,500 years ago. It began mass production around 800 years later. Modern commercial toilet paper came into use in the 1800s, with the first roll-based dispenser patented in 1883.
With the toilet paper roll came the modern conundrum that led to this diatribe on toilet paper hanging, a seemingly trivial topic with potentially catastrophic ramifications. Just think, if your child grows up in a home with incorrectly positioned toilet paper, their social skills and structure could fail to develop as intended.
One who grows up in a home with improper toilet paper practices may lead the child to feel out of place and ostracized by their peers. They may struggle through life, resenting the world around them. No one wants a non-functioning child or family member. While news from North Korea is sparse and this cannot be substantiated by fact in any possible way, maybe had Kim Jong Un been reared in a household with toilet paper habits in line with the surrounding society, he would have led his people to freedom and a new golden age of prosperity rather than following in the footsteps of his dictator father.
Are these broad, sweeping, and ludicrous claims? Of course they are. But that is just how passionate some people are about this very important issue our society is dealing with on a daily basis.
The proper placement of toilet paper is first an issue of utility, then an issue of décor. To begin, let’s look at the practical issues with placing toilet paper correctly.
Hanging toilet paper forward has a major advantage over the backwards hang. While the backwards hang may cause resting against a wall or clinging to the wall due to static electricity, with the forward hang you can simply grab the toilet paper where you like.
From that point, it is easy and practical to pull the toilet paper to the desired length and then tear with a quick pulling motion. Depending on the dexterity of the toilet paper, the pulling motion may cause an undesired unrolling, but this is a rare situation and generally caused by user error or a too-gentle tearing motion.
Practical Applications of the Under Hang
The backwards hang has a completely different tear style and method. With the reverse hang, it is necessary to use the wall for additional leverage when adjusting to the desired length, but the tear can be completed with one hand using the press-and-tear method.
The most noted risk with this method is that the quick tear will cause the users hand to quickly brush against the wall. Depending on the wall material, this can cause bruising or a light scrape. While the risk of injury is small, it is worth noting.
A second practical reason to use the backward hang is if you are a pet owner, notably a cat owner, with a mischievous pet whom regularly unravels the toilet paper roll onto the floor in a playful manner. This act often causes a mess and can make perfectly good toilet paper unusable for its primary purpose. Though, as this 2006 video demonstrates, toilet paper is rarely safe from an ill intended feline.
Another practical reason to use the backward hang is if your bathroom is in an RV, or recreational vehicle. It is noted that while driving over bumpy roads, forward hanging toilet paper may slowly unroll onto the floor of the bathroom. Similar to the cat scenario, no one wants to walk in to find this has happened at their greatest moment of need.
The next consideration when deciding on toilet paper placement is visual appeal. While a quality toilet paper dispenser makes a major impact on the overall artistic applications of your bathroom’s second most important object, after the toilet itself, it should not be overlooked that the roll placement can give an impression of a warm and welcoming home, just as posture and body language can impact social relations.
The forward hang is tantamount to standing with open arms when speaking with a person in conversation. It conveys a welcome attitude and openness to connect and befriend the person with whom you are interacting. When the toilet paper rolls over toward someone, it can be seen as an inviting gesture and welcoming posture for your roll. This example of a person with open arms projects a welcoming, warm, and friendly attitude.
On the converse, a backwards roll projects a closed and unfriendly posture. Just as with the body language of standing with arms crossed, a reverse roll tells visitors to your facility that they are generally not as welcome as with the forward hang. This is an example of a person with a closed and cold attitude and brings emotions synonymous with a rear facing toilet paper orientation.
For a final visual point, some toilet paper is printed with a pattern or design. In those instances, the printer or pattern is always on the side so it is visible when hanging over the front of the roll. If places in the backwards hang position the pattern is hidden and users are left looking at the backside, usually plain white, rather than the pattern, for which the facility owner paid a premium price.
Academia and Societal Trends
Several studies have been conducted regarding proper toilet paper orientation, and the results have been generally conclusive.
The primary academic source for the relevance of this discussion at all comes from Eastern Institute of Technology sociology professor Alan Burns. Burns describes the debate as not a trivial pursuit in society, but rather a focus on the minor details which are often taken for granted but are an important piece of the “built-in-meta-narratives of society.” Which make them a powerful tool to examine connections to larger themes in society such as gender roles, the separation of public and private spheres, race and ethnicity, social class, and age.
University of Wisconsin professor Morton Ann Gernsbacher cautions that while preferences such as toilet paper hanging direction, the order of shampoo and soap use in the shower, and other personal habits generally have a strong popularity one way or the other, that this preference should not be taken into account as a method in which to discriminate against the minority, as has been done with other areas of segmenting the population in the past.
Manufacturer Georgia-Pacific commissioned the first widely quoted survey on the topic in 1993, and several have followed over the next decade. More unscientific polls have been conducted as recently as January, 2010. It is important to note that the first major survey on the topic came five years earlier, in 1989, when authors Barry Sinrod and Mel Poretz took a wider survey on American habits and included one question on orientation, though it was not the primary focus of the study.
The Georgia-Pacific study found that of toilet paper users, 73% prefer the over, or forward hanging orientation. Later surveys were slightly more split, but in all major surveys, the majority or respondents prefer the forward hang.
- 1989 Poretz and Sinrod Survey – 68% preferred over
- 1994 Toilet Paper Report – 59% preferred over out of 1,000 respondents
- 1995 Bathroom Tissue Report – 59% preferred over compared to 29% who preferred under
- 2001 Bathroom Confidential – 63% preferred over
- 2004 Bathroom Confidential – 72% preferred over
This trend shows that after a substantial drop in the early 1990s, preference towards the forward hang has increased over time and has nearly surpassed the 1993 level. Users are now gravitating more towards the front hanging orientation than almost any time in the recorded history of toilet paper hanging preference.
The Sinrod and Poretz survey allowed for some additional statistical analysis which compared toilet paper habits to other socio-economic factors, such as gender, age, income, and politics.
The study showed that younger generations had a higher preference for the forward hang, with a highest concentrations in the 21-34 and 35-44 demographics. This leads one to extrapolate that in the coming generations, we will see a rise in the prevalence of the forward hanging position. The noted outlier from this is females 55+, who have an 83% likelihood of preferring the forward hang.
Further analysis showed that 60% of those earning more than $50,000 per year prefer the front hang while 73% of those earning less than $20,000 per year prefer under. Sinrod did not have a great response on what that might prove. He said, “I don’t know, but it’s sure interesting.”
A Canadian poll in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, coincidentally my Grandfather’s original hometown, found that 80% of local voters prefer a forward hang, noting that our friends to the north generally agree with us, possibly in higher numbers. In the Southern United States, a school science project conducted by a student at the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair in 1997 found that liberals generally prefer the forward roll while conservatives had more of a preference to the back facing roll as reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinal. This survey clearly speaks for itself.
The implications toilet paper orientation has on future genocidal dictators aside, the issue has been a common friction point in both marriages and office environments, where one partner or worker has a strong opinion on the correctness of the hang that is contrary to that over their counterparts or peers. So clearly, a correct answer must be determined once and for all.
There is Only ONE Correct Way to Place Your Toilet Paper
Now that you have read the evidence and societal trends, we can finally put this contentious issue to rest.
There is only one correct way to place your toilet paper. And that is in the forward hanging orientation. That’s just science, and you can’t argue with science. I mean, you can try, but you will be branded as a religious zealot, and no one wants to be accused of zealotry.
This leaves one big question unanswered, however. What does one do with a vertically oriented toilet paper holder? Well, that is just a discussion for another day.