Why Is Toilet Paper White, Anyway?

Color toilet paper was actually trendy in the 1950s.

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Toilet paper’s been enjoying special attention these days. Although it has always been an essential bathroom item, everyone’s trying to stock up on as much toilet paper as possible since they know they’ll be stuck inside for a while. But while you’ve been buying rolls and rolls of toilet paper, have you ever wondered why toilet paper is just plain white? Maybe these creative toilet paper holders were an inspiration.

How is toilet paper made?

First, it’s important to understand how to make toilet paper. Toilet paper is made from cellulose fibers that come either directly from trees or recycled paper, according to Jessica Carette, a chemist and Innovation Manager of Research and Development for the Cascades Tissue Group. The fibers mix with water to make pulp. Toilet paper creation comes in two basic parts: making the raw paper, and converting it to the end product you buy in the store, explains David Altemir, a consultant who works with toilet paper manufacturing plants in the United States. “The raw paper starts as wood pulp just as any other type of paper,” he says. Brands bleach wood pulp with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine to make it whiter. This bleaching process is more than aesthetic—it removes the substance lignin, too, softening the paper, according to Altemir.

Why is toilet paper white?

Carette notes that cellulose fibers are also naturally white. The glue holding them together, however, is brown which goes away thanks to bleach, Carette says. So it’s not necessarily just the process, but also the raw material that makes toilet paper white. Plus, toilet paper from recycled paper uses mostly office waste or printer paper, which is already white, too, according to Carette. Although bleached virgin pulp produces the softest fibers to make tissue, unbleached and recycled fibers can also make high-quality tissue as well, Carette says. So the white color of toilet paper is more conventional than functional since toilet paper doesn’t necessarily have to be white to be soft and absorbent. There’s no argument about smooth toilet paper—but there is an answer to the debate about how to hang toilet paper.

Are there other toilet paper colors?

Although white toilet paper like this is the norm in America, color toilet paper was trendy in the past. In the 1950s, people would even coordinate their toilet paper with their bathroom color scheme. It reportedly died down, however, thanks to concerns about the safety of pastel dyes for the skin and the environment. Plus, color toilet paper increases the cost to make the rolls, Altemir says. Most toilet paper in North America is white because of consumer preference, according to Carette. But in places like South America and Europe, toilet paper comes in a rainbow of colors, even black, she adds.

If you want to try adding a pop of color to your bathroom with toilet paper, there’s still toilet paper brand Renova that sells various colors for more than the typical white variety. No matter your personal design taste, toilet paper is a must-have—but these extra 19 decorating tips can make any small bathroom look bigger.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.