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Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: A Historical Perspective

The wet wipes vs toilet paper debate is surprisingly recent, primarily because both wet wipes and toilet paper are surprisingly recent in the long history of human hygiene.

Toilet paper was introduced first. China is widely believed to have invented toilet paper. Yan Zhitui made the first known historical reference to paper used for wiping in the 6th Century, saying: “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.” In other words, out of respect, Yan Zhitui avoided wiping with paper inscribed with the Five Classics and the names of sages, implying that paper was a known wiping method in those times. However, it was not until nearly 900 years later that China was believed to manufacture paper specifically for wiping on a large scale.

At this time, the Americas were still many centuries away from using toilet paper. Prior to the late 1800’s, the Americas used what we have dubbed the “closest smooth-ish object” method (i.e., identifying the closest object that was relatively smooth and using it to wipe). For example, early Americans used corn cobs, straw, newspapers, catalogs, and magazines to wipe.

Patents related to toilet paper started to appear in the late 1800’s.

And it was not until the early 1900’s that toilet paper began to be manufactured on a large scale in the form that we know it today.

The wet wipes vs toilet paper choice saw its birth in the mid-1900s. Wet wipes were originally known as “wet naps” and were invented in the 1950’s. Wet wipes were not originally used to wipe the backside, but instead were first sold to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to wipe dirty hands.

It was not until the 1990’s that wet wipes became popular to wipe baby bottoms in the form that we know them today. There are also make up wet wipes, and wet wipes bucket.

Wet wipes remained a toilet paper alternative primarily for wiping babies bottoms for the next 10-15 years. However, in the last decade, baby wet wipe demand has grown by 50%. This is due in part to the adoption of wet wipes by all ages. And in this last decade, the wet wipes vs toilet paper debate has begun to rage.

Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: How Are They Made?

Many of the differences in wet wipes vs toilet paper arise from the way that each is made. And the way that each is made is directly related to the original purpose of each product.

Toilet paper is made from trees. The manufacturing process includes stripping trees of bark, cutting the trees into wood chips, creating a pulp, bleaching the pulp, and pressing it to drain water and flatten the pulp. Toilet paper is designed in this way so that it will break down and dissolve easily when exposed to water.

Wet wipes were originally made to wipe dirty hands. They were made to be durable in order to clean up messes and to be thrown in the trash, not to disintegrate when introduced to water. In fact, disintegration when in contact with a fluid would defeat the very nature of a wet wipe – wet wipes are supposed to be wet; therefore, they should be durable enough to withstand being wet so that consumers do not purchase a disintegrated product in the store.

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