The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a number of medical and safety issues, as well as surprising shortages on everyday items like toilet paper.

While toilet paper itself hasn’t literally been in short supply from a manufacturing standpoint, stores have constantly run out of this household necessity because of hoarding.

Another obstacle in TP access is the fact that even if it’s available in a nearby grocer, you may not be able to buy it due to illness. Or if you’re under a stay-at-home order, you may not feel safe shopping right now. Sudden income shortages have also made some items difficult to afford.

If you’re facing a lack of toilet paper, you don’t have to go without basic hygiene for your bottom. We break down some possible alternatives, as well as important considerations before you replace your coveted TP.

The toilet paper shortage is a relatively recent phenomenon, but people have been posting homemade TP recipes online for years.

While not supported by any clinical evidence, such toilet paper recipes are promoted anecdotally online.

Here’s how to make your own toilet paper, according to those anecdotal reports:

  1. Gather paper around your home, such as printer paper, non-glossy magazine sheets, or newsprint. Crumple it up.
  2. Soften the paper even further by soaking it in a water-filled bucket. This also helps remove any ink. Leave in the bucket for several minutes, or until the paper is mostly ink-free.
  3. Transfer the paper to a pot. Add leaves or grass to help make the paper more compact. Fill with water and then simmer on the stove for up to an hour.
  4. Increase the heat and bring the water to a boil for about 30 minutes. The process allows the paper to be converted to pulp. Allow the water to cool before removing the pulp from the water.
  5. After removing the pulp, you can add certain personal care items to help prevent it from drying out. Options include baby oil, fragrance-free lotion, or aloe. You can also add a couple drops of an astringent like witch hazel. Use a few tablespoons and mix it in the pulp with a spoon.
  6. Spread out the pulp with a spoon on a flat, clean towel. Make sure you create a thin and even layer (you may use a rolling pin for assistance). Add another dry towel on top of the paper layer to help remove any water left in the pulp. You can also add heavy objects on top of the towel to assist.
  7. After a few hours, you can remove the top towel and bring the paper out into the sun. Leave it outside until completely dry.
  8. Peel the now-dry paper, and cut the desired size of sheets you want to use. Store in a plastic bag or clean container for future use.

It’s possible to make your own toilet paper, but you can also use other items around the house before you get to this point.

Standard go-to’s

Other toiletry and paper items may be used in place of toilet paper, such as:

  • facial tissue (unscented)
  • baby wipes
  • menstrual pads
  • paper towels
  • napkins

While you can use these alternatives much in the same way as toilet paper, you can’t flush them. Dispose of them in the trash immediately after use.

Around the house

Since the hoarding of toilet paper began, other paper items have been in short supply, too.

If you’re not able to get any of these standard go-to TP alternatives, you may still be able to use other household items — all without having to go to the store. Consider using:

  • Paper. Sources can include crumpled copy paper, newsprint, or magazines. See recipe above for a softer product.
  • Cloth. Use clean towels, rags, socks, or old clothes. After use, either bleach to reuse or dispose of them.
  • Water. You can create your own version of a bidet by using a spray bottle or hose to rinse yourself until completely clean.
  • Sponges. If you go this route, be sure to boil or bleach the sponge after use if you plan on reusing it.

Found in nature

Even if you’ve exhausted items around the house, you may still turn to a source of toilet paper humans have used for ages: nature.

Here are the possible items you may use:

  • Leaves. Depending on its size, you may be able to wipe with one leaf at a time, or use layers of smaller leaves stacked together. Avoid dried leaves, as these may scratch and irritate. Don’t use any leaves that are growing in groups of three, as this could be an indication of poison ivy.
  • Grass. Grab by the handful and secure with string to hold together, if needed.
  • Moss. Gather chunks at a time and roll into a ball before wiping.

Some people tout the use of pine cones and pine needles. These can still effectively get you clean, but you might consider them as a last resort due to the possibility of injury from jagged and pointy edges.

As with other toilet paper alternatives, you’ll want to dispose of these natural sources properly. Dispose of them in a separate trash can or plastic bag after use.

Despite the number of alternatives to toilet paper, there are certain risks and side effects to consider.

First, never flush anything that isn’t toilet paper down your toilet. Some packages for wipes and other paper products claim to be safe for the toilet, but this often isn’t the case.

Such items can damage pipes and cause sewer backups, which can both become hazardous and costly.

Some household items may be used more than once, such as cloth and sponges. Be sure to wash any reusable cloth in hot water and put it in the dryer on high heat.

Always wash cloth used for TP separately from your regular laundry. Sponges may also be reused by placing in boiling water to kill any germs.

Also, consider the safety of your potential toilet paper alternative. Any items need to be cleaned and disinfected before use to help prevent bacterial infections.

Don’t use any sharp or pointy items that could harm you, such as tools and utensils.

While considered a necessity today, people have reaped the softness and hygienic qualities of toilet paper for only a short time in history.

It’s estimated that the first commercial toilet paper was developed and sold in stores around the mid-1800s. However, it’s thought that paper was used for personal hygiene much sooner in ancient Chinese civilizations.

Since then, it has evolved further in terms of softness and thickness. There are even more environmentally friendly or sustainable versions available.

Before the invention of toilet paper, humans have been known to use:

  • animal fur
  • corncobs
  • leaves
  • moss
  • newspapers and magazines
  • rocks
  • ropes
  • shells
  • sponges

Toilet paper is perhaps now more of an important commodity than ever before. Due to store shortages and lack of access, you might find yourself running out of your preferred paper squares.

While it can take a lot of preparation, there are many alternatives to commercial toilet paper. Some of these approaches have been used for centuries.

Safety ought to be your first priority when creating your own TP alternative at home. Never put non-flushable items down the toilet. Don’t use anything sharp or unsanitary in your body.