The Great Toilet Paper Debate

August 1, 2018

We get a lot of letters here at BRI headquarters, and recently longtime reader Robert W. wrote in with a suggestion: Research, describe, and hopefully settle the most important issue of our time: Which is the “proper” way to load toilet paper—coming off the top, or the bottom?


Whether you have the paper coming over the top or out from underneath depends largely on aesthetics. Hotels, for example, almost universally go “over.” Why? So housekeepers can make that fancy little triangle fold at the edge. If that was attempted on an “under” roll, it would just hang out unattractively…and maybe even drag on the floor, which is gross.

Who prefers “under” over “over”?

Who prefers “under” over “over”? Not many of us. In a 2010 survey of 1,000 people by the company that makes Cottonelle toilet paper, 72 percent of Americans prefer over, vs. only 28 percent under. A more shocking result of the survey: 27 percent of “over” aficionados are so devoted to their cause that they admit flipping a roll at a friend’s house to the “better” way.

Practical concerns

Practical concerns may also determine why “over” is the preferred method. Toilet paper companies picture their products that way because it effectively shows off patterns, designs, and “ripples.” Also, if a person is in a hurry, over-the-roll paper is much easier to, well, grab, than if it’s going the other way.

“Under” has benefits

“Under” has its benefits, too. The loose edge can be hidden, which can be visually pleasing as well as making it harder for mischievous kids or pets to unroll the whole thing onto the floor. Drivers of bathroom-equipped RVs also attest that they go for the “under” style, because the roll doesn’t unroll as much when the vehicle is moving.

How the inventor wanted it hung

Modern inventions aren’t usually just the result of one person concocting the technology and earning a patent. The toilet developed over centuries, but the toilet paper roll has remained pretty much unchanged since 1891, when inventor Seth Wheeler received U.S. patent #459516A for “Wrapping or Toilet Paper Roll.” Inventors must submit diagrams of their innovation, and Wheeler did that. And it’s there that we can determine the true and correct way to hang a toilet paper roll, and it’s how the inventor wanted us to do it. Wheeler’s images show the paper coming over the top of the role. Mystery solved!

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