If you need to leave your home in an emergency you’d be wise to have a few alternative toilet paper options in mind. Even if you have lots of toilet paper stockpiled at home, you may not be able to take it all with you! While I hope I never have to give up my TP, I’ve found there are actually quite a few do-able alternatives out there.
I’ve broken the best emergency toilet paper alternatives down into two categories. Outdoor alternatives consist of: rocks, leaves, moss, sticks, corn husks, your sleeves, tree bark, snowballs and your own hand. Indoor alternatives include: the toilet paper tube, Kleenex, cotton balls, flushable wipes, sanitary napkins or tampons, magazine paper, Wysi wipes or a bidet.
In the following article I’ll take a subject most people cringe over–going to the bathroom outside–and show you there really are lots of alternatives if you find yourself without your precious toilet paper. After all, when you think about it, TP is a relatively modern invention. The first paper specifically marketed for the “water closet” was back in the 1850’s, which means people have been using lots of other things to wipe with for thousands of years.
General Principles of Using the Bathroom Outside
Whether you’re on a day hike that goes long or you’re facing the catastrophe of a lifetime, there are a few things that will help keep the outdoors as hygienic as possible.
- Always bury your waste—and anything you use to wipe with–at least 6 inches deep. There are small, lightweight, handheld shovels you can purchase to help you dig a “cat hole.” It’s important to bury waste so that other people don’t stumble across it or an animal doesn’t come in contact with it.
- Do your business 200 feet away from any water source. This is important to prevent the water source—possibly your own in an emergency—from becoming contaminated. In a similar vein, try not to go in a place where rainwater may wash your waste into the ground.
- Pick a spot with good sunlight. Why? It will help the waste decompose more quickly.
- Let yourself dry out. This is especially true for women. If you use a method that involves rinsing with water, make sure to let yourself dry out, ideally on a daily basis. Yeast infections can increase in moist environments, and at a minimum, it’s uncomfortable.
First I’ll discuss toilet paper alternatives that you might look for outside, in the event that your emergency causes you to bug out.
A smooth rock would be my number one go-to if I needed a source of TP outside. A rock seems the most easy to manipulate and gives my hand the most distance from the waste, which I appreciate. Remember to bury your rock when you’re done with it.
Leaves probably seem like the most natural alternative to toilet paper but you’ll want to look for certain characteristics in your leaves.
First and foremost, make sure they don’t belong to a poisonous plant like poison ivy or poison oak. Thankfully each of these plants has leaves that are small enough I doubt you’ll be tempted to use them as TP, but make sure you’re not squatting down in a big thicket of either of these.
Poison ivy can grow both as a vine and as a small bush and it’s leaves grow in groups of three. When the leaves are just sprouting they can have a very shiny gloss on them (and this is true of poison oak as well). It has white berries and when it grows as a vine it shoots out tiny rootlets on the vine that are very thin.
Check out this video for a better visual guide on poison ivy.
What you do want to look for when looking for a leaf alternative to TP is leaves that are big. Unless you have a very reliable way to wash your hands, you’ll want to ensure as little waste gets on your fingers as possible. Maple and some oak leaves would be good options.
A word on mullein: “Mullein” is the common name for a non-native plant that grows all over the western United States and it has big, super soft and fuzzy leaves. I’ve heard it called “cowboy toilet paper.” I pull mullein plants in my yard all the time, and I’ll say that my forearms become irritated by the tiny hairs on the leaf. I’m not saying not to use it as TP, I’m just saying be aware of this issue and maybe try to alternate it with other ways of wiping.
A small handful of moss could be a good TP alternative, especially the kind that holds together in a little mat when you scoop it up. Just be careful that there aren’t bugs in there. Neither you or the bugs want to have that experience.
A stick can also be used as an alternative to toilet paper in an emergency. I would look for a flat, broad stick if you can find one. If you can peel the bark back first that would also enhance your comfort and get the dirt off first.
If you have time you can also sand down some sticks, which would help avoid splinters as well.
There’s a joke about a man who walks into the woods in a t-shirt and comes out in a tank top. And that joke is perfect for this blog post!
This wouldn’t be my first choice since you’ll generally want to have your clothes intact during an emergency, but you have to admit it would do the trick. Since your clothing will take a very long time to biodegrade, if at all possible, pack out your “TP” in a Ziploc bag reinforced with duct tape.
Any scrap of fabric will also work, but you’re unlikely to be carrying around extraneous scraps of fabric during an emergency outside. However, keep this in mind for any emergency that still allows you to use your indoor facilities.
Corn has two parts to it that could be used at emergency toilet paper. The green leaf outer part, and the cob, once you’re done eating the corn. If you’re growing corn in your prepper garden, or happen to live in Iowa, this could be a feasible option. I have actually sliced my finger on the outer most layer of corn husk, so I might use them with care.
You’ll definitely want to be gentle if you use tree bark, but a big flake of tree bark can also work. Trees have lots of different types of bark so depending on the trees around, some options might be softer than others. Birch bark, which peels like paper, could be a good option (but keep in mind birch bark is also great kindling). Other thicker types of bark could be used, especially if the sharp corners have been worn down.
It will be invigorating, but if you’re in cold climate a handful of packed snow can do the trick nicely.
I’ve seen other prepper sites recommend just dunking your behind in a running stream. I don’t recommend this. As I mentioned, you may contaminate your water source or that of someone else. Plus, streams are normally cold!
However, if water is all you have at your disposal, you could take a plastic water bottle, fill it up, and squeeze the bottle to give it some pressure and point it in the right direction. Do this away from the stream (minimum 200 yards or about 70 adult steps). This is very similar to a portable bidet (discussed below). Of course you’ll never want to drink from that bottle again so make sure you can afford to give up that bottle in your emergency.
Yes, I said it. And before you ignore this section out of disgust give this fact some thought: when I visited India, where people wipe with water and their hands every day, they thought the fact that Americans use toilet paper was disgusting.
So really it’s all in what you’re used to. If you’re going to use your hand you’ll want to try and rinse yourself clean with some water as well, and then you’ll need to wash your hands very thoroughly. E.coli is a big concern where human waste contamination is an issue and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be sick to your stomach in addition to the emergency that left you without toilet paper.
At Home Toilet Paper Alternatives
There are lots of types of emergencies. Meeting your boyfriend’s parents for the first time and realizing they are out of TP could definitely be one of them. If your emergency hasn’t caused you to flee your home there are several alternatives you can use indoors.
My son spent two years living in the Philippines and they never use toilet paper there. They have a Tabo (which I have pictured at the top of this article), water and their hand. Then they wash their hands with soap.
Toilet Paper Tube
Toilet paper tubes aren’t just for your pet hamster to gnaw on. Think creatively and peel the tube apart to create a bigger surface area to wipe with. Of course, you can’t flush the carboard tube so you’ll have to find a good place to throw the tube away.
Magazine Paper or Newspaper
For those of us who still subscribe to magazines and print newspapers, that basket by the toilet can easily turn into an emergency source of TP. Just be careful with this option that you’re not burning through all your fire kindling too. Magazine paper may work best if you crumple it up, and either option may work best if dampened slightly to soften the edges of the pages. Nobody like paper cuts!
Of course, many bathrooms have a box of Kleenex in them. These may also not flush well so if you use a lot of them, consider throwing them away.
Cotton balls are somewhat small, but there are other cotton pads that women often use for makeup removal that might be available. Cotton balls also have the added plus of being the softest alternative you can probably find.
Sanitary Napkin or Tampon
Hey, both are designed to be absorbent! If you are in an emergency just make sure to leave enough of these for when they’re needed for their intended purpose.
There are lots of wipes on the market that are made to be flushed. These are great because they come in portable packets to begin with, and they help get you a little cleaner than regular toilet paper.
Any other type of wipe can also do the trick here. Think baby wipes, makeup removal wipes or feminine hygiene wipes.
These wipes come as small dry disks about the size of nickel, and when you pour water on them they expand to a 9’’ reusable towel. They are hypoallergenic, unscented, and made of a biodegradable material.
They’re often sold in a little tube with several towels in there, so they’re already a good travel accessory, emergency or no.
There is a new trend going around called the family towel, wherein everyone uses their own piece of cloth to wipe, and they store it in a sealed container in the bathroom. The towel gets washed (very thoroughly) and reused.
I’m going to go ahead and say I don’t recommend the family towel option.
- Despite the fact that I’m writing an article about #2, I still think this is gross. I do not want anyone’s used towel in my personal space, whether they are family or not, and whether or not the towels go in sealed containers.
- This isn’t a feasible option in an emergency. Yes, you could just wipe with a piece of cloth, but if you’re going to reuse it, you’d need to boil a lot of water, which would take a ton of resources.
- If you don’t get the towels clean enough you could reinfect yourself (*ahem* ladies) and give yourself some not-so-fun infections.
There are two options for bidets (pronounced bid-ay): portable and built into your toilet. The bidet is a water bath for your backside and they are very popular in Europe and Asia.
The portable bidet is actually a great alternative to toilet paper, and can definitely be used in an outdoor setting as well. It’s basically a water bottle with a nozzle. It is small and light, and also uses far less water per flush than even a low flow toilet. If you use this option outside, just remember that all the water and your waste needs to go in that 6 inch deep hole you dug outside first.
The bidet that is built into your toilet is sold as a separate attachment and either comes with a hose attachment, or it shoots the water straight up at you, like a fountain. If you get a fancy one it will even heat the water first!
Nobody likes to picture a scenario where they don’t have toilet paper. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to keep yourself clean even if you face this dreaded scenario.
No matter which option you choose, always remember to bury your waste, and avoid going close to any body of water.
Finally, always remember to prioritize hand and nether-region hygiene, no matter what you’re using to wipe, as good hygiene is essential to avoiding illness and infections.