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5 Alternatives to Toilet Paper

I spend a fair amount of time looking at, discussing, and dissecting animal scat (feces). More than most people, probably. For instance, picking apart a scat can tell you a great deal about an animal’s recent diet – like grasshopper legs or mouse bone shards in a fox scat. Fossilized coprolites (again, feces) can tell archaeologists a great deal about an animal’s behavior and diet, or the site where they’re found.

Usually I deal with non-human animal scat. Today, given the run on toilet paper, I’m going to be discussing human feces and how to clean your butt.

Warning: This post may get pretty…crappy.

Why T.P. anyway?

Toilet paper wasn’t invented, or commercially-available, until the mid 1800’s (19th century). So what did people use to clean themselves for the millions of years since we went bipedal and developed the gluteus maximus? (Animals without butt cheeks have no need for this type of ablution.)

There are a lot of options for taking care of business and, actually, there are still places in the world today where people don’t use foreign objects to clean their crack. If you’ve ever used a so-called ‘squat toilet’ or spent time in the bush, you know what I mean.

But for everyone who wants a T.P. alternative, here are five.

Alternative #1: Corn Cobs and Husks

Let’s get real. It’s not called your ‘cornhole’ for nothing. Many white colonists and settlers used spent corn cobs for cleaning, then chucked them down the hole in the outhouse. Contributing to compost too! If you’re shucking the corn yourself, consider saving the individual husk leaves and ‘silk’. You won’t find a more silky toilet paper anywhere.

Note: A freshly eaten/soft cob will be more comfortable than the dry ones often found at harvest time for decoration. You’ll also have more access to cobs in the summer and fall.

For that matter, any plant product that leaves a ‘core’, like an apple, could be used. Just put the rind to your hind.

Alternative #2: Re-usable Cloth

If you grew up in the 1980’s or before (or are a bush-hippie, natural-type, or other…) you’re probably familiar with non-disposable diapers. I.e. cotton rags. I can still picture the white pail my mother put our cloth ‘diapers’ in after removing them. They’d be left to soak (probably in bleach) before being washed and reused.

I’m not suggesting you wear a diaper, but you could dedicate a few old towels, washcloths, or fabric scraps to doing the duty. Wipe yourself clean and then drop in a sealable container with a disinfectant. Wash them once you have a full load. (Of laundry.)

Alternative #3: Leaves

Yeah, this is an obvious go-to. Just know which ones you’re choosing to touch to your orifice. Obviously poison ivy, stinging nettles, and poison hemlock are no-go’s.

This is another alternative that is dependent on the time of year. But some classy examples to keep an eye out for are:

  • Common Mullein
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • The Mallows
  • Oak, Maple, and other broad-leafed tree leaves

Alternative #4: Snowball

There is literally NOTHING like wiping yourself with a carefully crafted snowball. Way better than 5 shots of espresso to wake you up.

Former Apprentice Scott (who later spent 5 months on the Missouri with Tom Elpel, retracing Lewis & Clarke’s expedition) has actually suggested that I add a category of skills/experience to the checklist in our Logbook for hygiene, specifically requiring everyone to use a snowball…because everyone should wipe their butt with a snowball at least once.

Your life will never be the same afterward.

Alternative #5: Other Natural Objects

Look around and there are no shortage of things to be creative with:

  • Round, smooth stones – Think small river cobbles. They’re more comfortable than you might think. Plus, you could disinfect and reuse them almost indefinitely. Stones will outlive your need for them by billions of years.
  • ‘Pine’ Cones – The product of coniferous trees. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “#$%$ NO!” But there are many varieties, shapes, and sizes that may complement the human anatomy. PRO TIP: Use the direction of the scales on the cone to your advantage. Wipe WITH the direction of the scale, not against it or sideways to it. You’ll also want to avoid cones with ‘barbs’ or ones that are too dried out. As an example, the photo below shows two cones from Blue Spruce and one from Ponderosa Pine. Guess which species is friendlier to your derriere?
  • Tree Bark – Especially the inner bark of many trees. Cottonwood, pine, aspen, and so on. As with plants, make sure they’re not poisonous.
  • Seashells – And here you thought the Three Seashells in Demolition Man was for naught. Offering some levity to that little moment: shells will provide a long-term, reusable solution similar to stones.

All for now. Stay clean. Stay healthy. Especially when your SHTF.

(Had to get one last dad joke in there.)

–Doug