What Did We Use Before Toilet Paper?

Although we have wiped our bottoms for as long as we’ve been on earth, our approaches haven’t always been as simple or as comfortable as grabbing some paper from the roll while we sit on our porcelain throne. Instead, the ways we have wiped have been dictated by culture, climate, our place in the social hierarchy and, frankly, whatever was available at the time. So, what did we use before we had toilet paper? It turns out, just about everything. Early humans used whatever was on hand: leaves, sticks, moss, sand and water. Once we developed agriculture, we had options like hay and corn husks. People who lived on islands or on the coast used shells and a scraping technique. People indigenous to cold areas used snow, which sounds oddly refreshing. The first well-documented example of what people used pre-toilet paper comes from Roman times, when they used what was called a “tersorium” — a sea sponge stuck on the end of a stick that was kept in either a bucket of salt water or vinegar. If you thought the "sponge-on-a-stick" sounded uncomfortable, just wait. The ancient Greeks used pessoi — broken pieces of ceramic pottery, smoothed down around the edges if you were lucky. Paper-making originated in China, so it makes sense that the first recorded use of toilet paper was by the Chinese in the 6th century A.D. They actually used pages of old manuscripts. By the late 14th century, the Chinese imperial court was hooked on toilet paper. It was mass-produced by the Bureau of Imperial Supplies and sold in 2x3 foot sheets. In Europe, toilet paper didn’t really make an appearance until the 16th century, taking a back seat to what we know today as bidets. Toilet paper finally made its official debut in America in the 1800s, which is pretty recent if you think about it.