Wet Wipes vs Toilet Paper: A Historical Perspective
The wet wipes vs toilet paper debate is surprisingly recent, primarily because both wet wipes and toilet paper are surprisingly recent in the long history of human hygiene.
Toilet paper was introduced first. China is widely believed to have invented toilet paper. Yan Zhitui made the first known historical reference to paper used for wiping in the 6th Century, saying: “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.” In other words, out of respect, Yan Zhitui avoided wiping with paper inscribed with the Five Classics and the names of sages, implying that paper was a known wiping method in those times. However, it was not until nearly 900 years later that China was believed to manufacture paper specifically for wiping on a large scale.
At this time, the Americas were still many centuries away from using toilet paper. Prior to the late 1800’s, the Americas used what we have dubbed the “closest smooth-ish object” method (i.e., identifying the closest object that was relatively smooth and using it to wipe). For example, early Americans used corn cobs, straw, newspapers, catalogs, and magazines to wipe.
Patents related to toilet paper started to appear in the late 1800’s.
And it was not until the early 1900’s that toilet paper began to be manufactured on a large scale in the form that we know it today.
The wet wipes vs toilet paper choice saw its birth in the mid-1900s. Wet wipes were originally known as “wet naps” and were invented in the 1950’s. Wet wipes were not originally used to wipe the backside, but instead were first sold to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to wipe dirty hands.