Toilet paper and paper towels – two paper products found in virtually every home.
But what is the difference between them, and when should each be used?
Materials Used to Make Paper Towels and Toilet Paper
Paper towels are made of woven fibers that are creped and embossed to increase absorbency and durability. The fibers typically come from wood pulp, cotton, or recycled paper. Paper towels go through a bleaching or dyeing process to make them white or colored.
In contrast, toilet paper contains pulp that is infused with a chemical binder. This gives toilet paper wet strength and softness. The pulp can come from wood, bamboo, sugarcane, or other materials. Like paper towels, toilet paper is usually bleached white or dyed with colors.
Key Takeaway: Paper towels use woven, creped fibers for absorption and strength. Toilet paper relies on pulp with chemical binders to achieve softness and prevent tearing when wet.
Design Differences Between Paper Towel and Toilet Paper
There are several key differences in the design of paper towels versus toilet paper:
- Size: Paper towels are generally much bigger than toilet paper. A standard paper towel sheet measures about 11 x 11 inches. Toilet paper sheets are typically 8 x 8 inches or smaller.
- Thickness and weight: Paper towels are thicker and heavier than toilet paper. They have a basis weight around 40 grams per square meter. Toilet paper weighs about 10 grams per square meter.
- Texture: Paper towels have a rougher texture, while toilet paper has a smooth, soft texture against the skin.
- Absorbency: Paper towels are engineered to quickly soak up large spills. Toilet paper falls apart when very wet.
- Strength: The durable woven fibers in paper towels allow them to withstand repeated wiping and scrubbing. Toilet paper is designed to be single-use and very flushable.
- Extras: Some toilet paper contains added lotions, scents, and decorations. Paper towels are purely functional.
Correct Uses of Paper Towels vs Toilet Paper
Paper towels are designed for:
- Wiping up liquid spills
- General cleaning tasks – dusting, polishing, scrubbing
- Use as napkins during meals
- Any application needing high absorbency
It is not recommended to use paper towels for personal hygiene. The rough texture can cause discomfort and irritation.
Toilet paper is engineered for:
- Personal hygiene
- Blowing nose, wiping eyes, etc.
- Flushing down the toilet
Toilet paper should not be:
- Used for cleaning spills and dirty surfaces
- Flushed down the toilet when coupled with wipes, diapers, etc. This causes clogs.
Key Takeaway: Paper towels are for household cleaning and absorbency. Toilet paper is designed solely for gentle, flushable use related to bodily functions.
Both paper towels and toilet paper negatively impact the environment in some way:
- Deforestation to obtain paper fibers
- Intensive use of water in manufacturing
- Chemicals used in processing – ex. dyes, bleaches
- Energy consumed by production facilities
However, paper towels require more resources to make and result in more waste ending up in landfills. Americans use over 45 pounds of paper towels per person yearly. That is equivalent to about 80 rolls or 1.5 trees per person.
Toilet paper also requires trees and water to produce. However, it is typically made from alternate fiber sources like recycled paper that reduce harvesting needs. Being flushable and biodegradable, most toilet paper avoids landfills altogether.
Key Takeaway: Paper towels generate more waste and require more trees and energy to manufacture. Toilet paper has less environmental impact overall.
Can you use paper towels as toilet paper?
It is not advised to use paper towels in place of toilet paper. The thicker, rougher paper towels do not dissolve well and can clog pipes and sewer systems. The less soft texture also makes paper towels unsuitable for personal hygiene use.
What happens if you flush paper towels?
Flushing paper towels can easily create clogs and plumbing issues. Since paper towels are engineered to maintain integrity when wet, they do not break down during flushing. The wads of towel can get stuck, back up sewer lines, and cause leaks, floods, and burst pipes. Repairing damage from flushing paper towels is quite costly.
Why can’t you flush paper towels but you can flush toilet paper?
Toilet paper, being designed for safe flushability, starts deteriorating quickly when wet. So it easily dissolves into pulp and flowing water during flushing. In contrast, paper towels retain wet strength and their sturdy fibers get tangled together when flushed.
Toilet paper and paper towels serve very different sanitary functions.
While they appear similar, factors such as fiber content, wet strength, dimensions, feel, and intended use set them apart.
It is crucial to select the appropriate product – paper towels or toilet paper – for the specific task at hand.