Toilet Paper Alternatives for Survival

article updated by Dan F. Sullivan

In a SHTF scenario, one of the most sought after items is going to be traditional toilet paper, because let’s face it, everyone has to go. Not to mention that even before a SHTF scenario, you spend your hard earned dollars on paper that ends up in the sewer. It’s like flushing dollar bills!

You can choose to stock up on bulky toilet paper and hope that you hacve enough to get you through TEOTWAWKI or you can learn the alternatives. Toilet paper used today with dispenser rolls (a 19th century invention) is relatively new. There are some really easy and affordable options out there if you’re willing to give them a try.

Cloth Toilet Paper

If you’re serious about going green, living healthy and saving cash, cloth toilet paper is a lifesaver. It may sound outrageous at first, but wait ‘til you hear about the benefits.

Historically, our resourceful ancestors used natural materials, such as soft leaves, fruit skins or sponge to swab their derrières. Rose petals were commonly used in Rome and sheep’s wool was preferred in Scotland. Wealthier people took lace, wool or hemp with them into the W.C.

However, back then, cloth wipes weren’t washed after each use. In fact, entire families shared the same soiled toilet cloth! You may be wondering if this is a sanitary practice. Surprisingly, if done right, it can be. Urine is sterile, while fecal matter can be managed hygienically, making toilet cloths a perfectly viable option for servicing your family’s ablution needs when SHTF.

5 Reasons Cloth Beats Paper

  • It keeps you cleaner. Surprise! Cloth is known to remove more waste than regular toilet paper without leaving particles behind. It can be used dry, reducing odor, bacteria and dampness.
  • It’s eco-friendly. So do away with today’s commercially produced rolls. Cloth is a truly good for the environment, reusable product.
  • It’s more affordable. You can make your own from flannel, preferably patterned, to hide stains. Create a hem around the edges to prevent fraying. They can be washed just like the rest of your laundry, with no added water or detergent, though I would do it in a separate wash. To save water, you may want to wash it in grey water.
  • It’s efficient. They’ll save you time and energy because it’s easy to care for. Plus, you willl never run out of.

Keeping Things Clean

  • Toilet cloths, better known as ‘family cloths’ because they are used communally, need to be used along with a small spray bottle to sanitize them after use.
  • If someone in your post-disaster party is sick, remember to wash the family cloth separate from clothing.
  • Washing machines are breeding grounds for bacteria and build-up of these nasty little organisms can spread disease. Remember to run your machine frequently using hot water and bleach from time to time, so that the interior is cleansed.
  • Ensure that you have a sanitary storage system for cloths. A small trash can with a pedal is ideal for storing used clothes. Line it with a pillow case for easy transferal to the washing machine.
  • Keep the trash can as dry as possible to avoid spreading bacteria.
  • Before washing, rinse the cloths in a bucket of hot water mixed with vinegar to help to break down bacterial debris. You can substitute vinegar for detergent if you have it on hand.
  • Use a plunger or similar device to mix up the cloths in the cleansing solution to help dislodge any stubborn waste particles.
  • Any alternative toilet paper can leave behind a residue you don’t want.Excessive wiping with dry materials can cause irritation, especially for hemorrhoid sufferers.
  • Washing yourself with fresh water is natural and refreshing, relieving irritation and improving all-round hygiene.

Compressed Coin Tissues

You probably never heard of these but they are, in fact, excellent for but out bags. They’re extremely small, lightweight and the way to get them bigger is you soak them into water.

Here’s a video showcasing them:

You can also keep them in your home or at your BOL as part of your stockpile, because they have a very long shelf life.

Roman Sponges

A stub of natural sea sponge and stick was all it took for the Ancient Romans to cleanse themselves post-toileting. The sponge was soaked in a water channel running in front of the toilet (most of which were public!) and pushed through the hole in the front of the toilet bowl, where it would do its duty.

In a survival situation, we can learn a thing or two from all of this. A sponge is lightweight and easy to pack (and has a ton of alternative uses), and you can find a stick almost anywhere. The only requirement is that you have a fresh water source close to clean it up after use.

Au Naturel

If you’re short on sponges or cloths, there are many ways to substitute toilet paper. Explore your surroundings and you may come across some very interesting materials you never knew have some serious wiping potential!

  • In the fall and winter, corncobs do the job. Just ask the British colonists. In the summer months (and if you find yourself in wine country), try grapevine leaves.
  • Other leafy alternatives include Bigleaf Aster (‘lumberjack’s leaf’), the Californian abuliton palmieri, purple flowering raspberry and red mulberry.
  • Salvage a few old phone books and mail order catalogs from postboxes. At least you’ll find some use for them when all telecommunications are down!
  • Newspaper works too. Crinkled and softened broadsheet does the trick. And, while we’re talking about it, let’s not forget paper towels and paper napkins.
  • Dry pine needles and pine cones are abundant and easy to dispose of. Pine needles may not win for comfort, but they act as a natural brush for getting rid of debris.
  • Compact squares of moss are softer options, but take care not to let it crumble and fall apart.
  • A smooth, oval-shaped river stone is a common toileting tool in Islamic cultures. It’s easy to find and comfortable to hold; just make sure you choose one without any sharp edges.
  • Lamb’s Ear, a woolly, grey leaf native to Asia, is a soft, natural toilet tissue that grows in most temperate climates.
  • Mullein grows in every US state and can be scavenged along roads and in fields and meadows. Not only does it grow over six feet high, its yellow flowers and large, bristly leaves are easy to identify and are a great toilet paper alternative.
  • If you find yourself out in the cold when SHTF, you may be able to make use of your snowy surroundings. Snowballs, rolled tightly, can be great toilet paper. It’s delicate, yet gritty, and cleanses you as a bonus.

Toxic Toileting

In your forage for workable toilet paper alternatives, you’re likely to run across some undesirable plants. Here’s some tips on how to avoid nature’s most undesirable:

Poison Ivy

Like its cousin poison oak, poison ivy leaves come in bunches of three. They are green with pointy tips. The middle stem is the longest, while its side leaves are mitten-shaped, with ridges that resemble ‘thumbs’.

  • Its vine has hairy protrusions that are also toxic.
  • The leaves turn a reddish hue in the spring.
  • Do not touch this plant or use it as firewood. You’ll find them growing against rocks and around larger trees.

Poison Oak

This nasty little shrub is deciduous, which means it loses leaves in winter. Its leaves, recognizable by their smooth, rounded edges, are tinged with red in the spring.

  • Depending on the climate, it shows itself as a climbing vine or ground cover.
  • The leaves and stems are covered with sticky oil covers. The oil causes a stinging, itching rash if exposed to skin. It spreads very quickly, so be careful not to touch other parts of your body. Wash your infected clothes immediately.
  • When encountering poison oak, remember the old hiker’s mantra: ‘Leaves three, let it be’.

Poison Sumac

The harmless staghorn sumac, with its jagged leaves, fuzzy stem and red flower, often grows alongside its poisonous cousin, the poison sumac is the non-poisonous version.

  • You’ll know the poison sumac by its clusters of 7-13 rounded leaves.
  • Its stem is smooth and fuzz-free.


Besides direct contact with a poisonous plant, it is possible that you may suffer indirect exposure through tool-sharing, touching livestock or wearing infected clothing. It is even possible to inhale toxins by burning poisonous vegetation.

  • Symptoms of skin contact include a red rash, bumps, patches and blisters which contain contagious fluid, swelling and widespread itching.
  • Protect yourself and your party from poisonous plants by teaching your survival dream team how to recognize these toxic species while out in the wild. You should also know how to protect as well as to treat yourself if need be.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, boots and gloves when foraging for food or firewood. If clothing becomes exposed, wash it separately in hot water and detergent to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Stock your first-aid kit with barrier skin creams containing bentoquatum. Rinse creams off each day and reapply.
  • Always clean your tools thoroughly with alcohol, disinfectant or soap. Keep your gloves on while scrubbing, believe it or not toxins from poisonous plants can hang around for nearly five years!
  • Arm yourself with a respirator to protect against combusting wood from poisonous vegetation.

What to Do If You’re Exposed

  • If exposed, immediately wash your skin with alcohol, plant poison wash or detergent, mixed with plenty of water. Make sure you rinse frequently.
  • Scrub under your fingernails, as toxins can get trapped there.
  • Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream, must-haves for any first-aid kit, will help to relieve itching and blistering.
  • An antihistamine such as Benadryl may also reduce itching, but make sure you follow the directions on the package and prepare yourself for drowsiness.

Although toilet paper substitutes are healthier and cheaper, even organic wiping options come with challenges. Make sure your trusty alternative TP is non-toxic and does not contain any poisonous toxins that can leave a nasty rash in the most sensitive of places! Have you ditched the modern loo roll in favor of more creative substitutes?

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  1. Avatar

    I’d like to speak with someone who can help me create a personal plan for survival. Who is in the business of professional help?



  2. Avatar

    Actually I’m reading this after I confirmed today that there are actually more germs in the TP than on my butt. I finally found an insect (probably from the warehouse where the TP lived before I bought it), and the location of it leaves no doubt that it was “living” in the TP. I’ve had several infections “down there” that have no vector explanation. I’ve suspected TP of being teeming with harmful bacteria for a couple of years now. I’d rather wash cloths in hot water honestly.

  3. Avatar

    I was a “young’un” when outhouses were still in use and newspaper was used. Fortunately, today’s newsprint is with vegetable based ink and not petroleum based ink like back then.
    For several years, every time I went to the grocery store, I would take some Thrifty Nickle type newspapers. I stack them in tall plastic garbage bags to keep them from drying out. I now have enough to last several years if there is a collapse of any type.
    Make sure you crumple the page up and roll it between your hands, like we did in the good ole days, to make it soft and pliable. It only takes one page to do the job, then take it out and burn it. DO NOT flush it into a septic tank as it will not break down like toilet paper.

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