The common fold normally involves creating a triangle or "V" shape out of the first available sheet or square on a toilet paper roll. Commonly, the two corners of that sheet are tucked behind the paper symmetrically, forming a point at the end of the roll. More elaborate folding results in shapes like fans, sailboats, and even flowers.
Toilet paper folding is also known as "toilet paper origami" or "toilegami". The practice has been considered an emblematic example of a meme copied across the world from a hotel to another, until it became common.
The practice is followed by hotels all over the world, according to Stephen Gill, a British photographer who published a book of pictures of folded hotel toilet paper from various nations.
Dr. Susan Blackmore, who uses the example of hotel toilet paper folding to illustrate the use of memes, pointed out in the 2006 Darwin Day Lecture before the British Humanist Association that even a remote guesthouse she visited in rural Assam in India folded the first sheet on its rolls of toilet paper.
Hotel toilet paper folding is such an institution that in the horror movie 1408 it is used as one of the eerie happenings noticed by the main character—after using the toilet paper, he finds it mysteriously has been freshly folded over when no one else had been in the room.
According to David Feldman, in his "Imponderables" syndicated newspaper column, the practice is meant to assure customers that their hotel room has been cleaned. Feldman reported that he had contacted many of the country's largest innkeeper chains to ask why the toilet paper was folded, and all of them provided the same answer. He quoted James P. McCauley, executive director of the International Association of Holiday Inns:
Hotels want to give their guests the confidence that the bathroom has been cleaned since the last guest has used the room. To accomplish this, the maid will fold over the last piece of toilet paper to assure that no one has used the toilet paper since the room was cleaned. It is subtle but effective.
Stephen Gill believes the practice is meant to please or impress customers:
But the neatly made bed, the folded toilet paper—all these things symbolise attention and love. Perhaps such finishing touches are also an attempt to suggest flawlessness or excellence, and so distract you from whatever failings the room may have. They create a moment of stillness.
"Toilet paper origami" (also called "toilegami") is a variation that involves folding toilet paper in elaborate shapes.
Gill found differences in the style and care of folding between hotels. One example from Tokyo, "with its tiny pleats, really stands out", according to the photographer. "Only in Japan did I find such minute attention to detail. [...] The New York City [example], on the other hand, is very poor quality, asymmetrical on rough, thin paper. And the Romania [example] is a great slab with a small, right-hand fold."
According to one hotel industry website, "Housekeepers at luxe lairs around the world are neatly folding the loose end of a partially used roll of toilet paper into a neat little bow or fan." Some hotels provide more elaborate flourishes: some apply a sticker attaching the folded end to the roll; others wrap spare rolls with a ribbon; Thompson Hotels imprint their logo on the first square. The Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also imprints its name and logo on the ends of its toilet paper — a practice done by supervisors checking the work of the housekeepers.
As part of a $1 billion renovation of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, in 2006, the typical triangular fold practice was stopped as one of a number of changes in order to give customers an impression that the hotel was special. "We're not going to do the little pointy thing," rooms division chief Charlotte Rosenau told the Miami Herald. "Every hotel does that." The change in toilet paper policy was made after Rosenau and several housekeepers crowded into a bathroom to experiment with different methods. They settled on "folding the first square in half, then resting the crease midway down the roll", according to the newspaper. "It just looks nice and clean," Rosenau explained.
The Tickle Pink Inn, a hotel in Carmel Highlands, California, folds the ends of its toilet paper into fan-like designs, mirroring the folds of its bathroom washcloths. A review in the San Francisco Chronicle noted the practice as "a fancy touch".
One travel writer noted seeing toilet paper folded into flowers and sailboats at hotels in Costa Rica.
Usage beyond hotels
An automated toilet paper folding machine called Meruboa was invented in Japan. With the push of a lever the device folds the first sheet of toilet paper into a triangle.
Elaborate wedding dresses have been made from folded toilet paper (also using glue).
- Feldman, David, When Do Fish Sleep? and other Imponderables of Everyday Life, p. 4, "Why Do Many Hotels and Motels Fold Over the Last Piece of Toilet Paper in the Bathroom?" New York: Harper & Row, 1989
- Randerson, James, science correspondent, "The meme-ing of life", blog post, February 22, 2006, "News Blog", The Guardian, retrieved March 31, 2009
- Barnett, Laura, "The loo roll that says I love you: Stephen Gill explains why he spent three years taking pictures of hotel toilet paper", The Guardian, September 26, 2007, retrieved March 31, 2009
- Salles, Steve, movie critic, "Roaches, bedbugs the least of your worries in '1408'", movie review, Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, June 22, 2007, retrieved via NewsBank.com, March 31, 2009
- "Toilet Paper Origami", Origami Resource Center web page, retrieved March 31, 2009
- "Adventures in Overservice: The Art of Toilet Paper Origami", October 9, 2008, Hotel Chatter website, retrieved March 31, 2009
- Barber, Christine, "Working Girl: Welcome to Hotel Eldorado", The Santa Fe New Mexican, August 21, 2005, retrieved via Newsbank.com, March 31, 2009
- Hanks, Douglas, "Details are key in Fontainebleau makeover", The Miami Herald, July 9, 2008, retrieved via Newsbank.com on March 31, 2009
- Owden, Shirley-Anne, "Romantic Highlands hideaway", San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2008, retrieved via Newsbank.com on March 31, 2009
- "Costa Rica vacation fabulous", The News-Times, Danbury, Connecticut, March 5, 2006 ("In San Jose and Punta Leona, the paper ends were folded into either ornate little flowers or tiny sailboats."), retrieved March 31, 2009
- "Cheap Chic Weddings 2008 Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest" at Cheap Chic Weddings website, retrieved March 31, 2009
- Wright, Linda, Toilet Paper Origami on a Roll: Decorative Folds and Flourishes for Over-the-Top Hospitality, U.S.: Lindaloo Enterprises, July 2012, ISBN 978-0-9800923-3-2 (pbk., ill., 112 p.): "Learn 32 designs including styles for horizontal toilet paper holders, vertical holders and spare rolls".
- Wright, Linda, Toilet Paper Origami: Delight Your Guests with Fancy Folds and Simple Surface Embellishments, or Easy Origami for Hotels, Bed and Breakfasts, Cruise Ships, Creative Housekeepers, and Crafters, U.S.: Lindaloo Enterprises, September 2008, ISBN 978-0-9800923-1-8 (pbk., ill., 96 p.): "Illustrated with more than 300 photographs, step-by-step instructions teach 29 easy yet eye-catching folds and embellishments for styling the end of a toilet paper roll".
- Wright, Linda, Toilet Paper Crafts for Holidays and Special Occasions: 60 Papercraft, Sewing, Origami and Kanzashi Projects, U.S.: Lindaloo Enterprises, May 2010, ISBN 978-0-9800923-2-5 (pbk., ill., 144 p.)
- Gill, Stephen, Anonymous Origami, Archive of Modern Conflict (London, UK) & Nobody Press (Stephen Gill), September 2007, ISBN 978-0-9549405-8-4 (pbk., ill., 104 p.): "Features photographs of folded toilet paper sourced between 2004 and 2007 from hotels and B&B's from around the world".
- Toilet Paper Origami (sample images).