Toilet paper orientation

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Toilet paper orientation
The over orientation
The under orientation

Toilet paper when used with a toilet roll holder with a horizontal axle parallel to the floor and also parallel to the wall has two possible orientations: the toilet paper may hang over (in front of) or under (behind) the roll; if perpendicular to the wall, the two orientations are right-left or near-away. The choice is largely a matter of personal preference, dictated by habit. In surveys of US consumers and of bath and kitchen specialists, 60–70 percent of respondents prefer over.[1]

While many people consider this topic unimportant, some hold strong opinions on the matter. Advice columnist Ann Landers said that the subject was the most responded to (15,000 letters in 1986) and controversial issue in her column's history. Defenders of either position cite advantages ranging from aesthetics, hospitality, and cleanliness to paper conservation, the ease of detaching individual squares, and compatibility with a recreational vehicle or a cat. Some writers have proposed connections to age, sex, or political philosophy, and survey evidence has shown a correlation with socioeconomic status.[2] A generic answer is that it should hang the way the person doing the roll changing prefers.

Solutions range from compromise, to using separate dispensers or separate bathrooms entirely, or simply ignoring the issue altogether. One man advocates a plan under which his country will standardize on a single forced orientation, and at least one inventor hopes to popularize a new kind of toilet roll holder which swivels from one orientation to the other.[3]

Context and relevance[edit]

In the article "Bathroom Politics: Introducing Students to Sociological Thinking from the Bottom Up",[4] Eastern Institute of Technology sociology professor Edgar Alan Burns describes some reasons toilet paper politics is worthy of examination. On the first day of Burns' introductory course in sociology, he asks his students, "Which way do you think a roll of toilet paper should hang?"[5] In the following fifty minutes, the students examine why they picked their answers, exploring the social construction of "rules and practices which they have never consciously thought about before".[6] They make connections to larger themes of sociology, including gender roles, the public and private spheres, race and ethnicity, social class, and age. Moreover, Burns argues that there is an additional lesson:

Sociologists are often concerned that their discipline is seen merely as an elaboration of the trivial or the obvious. Therefore, the theoretical point illustrated through the paper-hanging exercise is not that small-scale realities are the opposite of big picture sociology, but rather that the big picture does not exist separately "out there." Minor details and "taken for granted" rules and beliefs are the built-in meta-narratives of society, and this is what makes them so powerful.[6]

Burns' activity has been adopted by a social psychology course at the University of Notre Dame, where it is used to illustrate the principles of Berger and Luckmann's 1966 classic The Social Construction of Reality.[7] Similar everyday topics that have been used to awaken the sociological imagination include games of tic-tac-toe, violations of personal space, the rules of walking, and the etiquette of which urinals men choose in public restrooms.[8]

Christopher Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, classifies the choice of toilet paper orientation under "tastes, preferences, and interests" as opposed to either values or "attitudes, traits, norms, and needs". Other personal interests include one's favorite cola or baseball team. Interests are an important part of identity; one expects and prefers that different people have different interests, which serves one's "sense of uniqueness". Differences in interests usually lead at most to teasing and gentle chiding. For most people, interests don't cause the serious divisions caused by conflicts of values; a possible exception is what Peterson calls "the 'get a life' folks among us" who elevate interests into moral issues.[9]

Morton Ann Gernsbacher, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, compares the orientation of toilet paper to the orientation of cutlery in a dishwasher, the choice of which drawer in a chest of drawers to place one's socks, and the order of shampooing one's hair and lathering one's body in the shower. In each choice, there is a prototypical solution chosen by the majority, and it is tempting to offer simplistic explanations of how the minority must be different. She warns that neuroimaging experiments—which as of 2007 were beginning to probe behaviors from mental rotation and facial expressions to grocery shopping and tickling—must strive to avoid such cultural bias and stereotypes.[10]

In his book Conversational Capital, Bertrand Cesvet gives toilet paper placement as an example of ritualized behavior—one of the ways designers and marketers can create a memorable experience around a product that leads to word-of-mouth momentum. Cesvet's other examples include shaking a box of Tic Tacs and dissecting Oreo cookies.[11]

Sometimes toilet paper is simply entertaining. In between songs at a concert, John Hiatt will sometimes tell the tale of his wife switching her preference.[12] Broadcaster Jim Bohannon, who once spent an hour on toilet paper orientation, explains that such issues are good for talk radio: "It is an interactive medium, a certain kind of clash, it doesn't have to be a violent clash, but at least a disagreement would certainly be at the top of the list. It has to be something that's of general interest."[13]

There is a difficulty in the medium of television: on the major American networks NBC and CBS, as of 1987, toilet paper was not allowed to be shown hanging next to the toilet.[14] The 1970s sitcom All in the Family was the first show to include a discussion of toilet paper, when Archie yelled at Meathead for hanging the paper under.[15] In a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, "Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily", the children are confiscated by Child Protective Services, who hand Marge a note citing her home as a "squalid hellhole" where the toilet paper is "hung in improper overhand fashion".[16]

Arguments for over or under[edit]

Folded and sealed toilet paper with cover, Hotel Monasterio 2009
Paper mounted under with upside-down images and text

The main reasons given by people to explain why they hang their toilet paper a given way are ease of grabbing and habit.[17] Some particular advantages cited for each orientation include:

  • Over reduces the risk of accidentally brushing the wall or cabinet with one's knuckles, potentially transferring grime and germs.[18]
  • Over makes it easier to visually locate and to grasp the loose end.[19]
  • Over gives hotels, cruise ships, office buildings, public places and homeowners with guest bathrooms the option to fold over the last sheet to show that the room has been cleaned.[20]
  • Over is generally the intended direction of viewing for the manufacturer's branding, so patterned toilet paper looks better this way.[21]
  • Under provides a tidier appearance, in that the loose end can be more hidden from view.[22][23]
  • Under reduces the risk that a toddler or a house pet, such as a dog or cat, will completely unroll the toilet paper when batting at the roll.[24]
  • Under in a recreational vehicle may reduce unrolling during driving.[25]

Partisans have claimed that each method makes it easier to tear the toilet paper on a perforated sheet boundary, depending on the direction of pulling and the use of a second hand to stabilize the roll.[26] (A traveller from the U.S. to China in 1991 noted a different setup: non-perforated paper with a metal cutter above the roll, which obliges the over direction.)[27]

It is unclear if one orientation is more economical than the other. The Centralian Advocate attributes a claim that over saves on paper usage to Planet Green.[28] A reader of The Orange County Register found a "six-month study" by a "university in the U.S." that came to the same conclusion.[29] But a reader of the Cape Argus wrote that a "British loo paper manufacturer" came to the opposite conclusion.[30] In his humor compilation How Hemlines Predict the Economy, Peter FitzSimons writes that placing the hanging flap against the wall "is generally twice as economical".[31]

In the academic field of evaluation, Michael Scriven writes that the question of the correct way to insert toilet paper is a "one-item aptitude test" for measuring one's evaluation skills. These skills include the evaluative attitude, practical logical analysis, empathy, teaching, and being a quick study. To prove one's competence, one may either derive the "one right answer" or prove that the test is or is not culturally biased.[32]


In their 2006 book Why Not?, Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres write that the debate over toilet paper is a debate about symmetry (they also write that too much paper has been wasted on the issue, and that they prefer over). By taking an approximately symmetric situation and flipping it around, one can sometimes arrive at a new solution to a problem with its own surprising advantages. Other physical examples include peeling a banana from the apex rather than the pedicel, or steering a car from the rear rather than the front.[33]

There is a reflection symmetry between the left and right sides of the roll, so whether it rotates clockwise or counterclockwise is ambiguous; it depends on one's point of view.[34] The up/down and front/back symmetries are broken by the force of gravity and the locations of the wall and the user, so one can distinguish between two orientations:

  • Over: the end hangs away from the wall and dispenses over the top of the roll when pulled.
  • Under: the end hangs next to the wall and dispenses under the bottom of the roll.

This nomenclature can also be read ambiguously. In 1991, a customer wrote to Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, with an unusual complaint: "Dear Herb: ... Last week in my journey to SFO someone put the toilet paper in wrong. Any damn fool knows the papers come out the bottom of the roll and not over the top. I couldn't figure out how to correct the error ..."[35] Kelleher replied, copying his senior management committee, general counsel, and customer relations manager: "Dear Jim: What the hell were you doing upside down in our lavatory?"[36] Kevin and Jackie Freiberg cite this episode in their book Nuts! as an example of Southwest's unconventional approach to customer service.[37]

There are other everyday objects that dispense a sheet of material from a roll: fax machines, cash registers, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and parchment paper. One columnist who believes in the importance of toilet paper orientation writes, "all have to exit in the correct direction or it doesn't work, or you cut yourself, or both."[38]


Multi-orientable toilet paper holder
Another solution: two paper holders, even with different toilet paper.

Survey results[edit]

The question "Do you prefer that your toilet tissue unwinds over or under the spool?" is featured on the cover of Barry Sinrod and Mel Poretz's 1989 book The First Really Important Survey of American Habits. The overall result: 68 percent chose over.[39] Sinrod explained, "To me, the essence of the book is the toilet paper question ... Either people don't care, or they care so much that they practically cause bodily injury to one another."[40] Poretz observed, "The toilet-paper question galvanizes people almost like the Miller Lite tastes-great/less-filling commercial."[41]

In Bernice Kanner's 1995 book Are You Normal?, 53 percent of survey respondents prefer over, while "a fourth" prefer under and 8 percent do not know or care.[42]

Sitting Pretty: The History of the Toilet, a travelling exhibition that tours Canadian museums, asks visitors to register their preferred roll direction. When the exhibition reached Huntsville, Ontario, in June 2001, 13,000 visitors had taken the survey, with 67 percent preferring over.[43] At the Saint Boniface Museum in Winnipeg in February 2005, a voting machine registered 5,831 over versus 5,679 under, or 51 percent over. Saint Boniface's director noted, "I think there's been some cheating, though."[44]

Georgia-Pacific commissioned a survey of Americans' bathroom habits in 1993 to launch its new Quilted Northern brand, and more surveys followed:[45]

  • 1993 Practices and Preferences of Toilet Paper Users: 73 percent over out of 1,200 respondents. The press release claims, "A first-of-its-kind survey has settled, once and for all, the great toilet paper debate."[46]
  • 1994 Toilet Paper Report: 59 percent over,[47] out of 1,000 respondents; conducted by KRC Research and Consulting[48]
  • 1995 Bathroom Tissue Report: 59 percent over versus 29 percent under,[49] out of 1,000 respondents; conducted by KRC Research and Consulting[47]
  • 2001 Bathroom Confidential: 63 percent over out of 1,001 respondents; conducted by Impulse Research[50]
  • 2004 Bathroom Confidential: 72 percent over[51]

In 1993, American Standard Brands conducted a poll of "designers, contractors, dealers, distributors and other bath and kitchen reps"[52] at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The question: "What is the correct and only way to hang the toilet paper – under or over?"[53] Over won 59 percent of the vote, 1,826 to 1,256.[52] American Standard spokeswoman Nora Monroe observed, "The bathroom is a territorial place. You'd be surprised how many people have definite opinions on this issue."[54] In 2008, American Standard commissioned the 2008 Bathroom Habits Survey, a more traditional format conducted by Opinion Research Corporation with 1,001 respondents. This time, "three-quarters" answered over.[55]

In 1995, a survey by Scott Paper Company's "Cottonelle College of Freshness Knowledge" had "most Americans over 50" preferring over.[56] In another Cottonelle survey in 1999, 68 percent of respondents preferred over to 25 percent under. Columnist Bonnie Henry hypothesizes of the others: "Meanwhile, 7 percent – no doubt bored beyond belief at this point by the inane questioning – had slipped into a deep, irreversible coma."[57]

On January 27, 2010, the 100th anniversary of Thomas Crapper's death,[17] Cottonelle launched a "Great Debate" advertising campaign, inviting American consumers to vote their preference at a Kimberly-Clark website.[58] The result was announced during the 82nd Academy Awards: 72 percent had voted over.[59] In a more traditional preliminary survey of 1,000 Americans, Cottonelle found that "overs" are more likely than "unders" to notice a roll's direction (74 percent), to be annoyed when the direction is incorrect (24 percent), and to have flipped the direction at a friend's home (27 percent).[60]

Besides orientation, toilet paper manufacturers and survey authors have studied other private practices around toilet paper: how much is used; whether it is torn off with one hand or two; whether it is torn off right-to-left or left-to-right; and whether it is crumpled or folded before use.[46]


Sex and age[edit]

Poretz and Sinrod break down the results of their 1989 survey by sex and age. These are the percentages of respondents who roll their paper over:[61]

21–34 35–44 45–54 55 + Average
Male 71% 81% 60% 63% 69%
Female 81% 65% 62% 83% 67%
Average 76% 73% 61% 73% 68%

The book does not note the number of respondents in each segment, so it is difficult to say whether any of the deviations are statistically significant, but there does not seem to be a difference between men's and women's preferences. Nonetheless, such a difference has been claimed by other authors, in both directions. The American Standard conference poll concluded: "Many men voted for over, saying it made the paper easier to reach."[54] Inventor Curtis Batts arrives at a different conclusion from his personal experience: "Women like it over, and men like it under. I think it bugs women when it touches the wall."[62] Advice columnist Ms Maud of The Press asserts that women prefer over because they are "logical thinkers".[63]

A Cottonelle survey indicated that men were more likely than women to notice, and become annoyed with, a toilet roll hung against their preference.[64]

A popular-culture occurrence of a gender theory is found in the Weekly World News, a supermarket tabloid that runs outlandish stories for comedic effect. In the 2003 story North Korea Shocker!, the WWN claimed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was secretly female. As supporting evidence, Kim supposedly watched the Home Shopping Network, is a member of Oprah's Book Club, and "Yells at staffers who leave the toilet seat up and hang toilet paper rolls outward instead of inward."[65]

According to W. C. Privy's Original Bathroom Companion, Number 2, "By more than 4 to 1, older folks prefer to have their toilet paper dispense over the front."[66] The same claim is made by James Buckley's The Bathroom Companion for people older than 50.[67]

Class and politics[edit]

Sinrod observed of his survey, "60 percent of those who earn $50,000 or more prefer it to be over and 73 percent of those who earn less than $20,000 prefer under".[40] On what that proves: "I don't know, but it's sure interesting."[39]

In one local election in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, new voting machines were given a trial run by asking the question, "Are you in favor of toilet paper in all public washrooms being installed with the loose end coming up and over the front of the roll?" The answer was yes: 768 to 196, or 80 percent over. It was thought to be a question "which carried no political association".[68] Yet one teenager's science project at the Southern Appalachian Science and Engineering Fair, and a favorite of the fair's coordinator, was a survey concluding that liberals roll over while conservatives roll under.[69]


In his 2003 book 10 Steps to Sales Success, Tim Breithaupt proposes a set of four personality types evolving from Carl Jung's work: Socializer, Director, Thinker, and Relater. Breithaupt writes that toilet paper management is an important detail for Thinkers, while Directors don't care so long as the paper is available.[70] In her 2001 book Three Keys to Self-Understanding, Pat Wyman locates having an opinion on toilet paper hanging on the Enneagram of Personality, which classifies people as Ones, Twos, Threes, and so on: "Ones know the answer to such dilemmas."[71]

Gilda Carle, a therapist and Cottonelle consultant, offers her theories on character traits:

If you roll over, you like taking charge, crave organization and are likely to over-achieve.
If you roll under, you're laid-back, dependable and seek relationships with strong foundations.
If you don't care as long as it's there, you aim to minimize conflict, value flexibility and like putting yourself in new situations.[64]

David Grimes, a columnist, takes a more sarcastic attitude towards bathroom-informed personality tests:

If you are the kind of person who prefers the paper to roll over the top, then you are an outgoing, free-spending type who gets his kicks trying to sneak 11 items through the 10-items-or-less line at the grocery store; if you are the kind of person who prefers the paper to roll from the bottom, then you are a naturally suspicious sort who vacuums his house three times a day and thinks Jerry Springer is god.

Or perhaps the other way around.[72]

A reporter for the trade journal Fund Action relays a story of a mutual fund firm that profiled job candidates with questions that would be analyzed by a psychologist. One of the questions was "Which way do you hang toilet paper? So it unrolls from the front or the back?". The story does not reveal the name of the firm or its preferred answer.[73]

Noted preferences[edit]

Advice columnist Ann Landers (Eppie Lederer) was once asked which way toilet paper should hang. She answered under, prompting thousands of letters in protest; she then recommended over, prompting thousands more.[74] She reflected that the 15,000 letters made toilet paper the most controversial issue in her column's 31-year history,[75] wondering, "With so many problems in the world, why were thousands of people making an issue of tissue?"[74]

In November 1986, Landers told the Canadian Commercial Travellers Association that "Fine-quality toilet paper has designs that are right side up" in the over position.[75] In 1996, she explained the issue on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where 68 percent of the studio audience favored over; Oprah suggested that under uses more paper.[76] In 1998, she wrote that the issue "seems destined to go on forever", insisting, "In spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of people prefer the roll hung so that the paper comes over the top, I still prefer to have the paper hanging close to the wall."[68] On the day of her last column in 2002, Landers wrote, "P.S. The toilet paper hangs over the top."[77] Her published commentary on the issue has even continued after her death. 2005 saw the premiere of a one-woman play written by David Rambo: a character study of Ann Landers titled The Lady with All the Answers. Toilet paper comes up once again, and the actress surveys the audience for their opinions.[78]

In his article in Teaching Sociology, Burns writes that the toilet paper hanging exercise is valuable in part because "[the] subject matter is familiar to everybody; everyone is an expert, and everyone has an opinion."[79] The media have published the opinions of entertainers, advice columnists, and businesspeople, including the following:


Seth Wheeler's original (c. 1891) U.S. Patent illustration.[80][81]
  • Paul Burrell, butler to Diana, Princess of Wales: "Of course it should be over. If it were down, it would unravel all over the floor. Royals don't have that problem, because they have sheets of tissue which are fanned out into an attractive display and sit in a box."[82]
  • Hilarie Burton, actress: "Over! I hate the under. Why reach further for it than you have to?"[83]
  • Lincoln Cheng, owner of Zouk: "... so it does not touch the wall and possibly pick up germs."[84]
  • Paige Davis, television host, Trading Spaces[85]
  • Karen Duffy, actress[86]
  • Carson Elliott, advice columnist: "This way makes grasping the paper much easier than if it comes from underneath the roll."[87]
  • Answer Fella of Esquire and Kenn Fischburg, president of "... experts consulted by AF's ass-crack research squadron say TP is properly hung over the top, not underneath. 'I prefer it to be as close to me as possible.'"[88]
  • Rae Hill, engineer and manager of Kimberly-Clark's Owensboro, Kentucky tissue mill: "over the top"[89]
  • Narendra Jaggi, rocket scientist: "Definitely top. You can rip it very easily. You use the other hand to hold like this and rip."[90]
  • Daren Kagasoff, actor[91]
  • Landers, the advice columnist, wrote on the day of her last column in 2002, "P.S. The toilet paper hangs over the top."[77]
  • Jay Leno, comedian. Leno "... will even change the paper at others' houses, saying if people don't have it right, they obviously don't know which way it's supposed to go."[92]
  • Debi Mazar, actress[86]
  • Ty Pennington, television host, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition[86]
  • Samantha Ronson, singer-songwriter: "Over! It has to be over. I am maniacally obsessed with that."[93]
  • The San Francisco State University faculty club: "Put the roll on 'under,' and the swans would be seen swimming upside down. And, of course, faced with this final crushing blow, the opposition crumbled."[94]
  • Tori Spelling, actress: "Over is just more chic."[64]
  • Matt Wertz, singer-songwriter: "Over the front. It's the only way."[95]
  • Mr Herriman from the animated cartoon Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.[citation needed]
  • Martha Stewart prefers over, citing practicality and aesthetics. [96]
  • Seth Wheeler, inventor of the perforated toilet paper roll, submitted a drawing of the roll with paper draped over, in the application for U.S. Patent 465,588
  • Paul F. Tompkins: "It’s harder — if you lose the thread — it is harder, when it’s under, to get at the thread to pull, than if it’s over. Of course, people with cats are exempt." He also admitted that he changes the orientation to over when he visits other people's houses.[97]


  • Ann Landers, advice columnist: "I'm very compulsive about it. The toilet paper needs to be hung down along the wall. I'll actually rearrange it myself if I'm over at someone's home and I see it hung over the top."[98]
  • Dean McDermott, actor: "Under just says Zen to me. When it rolls over, the toilet paper seems so aggressive. Calmly rolled under, it's symmetrical and orderly and there when I need it."[64]
  • Mel Poretz, author and marketing executive: "I'm an 'under' and thought we were in the majority by far. I never thought there were civilized people who put toilet paper over the top."[41] "... I married an under-the-roll girl. If not, we'd probably be divorced."[99]
  • Gerhard Richter's 1965 oil painting Klorolle depicts a roll hung under, as a comment on Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. [100] The third version of the work (CR 75-3) has been exhibited in six museums, and in 1995, it sold at Sotheby's for £120,000.[101]
  • Barry Sinrod, author and marketing executive: "I'm an under person, I don't know why."[40]
  • Gene Weingarten, journalist: "The main reason is aesthetic. It looks better. I will warrant that 80 to 85 percent of artists, architects and interior decorators have it spool out from below, with the overage hanging against the wall, not flappying down from the top into the middle of the room. I am so right. I am inarguably correct. I cannot even believe we are having this discussion."[102]


  • Annie's Mailbox, advice column by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar: "If the toilet paper has a pattern, it should roll from the top over. Otherwise, it doesn't matter. Really. However you like it is just fine with us."[103]
  • Heloise, advice columnist: "Both ways. I try not to get obsessed about these things."[104]
  • Erik Seidel, brand director for Kimberly-Clark's Scott portfolio: "That's a key debate in my house. The 'under' looks cleaner and neater because you don't see it. The 'over' is more convenient."[105]

Social consequences[edit]

Toilet paper orientation is often mentioned as a hurdle for married couples.[106] The issue may also arise in businesses and public places.[107]

Even at the Amundsen–Scott Research Station at the South Pole, complaints have been raised over which way to install toilet paper. During the six-month-long polar night, a few dozen residents are stuck living together, and while many of the headaches of modern life are far away, food and hygiene are not. Despite the challenges posed by the hostile Antarctic climate, "It is in the more mundane trials of everyday life that personality clashes are revealed."[108]


Some of the proposed solutions to this problem involve more or better technology, while others concentrate on human behavior.


Twelve rolls in a mix of states

The Tilt-A-Roll is a swiveling toilet paper dispenser invented by Curtis Batts, a Dallas-native industrial engineer.[62] His patents on the invention published in 1996 and 1997, US 5588615  and US 5690302 , summarize its design, stating, "An adjustable angle coupling secures the yoke to the mounting assembly and permits rotation of the yoke about an axis directed orthogonally through the spindle such that the paper roll can be oriented to unroll paper either from over or from under the roll as desired."

Batts explains that his parents argued over toilet paper placement "all the time", as do he and his wife; the device's motto is "Let Tilt-A-Roll save your marriage!"[62] The Tilt-A-Roll has been featured on a variety of newspapers, magazines, radio interviews, and TV shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.[109] Batts entered the Tilt-A-Roll at the 1999 INPEX invention show, the world's largest invention show with 800 inventions,[110] and it won third place "for its appeal and simplicity".[92]

Batts started out constructing the devices in a workshop in his garage. He explains, "I've had a few sleepless nights where I went 24 hours making these things. I've got to find a manufacturer for it. I can't keep up with the volume."[62] As of 2000, Batts was still "in the process of selecting a distributor";[111] he has tried The Home Depot[109] and QVC.[112] As of 2008, the Tilt-A-Roll is on sale at Batt's website.[113]

An inventor named Rocky Hutson demonstrated a similar device he called the T.P. Swivel to the producers of the television program PitchMen in late 2009. Of 173 entrants gathered at Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, Hutson was one of the twenty chosen to pitch their products to Anthony Sullivan.[114] For his part, Hutson pulls his paper from the top of the roll.[115]

Another solution: install two toilet paper dispensers, as is more common in public restrooms and hotels.[116] A reader of the Annie's Mailbox column recommends using a holder large enough to fit two rolls, noting that the roll mounted over is more popular. Another reader sidesteps the issue by foregoing the holder, instead piling five or six rolls in a big wicker basket.[117] Even using separate bathrooms can help.[118] Other solutions include vertical holders, or simply not using a toilet roll holder at all.


A Grand Rapids, Michigan, toilet paper enthusiast named Bill Jarrett argues that previous polls have been too small. He wants a national referendum with at least one million votes, with the result to decide a "national toilet paper hanging way" to be enforced by "the toilet paper police".[119] Jarrett refuses to reveal his own preference; he even removed the toilet paper from his house's bathrooms before inviting in an AP reporter for an interview. "I'm not saying because I don't want to influence the vote."[120] Voting requires the purchase of a $5 debate kit. His value proposition to the nation: assuming that one can spend half an hour per year searching for the end of the toilet paper, the United States should save 90 million hours at home per year—and $300 million at the workplace.[121]

Toilet paper orientation has been used rhetorically as the ultimate issue that government has no business dictating, in letters to the editor protesting the regulation of noise pollution[122] and stricter requirements to get a divorce.[123] In 2006, protesting New Hampshire's ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, representative Ralph Boehm (R-Litchfield) asked "Will we soon be told which direction the toilet paper must hang from the roll?"[124]

In a column in the Houston Chronicle, Jack Brewer observes that it only takes five seconds to turn the roll "the right way" around (over), which is much less than the time it takes to "start a fuss" with his wife.[125]

In a column in The Grand Rapids Press, Karin Orr relates her chance discovery that her husband and sister both turn the toilet paper around in others' houses—and in opposite directions. Orr writes, "You just can never really know another person."[126]

David O'Connor's 2005 book Henderson's House Rules: The Official Guide to Replacing the Toilet Paper and Other Domestic Topics of Great Dispute aims to solve disagreements with a minimum of debate or compromise by offering authoritative, reasonable rules.[127] The "House Rule" for toilet paper is over and out, and a full page is dedicated to a diagram of this orientation. But O'Connor writes that "if a female household member has a strong preference for the toilet paper to hang over and in, against the wall, that preference prevails. It is admittedly an odd preference, but women use toilet paper far more often than men—hence the rule."[128]

Similar controversies[edit]

Domestic strife can arise from many other situations where a household item, such as a tube of toothpaste, is left in the wrong state.[129] Some closely related examples:

  • Which way should a paper towel hang in the kitchen? When Ann Landers was asked this question in 1997, she replied, "I'm still trying to recover from the flak ... I'm not giving any more advice on how to hang anything."[130]
  • Which way should a Masonic signet ring be oriented on the finger? With the legs of the compasses pointing into the wrist or outwards toward the fingers?
  • Should a toilet seat be left up or down? This debate involves a stronger asymmetry between the sexes, as women rarely want the seat up.[48]
  • Should a twist tie be tightened clockwise or counter-clockwise?[131] Since some store-bought products are pre-tied by machine, this question also pits consumer against engineer.[132]
  • For a public restroom stall with a dispenser holding two rolls of paper, Donald Knuth proposes classifying users into big-choosers (those who take paper from the roll that is currently larger) and little-choosers (those who do the opposite). Letting p denote the probability that a random user is a big-chooser and q that of a little-chooser, Knuth uses contour integration and generating functions to find the expected number of sheets left on the larger roll when the smaller one runs out. He shows (Theorem 1) that if |p-1/2| is of order at least 1/\sqrt n, then
M_n(p)=\begin{cases}p/(p-q) + O(r^n), & q<p \\ ((q-p)/q)n +p/(q-p)+O(r^n), & q>p \end{cases}
where r is an arbitrary parameter larger than 4pq and n is the number of sheets in a roll. He also separately analyzes the case where p=q.[133]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ This paragraph summarizes material in the body; details and citations are found below. For definitions of the choices, see Preliminaries. Habit is discussed in Arguments. See Survey results for statistics.
  2. ^ For pros and cons, including RVs and cats, see Arguments; for celebrities and experts, including Ann Landers, see Noted preferences; for theories, see Themes.
  3. ^ The enthusiast, Bill Jarrett, and the inventor, Curtis Batts, are described in Solutions.
  4. ^ Burns 2003.
  5. ^ Burns 2003, p. 111.
  6. ^ a b Burns 2003, p. 113.
  7. ^ Collett 2008.
  8. ^ Paul 2006. The previous topics are discussed in the section "Finding Sociology in everyday places: a review".
  9. ^ Peterson 2006, pp. 173–175.
  10. ^ Gernsbacher 2007.
  11. ^ Cesvet, Babinski & Alper 2008, p. 68.
  12. ^ Loftin 2004.
  13. ^ Voice of America 2004.
  14. ^ Lipman 1987.
  15. ^ This is described as a "first" by Magill (1993, p. 2236). The substance of the argument is mentioned in Landers (1992).
  16. ^ Cantor 2003, p. 76.
  17. ^ a b Progressive Grocer 2010.
  18. ^ Ode 2010: "The Kimberly-Clark company cites three advantages for rolling over: perforation control, viewing advantage and wall avoidance."; Garton 2005; Jarski & Jarski 2007.
  19. ^ Ode 2010; Elliott 2006
  20. ^ Lind 1992; "The Grand Princess cruise ship replaces its toilet paper with the leading edge over the front, so that it can be folded as is done in five-star hotels. (Yes, someone really did ask this question.)" (Carpenter 1999); Rosencrans 1998; Garton 2005.
  21. ^ Grant 1991b; Garton 2005; Mitchell & Sugar 2005a; Jarski & Jarski 2007.
  22. ^ Jarski & Jarski 2007
  23. ^ Brandweek 2009[dead link]
  24. ^ Darbo 2007; Garton 2005; O'Connor 2005, p. 63.
  25. ^ Nerbas 2009.
  26. ^ Ode 2010; Weingarten 2008; Keeran 1993.
  27. ^ Downey & Harrison 1993.
  28. ^ McNatt 2010.
  29. ^ Centralian Advocate 2002.
  30. ^ Yeld 2010.
  31. ^ FitzSimons 2009, p. 99.
  32. ^ Scriven 1991, "EVALUATION SKILLS", pp. 151–153, especially p. 153 for the quotations.
  33. ^ Nalebuff & Ayres 2006, pp. 115–118.
  34. ^ Harris 2010.
  35. ^ Grant 1991a.
  36. ^ Grant 1991a. A slightly different quotation is in Dayton Daily News (1996).
  37. ^ Freiberg & Freiberg 1998, p. 270.
  38. ^ The Daily Examiner 2009.
  39. ^ a b Rubin 1989.
  40. ^ a b c Oldenburg 1989.
  41. ^ a b Mark Wolf Scripps Howard News Service 1990.
  42. ^ Kanner 1995, pp. 56, 120.
  43. ^ Ladan 2001.
  44. ^ Nestruck 2005.
  45. ^ The 1996 report, which may not have contained this question, was the fourth annual report: (McCarthey 1996)
  46. ^ a b PR Newswire 1993.
  47. ^ a b Ortega 1995.
  48. ^ a b Ciancio 1994.
  49. ^ Ciancio 1995.
  50. ^ Dickson 2001.
  51. ^ Ebenkamp 2004; Pierson 2004.
  52. ^ a b Toronto Star staff and news services 1993.
  53. ^ Stark 1993.
  54. ^ a b Clark 1993.
  55. ^ American Standard Press 2008.
  56. ^ Harden 1995.
  57. ^ Henry 1999.
  58. ^
  59. ^ Ode 2010.
  60. ^ PR Newswire 2010.
  61. ^ Poretz & Sinrod 1989, p. 34.
  62. ^ a b c d Floyd 1999.
  63. ^ Ms Maud 2002.
  64. ^ a b c d Kimberly-Clark 2010.
  65. ^ LaForte 2003.
  66. ^ Barrett & Mingo 2003, p. 400.
  67. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 106.
  68. ^ a b Landers 1998.
  69. ^ Keim 1997.
  70. ^ Breithaupt 2003, pp. 126, 135.
  71. ^ Wyman 2001, p. 61.
  72. ^ Grimes 1999.
  73. ^ Fund Action 2009.
  74. ^ a b Marelius 1987.
  75. ^ a b Toronto Star 1986.
  76. ^ The Oprah Winfrey Show 1996.
  77. ^ a b Landers 2002.
  78. ^ Welsh 2005; Rawson 2008.
  79. ^ Burns 2003, p. 116.
  80. ^ Maybelle Morgan (19 March 2015). "Over or under? The age-old debate of which way a roll of toilet paper should sit is FINALLY settled... by a 124-year-old diagram". Mailonline, Daily Mail. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  81. ^ Jenny Che (17–19 March 2015). "This 124-Year-Old Patent Reveals The Right Way To Use Toilet Paper". HuffPost: Business. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  82. ^ Widdicombe 2004.
  83. ^ Ichikawa 2005.
  84. ^ Lui 2009.
  85. ^ Braun 2003.
  86. ^ a b c Pierson 2004.
  87. ^ Elliott 2006.
  88. ^ Darbo 2007; Answer Fella 2007.
  89. ^ Lawrence 1999.
  90. ^ Keeran 1993.
  91. ^ Matsushita 2009.
  92. ^ a b Greenberg 2007, p. 149.
  93. ^ Ichikawa 2004.
  94. ^ Grant 1991b.
  95. ^ Matsushita 2008.
  96. ^ "How Do You Roll? ",
  97. ^ "[1]","The Dinner Party Download".
  98. ^ Wizda 1990.
  99. ^ Blow 1990.
  100. ^ Elger & Solaro 2010, pp. 104–105, 119.
  101. ^ Hage 2010.
  102. ^ Weingarten 2008.
  103. ^ Mitchell & Sugar 2005a.
  104. ^ Russell 2006.
  105. ^ Brandweek 2009.
  106. ^ Wolf 1999, pp. 74–75; Hogan & Hogan 2000, p. 200.
  107. ^ Lui 2009; Grant 1991a.
  108. ^ Daily Express 1999, p. 39.
  109. ^ a b Newman 2000.
  110. ^ Miller 1999.
  111. ^ Hunt & Edwards 2000.
  112. ^ Stovall 1997.
  113. ^ Greenberg 2007, p. 149. See The Tilt-A-Roll homepage at Curtis Batts Online
  114. ^ Zayas 2009.
  115. ^ Luna 2009.
  116. ^ Walsh 1999; Marelius 1987.
  117. ^ Mitchell & Sugar 2005b.
  118. ^ Arkins 1994; Jarski & Jarski 2007.
  119. ^ Godfrey 2006, p. 103.
  120. ^ Rademacher 2005.
  121. ^ Lind 1992.
  122. ^ Ratzlaff 2009.
  123. ^ Wuthrich 2006.
  124. ^ Saunders 2006.
  125. ^ Brewer 2002.
  126. ^ Orr 1995.
  127. ^ O'Connor 2005, pp. 2–3.
  128. ^ O'Connor 2005, pp. 63–64; Davis 2006.
  129. ^ O'Connor 2005.
  130. ^ Landers 1997.
  131. ^ Flatow 1997.
  132. ^ Tighe 2008.
  133. ^ Knuth, Donald E. (October 1984). "The Toilet Paper Problem". American Mathematical Monthly 91 (8): 465–470. doi:10.2307/2322567. JSTOR 2322567. 


Further reading[edit]

  • "For Your Information", The News & Observer, 4 October 1993, p. C1, Factiva rnob000020011101dpa400p2p 
    References "a Reader's Digest poll". Primary source unclear.
  • Brody, Ed (2002), Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories, Storytelling, and Activities for Peace, Justice and the Environment, New Society Publishers, p. 158 
  • Cameron, W. Bruce (2004), How to Remodel a Man: Tips and Techniques on Accomplishing Something You Know Is Impossible But Want to Try Anyway, Macmillan, p. 185 
  • Carpenter, Richard P. (28 March 1999), "It's swimming vs. snoozing", The Boston Globe, p. M4, Factiva bstngb0020010825dv3s00asy 
  • Freeman, Kim (8 February 1986), "Vox Jox", Billboard, p. 16 
    References a poll by Ric Hanson featured in USA Today.
  • Grossvogel, David I. (1987), Dear Ann Landers: our intimate and changing dialogue with America's best-loved confidante, Contemporary Books, p. 257 
  • Kelly, William Jude (1988), Models in process: a rhetoric and reader, Macmillan, p. 154 
  • Kogan, Rick (2004), America's Mom: The Life, Lessons, and Legacy of Ann Landers, Thorndike Press, p. 224 
  • Praeger, Dave (2007), Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product, Feral House, p. 72 
  • Selby, David (1995), Earthkind: a teachers' handbook on humane education, Trentham Books, p. 367 
  • Singular, Stephen (1987), Talked to death: the life and murder of Alan Berg, p. 305 
    Mentions Bob Palmer of Denver's KCNC-TV doing a show on this topic.
  • Society of Automotive Engineers (2004), Reliability and robust design in automotive engineering, p. 412 
    Presents a statistical test to determine gender differences in toilet paper orientation.
  • Trachtenberg, Robert (2005), When I Knew, HarperCollins, p. 69