Ancient question finally settled: the right way to hang toilet paper

March 21, 2015 • 5:26 pm

This afternoon I got an email from a reader, along with a link to a PuffHo article called “This 124-year-old patent reveals the right way to use toilet paper.” A screenshot of the email’s contents:

Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 5.05.49 PM

Matt was, of course, referring to reader Diana MacPherson, who is obsessed with installing “wrong way” toilet rolls, in which the paper is “under” rather than “over”. (You will know this if you’re a regular here.) If Diana visits a friend, or even a commercial establishment, and finds a roll in the “over position,” she changes it.

Now, however, there is irrefutable proof that she’s RONG, for the inventor of the roll actually specified the correct position in his patent. As PuffHo notes:

According to an 1891 patent by New York businessman Seth Wheeler, the end of a toilet paper roll should be on the outside, or in the “over” position. (Advocates of the “under” position, take note: better flip that roll over when you get home.)

Writer Owen Williams shared the discovery Monday on Twitter, posting a picture of Wheeler’s patent for the toilet paper roll:

CARIEZcVEAAcyYy Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 5.12.51 PM


Wheeler, the man behind the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company, is also the reason we’re able to tear off perfect squares in the first place: Albany Perforated originally patented the idea for perforated “wrapping” paper (a more modest name for toilet paper) in 1871.

“My invention … consists in a roll of wrapping paper with perforations on the line of the division between one sheet and the next, so as to be easily torn apart, such roll of wrapping paper forming a new article of manufacture,” Wheeler’s 1871 patent read.

This of course only makes sense, for you can choose your portion and tear it more easily in the “over position.” Further, “over” is optimal for cats, as they can’t use an “under” roll as a toy, clawing out huge reams of paper.

I doubt that I’ve ever installed a roll in the “under” position in my entire life. Seriously, installing it any other way is like buying a car and then driving it backwards forever. There really should be no debate on this issue.

Naturally Diana will reply with her reasons, but I consider her definitively pwned by this finding.

211 thoughts on “Ancient question finally settled: the right way to hang toilet paper

  1. But why are the perforations so close together; can you do anything hygienically with “one” piece of tp?

    My grandparents used to hang it the rong way, and I didn’t like the experience.

  2. I dreaded this would happen. Many people emailed this to me or posted it on my FaceBook page. I told a friend, “I hope no one sends this to Jerry.” And then Matt G did it. Matt G – you are in trouble now – my toilet paper elves are going to fix your bathroom. 😀

    As I explained to someone that brought this up to me on FB today, I don’t think the patent proves anything other than the inventor had an over bias. The better way is under and he just hadn’t seen the wisdom of this just as many inventors are unaware how their devices will be used.

    1. I hear you, Diana. I’m an “under” guy myself and always have been. More power in numbers? Let’s see a poll of honesty here, and may the “under” rollers win!

    2. No matter how hard I try, I see no good reason to make it harder to find and grasp the end-piece by concealing it behind the roll. Please explain your reasoning.

      Our local supermarket uses plastic bag rolls that are set up like toilet paper rolls. That thin plastic is almost impossible to grip, even when it’s visible. When I find one that’s turned around, I often take the liberty of re-installing it. It’s not store policy to mount them backwards; it’s carelessness.

      (I don’t like plastic bags either, but how else do you carry brussels sprouts?)

        1. I’m an over girl! I used to be an under, just as I used to be a Christian. But I grew and learned and finally saw the light – there is no god, and toilet paper goes over. 😀

          Besides, it looks better that way, and it’s easier to grab.

          And to think I invited you to recover in small town NZ! If I’d remembered about your toilet habits, I might not have done so! Although at least you probably leave the seat down, so you’re one up on most blokes. 😀

          1. “at least you probably leave the seat down”

            “No use standing on the seat, the crabs in this place jump six feet” – literary effort observed on wall of NZ public convenience.

        2. I’m on your side Diana! I admire your passion and I admire forward thinking about toilet-roll installation protocol.
          I’ve no idea what the whole up/down thing’s actually about though.

        3. You know, Diana, and here I am speaking as a lifelong member of the “over” camp, I don’t see any reason why we have to be bound by the dictates of some paper baron who’s been dead for a century. That’s an Argument from Authority, and I thought we eschewed that kind of thinking around here!

          One advantage I see to the “under” installation method, in addition to the improved aesthetics over the the dangling-in-front and occasionally-ragged end: an “under” roll is probably less enticing to, and more difficult to unroll by, cats and toddlers. Pulling from the front is easy, whereas pushing up from the front requires some skill and spatial awareness.

          You hang in there, though, Sunshine. Patent shmatent, I say! A person has no choice but to follow his or her bliss.

          1. I say Diana should just take a patent out on the ‘under’ protocol. Someone ought to design toilet paper for ‘lefties’ or ‘righties’ (undies or overies), complete with printed instructions on the roll of tp.

        4. Over is the only way. You just need fast roll reflexes…that will provide as much as you need whenever you need. And I think it looks ‘complete’ over.

    3. It doesn’t even show he had an “over bias”. The roll isn’t even hung, It’s only illustrated as it is because you wouldn’t be able to diagram it clearly if the paper were coming down in back.
      The definitive answer would have to come from the patent for the first toilet paper roll holder.

    4. There is nothing quite so tragic as seeing someone in such deep, deep denial. Like with creationists, no matter how much evidence you show them, they dig their heels in that much harder. Let it go, Diana, let it go! Ommmmmmm….

              1. I have a sneaking suspicion Diana didn’t get the Hitchhiker reference… 😉

    5. I’m with you, Diana. I refuse to change my mind based on new evidence contrary to my position. Look, I’m no toilet paper scientist, but if ceiling cat wanted it hung in the over position she would have been a bit more explicit. US patent law is not a science textbook. I believe in belief in the under position. If toilet paper wanted to be hung in the over position, I’m sure it would install itself that way of its own compatibilist free will. This post is a pure misrepresentation of true toilet paperism, which is a peaceful movement.

  3. While this was the description of the inventor, he did this before he knew the full implications of the Coriolis effect and the angle with the Prime Meridian. An expected oversight.

        1. Uh oh. That reminded me of the classic Tarter From Sparta limerick, which is not really appropriate here

          He’d play on his anus
          The Coriolanus

          or something. You’re right it’s completely beside the point.

  4. I think I hung the roll rong when I was a kid a few times. At first it was an underdeveloped brain incapable of pondering such important problems. Then it was a form of laziness. Determining paper direction takes from valuable seconds I could be playing. Slowly, I began to feel remorse as the 50% chance of rong roll began to wear on me. Indeed, left to my own devices, once capable of such difficult thought, I came to the determination that under was simply inferior. I am now a a firm over adherent and I strictly inspect the roll upon each replacement.

  5. I hesitate to think what might happen if Diana and I were to patronize the same establishments. It might look like the Lazarus/anti-Lazarus episode of Star Trek, but with toilet paper.

    1. Of course, this would only be an issue at locations with unisex bathrooms. But I’m sure I could recruit my wife as a surrogate.

    2. I have a friend who does what I do but the opposite way. We’ve never seemed to “cross streams”.

    1. Counterclockwise, of course. Most people are righthanded, so they’ll reach for the loose sheet (pardon the expression) with their right hand.

      1. It depends on which wall the roll is hung. Having the luxury of 4 toilets in my house, 3 have left-hand wall holders and only 1 has a right-hand wall holder.

    2. As it did in Pizza Hut* at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry, today. The holder was on the RH wall with the tp so that it “hung” from the side nearer the wall.

      But in the Bullring, Birmingham, the holder was horizontal but perpendicular to the wall, with the tp so that it hung down away from me.

      I’d have taken photos but that seems like not the thing you should do in those locations… 


      * I must stress that in the UK, Pizza Hut is distinctly up-market from the US original. When we visited out first US Pizza Hut (in Twentynine Palms) we just couldn’t believe how bad it was.

  6. Jerry slanders cats by stating that they can’t unspool a big pile of tp when it is in the under position. My cat certainly can. She just works from underneath the roll.
    So the tp holder, as an essential architectural feature of bathrooms, is useless to me. Cats Win!

  7. No, Diana is correct. This patent drawing obviously shows the backside of the toilet paper roll, the better to see the perforations.

    It is also easier to tear when it’s hung properly, in the ‘under’ position.

    This of course only makes sense, for you can choose your portion and tear it more easily in the “over position.”

    What? No. See above.

    1. Yes – good point about the orientation and the need to show the perforation….note there is no wall for perspective! The roll just floats in grey space.

      1. Special pleading, special pleading! The perforations could be shown in the diagram just as easily the other way, but not as elegantly. In the over position, you can easily see where the perforations are, and so make the most effective tearing motion.

      2. It does float but gives the implied direction for use.
        The perforations would be observable either way.

    2. It’s “easier to tear when it’s hung properly, in the ‘under’ position.”

      The physics behind this elude me. Please explain.

      1. You can use the roll in front of the paper as a support and prevent the spool from unwinding unnecessarily. You can also use it to tear against.

        1. Well obviously some people have only been exposed to a limited number of toilet roll holders. Not all have the weight of the roll pressing against the wall while others have a weighted flap on top to prevent the roll unravelling. Saying that the weight of the roll allows one-handed tearing overlooks what happens towards the end of the roll when the mass is diminished. Anyone who thinks that the under way is correct needs to have their head examined (including my wife).

        2. I agree there’s nothing worse than a TP roll spinning wildly out of control, but that only happens rarely. To my way of thinking, if you can’t see the perforation line, there’s no telling what will happen when you tug on it.

  8. I checked my house and one out of 3 rolls are in the ‘under’ position. Diana, were you ever here?

    Upon reflection, I think that pulling on t.p. while in the ‘over’ position has its risks, as is made clear by this photo. If I recall, Diana had once pointed out that her method does a pretty good job at removing much of this risk. She is wise, and we should all listen to her.

      1. And what was that cute little spider hoping for? A full night’s rest, perhaps?

        I’ve always been an “over” paperhanger.

    1. Some dialogue from the 1993 movie Sirens:

      Sheela: [talking about an outhouse] I should have warned him about the redbacks.

      Estella Campion: What are they?

      Sheela: Small spiders with big teeth. They live under toilet seats usually.

      Estella Campion: How do you know if they’re there?

      Sheela: By the screams.

      I recommend this movie highly. It was the film I went to see on my first date with my wife.

    2. Yoww! I am just imagining sitting down, reaching for the paper at the appropriate moment and seeing that gorgeous beastie sitting there. What would one do? (Every possible response is going to be… unfortunate).

      1. Can’t find it at the moment, but there is a competing photo with spider dropping down on your hand if it is hung indiside. Where you can’t see it Until It’s Too Late!

  9. I chuckled when I heard this information and have been waiting for this post…of course if I had a pet that could only empty an over roll and was persistent this would be enough reason to concede in my home. However the print is usually on the outside and I can’t stand my hand incidentally touching a wall behind the roll which happens with under…who knows what microbes could be hiding there especially in a public establishment! Sooo I have no freedom of choice/will I must default to over… we still lov u D!

  10. Another reason to prefer the Toto Washlet toilet seat with bidet function – no over/under issues.

    We don’t take dry showers, we don’t dry wash our hands, why do we engage in this futile exercise with toilet paper in an attempt to dry-clean the anus post defecation?

  11. I have installed toilet paper in the ‘RONG’ manner for the reason of Orson. While I may be his staff, he gets offerings of towels and socks on a regular basis so it was a staff decision to install the toilet paper RONG until he got bored of unrolling it.

  12. I just let them sit on the back of the toilet stool, and only install them when I have guests over. Which means that I only have to install new ones every couple of months.

    This way I also have 100% control over where the tear will happen, and I don’t have to bother lifting that cutting thing, or install new rolls every 3-4 days.

    1. I wonder if there is a Guinness world record for using the fewest number of squares to achieve the same efficacious quality of result. Someone once told me that the U.S. army restricted soldiers to three squares per pull.

      Perhaps it also depends on the number of ply layers.

      I wonder if the number of layers differs between the executive washroom and the assembly line toilet.

      1. I was climbing in the Sierras when, with a thunderstorm impending, I was caught short with just a lens-cleaning tissue, maybe an inch square. Oddly, it sufficed, perhaps because the prospect of lightning scares the shit out of me.

  13. No matter what….it’s a shitty deal.

    In days of old, when knights were bold
    and toilets weren’t invented. They lay by the road, and drop their load and walk back home contented.

  14. Have we even discussed the practical reasons for under beyond tearing convenience? First of all when the paper hangs against the wall it’s less aesthetically intrusive. Secondly it’s further from the toilet, and less likely to get wet from any possible backsplash. It’s less likely to get caught on something, like your pants, so you avoid the embarrassment of that having to be pointed out to you. And finally it looks less like something dangly that your cat wants to play with, and drag all over the house for you to have to clean up later (been there).

    1. About that front-puller TP sheet getting caught in your zipper – seem like you’d notice before you pulled off much of the roll. But… maybe not.

  15. When the tail of the paper is hanging in the grab-it-from-underneath style, it usually requires knuckles hitting the wall from which the roll’s hanger is hung.

    Now, maybe it’s just me, but if those knuckles belong to a hand contaminated in the process of doing nature’s duty, I don’t really want my knuckles hitting there, too.

    Do you?

    The paper has plenty of space around it, to avoid touching anything but the paper, when it’s hung in the proper way. Ripping it from the roll, that way, is a skill so easy, a child can do it.

  16. I’m an undie myself. Undie toilet paper pullers unite, you have nothing to lose but your …. Oh never mind!

  17. I remember in England way back when, toilet paper was not in rolls but in rectangular boxes, and its surface was smooth and shiny. Awful. Also, in France, in restaurants and cafés, it consisted of pieces of newspapers pierced in one corner and held together on a loop of string that hung from a nail in the wall. Todays multi-ply tissue rolls are a luxury in comparison.

    The Japanese don’t have that problem, a jet of warm water does the job.

    1. My mother, whose parents ran a tiny neighborhood grocery, said they used the little square sheets of paper wrapped around incoming citrus produce.

      When the world of cleaning concoctions went “lemon fresh”, she couldn’t stand to use them, as they all smelled like that memory!

      I’m technically old enough, now, to be a grand or great grand, so we’re talking quite a few generations ago.

      1. We grew up on it! It made us tough, not like the wimps you get these days…!

        I am reminded of the schhool rhyme of those days –
        When Adam was a little boy
        And paper wasn’t invented,
        He wiped his arse on a pieece of grass
        And went away contented.

            1. Yeah. “Grass” rhymes with “arse”, in normal British pronunciation. Same as “brass”, “class”, “pass”, but NOT the same as “ass” which has a short ‘a’ (unless someone’s using ‘ass’ as a euphemistic spelling of ‘arse’…)

    2. The Romans generally did their duty in communal baths. They used a sponge on the end of a stick. Before use, the selected sponge would be “cleaned” in a trough of running water. Afterwards, it was returned to its home basin, ready for use by the next occupant. Alas, some squeamish modern folks might think it a tad unsanitary. But if it was good enough for the Romans…

      And it does solve the under-over dilemma.

          1. Seems less revolting than corn cobs, though.

            Troughs in the better baths were probably filled with warm, fast-running water. Not so bad, if you ignore the sanitary aspect.

          2. The piss boy was an ongoing joke in my house as a kid after that movie came out. I love Mel Brooks!

            1. That’s the thing about Mel. You can’t go five minutes in one of his movies without there being something that’s since become a standard running gag. And, in Blazing Saddles, the figure is closer to 30 seconds….


  18. I’m an over kind o’ gal who was recently forced to switch. You see, my cat developed the past time of sitting on the toilet lid and clawing at the roll. After she had several times unwound countless feet, I switched. It bugs me, but less so than toilet paper on the floor.

    1. That’s because all cats know which way toilet paper should go and until you switch it around, they will keep trying to show you that the over way is wrong.

  19. Rolled toilet paper was still in beta-testing when that patent was filed. It took a little longer to hit on the best way to hang it.

    Otherwise, I’m staying the weekend at friends’ wonderful, solar heated, nearly new place in the Shenandoah valley, while at a meeting. Nine acres, private drive, beautiful vista with cows in a pasture below. But since I’m here by myself, the paper’s now turned as Diana would have it.

    1. The Dark Side is seductive. Don’t let her corrupt you. The cat induced infinite spinning argument is the ONLY argument against the over position.

      1. No, it is not. It’s much easier to pull off what you need with one hand (bracing the roll with your wrist) from the MacPherson orientation. From the other way, you have to involve your fingers in both pulling and bracing, or use two hands.

          1. OMG that is hilarious. I’d love to set up a bathroom like this just for the LOLz with guests.

  20. Anyone who has had experience with patent law would recognize that it would be obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art to hang the roll the “under” way. Therefore, this patent would be prior art that would render any such use unpatentable. And it is even possible that such uses would constitute infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.

    Fortunately, the patent has expired, so everyone in America is free to choose how to hang their toilet paper. God bless the United States!

  21. I have it on good authority that the Great Toilet Paper Dispute accounts for more divorces than marital infidelity, financial problems, and mothers-in-law combined. It’s what those ubiquitous “irreconcilable differences” are all about.

  22. It seems obvious to me that the correct way is the over way.
    It is more hygienic.
    The paper will contact the wall the under way.
    The wall will be contaminated by hands reaching and rubbing on it.
    So the paper and the things rubbed by the paper will be contaminated and ones hand will be contaminated.
    It is also easier to see where the perforations are, in the over position, and easier to brace in the optimal position for tearing.

  23. I’ll settle this: the person who HANGS the roll gets to decide which way it goes; there are an equal number of “right or wrong” arguments for both ways. If you don’t like it, turn it around! How hard is that to do?

  24. Jerry wrote:

    “Further, “over” is optimal for cats, as they can’t use an “under” roll as a toy, clawing out huge reams of paper.”

    Jerry, my kittehs can use ANY TP position as a kitteh toy. So much so that I have dispensed with the hanging TP roll altogether and keep the stuff in a drawer next to the porcelain throne.

    1. I have recently discovered that the best and cheapest kitteh toy is a wadded up 3X3 post it note. My guys bat and carry them around for hours and then “bury” them under my lucite bathroom scale where they can’t get them out but keep trying by pushing the scale all over the bathroom. Last night at 1 AM I retrieved tha paper wad and they continued to look for it under the scale. Silly gooses!

    1. The evolution/creation debate was over 156 years ago, and the over/under debate was over 124 years ago. Why are we still arguing about this stuff??

  25. I believe they settled this both in the military and in the hotel business. It is over not under. They fold the first piece or section of paper back at a 45 degree angle. By they, I mean the cleaning crew in the hotels. You cannot do this folding business with the paper going under.

    Don’t ask why do they do this…I have no idea but they do. I have noticed this in various countries as well.

  26. Over. For all the reasons given above. If there’s a problem with the roll running out and no cat’s involved, squish the roll to make the center tube non-cylindrical. (We buy ours in pre-squished bales from a big warehouse type store.)

  27. It is obviously over – otherwise you’re scraping your fingernails against the wall trying to find the end. As for vertical mount, it would unspool clockwise because most people are right handed. Whether the wall is on the left or right side of the toilet is irrelevant.

  28. “My invention … consists in a roll of wrapping paper with perforations on the line of the division between one sheet and the next, so as to be easily torn apart…”

    So now certain public restrooms are going with huge, thin, perforation-less rolls. Devolution.

    1. Yeah, and it isn’t easy tearing off “one” sheet. I think the whole idea is that there is little point stealing it because it is unlikely to fit in your average TP dispenser, but one ends up using a whole lot more to get the requisite finish.

      1. “…one ends up using a whole lot more …”

        Exactly! Esp. since it always seems to fold itself into a streamer in the process of tearing it off.

  29. I hate to split hairs** (and even more to support Diana who is totally worng in espousing the ‘under’ orientation as we all know), but it seems to me that the patent does not relate at all to toilet paper orientation, merely to the provision of perforations.

    In fact if it DID relate to TP orientation, then we could all escape paying the doubtless exorbitant patent royalties to Seth Wheeler’s company simply by placing the paper in the “under” position. I am such a cheapskate I would even reorient my TP to achieve that result.

    This assumes of course that Diana has not had the foresight to take out a patent on the “under” orientation…

    **If anyone believes that statement I have this bridge I’d like to sell you…

  30. Be aware of the advantages of sharing used TP. This is a cheap way of using fecal micribiota transplant, a sure-fire cure for Clostridium difficile, colitis and other maladies.
    Do not however use ‘Wetwipes’ as they do not break down in sewage works but eventually get washed up on beaches and add to the appalling level of litter in these areas.

  31. There was a young man from Hyde
    Who fell down a privy and died
    His unfortunate brother
    Fell down another
    Now they are interred side-by-side

      1. somehow I suspect they were just piled up. What did you do with them afterwards?? I guess this was only in outhouses?

    1. I don’t get the business about Johnny Carson and a shortage of TP. What happened?

      I haven’t seen pastel toilet paper in years. It was a mandatory decor item in the 50s; my mother bought TP that matched the bathroom. I vaguely recall an environmental controversy about the dyes.

      1. I don’t remember colored tp till the70s or so. I think there was sort of an issue with allergy to the dyes. Also to the scented kind. Why one needs scented tp, I have no idea.

        1. As someone with sensitive skin, I can’t believe I made it out of the 70s without becoming a huge, pink monstrosity! Even the soap in public restrooms used to burn me back then!

  32. The writer of the old comic strip ‘The Big Picture’ says he always did his roll ‘under’, because if he did it ‘over’, his cat would unroll it for him. And this apparently happened almost instantly. If he mistakenly installed it ‘over’ and went back to fix it 5 minutes later, too late – there was a pile of toilet paper on the floor and an empty roll on the holder.

            1. And do they all mount under? Is there a genetic component to this, in which case you perhaps are not free to choose, and are therefore not responsible for you choice?

              1. No, I think I get my preference for under from my European side and not my Celtic side.

  33. I didn’t have time to read all of the comments, so someone else might have said this already, but I’m with Diana because if your roll is “over,” the kitteh stands on the edge of the tub and delightedly unrolls the whole shebang . . . can’t do that if it’s “under.”

  34. Over.

    How is this even a debate?

    Under is such an ergonomic set-back this is like asking if airplane toilets should be on the inside or outside of the aircraft.

    It drives me nuts encountering toilet paper placed the wrong way, inevitably in dim lighting, scraping to find a tearing point, knuckles rapping wall, paper separating and once again disappearing behind the roll so if you need more you go through the awkward dance yet again.

    My radar pings loudest then I encounter the aesthetics argument
    for the “under” orientation. I’m constantly encountering this aesthetics over ergonomics impulse with my wife. For instance,14 years ago when we were furnishing our house my wife wanted what she felt were “so cute” wicker chairs for our dining table. I protested that they were uncomfortable but she got her way.

    I have been suffering the discomfort produced by those
    chairs every day, for 14 years. This is a battle I mist not
    give up on again. No more stealth-torture chairs
    Toilet paper placed “over. ” And if My way: lid left up,
    A man can dream, can’t he?

    1. Finding the loose edge is easy, simply place a finger (or knuckle, or even a wrist) against the roll and turn it until the edge appears.

  35. I used to live in a house with an outside dunny. Sometimes the wind would make the roll unroll and leave piles of paper on the floor, unless it was installed with the paper under.

    Also, wrt leaving the seat up or down, I think the most practical way to leave it might simply be the way you finished with it, since you don’t know how the next user is going to want it. But there is a practical hygiene consideration. Some toilets, I have noticed, splash the seat when flushed. I’d rather not sit on a wet seat.

    1. A certain hound who will remain nameless has been known to splash water onto the seat after drinking from the toilet…

    2. On toliet seats, Miss Manners herself, said it best. And I paraphrase: ‘None of you clean them that well, and they are unattractive to look at. Lid down.’

            1. Yeah, I think I was kicked out 20 years ago when I responded to all the stupid literature they kept sending to me that was basically “come join our old boys club”. I told them that I would be interested in learning about how women contributed to Celtic society beyond making kilts.

              They never sent me anything again.

              1. Well…they made Celtic boy babies…and they cooked fine meals for their Celtic kilt-wearing husbands…and they were particularly thrifty to the point that they didn’t even wear shoes….

                I mean, what more could you possibly want from a woman, woman?


              2. “What’s worn under the kilt?”
                “Nothing’s worn, lassie, it’s all in perfect working order”.


          1. Sadly, most of my work has to be done incognito so I can’t indulge in the customary theme song and costume extravaganza.

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