Last May I posted a piece here about the importance of including plenty of toilet paper among your emergency storage supplies. I’ve set a goal of buying $20.00 worth of extra toilet paper to put aside each month, which usually works out to four $5.00 packages. I say “usually” because the price of toilet paper has been creeping up along with everything else, so unless a particular brand is on sale, the price per package of 12 has often been closer to $5.99 in recent months -if I’m lucky, because some of the brands that used to sell for five bucks are now going for as much as $6.99 for a package of twelve. But of late there’s another way the toilet paper companies have been sticking it to us.
Toilet paper manufacturers have been quietly giving us less paper per package, while doing everything they can to hide the deception. To be fair, you can’t really blame the manufacturers for cutting corners. They are victims of price inflation as much as the rest of us, and if they didn’t keep making the product incrementally smaller, they’d have to raise their prices even more.
But for me, the challenge has been trying to figure out which brand is providing me the most TP for the money. After all, the point of setting toilet paper aside at a lower price now is to assure an adequate supply for later before prices really go through the roof. But figuring it all out hasn’t been easy.
Manufacturers of the various brands seem to have gone out of their way to make it difficult for consumers to compare one brand against another. Such variables as the number of sheets, ply, thickness, texture, and pattern vary wildly not only between brands, but even within the same brands. You can pay the same for two different versions of Charmin, for instance, but get considerably more or less actual product depending upon whether you’re purchasing “Ultra Soft” or “Ultra Strong” or “Ultra Soft and Strong.”
And it doesn’t help when almost every package is labeled “Double Rolls.” If these are double rolls, I wonder why I never see single rolls available anywhere. The fact is, the double rolls of today are not any bigger than the regular toilet paper rolls of yesterday. In fact, most are decidedly smaller, though you would have to have saved a roll of toilet paper from the 1960′s and set it next to a modern roll to really be able to tell.
Indeed, the toilet paper of my youth is all but extinct. In those days, toilet paper was rarely sold in packages of 12 or 24 as they are now; usually rolls were individually wrapped and sold for about 6 cents apiece. But around the time of the inflation of the mid-1970s, as the per roll price began to climb, manufacturers found that packaging four, six, or twelve rolls into one package and offering them as various economy sizes helped to disguise the rise in per unit costs among the various packages and brands.
The single “square” of toilet paper isn’t even square anymore, and most haven’t been since the 1970′s. In the old days, a sheet of bathroom tissue typically measured five inches by five inches; the idea being that it should be big enough to fit the hand of a grown man. Then slowly and imperceptibly, most brands switched to a size of five inches tall with a length of 4.5 inches between perforations.
Then for a long time after that, most brands reduced the size of the average sheet to 4.5 to 4.5 inches square, where it held steady over time. But lately the size of those sheets have again been shrinking among all brands.
Pity poor Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Scott 1,000′s. Since the marketing of this brand has always depended on the fact that you get a thousand sheets per roll, they can’t very easily reduce the number of sheets. They would lose market share on Scott 1,000′s if the label read “Now With 25% Fewer Sheets!”
So Scott, more than any of the others, has been forced to get creative. The problem I’ve always had with Scott One Thousands is that the rolls are only one ply thick, which never seemed like much of a bargain to me to begin with. But up through the 1990′s the sheet size was the then standard 4.5 by 4.5. Then in 1999 Scott shaved the tiniest little amount of paper per sheet length, so that although each sheet remained four and a half inches tall, sheets now measured 4.1 inches between perforations. You would have had to be looking really close and using a ruler to notice the difference.
In 2006, those sheet lengths were reduced further, to 3.7 inches, and in 2010 they dropped the height of each sheet too, so now the sheets measured 4.1 by 3.7 inches. That was definitely a change from the old 5 by 5, but since it happened over time, few consumers noticed. Besides, the shorter roll size allowed the manufacturer to fit up to 17% more product onto the trucks, making it more cost-effective for shipping the toilet paper to the stores. And in case anyone noticed that the sheets were getting smaller, they announced it as an “innovation” and claimed the new rolls included a “10% strength product enhancement”, whatever that meant.
Scott is, of course, not the only toilet paper manufacturer to shrink the size of their product. They have all been forced to do the same, and many of the strategies employed have been quite inventive. In my next installment I’ll do my best to compare some brands that I think are among the better buys, measuring size, volume, and total weight. And we’ll look into some of the ways different manufacturers have of making you think their toilet paper is the better bargain. Spoiler alert: Some off brands are every bit as good -and often a better bargain- than the major brands.
In the meantime, remember to get some more toilet paper.
For Part Two of The Toilet Paper Conspiracy, click here.
Previously by Rock: Irrational Survivalists