I read in this Wikipedia article that toilet paper came to be available only around 1920. On the other hand, this article says bidets were never popular in the UK and the US.

Moreover, colonies of the UK like India, have not adopted toilet paper during the British Raj. So what was used for anal cleansing before 1900? What fills up this missing part in the history of anal cleansing?


2 Answers 2


American Wasteland: A Social and Cultural History of Excrement,1860-1920

By Daniel Max Gerling, B.A.; M.A. Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy The University of Texas at Austin:

Although Gayetty’s Medicated Paper, America’s first toilet paper, was introduced in 1857, it was a luxury few Americans could afford. Therefore, most outhouses were equipped with a corncob hanging by a string from the wall. And after the Sears Catalog became commonplace in the 1890s, it was a staple in many outhouses for use as toilet paper. Several photos from the early 19th century of the inside of outhouses of tentimes feature scraps of newspaper or piles of rags. Some also had buckets of lime to control the odor.

Since corn was originally cultivated only in the Western Hemisphere, it's likely that corncobs was something the European/American settlers adopted from the indengious peoples there. But the rags and newspapers mentioned were probably commonly used in Europe, and brought by the Europeans to the New World.

In the Boy Scouts, I was taught to used dried leaves when out in the woods on a hike, and that such was the practice of Native Americans, and presumably early American Settlers.

I also found a few references to the use of stones by Native Americans, but nothing I can cite as a reliable source.


I don't think bidets were ever as popular in the UK as we believed. I've heard from a lot of people in the UK and they often say they don't have one nor do they know anyone that does have one. I think Crocodile Dundee put it in the heads of people that everyone in the UK has a bidet.

Bidets are more common in the Middle East, as well as Italy. The newer Japanese toilets seem to be more popular in Japan, China, etc. And it seems over the past few years they are getting quite popular in the US and Canada.

  • This doesn't answer the question asked. What was used in the US and UK before toilet paper was invented? Oct 23, 2016 at 21:17

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