Saving Your Butt During a Survival Situation: Alternatives to Toilet Paper


When reading through common preparedness concerns, humble toilet paper is seemingly worth its weight in gold. Rough and rugged men, prepared to spend weeks in the wilderness foraging for grubs to survive, are near to panic at the thought that they might run out of that most precious wiping material. Of course, I would always recommend keeping some extra rolls on hand: its convenient, you already use it, and it might be one of the more valuable barter items should a long-term emergency arrive. But what happens when even your extra rolls fail you? What happens if you simply don’t have the space for all of those bulky rolls, or if they’re too expensive to stock? Let’s look at some practical alternatives to toilet paper so you don’t have to become too “handy” when that last roll is used up.


Naturally Available Solutions

This is probably the first thing most people think of as an alternative, since you can just grab some leaves or grass and clean up! However, there are a few considerations before you grab whatever comes to hand:

  • Never, ever, apply any plant known to be poisonous to your behind. Although this should go without saying, many people underestimate just how easy it is to poison yourself through the “back-door” if you’re not careful.


    Some leaves are somewhat less desirable for use as toilet paper

  • For the sake of your hind-end, check the leaves you’re going to use. Poison ivy obviously should be avoided, but certain famous “toilet plants” aren’t as safe as they may seem either. Both Lamb’s Ear and Mullein have a reputation as great natural wiping material owing to their large size and velvety texture, but many people can react to the tiny hairs on the leaves and get itchy rashes from them. I recommend rubbing a leaf from any potential specimen on your inner arm or below your knee to ensure that it won’t irritate your skin before applying it to more delicate regions.

With that said, lets look at some common natural TP solutions.


Moss can actually be great stuff if you can find it, particularly if if is thick and slightly moist. Beware peat moss: again, commonly recommended owing to its softness but it is a potential vector for Sporotrichosis, which can cause extreme discomfort, damage to the body, and in extreme cases even death.

Sticks and Stones

They can break your bones…and also wipe your bottom? Odd as it may seem, many people recommend using smooth stones and de-barked sticks for when nature calls.

Corn Cobs and Husks

Finally, a home-grown solution to keep yourself clean. One source even recommended using two: standard corn for initial cleansing, then a sweet corn husk to finish with. Apparently the texture of the sweet corn husk was nicer on the skin and helped reduce irritation from scrubbing.

Washable/Reusable Solutions

Of course, many people would rather not take risks with plants, particularly if they want to be able to survive even during the winter or in an area they don’t know. For that, we come to the reusable methods for maintaining bathroom hygiene.


I’m not a fan of sponges largely because they are too absorbent and difficult to clean thoroughly. However, if you could find a very thin sponge and tie it to a stick, you might have a durable, reusable butt scrubber. Be sure to wash it vigorously in a mixture of vinegar and hot water to remove all traces of harmful substances.

Family Cloths 

rag toilet paperBefore you jump ship, no, you do not share one cloth with the whole family each day. Ideally you would have an entire stack of cloths available for the convenience of everyone in the home. These cleaning rags are made from anything: old ruined clothes, blankets, ripped up towels, you name it. If you have time and some basic sewing skill available, some work adding a hem to the edges of these cloths will make them last much longer, since they’ll need to stand up to daily vigorous hot water washings

There are many methods of using a family cloth: some prefer to wet it first before wiping, for example. Once you’re finished, however, the method of cleaning it is pretty simple.

  1. Have a dedicated bucket near the toilet that contains a mixture of water and vinegar. All soiled cloths should be tossed into that bucket in order to begin the cleaning process and to keep the smell down.
  2. Take the day’s cloths out of the bucket and let them sit in very hot mixture of vinegar or laundry detergent and water for an hour. During this time, agitating the rags with a plunger or a stick to dislodge particles is optional.
  3. Wash vigorously in hot water until clean.
  4. Dry in the sun. Dispose of all waste water away from water sources and never throw it on your garden or into a compost heap.

Alternatively if the grid is still available, simply take the cloths out of the bucket and throw them into your washing machine separate from other laundry. Again, very hot water is recommended. I do not recommend bleach because of the damage it does to the cloth and the fact that its much more useful for greater necessities like purifying water. This is the method I personally would choose for keeping clean during a survival situation, since it’s simple, reusable, and the cloths can be used for a variety of other purposes when clean.

Forget Wiping:  A Solution for Washing Directly


An electronic bidet. Note the jet of water intended to be fired at your behind.

Thus far you’ve seen different materials that can replace the mighty power of toilet paper. However, there are many countries that go without wiping altogether! Instead, they turn to a simple hygienic rinsing for their cleanliness needs. Many modern homes can have their toilets equipped with a bidet: basically a nozzle that directs water in an arc that thoroughly cleans any mess right off your behind.

However, when it comes to preparedness relying on an electronic bidet drawing on pressurized water to clean you is unrealistic. That’s why many have created their own manually powered versions of the concept. These can range from a small squeeze bottle with a squirt nozzle on the end (useful for bug-out bags or for minimal water use) to a full size hand-pump with a gallon-sized reservoir to draw upon. All you need once you’re clean is a small cloth to dry off with which can be washed along with all your other clothing since it won’t be soiled with leavings.

The only issue I have with these is the total reliance on a supply of water to keep these in use. Cloths can be used dry and left to be cleaned at a later date if necessary, but a pump only works if there’s water available to spray. If you have constant, easy access to clean water these are great, but if water is already a burden on your planning I would stick with wiping over spraying.

As much as we rely on toilet paper for our cleanliness, its days are numbered once an emergency sets in. Keeping your options open is vital to staying clean and comfortable, and these reusable solutions might keep you from trading your valuable preps away to save your butt.


Any suggestions?

Plenty of campers ,travelers,  and preppers alike experiment with alternative TP, so let us know if you have any ideas.






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  1. What about magazine pages, phone book pages, newspaper, thin (or rubbed) cardboard?

    • Phone books and newspaper would probably do a pretty good job (though they’d certainly be rougher than your typical two-ply!) but many magazines tend to use glossy pages that don’t really work as toilet paper. I’ve heard mixed reports on cardboard: for some people it works about as well as newspaper, but for others it’s just too rough on the behind.

  2. I am a couponer, at times an Extreme Couponer. Toilet paper is on my priority list of course. Just one more thing not to rush to the store for when things go bad. I use coupons on my toilet paper purchases. Right now Wal Mart has a 12 pack roll of toilet paper, that is not that bad in terms of comfort, for less than $5! As of right now I am stocking up on a coupon offer. Buy 1-12 pack of Cottonelle and 1 pack of the Cottonelle wipes and get $2 off. This makes the wipes FREE. The main point of replying is to add Wet Wipes to your kits/home prepping stockpiles! I have TP and wipes in my BOB. Wal mart sells for little over a dollar, a wet wipe in 20 individually wrapped wipes! Wal mart even sells a 84 count, yes 84 count wet wipes for $1. YES $1!!! This means you can actually save money and space buying a few of these wipes a month. I was buying 2 a month before getting into my coupons for TP and wipes purchases. Even the 40 ct of the cottonelle brand can last you quite a few. These also serve many other purposes like picking up messes and especially for showering! I would also suggest using a cleaning bottle with Colloidal Silver to spray the behind in order to keep things clean.

  3. I have heard that only 35% of the world use toilet paper. What do the other 65% do or use? I figure the Muslims use sand, that is why they are so grouchy.

    • I suppose if we did air drops of rolls and rolls of toilet paper to the Muslims, that would be the end of hostilities in the Middle East.

      • John, from what I can gather many countries including India and much of the Middle East have a long tradition of water and the left hand for wiping. Using paper is actually considered unsanitary. A good way to tell: if the nation has a strong aversion to using the left hand for handshakes and other direct contact, it probably has a tradition of wiping with that hand.

        If only it were as easy as dropping a couple loads of Charmin!

    • John R: “I figure the Muslims use sand, that is why they are so grouchy.”
      Wrong, on 2 counts:
      1. Muslims are not grouchy. I have spent years working and travelling in Muslim countries and the vast majority are wonderful warm hospitable people – please go and meet them!
      2. Most Muslims use water directly with their LEFT hand, afterwards naturally washing hands. If no water available, yes, maybe sand or earth, or stones, whatever.
      “I suppose if we did air drops of rolls and rolls of toilet paper to the Muslims, that would be the end of hostilities in the Middle East.”
      No sir, the only solution to eternal conflict in the ME is to relocate the illegitimate terrorist state of Israel to the dark side of the Moon!
      Failing that, sleeping American taxpayers should cut off the money!

  4. PrepperDaddy says:

    Seriously, how could you ever run out of TP. A 55 gal blue barrell will hold 140 rolls of TP. I have 3 full – they sit outside year round and are watertight.

    • Glad to hear you’re so well stocked! I’m all about having multiple redundancies, since you never know what might come up, particularly if the world is falling to pieces. That, and a cloth or squirt bottle might be cheaper for some people who want an immediate solution without spending a fair chunk of change on toilet paper.

      In your case, however, I think you might turn into the TP King for your region!

  5. Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

    The Arabs use the fingers of their left hand, which is why a thief loses the right hand. No one is permitted to eat with others unless they use the right hand only. I have foreign service friends (now retired) who say that travel on a plane from an arabic nation with arabic nationals is not a nice place–they often have no idea how to use a toilet.

    We have had this discussion in our CERT meetings. When you look at the hygiene needs of a family, you might consider stocking up on kid wipes. These are soft enough for the more sensitive female needs and rugged enough to get you clean.

    I have often read of people using the old-time Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs. Newspaper has a problem–the ink smears, which is why the high-class hotels used to iron the newspapers, as heat sets the ink. Ironed newsprint should not cause health problems, but I would stay away from the paper we use in kindergarten–the stuff with chunks of wood in it.

    • Wipes are definitely a wonderful addition to anyone’s preps!

      Hadn’t heard that newspaper could smear that badly if not ironed, thanks for the heads up.

  6. Toilet paper is a priority of the survival items that we stock. Baby wipes, too. I frequently read the accounts of Selco (SHTF School). He survived the civil war in Bosnia in the early 1990’s. He said that his family did not have toilet paper, and if they did, he would have used it for barter. He did not elaborate on their hygiene methods. In the early 20th Century, people used the Sears catalog and newspaper. I think that I would cut up old clothing for wash cloths, if we ran out of toilet paper and wipes. I am definitely not using sticks, stones or corn cobs! Moslems use their hand (left?). That’s why they are appalled to see Westerners eating with that hand.

  7. Great reminder to stay stocked on the TP!!! Some good alternatives if worse came to worse!

    thx for the suggestions.


  8. Years ago when my kids were babies, I thought ‘Hey! These baby wipes would be terrific for wiping/bathing in a survival situation’. So we bought several of the large tubs from Costco for our numerous camping trips to try this theory. They work very well for their intended purpose of wiping and quite well for bathing. However, I would suggest once they have been opened make SURE to have an air tight container in which to keep them. The tubs that the wipes come in (and the refill packages) are NOT airtight and they dry out rather quickly. The large tubs are intended for continuous use on babies who go through a lot of them in a rather short time. So, if you intend to use baby wipes, stock up on some sort of air tight containment.

    My Dad used to regale me with tales from the Great Depression and living on his farm in the mid west. The Sears and Roebuck catalogue was often used, but the trick was to crumple and flatten out the pages up several times to make them softer. In the late summer it was fresh corn cobs. And of course a scoop of ashes from the wood stove after every ‘trip to the shack’ went in to cut the odor. I think he would have been proud to know that I paid attention and remember his stories and can put them to good use if needed.

    • Thank you for the advice. I’m sure your dad would be happy to know his knowledge is helping many other people, too!

    • They rehydrate really well. Just pour a little water in the container and leave them for a half hour and they are back to normal. If they aren’t wet enough yet, add a little more. Plus they will be lighter weight in storage when dry.

  9. I’ve been storing phone books for years. About 8 years ago, my husband asked “WHY?” I said “in case we can’t afford toilet paper someday.” I do wish I had put them in large trash bags to keep the dust off though.

  10. A couple of things people can do to WIPE is save the cardboard rools cut them in half use like a scoop. In the military when we were in Combat school we used old cleaned socks , then they would burn them, is waste buckets with the poo that was collected. Save old shirts like tee shirts old rags old wash cloths cut them up,use then put in a bucket folded or rolled up till you need one. .Coffee filters the round ones get the BROWN ONES or WHITE ones you use them by rubbing them in your hands to break the fibers up makes them smooth, use those. You can also use used coffee filters clean them with a little water after making coffee and wash and let dry can be reused.

  11. I have created a bidet out of an ordinary coke bottle. I take an ordinary 12oz bottle with a lid and close the lid firmly. I then drill a tiny hole into the bottle below the lid. Fill the bottle with water (I add a T of vinegar), cap it firmly and your good to go. To use, aim & squeeze.

    Upon finishing, I have a towel that I sit on next to the toilet; however, this works because I live alone. If I had a family, I would resort to a personal cloth as opposed to a family cloth.

    I have a TP-Free outhouse that I use when the electric is out. It remains stink free as long as it is TP free.

    • That’s a cool idea Nancy, and I’m sure most of us would have a few Coke bottles lying around if we’d need one.

      If you would, could you give us an idea of how your TP-Free outhouse works? I’m sure that’d be great information!

  12. What about hemp? The non smoking kind? :)

    • I’ve seen hemp cloths for sale that can be used just like the “family cloth” described in the article. Supposedly hemp cloth is actually very soft and quite durable, but I can’t attest to this from a personal test just yet! Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Dennis.

  13. Don’t use a cattail leaf . I tried that once with bad results. As a young lad down by the pond when the call of nature hit. After doing my deed all that was available was cattail. It fit the grove perfectly but when I pulled it I knew instantly that I had made a bad choice . Not only did I not clean myself I was cut on both checks by the exit hole .

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