Health

How Much Toilet Paper Do You Need to Survive a Quarantine? An Investigation

It seems everyone is panic buying toilet paper, so we took an unnecessarily deep dive into how much you really need.
March 13, 2020, 12:00pm
A year's supply of toilet paper
EPA/Jorge Zapata. 

For whatever reason, the currency of the COVID-19 era seems to be toilet paper.

All over the world people are making treks to their local supermarkets and Costcos, filling up their carts with butt wipes and checking out. People don’t even truly know why they’re doing it. The coronavirus isn’t a gastrointestinal virus so it’s not like they’ll be using toilet paper more.

“I’m buying this because I can see everyone panicking, so I’m also panicking,” one Australian toilet paper enthusiast told VICE.

Still, with the growing proliferation of the virus, there is a chance you’ll come in contact with COVID-19 and have to partake in a Centre for Disease Control recommended self-quarantine.

Since most people aren’t going to be showing symptoms when they first become contagious—it takes up to five days to show symptoms—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is asking people to be ready to place themselves in a two-week self-quarantine (that’s the time it takes for the virus to more or less run its course through your body.)

So, you should definitely be prepared to stay home for 14 days. With that in mind, how much toilet paper will you truly need to get through your two-week solo hangout? (If you want to stock up for longer because of paranoia, well, that’s on you, bub.)

What kind of ply?

Let us start with one of life’s greatest quandaries: What ply should we use? Like all the questions for this assignment, the answer is subjective but I'll do my best to be fair and show my work.

This is important because three ply has more softness and absorbency, but, according to MIT (yes, that MIT), fewer sheets per roll. With that said, because you’re not made of money nor do you want hemorrhoids, you'll be buying a two-ply—the working people’s toilet paper. According to Walmart Canada, a package of 12 will run you about $14 for a brand name and $10 for a no-name brand if you buy it full price.

“But Mack, what's the count within a roll?” you ask. Well, a two-ply roll of toilet paper contains 500 sheets. So, inside a 12-pack, you’ve brought home 6,000 sheets of paper for your poopy bum. Lucky you.

How many poos does an average person take?

Now, I understand everyone is special and that means everyone takes a different number of dumps of varying quality. Your pooping routine is as unique as you are.

The amount of brown stuff coming out your butt is very important to this article so let's do the math. According to the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, which surveyed 268 people (aged 18 to 70) on their butt stuff, 98 percent of respondents had between “three stools per day and three per week.” One gastroenterologist, speaking to VICE in 2018, dubbed this the “Goldilocks zone for pooping.”

Because we don’t know for sure, let’s just take the average of the high (21 poos) and low end (3 poos), which gives us 12 dumps in one week—1.714 butt evacuations a day. Now, for the women reading this, I know you don't just use toilet paper for number two. According to Health.com, it’s normal for someone to pee anywhere from four to 10 times a day—we'll use seven, which is the average.

My math tells me men will be using the toilet paper 14 times a week (I’ve added two uses as incidentals because men are gross) and women will be using it 62 times a week (I added one extra for periods). As we can already see, the toilet paper will last far longer for men than women.

How much of the toilet paper is used during said dump (or pee)?

This is the one that will get us in trouble.

How am I supposed to know the power* of your dumps? (*Power will be the technical term we’re using for how many sheets you’ll need to clean your butthole.) Or the amount used for when you pee? That’s your business.

Thankfully, we can go back to MIT (who, for some godforsaken reason, has a full fact sheet on poo paper usage) to help us with our power question. The nerds say that the average person uses “approximately 8.6 sheets of paper per toilet use.” Using our numbers from above we can see that men will use 17.2 sheets of paper per day and 120.4 per week. Women will use 76.2 sheets per day and 533.2 per week. Thanks, nerds!

But we can do better than that, can’t we? Let me tell you the tale of microbiologist Charles Gerba—Dr. Germ to his friends—who is one of the only researchers ever to study toilet paper usage. In the 1970s, Gerba numbered toilet paper squares that were available in public washrooms and would check hourly to see what’s up. He learned, that once again, women used more toilet paper than men. But his study wasn’t scientific enough. So 20 years later the scientist made his way back to the toilets, this time with a grant from a toilet paper company, and fitted microprocessors on the toilet paper dispenser to get an accurate reading. Gerba found that women used seven pieces on average per trip and men used two which seems…low as hell.

So, since the bigwigs at VICE won’t fund a yearlong poo paper tracking study, and by asking around and keeping track myself, I’m leaning towards the nerds at MIT rather than Dr. Germ (even though their number seems low as well). So, let’s do that.

So, exactly how many rolls should I be hoarding?

Sadly, this segment will have to be broken down by gendered lines.

If you’re a man, a single roll of two-ply toilet paper will most likely last you 4.1 weeks, or 29 days, if it's just you, and you GUARD THAT SHIT WITH YOUR LIFE. So, if you just get yourself a small package you should be good.

For women, you’ll go through a roll in 6.56 days so you need to get more.

With all that said, most homes are shared—roommates, partners, kids, overzealous landlords who need to shit, etc.—so, it’s best to not just plan for yourself. According to Walmart’s toilet paper page, we can see there are several options we can purchase. There are packs of two, four, 12, 24, and just single rolls (we’re not going to entertain single packs because we’re not psychopaths).

Your best bet is to grab a 12-pack of toilet paper. With 12 rolls, you’ll have enough shit pages to easily get you and yours through the two weeks of lonely poopin’ and a little left over as currency for the Mad Max-esque toilet paper-based economy the coronavirus has ushered in.

Or maybe, you can be a normal person and continue to keep it stocked up and not freak out and panic-buy ass paper because it’s a stupid, stupid way to react to this pandemic.

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.