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The History of Colored Toilet Paper (And Why It Went Down the Toilet)

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Though we live in an increasingly colorful world in many respects, when it comes to toilet paper, things are still very, well, vanilla. But that wasn’t always the case. Ironically, the conservative ’50s saw the rise of the most colorful era in toilet paper history. 

In that post-war decade, sinks, bathtubs and toilets were coordinated in colors that would horrify today’s monochromatic designers. Powder blue, pink, yellow and green were all the rage. And the cherry on top of this matchy-matchy retro bathroom cake? Colored toilet paper.

Yes, for the trendy 1950s housewife, it was a must to wipe your privates in a color-coordinated fashion. And this rainbow approach to personal hygiene continued well into the ’60s and ’70s until it hit a literal and figurative end somewhere around the mid-’80s.

So why is it that when we reach for the toilet paper these days, we’re forced to settle for plain old white? And is there a good reason for this colorless state of bathroom affairs? We’re going to fill you in. 

But first, let’s go over a very brief history of toilet paper.

A Very Brief History of What We Wipe Our Ends With

Toilet paper goes way beyond Charmin and may reach further back than you think. In fact, there’s evidence that it was used in China as early as the 6th century AD. And by the 14th century, a rice paper variety was being mass-produced for the royal heinies of the imperial family.

And yet here in the good old USA, toilet paper wasn’t widely available until 1857 when Joseph Gayetty introduced it into the commercial market as “Medicated Paper for the Water Closet.”

So what exactly were we wiping with before then? Here are a few of the surprising and now unthinkable articles we put to use:

  • Grass (Sounds like it would stain.)
  • Hay (Yikes, itchy!)
  • Moss (Collecting it sounds labor intensive.)
  • Fruit Skins (Was that seasonal?)
  • Sand and Stones (Ouch!)
  • Snow (Brrrr!)
  • Corn Cobs (WTF?)
  • Water (That makes sense.)
  • The Sears Catalogue and the Farmers Almanac (We are not kidding you.)

Clearly, people must have been delighted when someone finally figured out a way to make a visit to the bathroom a much more comfortable (not to mention pain free) experience. 

Although apparently, it took a while to work the kinks out of this new fangled invention as Northern Tissue advertised their brand as being “splinter-free” as late as the 1930s.

But the industry got their crap together by the 1950s when toilet paper was not only softer and more absorbent but came in a wide variety of colors to match your bathroom decor. Woohoo!

Related: Why You Should Go With A Heated Towel Rack [Interview with Craig Taylor]

The Demise of Colored TP

A roll of yellow colored toilet paper on a toilet

Although colored toilet paper was an instant hit when it was first introduced in the 1950s, the colorful bathroom tissue trend eventually died out starting around the mid-’80s. So why did it go down the toilet? Turns out there are several theories that are credited for its bitter end.

Harmful Dyes

We’re all aware that toilet paper is a sensitive matter for a sensitive place. And when doctors started warning people about the potentially harmful effects of dye on their private parts in the late ’80s, it was a major blow to the industry.

As a matter of taste, we won’t provide you with any actual case studies.

Bad for Environment

Another reason given for the demise of colored toilet paper is that all those chemical dyes were bad for the environment. Of course, that reason doesn’t seem to hold much water as plastics, petroleum products, and all kinds of other not-planet-friendly chemicals continue in full-scale production until this day. Just sayin’.

Colored Toilet Paper Costs More

Yet another reason that colored paper is said to have met its end is that it’s more expensive to produce. Did big toilet paper business wake up one fine day and realize they could cut costs and increase profits by serving up just plain white? 

When in doubt, follow the money. 

Modern Design

As we all know, when it comes to fashion and design, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re being laughed at. Loudly. 

As the trend of pastel-colored bathrooms began to wane, designers with a more color-neutral palette took over the room where we attend to our necessities. Eventually, wiping your posterior with pastels went out of fashion because these colored rolls just didn’t go with our modern bathroom designs anymore. 

A bright pink or blue role amongst all those white fixtures? How gauche!

Sadly, TP-ing someone’s house had the color drained out of it as well. One can only wonder if teenagers were disappointed with the new state of toilet paper affairs.

The Second Coming

Renova colored toilet paper

To those of you who still yearn for the good old days of colorful toilet paper (and for those who simply weren’t born yet), there’s hope at the end of the rainbow. 

Renova, a company that’s apparently unafraid to fly its toilet paper freak flag, is manufacturing 3-ply TP in an assortment of colors. If you feel the need to spice things up when it comes to wiping your bum, you can now do it with colors like pink, lime green, red, yellow, orange, Fuchsia, and even black

Yes, black toilet paper rolls. Though this does raise an important question—if the job isn’t done until the paperwork is finished, how will you know when you’re finished? 

Sorry if the image that just popped into your head was too graphic.

Also, I have to wonder if color therapy works on your bottom? Would cooling blue be good after a night of spicy Indian food? Would refreshing green make you feel cleaner below the belt? Will authoritative black make you feel more powerful all the way down to your derriere? 

Unfortunately, studies are still lacking.

But for those of you concerned with safety, the company assures us that their TP has been dermatologically and gynaecologically tested. (Wonder who volunteered for that experiment?) And, their toilet paper is great for commercial and RV septic systems. 

For those of us that survived the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, a roll of colorful toilet paper may be the perfect holiday gift to slide under the Christmas tree. 

All’s Well That Treats Your Ends Well

Who knows why designers in the 1950s suddenly decided that pastel bathroom fixtures were the new thing. 

Was it the defeat of Hitler that made them want to paint the rainbow? Were they just bored? As is the case with many trends, we may never know. But we do know that this design whim gave rise to a colorful era in toilet paper history that we may never see the likes of again.

Although there are various reasons why wiping your fanny with dyed TP went down the toilet, the biggest reason is that it simply went out of fashion. Will the bold colors of renegade toilet paper company Renova take over the market and create a toilet paper renaissance? 

Only time will tell. For now, it’s probably best to go with whatever treats your fanny the best—even if it is plain old white.

You might also be interested in: 35 Bathroom Essentials That’ll Spice Up Any Washroom [Guide]

Sherry De Alba

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