CLERMONT — Ever look at your bathroom toilet paper holder and say “Wow, that roll looks really little?”
At the risk of being accused of having too much time on my hands, I have done just that.
Rolls tend to be not only shorter than they used to be, but more narrow. It’s not my imagination. I have made note of sizes available at one popular local supermarket and various public institutions and have visited (among other sites) www.toiletpaperworld.com.
One product there is described as being “one of only a few bathroom tissues that still has the original 4.5-inch x 4.25-inch sheet.”
The State of New Jersey, in a 1997 purchasing specifications document, stated that toilet paper sheets should be no less than 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches.
Luther Hanson’s job at the U.S. Quartermaster Museum in Virginia is to know about “stuff.” His title is museum specialist. He supplies the federal “Director of Procurement” standards for toilet paper from a document dating back to October 1937.
The Type I round rolls “shall be not less than 4 1/2 inches wide,” the document reads. “The paper shall be perforated at 5 inch intervals …”
The Type II sheet toilet paper is to be “interlocked in such a way that two sheets at a time will dispense … sheets shall not be less than 4 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches.” There is also an “oval roll,” but without any separate standards for sheet size.
So what’s out there now, and what’s needed “per use?”
In my informal survey of offerings, sheet width varied from 3.5 to 4.5 inches, sheet length varied from 4 inches to 5 inches, and the number of sheets per roll varied from 200 (a 3-ply variety) to 1,000 ( a 1-ply variety).
Mario Maltaise is chief operating officer for the Cellyne Manufacturing paper company in Haines City. They make toilet paper there, among other paper products. Most of Cellynne’s toilet paper ends up in public restrooms, where the wide sheets of the 1937 U.S. Director of Procurement (or, more recently, the State of New Jersey) are a thing of the past. In Cellynne’s line of toilet papers, the 3.5 inch width dominates, in 1-ply, 2-ply and a relatively cushy 1-ply variation known as double-layer.
As Maltaise said in a recent interview, “The rules for the width, total length, distance between perforations, number of sheets per roll … varies
from company to company and depends on the market they are perusing … The (market) leaders are the ones that really dictate the offers to the different markets.
“The variation in all the sizes have different history in terms of timing, depending on the company that first gets the item out,” he added. “The others generally adjust to it. However, there are rules and norms to respect and companies have to adhere to them. Actually, you can’t go under 3.5 inches (width) because the pressure dispensers would reject it.”
As for how many sheets are needed per use (or per day), the biggest hint is from that 1937 federal procurement standard: the generously-sized folded-sheet toilet paper had to be dispensed two sheets at a time, as in “light” jobs should not take more than two sheets. Kleenex seems to have made a similar determination when they designed their Hygienic Bath Tissue inter-fold system (not on rolls). Each of those sheets, according to the toiletpaperworld website, measures a generous 4.5 x 8.3 inches — the equivalent to roughly two of the largest standard sheets (sheets on a roll) or three of the smallest sheets.
So is there an advantage to the smaller sheets, beyond the potential advantage of actually using less paper?
The answer is a big, fat maybe.
Some years back, the federal government solicited comments on proposed changes to the 1994 revised standards on widths of public restroom stalls. The summary of comments reads, in part, that “people are becoming larger and the toilet paper dispensers are also becoming larger, and intruding into the 18-inch space.”
All things being equal, if the paper itself is narrower, and the jumbo roll dispenser it is put on can be narrower, it can be assumed there’s more room in the stall for the typical American’s ever-expanding rear ends.