Coronavirus Sparks Urgent Interest in Toilet Paper Alternatives

Coronavirus sends many in search of toilet paper alternatives

If you’ve done any shopping amid the coronavirus pandemic or you’ve seen any news coverage, you know that many Americans are stockpiling one product in particular — toilet paper. With store shelves empty, interest is surging in toilet paper alternatives.

Cities, States Most Interested in TP Alternatives

According to Google Trends, interest in “toilet paper alternatives” started spiking March 8, 2020, in the U.S. And who’s most curious about these alternatives? Google Trends shows these are the U.S. metro areas clamoring for information about TP substitutes:

U.S. Metro Areas Most Interested in Toilet Paper Alternatives
RankMetro AreaGoogle Trends Score
1Huntsville, Ala.100
2Spokane, Wash.
3Tucson, Ariz.53
4Fargo, N.D.52
5Eugene, Ore.49
6Syracuse, N.Y.45
7Colorado Springs, Colo.45
8Monterey, Calif.43
9Omaha, Neb.41
10Richmond, Va.38
11Boise, Idaho36
12Springfield, Ill.35
13Cedar Rapids, Iowa34
14Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M.33
15Flint-Saginaw, Mich.31
16Springfield, Mo.30
17Toledo, Ohio30
18Wichita, Kan.30
19Grand Rapids, Mich.29
20Green Bay, Wis.29
21Portland, Maine28
22Indianapolis, Ind.28
23Madison, Wis.27
24Lexington, Ky.26
25Roanoke, Va.26
26Kansas City, Mo.25
27Des Moines, Iowa25
28Oklahoma City, Okla.24
29Tulsa, Okla.24
30Little Rock, Ark.24
31Scranton, Pa.23
32Knoxville, Tenn.23
33Jacksonville, Fla.23
34Portland, Ore.23
35Honolulu, Hawaii22
36Cincinnati, Ohio21
37Mobile, Ala.21
38Norfolk, Va.19
39Memphis, Tenn.19
40Fresno, Calif.18
41Denver, Colo.17
42Buffalo, N.Y.17
43Salt Lake City, Utah17
44Providence, R.I.17
45New Orleans, La.16
46Phoenix, Ariz.16
47Harrisburg ,Pa.16
48Minneapolis, Minn.16
49Detroit, Mich.16
50Milwaukee, Wis.16
51Sacramento, Calif.16
52Charlotte, N.C.15
53Louisville, Ky.15
54Birmingham, Ala.15
55West Palm Beach, Fla.14
56San Diego, Calif.14
57Tampa, Fla.14
58Greenville, N.C.14
59Austin, Texas13
60San Francisco, Calif.11
61Las Vegas, Nev.11
62Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas11
63Columbus, Ohio11
64Boston, Mass.10
65Cleveland, Ohio10
66Chicago, Ill.10
67Raleigh, N.C.10
68Pittsburgh, Pa.10
69San Antonio, Texas10
70Los Angeles, Calif.10
71Washington, D.C.9
72Baltimore, Md.9
73Seattle, Wash.9
74St. Louis, Mo.9
75Nashville, Tenn.8
76Philadelphia, Pa.8
77Miami, Fla.7
78Atlanta, Ga.5
79Orlando, Fla.5
80New York, N.Y.5
81Houston, Texas3
Data from Google Trends, pulled March 17, 2020. "Google Trends Score" is a comparative score that assigns a top score of 100 to the place searching for a term the most often.

As the table above shows, the interest in the topic does not closely track the path of the virus. Seattle, where the largest number of early deaths occurred, is well down the list of cities. Huntsville, Ala., the metro area most interested in toilet paper alternatives, did not see its first case of the virus until March 17. But shortages of toilet paper and other products, driven by panic buying, have emptied stores nationwide of some staples, including toilet paper.

Interest Began March 8

Interest in the topic skyrocketed the week of March 8, according to Google. That was the week when Italy went on lockdown, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus to be a pandemic and President Trump imposed travel restrictions on Europe.

Some groceries, like this one in Central Texas, admit customers a few at a time to keep crowds manageable.
Some groceries, like this one in Central Texas, admit customers a few at a time to keep crowds manageable.

Neither does interest in the topic by state show much relationship to the virus; hotspots for one are not hotspots for the other.

U.S. States Most Interested in Toilet Paper Alternatives
RankStateGoogle Trends score
4West Virginia47
5North Dakota46
6South Dakota44
8New Mexico40
9New Hampshire34
33South Carolina10
42New York7
43North Carolina7
45New Jersey4
The remaining five states — Delaware, Misissippi, Montana, Nebraska, Rhode Island — and the District of Columbia shows no interest in the topic for the past year. Google Trends score is a comparative rank that assigns 100 to the most-interested state.

Why the Urgent Need for TP?

Across the country, rolls of toilet paper keep vanishing from store shelves almost as soon as they’re restocked. Why are so many people in a tizzy about TP?

“There is comfort in knowing that it’s there,” psychologist Mary Alvord, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine, told Time magazine. “We all eat and we all sleep and we all poop. It’s a basic need to take care of ourselves.”

So, is there a shortage of the paper that helps us meet a basic need? Here’s the answer, courtesy of The New York Times:

“Major retailers say toilet paper hasn’t been out of stock in stores for more than a day or two, or even a few hours. Manufacturers, paper industry executives say, are raising production to meet demand, but there is only so much capacity that they can or are willing to add. They want to satisfy panic buying without going overboard and creating a glut on the market when the surge subsides.”

Panic-buying has emptied store shelves of toilet paper, other staples. empty shelves and caused stores to limit
Panic-buying has emptied store shelves of toilet paper, other staples and caused stores to limit purchase quantities.

Toilet Paper Alternatives

So, if you can’t scrounge up even one roll of toilet paper or want to avoid panic buying, what are the alternatives? How can you CYA (clean your you-know-what) without TP? Here, we’re going to flush the notion that toilet paper is your only wiping option.

Cardboard tubes

Do you have leftover cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels?

But do you really want to subject your backside to a stiff piece of cardboard? To soften the cardboard, very briefly soak it in water.


Toilet paper is, of course, made of paper. Therefore, you might consider other paper products: envelopes, newspapers, notebook paper and printer paper. Don’t flush any of these down the toilet.


This can come in one of two forms: the type of tissue you grab when you’re sneezing or sniffling, and the type of tissue you stuff into gift bags. While facial tissue is flushable, gift-bag tissue isn’t.

Coffee filters

Coffee filters are not only a key ingredient for your morning brew, but they’re also a TP alternative for your morning doo. Warning: Don’t clog your toilet by trying to flush a soiled coffee filter.


The CVS drugstore chain famously hands out what seems to be the world’s longest receipts. If you’ve kept receipts from CVS or any business, you can put those to use to wipe your tush.


Sponges — common items in the kitchen — can substitute for toilet paper.

“If you go this route, you’ll need to either boil the sponge or soak it in bleach water before rinsing it out and using it again,” Urban Survival Site points out.

Baby wipes and toilet wipes

Baby wipes and toilet wipes are a godsend if you’re out of toilet paper. However, they might be in short supply, just as TP has been. By the way, while these wipes often are advertised as being flushable, experts say they clog sewer systems.


Yes, you can put water front and center to clear your rear. After all, we use water to clean everything else, right?

“To do this, use a plastic cup or another pouring device. Fill it with warm water, pour it into your cupped left hand and do the necessary cleaning,” Urban Survival Site recommends.

Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands afterward.


As campers have long known, Mother Nature can be your best friend when you’re in a TP pinch.

Leaves can be effective substitutes for toilet paper. Options include maple, mullein, cottonwood and large-leaved aster leaves, as well as leaves from garden plants like lettuce. Just be sure that any leaf you choose is not from a poisonous plant. Wiping with a poisonous leaf would cause a terrible backside boo-boo.


Bidets are popular in many countries in Asia, Europe and South America. They’re not common in the U.S., though.

“The classic bidet is a miniature, bathtub-like fixture situated next to the toilet, with taps on one end. Its tub is filled with water, and the user straddles themselves over it to wash below the belt,” The Atlantic magazine says.

In 2017, reported the cost of a bidet ranges from $250 to $700. So, a bidet would a pricey way to guarantee a clean posterior, but already, interest in bidets is booming.


John Egan

John Egan is the former editor in chief of Now, he is a freelance writer extraordinaire. He lives in Austin, Texas.