The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

How do you roll: The great toilet paper debate

4 min read
Toilet paper

The toilet paper debate is between the “under” and “over” method. | Kev Bation, Unsplash


Staff Writer

It must have been in middle school sometime, scrolling through a meme page, when I first became aware of the toilet paper debate, which consisted of the following dilemma: When you put the roll of toilet paper in position, in which direction do you want the roll to spin? This is the over/under debate, and it’s one that has sparked fiery exchanges for decades.

As someone who has always felt that over was the way to roll, I decided to take to the internet; the place where I was first introduced to this question would be the best place to search for an answer. As it turns out, there’s some science to the issue. 

According to an Inc. article citing a study from the University of Colorado, “The correct way to hang toilet paper is ‘over.’ Why? Because ‘under’ vastly increases the possibility that food-poisoning bacteria will spread from the restroom to the rest of the workplace.”

This chalks up the increased likelihood of contracting food poisoning, typically in the form of E. coli from human feces, to the way people often touch the wall that the roll is mounted on when they reach for a rip, especially if the roll is facing under. Of course, this is a bigger concern for public restrooms, though bacteria are also familiar with the private spaces of peoples’ homes. 

If that’s not enough to convince you, you must not be afraid of E. coli. (How was eating the Chipotle lettuce back in 2015?) Allow me to continue.

Although probably most important, the risk of spreading and accidentally consuming E. coli bacteria is not the only reason why you should hang your toilet paper using the over method; mounting your toilet paper this way also provides for a better bathroom experience. Since nothing is fighting gravity’s pull on the end of an under-hanging roll, there’s a higher chance of the roll spinning out of control, landing perfectly good toilet paper on the floor—most likely in a puddle of random wetness that we all hate to encounter in a bathroom. This is a chance that we all would like to keep slim, for wasting toilet paper bodes poorly when you’re nearing the end of the roll and don’t have time to head to Giant until the following night. I’ve been there, you’ve probably been there; I think we can agree that it’s a bad situation to be in. 

Apart from the scientific reasoning behind why you should be an over person, too, you can listen to Zeynep Yenisey of Maxim, who points out that “the 1891 patent for the toilet paper roll literally states that the end of the roll should be hanging off the exterior.” Take it from the inventor: over is the way to go.

It’s a free country, yes, but we do have rules.

Looking at those rules, it’s necessary to find the source of our knowledge on bathroom etiquette. For many, if not all of us, most of our bathroom behavior is learned before we can even write our names, and we’re often silenced from discussing the rules and regulations of the porcelain throne after those formative lessons due to the taboo nature of the subject. 

But then, why is there such contentious debate surrounding the direction of your toilet paper roll? 

Until I researched, I had no idea about the scientific reasoning behind the issue. But toilet paper patents and E. coli probably aren’t people’s typical arguments for the way the roll should spin. If you’ve grown up in an “under” household, you may feel strongly that under is the way to go just because that’s the way it’s always been. 

It’s the same with tying our shoes—why do we feel so strongly about using one loop or two? 

Perhaps it’s the perceived triviality of the matter, then. While it’s difficult to achieve meaningful success and attain appreciable power in our careers or other communal outlets, our personal lives often remain comfortably under our control. As a result, our very personal moments, then, may be the ones we have the most ownership of. 

For those who are nervous to partake in more difficult discussions, the kind that is necessary for human progress that benefits everyone, perhaps the low stakes and lighthearted nature of a toilet paper debate is a way to dip your toe in the water (preferably not toilet water). Of course, such a conversation wouldn’t carry the same weight and importance as more serious conversations that need to be had. But asking someone how they hang their toilet paper, fold their shirts or decorate their house can be the conversational push someone needs to take a leap at discussing uncomfortable, taboo or socially unacceptable topics.

And honestly, sharing about silly things we do, like the various ways to hang your toilet paper roll or tie your shoes, is fun. So, if you’re still an “under” person, I’m just interested in hearing why.