Does toilet paper contain harmful chemicals? You betcha.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the two primary problems with conventional toilet paper:

  • the toxins used in the manufacturing process that could cause skin irritation and other issues for consumers
  • and the environmental footprint of the paper industry as a whole

Then we’re going to give you our recommendations for the best non-toxic, chemical-free toilet paper and healthy toilet paper alternatives.

Let’s go.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.

You’re “Bumming” Me Out! Now I Need to Worry About Toxins in My Toilet Paper?

Why do toilet paper brands bleach their products in the first place? There are two primary reasons:

  1. Bleaching paper products makes them less scratchy and harsh on your skin.
  2. Aesthetics. When your toilet paper is super white, it gives off “cleaner” vibe. Even though the off-white color of unbleached TP does NOT mean it’s unclean, many consumers (consciously or subconsciously) simply prefer white toilet paper.

Now let’s talk about some of the common toxic chemicals that are found in typical toilet paper.

Dioxins & Furans

Most bleaching processes use chlorine. But chlorine produces dioxins, which are toxic. Dioxins are considered persistent environmental pollutants (POPs), which accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”

There is a better way to whiten toilet paper that results in a softer, whiter product with less harsh chemicals. More on that below.

BPA

Most of us know by now that BPA and its sister chemicals like BPS and BPF are problematic. This group of chemicals (called bisphenols) are known endocrine disruptors, which means they can cause infertility, breast cancer, early puberty, and more. They’re everywhere—in countless plastic products, in canned goods, on receipts, and yes, in toilet paper.

BPA and other bisphenols are more likely to be found in recycled paper brands. Essentially, they make their way into your TP from other types of paper products that are recycled into toilet paper.

The only “positive” thing to note here is that most toilet paper includes a much smaller BPA amount compared to those other products listed above (especially receipts). So if you want to go with recycled toilet paper for environmental reasons, it’s not the WORST choice.

Formaldehyde

We’ve talked about formaldehyde before when it comes to shampoo. It’s actually a naturally occurring chemical that exists in small amounts in our bodies and in the air.

Formaldehyde can become toxic, however, at higher concentrations. It can cause things like watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; skin irritation; and possibly cancer.

In one study, formaldehyde in toilet paper was suspected to be to blame for chronic vulva irritation.

This is why formaldehyde-free brands are best for sensitive skin. (ALL of the brands below are formaldehyde-free.)

Gelatin

Yea. Believe it or not, a lot of conventional toilet paper is not vegan. A lot of toilet tissue is made with gelatin because it effectively holds fibers together but will also break down in water.

(Don’t worry: the recommended brands below do not contain gelatin.)

Extra Additives

Some toilet paper brands add EXTRA (mostly unnecessary) toxins on top of everything else above. These include:

Fragrances: Honestly, just skip the scented toilet paper! Not only is it unnecessary, but “fragrance” is one of the most problematic (and ubiquitous) chemicals used in personal care products today.

Under U.S. law, companies are allowed to include a long list of chemicals under the umbrella of “fragrance” or “parfum” without disclosing to consumers WHAT those chemicals actually.

This list of over 3,500 allowed chemicals includes things like phthalates and parabens, which are linked to a host of negative health effects like infertility, hyperactivity, obesity, and more.

PEG: We talked about PEG in-depth with regard to Downy Unstopables. In and of itself, PEG isn’t a known risk to human or environmental health. But the problem is that during the manufacturing process, PEG goes through something called ethoxylation, which uses two problematic chemicals: 1,4-dioxane (a carcinogen) and ethylene oxide (which is linked to cancer, infertility, and skin irritation). Over and over again, PEG has been found to be contaminated with these two toxins.

PEG isn’t as much of a problem in dry toilet paper, but it’s often used in flushable wipes.

Other additives to look out for include glues (like for 2-and 3-ply toilet paper), inks, and dyes.

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Chlorine-Free Bleaching (Whitening) Methods

There are a few chlorine-free methods that conscious companies use to whiten their bathroom tissue. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these different processes:

Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) Whitening

Instead of chlorine, this method uses chlorine dioxide, which is a chlorine derivative. Although it’s not 100% non-toxic, it’s a much less toxic method compared to regular chlorine bleaching. You’ll notice that most of the brands under the “BETTER” category below use this method.

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) Whitening

This method uses zero chlorine or chlorine-derived products at all. Only about 3% of worldwide pulp production uses this method because it requires more energy and more pulp compared to ECF.

Process Chlorine Free (PCF) Whitening

This process is often used in recycled paper products that have not been re-bleached using chlorine or chlorine derivatives.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Some brands use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine-based products to whiten their bath tissue, which is a much safer and healthier option.

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Toilet Paper’s Impact on Our Environment is a Pain in the Butt

As mentioned, toilet paper is not just problematic when it comes to personal health, but also when it comes to our collective health as well.

Environmentally, the paper products industry (toilet paper, paper towels, computer paper, books, coffee filter, paper plates, etc.) contributes to deforestation AND is incredibly polluting. As the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states:

“[E]veryday consumption [of paper products] facilitates a “tree-to-toilet pipeline,” whereby centuries-old trees are hewn from the ground, converted into tissue pulp, rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes, and flushed or thrown away. The consequences for Indigenous Peoples, treasured wildlife, and the global climate are devastating.”

Americans are terrible when it comes to the consumption of tissue products: despite the fact that we make up only 4(ish) percent of the world’s population, we account for over 20 percent of global tissue production!

A lot of this tissue comes from the beautiful boreal forest in Canada. This crucial forest “acts as a massive storehouse for climate-altering carbon, is also vital to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.” This is reason enough alone to consider decreasing our TP consumption habits.

Purchasing toilet paper that’s certified sustainably sourced by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a great place to start. But an even better option is to reduce your toilet paper use altogether and/or switch to tree-free toilet paper. (Keep reading for tips on how to do that.)

“Butt” I’ve Been Using Recycled Toilet Paper—Isn’t That Better?!

Environmentally, recycled paper is definitely better than toilet paper made from virgin materials. However, recycled toilet paper is not chemical-free.

As mentioned above, you, unfortunately, have to worry about bisphenols. This is because all kinds of paper—much of which contains BPA, BPS, and BPF—is thrown into recycling and made into recycled toilet paper. Some of the main culprits include things like thermal receipt paper, lottery tickets, and shipping labels.

So in many ways, recycled toilet paper is better, but in other ways, it’s still not great.

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Toilet Paper Alternatives That You Can Get “Behind”

The good news is that nowadays, there are plenty of alternatives to conventional toilet paper. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

Types of Non-Wood Plant Fibers Used in Toilet Paper That Are Eco-Friendly and Sustainable

Bamboo

Bamboo toilet paper is by far the most common tree-free toilet paper on the market. Bamboo is a much more sustainable option because it:

  • requires less water (about 30% less than trees)
  • grows really fast (it can grow 3 feet in just 24 hours!)
  • requires no herbicides and pesticides
  • doesn’t have to be replanted (it regrows itself)
  • gives out more oxygen (about 35% more than trees)

Plus, bamboo fiber is actually stronger than wood pulp, so it’s often even more effective than conventional toilet paper at getting the job done!

Sugarcane

Similar to bamboo, sugar cane is a fast-growing and more highly renewable plant compared to trees. A few toilet paper companies use a mix of bamboo and sugarcane in their toilet tissue.

Other fibers (these ones are much more rarely used in toilet paper and paper towels):

  • flax
  • hemp
  • kenaf
  • bagasse agro waste
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Image: TUSHY

Or, Get a Bidet!

In many places around the world, bidets have been the norm for quite some time. But in the United States, they’ve only just started catching on in the past several years.

Bidets are a GREAT alternative to toilet paper. Here are some of the benefits:

  • More hygienic and you get a better clean.
  • Decreases the likelihood of developing hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
  • Saves paper & is more eco-friendly.
  • Can save you money in the long run because you don’t have to keep buying TP (or you buy less).
  • It can be easier to use for seniors and people with mobility issues.
  • More hygienic (and sometimes easier) for menstruating and pregnant people.
  • It uses less water overall. (Even though you use more water personally, it takes an average of 37 gallons of water to produce one roll of toilet paper. So saving TP = saving water.)
  • Honestly, it just feels better!

Here are some great bidets to check out:

Some people still use a minimal amount of toilet paper to dry off after using a bidet. Others use cloths, and some just drip dry! No matter which way you prefer to use your bidet, you’re at the very least going to decrease your toilet paper usage (and have a cleaner bum!).

The BETTER (Mostly) Non-Toxic Toilet Paper For Your Bum

So, all of that being said, what is the healthiest toilet paper (for individuals and our environment)?

We’ve separated our toilet paper recommendations into to primary categories: BETTER and BEST. The BETTER brands use more sustainable materials and are free from most chemicals, but most of them use the ECF whitening process. The BEST ones are entirely unbleached.

P.S. All the tissue below is biodegradable and septic safe too!

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Reel

  • 100% bamboo toilet paper
  • whitened using elemental chlorine-free (ECF)
  • no inks, dyes, or BPA
  • plastic-free
  • you can subscribe to save money
  • now available at TARGET!
  • gives back a portion of profits to SOIL
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Public Goods

  • bamboo and sugarcane blend
  • free of inks, dyes, fragrances, and BPA
  • whitened using ECF method for the bamboo and TCF for the sugarcane
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Cloud Paper

  • 100% bamboo
  • whitened using the ECF method
  • free to BPA, scents, pesticides, and dyes
  • plastic-free
  • subscription model available

Brandless

  • bamboo and sugarcane blend
  • whitened with hydrogen peroxide (TCF method)
  • no dyes or fragrances
  • USDA-certified biobased product
  • very affordable: $3 for six double rolls

Seedling by Grove

  • 100% bamboo
  • whitened with ECF method
  • plastic-free
  • every purchase helps restore American forestland
  • certified B Corp brand
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Caboo

  • bamboo and sugarcane
  • uses ECF method
  • non-GMO certified
  • BPA- and fragrance-free
  • plastic-free
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Pure Planet Club

  • 100% bamboo toilet paper
  • uses ECF method
  • lint-free
  • BPA-free
  • plastic-free
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Bim Bam Boo

  • 100% FSC and USDA BioPreferred Certified bamboo
  • uses ECF method
  • free of formaldehyde and BPA
  • plastic-free
  • subscription model available
  • give-back initiatives to non-profit organizations
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Seventh Generation

  • 100% recycled (could contain bisphenols)
  • completely unbleached
  • available at many big box stores such as Walmart

Who Gives A Crap

  • available in recycled paper (which uses hydrogen peroxide + oxygen to bleach and could contain bisphenols) and bamboo toilet paper (which uses TCF and hydrogen peroxide to bleach)
  • free of inks, dyes, and scents
  • plastic-free
  • subscription model available
  • B Corp certified
  • 50% of profits are donated to non-profit organizations
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Bumboo

  • 100% bamboo
  • whitened using a mix of oxygen and hydrogen peroxide (TCF method)
  • available wrapped or unwrapped
  • one tree planted with each purchase
  • plastic-free, soy-inked packaging
  • free from pesticides, fertilizers, scents and dyes, and lint
  • subscription model available
  • based in UK

The BEST Unbleached, Chemical-Free Toilet Paper For Your Bum

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TUSHY

  • 100% bamboo
  • unbleached
  • dye- and BPA-free
  • subscription model available (+ free shipping)
  • plastic-free
  • gives back to non-profits
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PlantPAPER

  • FSC-certified bamboo
  • no bleach, formaldehyde, or BPA
  • plastic-free
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Naturolly

  • 100% FSC-certified bamboo
  • unbleached
  • no BPA, chlorine bleach, fragrance, inks, fluorescent dyes, or formaldehyde
  • plastic-free
  • subscription model available
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Eco Cheeks

  • 100% FSC-certified bamboo
  • unbleached
  • no chlorine bleach, fragrance, inks, dyes, BPA or formaldehyde
  • plastic-free
  • based in Australia
  • gives back to non-profit organizations

TBD On These TP Brands

The companies below are also pretty good options, but we’re not positive what bleaching method they use (it’s most likely ECF). We’ll update you whenever we find out!

Conclusion: Your bum will thank you when you go chemical-free with your toilet paper!

Do you know why the toilet paper does not cross the road? Because it gets stuck in a crack.


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Image credits: Claire Mueller, Edward Jenner, Vie Studio, Mirko Blicke, all images belong to respective brands