Why are Bleached Toilet Rolls Harmful?

If we asked you to imagine a toilet roll you’d probably picture soft sheets, cardboard tubes, and bright white tissue. The multi-coloured rolls of the past have mostly disappeared from UK shelves, but that doesn’t mean toilet rolls are a more natural colour now; the only way to make toilet tissue white is to bleach it. 

So many paper products are bleached that we barely notice it’s happening, but what if we told you those sparkling white sheets might be hiding hidden dangers to our health and our environment? 

Let's delve into the modern convention of bleaching toilet paper, and exploring the issues with bleached tissue.

Why Bleach in the First Place?

Bleached toilet paper has been with us since the Victorian era. The appeal is simple – bleach makes people think of cleanliness, sanitation, and hygiene. Early toilet paper manufacturers played up this association. Joseph Gayetty of New York, the first commercial manufacturer of modern toilet paper in 1857, advertised his “medicated paper for the water-closet” as a healthier alternative to the newspaper commonly used in his day. 

He had a point, compared with your average ink-covered newspaper, bleached tissue is a definite improvement! But the days of newspaper hanging on a nail in the outhouse are long gone, and we now know that bleach isn’t completely harmless. Whether it’s derived from chlorine or hydrogen peroxide alternatives, bleach has an impact on our bodies and our environment. 

Health Implications

The first thing to be aware of when it comes to bleach is the way it affects our bodies. 

Bleach is a common culprit in contact dermatitis; at Naked Sprout we make unbleached toilet rolls, and we often hear from customers with skin sensitivity, who have found that unbleached tissue is less irritating to their skin than the standard bleached rolls. And all of us have noticed a difference using unbleached facial tissues (and, let’s be honest, the odd loo roll) to blow our noses when we have colds - our noses are less red and less sore too! 

It’s not just the surface of our skin that we need to think about. Skin is porous - whatever comes into contact with it may be absorbed into our bloodstream. Recent studies suggest links between the bleach used in toilet rolls and a range of minor and much more serious health complaints. Is it really worth the risk, for something that’s just going to be flushed away? 

Environmental Impact:

Beyond personal health concerns, the use of bleach in toilet rolls raises serious environmental questions. Manufacturing bleach involves the release of harmful chemicals into the environment, contributing to water pollution and wider ecological damage. Additionally, the process of bleaching tissue products generates dioxins, notorious environmental pollutants that can persist in the environment for years. 

And we have to remember that all of this has a climate impact as well. The manufacturing and transport of bleach and the containers that hold it will generally be powered by fossil fuels, and so will the process of applying it to tissue pulp. All of this for a cosmetic enhancement that (we would argue) is simply not necessary in the first place. 

Cleanliness and Colour

Our toilet paper today is very different to the kind used in the Victorian era, but the misconception that a bleached product is a healthy product has stuck around. While bleach is effective in killing germs, its presence in toilet paper doesn’t do anything to sanitise your loo. Giving your toilet a regular clean (ideally with natural or eco-friendly products!) is more than enough to maintain a sanitary loo without the need for bleached tissue. 

While we’re encouraging you to ditch bleach, we should point out that it is important that your tissue is pale enough to show blood or changes in colour when you go to the loo. Luckily, the raw materials that are used to manufacture tissue are light enough so you can see any changes in colour perfectly well without the need for bleach. At Naked Sprout we use raw bamboo and recycled cardboard to make our rolls; both of these make a pale beige tissue that’s soft and gentle on your body as well as your plumbing!

Conclusion:

Making informed choices about the products we use in our daily lives is one way we can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world. White toilet rolls have been the default standard on our shelves for a long time, but default doesn’t equal best - especially when you consider the potential drawbacks to your health and the health of our planet.

Ready to go bleachless with tissue products that are proudly au naturel? 

 

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