Toilet paper rolls: The over-vs-under debate explained

When you walk into the bathroom, you probably aren’t paying much attention to the toilet paper until you reach to use it. But, when you finally go to tear a sheet off, you may notice if the roll is run with the paper facing over or underneath. While you continue on about your business, you may be wondering to yourself, which way is the right way?

Some quick history for you: Toilet paper rolls were invented in 1891. Ever since then, people around the world have grappled with how to correctly hang a roll of toilet paper. Should it be over or under? While your personal preference may take the lead in your own bathroom, we spoke to Melissa Maker, cleaning expert extraordinaire and author of “ Clean My Space,” to settle the debate of how to hang a roll of toilet paper once and for all.

Maker, whose Clean My Space YouTube channel has over 1.1 million subscribers, told INSIDER that there’s a reason you should be hanging your toilet paper over instead of under.

“For one, it’s more convenient and easier to get access to the toilet paper instead of having to dig underneath,” she said.

Read more: Charmin created a toilet-paper roll for millennials that lasts up to 3 months

Seth Wheeler, the inventor of the toilet paper roll, seems to agree. According to Google Patents, drawings filed by Wheeler back in 1891 show rolls of toilet paper hanging over — not under. While Wheeler didn’t definitively come out and say which way is correct, it’s safe to say that the illustrations speak for themselves. And, then there’s the cleanliness aspect when it comes to the best way to hang a roll of toilet paper.

A diagram from the original toilet paper roll patent from 1891.
Seth Wheeler/Google Patents

“From a cleaning standpoint, your hand is doing what it does when you’re in the bathroom and the fact that the toilet paper is hung over means that you are touching and affecting less of the surrounding area with said hand,” explained Maker. “Whereas, if the toilet paper were hung backward and it fell underneath and you had to rip from the bottom, you’d be doing a lot of digging around and you’d probably end up touching the walls or part of the actual toilet paper holder itself.”

As it turns out, Maker’s theory is partially backed up by science. According to a 2011 study from researchers at the University of Colorado, 19 groups of bacteria were found on surfaces like door handles, faucets, soap dispensers, toilet seats, the bathroom floor, and other areas of the restrooms tested. While the study doesn’t specifically call out toilet paper, it seems fair to assume that the tissue isn’t immune from germs — especially if someone is fumbling around to grab a few sheets in an already germy space.

“By hanging the toilet paper over, you are actually preventing, in some way, the transfer of bacteria,” said Maker.

Home arrangement and cleaning expert Melissa Maker.
Clean My Space/YouTube

However, despite accessibility and sanitation reasons, Maker said the over vs. under debate is “silly more than anything else.” She compared it to the argument of leaving the toilet seat up or down. Above all else, what it really boils down to is personal preference.

“People get their head stuck on one certain thing and doing it a particular way because that’s the way they always did it growing up or they feel very sure doing it this way because it makes the most sense to them,” Maker said. “There are so many reasons people dig in their heels. I don’t think many people spend a lot of time thinking about the ‘why’ — they just do what feels right, what’s the most convenient for them, and what they are used to doing.”


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