Weird History 9 Gross Things People From History Actually Wiped With Before Toilet Paper  

Nicole Levin
823 votes 368 voters 92.3k views 9 items Embed

List Rules Vote up the least pleasant and least hygienic methods of wiping after going number two.

Americans love toilet paper. The United States spends $6 billion a year on it—more than any other country in the world. The average Joe uses 23.6 rolls a year. But we haven't always been wiping this way. 

While the first reference to using paper for hygienic purposes dates back to 6th century China, modern toilet paper wasn't invented until the end of the 19th century. Even then, it took a few decades for manufacturers to get the splinters out. It wasn't until around the 1930s that toilet paper gained mass appeal. And in many areas of the world, people still don't use it. 

And, perhaps this is better left unsaid, but humans have always been defecating. So the question naturally arises: before toilet paper, what did people wipe with?

Fair warning: the history of wiping is unsanitary, full of sharp edges, and will probably change the way you look at corn. 

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A Communal Sponge On A Stick


A Communal Sponge On A Stick is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 9 Gross Things People From History Actually Wiped With Before Toilet Paper
Photo:  D. Herdemerten/Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Romans were terrified of the demons and devils lurking in their sewer systems, but what they should have been scared of were the bacteria and diseases they passed around by wiping with a communal sponge attached to a stick.

That's right: after Junius was done doing his business, he would wipe with an old sponge, dip it in salt water, and then pass that sponge to Cassius sitting nearby. Keep in mind that some public bathrooms had as many as 80 toilets (or rather, holes) all facing inwards. So that's 80 buttholes, one sponge. 

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Their Fingers


Their Fingers is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 9 Gross Things People From History Actually Wiped With Before Toilet Paper
Photo:  Alicia Jo McMahan/Free Images

In many countries—such as parts of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East—it's disrespectful to offer your left hand in a handshake. People used to (and still do) wipe with their left hand. Calm down - it's not actually as gross as it sounds. In fact, it's probably more hygienic than toilet paper. The left hand is used to guide water (from a tap, jug, or bidet) over the behind. The hand is then washed (thoroughly) afterward.

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Old Corn Cobs


Old Corn Cobs is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 9 Gross Things People From History Actually Wiped With Before Toilet Paper
Photo:  Agronom/Wikimedia Commons

Before modern day plumbing, many Americans wiped with leftover corn cobs. Early Americans were so economical that not only would they feed the corn to their pigs first (and save the cob), they would also wipe with the cob multiple times.  

Corn cobs were so effective (Just think of all the different ways you could angle a cob!) that even after toilet paper became commonplace many people continued to use cobs in their outhouses. 

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Ceramic Shards


Ceramic Shards is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 9 Gross Things People From History Actually Wiped With Before Toilet Paper
Photo:  The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks wiped with tiny stones made from broken pieces of ceramic (pessoi). They even had an axiom about it: three stones are enough to wipe. Of course, using shards of ceramic was not great for anal health, and led to skin damage, rashes, and hemorrhoids.