A woman wears a mask and gloves while carrying toilet paper across the street in San Francisco, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Credit: Jeff Chiu | AP

As of 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21, 70 Maine residents have been confirmed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

With the novel coronavirus reaching pandemic levels, everyone has been stockpiling for the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended social distancing, self-isolation and self-quarantine, which could last for several weeks. That’s led to stores running out of products like hand sanitizer, hand soap and toilet paper.

Hopefully, you have enough toilet paper or flushable wipes to last your family for the next few weeks. But if you haven’t been able to procure rolls of toilet paper in bulk, though, here are a few alternatives that you can use, and how to stay sanitary while doing it.

Credit: Stock image | Pixabay

Paper towels and tissues

Paper towels and tissues are probably the closest analogs to conventional toilet paper (and, frankly, ones that you may have already considered). But if you do decide to trade these paper products for your usual toilet paper, it’s important to know that you shouldn’t flush paper towels or tissues after using them.

Despite their textural similarity to toilet paper, the fibers in these paper products do not break down the same way and can cause clogs in plumbing and septic systems. Instead, toss used tissues and paper towels in a garbage can with a lid lined with an appropriately-sized garbage bag or plastic grocery bag. When full, throw them out with the rest of the trash.


Upcycled paper may come in handy if you run out of toilet paper. Try to find white printer paper, catalogs or a phone book, if you still have one, to use. Avoid using glossy magazine pages, as the colored ink might rub off in sensitive places. Newspapers can be used in place of toilet paper, but exercise the same caution with inks. Receipts may seem ply-able, but many of them are covered with chemicals like BPA, so they are best avoided.

Like with paper towels and tissues, do not flush this paper down the toilet — keep it in a lidded garbage can next to the toilet and take it out with the trash.

Cardboard toilet paper rolls

Don’t throw away those cardboard toilet paper rolls (or paper towel rolls, for that matter). Peel the layers of roll off it until you have enough to wipe with. If you want to make it more comfortable, wet it lightly in the sink before using. Again, throw used cardboard “wipes” away to prevent clogging your drain pipes.


The “family cloth” is a tried-and-true off-grid homestead staple that might come in handy in times of toilet paper crisis. You can use a variety of dish cloths, face towels or clean t-shirt rags to make a “family cloth,” or follow these instructions from WikiHow for preparing a more formally sanctioned one. Compile a stack of individual cloths, and use each one only once before tossing in a sealed hamper or garbage can. Wash separately from other laundry. This may be the best option for people with septic systems that could get clogged with paper towels and tissues.

Credit: Sam Schipani | BDN


This method has an ancient lineage: sponges were used in Ancient Rome in lieu of toilet paper for cleanup in the bathroom. Now, sanitation is extra important for this method. Sponges pick up filth and bacteria quickly, so start with a brand new sponge (ideally, without an abrasive scrubbing top). After you’ve cleaned yourself with the sponge, submerge the sponge in diluted bleach or boiling water for five minutes and dry thoroughly before using it again.


When all else fails, using water to clean yourself after going to the bathroom is both efficient and sanitary. There are inexpensive bidet attachments available online, or you can make your own handheld “bidet” using a spray bottle or a perineal irrigation bottle, or peri bottle (normally used for women to use after childbirth), which you can find in the pharmacy or baby supply aisle. Simply spray yourself clean and shake or drip dry.