Some years ago, Ann Landers ran a column about the right way to
hang bathroom tissue. The column drew thousands of responses, but
no conclusion was ever drawn, because Ann was unable to tell which
responses were valid. Well, when the world has a problem too
tough for Ann Landers, or Dear Abby, or Marilyn vos Savant, the world
can turn to me for the correct answer.
That column drew many answers, but I will refer to just 3 of them.
The funniest answer came from a person pretending to be a physics
professor (or, maybe a real physics professor having a good joke)
who described how much effort was needed to tear the paper according to
force vectors and the like.
That answer was complete nonsense, of course. The amount of force
needed to tear the paper is tiny compared to the force required for all
of the arm motions involved in reaching and tearing, not to mention
the forces involved in leaning your body towards the dispenser.
A person's arm is many times the weight of an entire roll of tissue.
Two responses really need to be considered.
The first came from a hotel housekeeper who said that the tissue
is always hung over the top in her hotel.
This is significant because hotels do not take matters like how
to hang bathroom paper lightly.
Large chains have studies done to determine the method most people prefer,
and smaller chains and independents follow suit.
From Bayonne to Brussels to Bangkok, hotels, hostels,
bed and breakfasts, boarding houses, and even bawdy houses
all hang the paper over the top.
Here are the most important reasons:
EASY TO REACH
When the paper is hung over the top, the free end is closer
to the person.
The user does not have to lean or reach as far.
This is especially important when the dispenser is not close to the seat,
or when the person is elderly.
Even in households where all the residents are young and limber,
the paper should be hung over the top as a courtesy for the occasional
elderly or disabled visitor.
Hanging the paper over the top makes it easier to get the
The person can see the entire length of paper that is being dispensed,
and therefore can easily see where to tear it.
When the paper is hung against the wall, part of the paper is
hidden by the roll, particularly the tear line, and it is much
harder to judge.
When the paper is hung over the top, it is also possible for the person
to place the other hand above the tear line to steady the roll to help
get the desired amount.
When the paper is hung over the top, the person can see the tear line
where the paper gets separated from the roll.
This makes it possible to apply the quick snap that many people use
to produce a fast even tear.
If the tear is becoming uneven, the person can notice that happening and
correct the situation, perhaps by placing the other hand along the tear line.
When the paper is hung over the top it is easier to see if the tear
lines on the different plies of the paper don't line up, and correct
the situation by peeling off the top ply.
When the paper is hung over the top, the person does not have to
fumble to find the loose end, which often cannot be seen and is difficult
to feel when it is clinging to the roll.
The user does not come in contact with the wall, which may not be clean,
nor transfer germs to the wall and thereby to later users.
The person need only touch the part of the roll which is used, and so need not
transfer germs to the next user.
The person gets the paper sooner, and therefore gets clean sooner.
So, why do so many people hang the paper against the wall
in their homes? The answer comes from the third of the letters,
this time from the mother of a toddler.
At some stage many youngsters decide it is great fun to unroll
the entire roll of paper. Some do this as a prank, as an entertainment,
or simply because they have not mastered the skill of tearing the paper off.
Either way, the paper ends up in a heap on the floor, and must either be rolled
backby the parent, or discarded if it has gotten wet or dirty.
A solution to this problem is to hang the paper facing the wall.
Since the child pulls towards him- or herself, this will usually result
in rolling up the loose end, rather than unrolling it onto the floor. By
the time the child can reach the end near the wall, the child will be older,
and probably more capable and responsible.
In families with several children, this can result in the paper being
hung towards the wall for years. In extended families, with children
over a wide range of ages, the paper may end up hung that way
for decades. The children grow up believing this is the way tissue
is normally hung. They never realize it was hung that way as a defense
against themselves as babies. This practice may last for generations
in some families.