Updated on 09.03.15

Penny-Pinching In The Toiletries Aisle: The Simple Dollar Looks At Toilet Paper

Trent Hamm

toilet paperFor those of you unaware, I am a big fan of buying in bulk, even though I live in a relatively small space (hint: don’t look in my closet). Why? If I buy in bulk, the cost per unit is often so much cheaper than buying “normal” packages that I end up saving a boatload.

However, the makers of many consumer products have begun to use a number of tricks to make bulk buying more difficult, trying to trick you into spending more for less product even if you buy the mega-bulk size at your local warehouse club. No product is more vicious than the toilet paper manufacturers, who must be an army of clever capitalists.

They do this by overloading you with options to the point that you’re dazed and confused and just grab something – anything – to get the confusion over with. So that we don’t go into complete overload here, let’s look at just one brand, Charmin. I choose this brand because their products have served me well over the years, but they are terribly guilty of brand extension.

If you look at the Charmin product page, you’ll see quickly that they sell a bunch of different varieties: Charmin, Charmin Basic, Charmin Plus, Charmin Scents, Charmin Mega Roll (which is in fact regular Charmin, just in a bigger roll), and Charmin Ultra. What are the differences here? Well, you can probably realize that Charmin Scents is a perfumed variety and a bit of package analysis tells you that Charmin Plus has a lotion in it, but Charmin and Charmin Mega Roll are the same product in different packaging, and the differences between Charmin, Charmin Basic, and Charmin Ultra are pretty hard to discern (Ultra is a slight bit softer, I guess).

It gets worse, far worse.

Let’s say you decide on Charmin Ultra, because you want the softest experience possible. Not only are these rolls sold in packages with different roll counts, some of the rolls contain significantly different amounts of toilet paper. A “big roll” equals two regular rolls, a “giant roll” equals two and a half regular rolls, and a “mega roll” equals four regular rolls. Converting toilet paper amounts between a “big roll” and a “giant roll”? Five rolls of “big” equals four rolls of “giant.” You can derive this in the grocery store, but Charmin is intelligent enough to realize that most people aren’t going to bother and are simply going to just grab a package that they “think” is a good deal.

So how does a frugal consumer escape this trap? Here’s a quick procedure to break through all of the nonsense and quickly find which one you need. Be sure to bring along a pocket calculator, though, or use the one on your cell phone.

First, determine the brand you want. Before you even think about size, determine the brands you’re willing to buy. If you don’t care too much, that basically makes everything available, but if you’re picky, you can quickly eliminate most of the brands in the aisle.

Next, take a particular package and figure out how many sheets are inside. This usually means multiplying the number of actual rolls in the package by the number of sheets per roll.

Now, divide the price of the package (including any coupon deductions) by the number of sheets. This is your price per sheet, and this is the number you should use to compare packages. Do this a few times with various packages (it takes a few seconds on a cell phone calculator) and you’ll pretty quickly see that there are some surprising variations in the costs of toilet papers, even if the packaging indicates that some buys are better than others.

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  1. mapgirl says:


    Actually, the fastest way to do this is to take the pre-printed SQ FT number and divide the price by it to get the price per sq ft, i.e. the UNIT PRICE.

    Some supermarkets have the unit price on the tags, but I find it best to calculate it myself. It’s quickest and clearest because stuff on the shelves move around.

  2. Kevin says:

    We use Publix’s GreenWise recycled TP. It’s recycled… good for the environment. It’s an in-house brand… which makes it usually the cheapest on the aisle.

  3. I like to use the unit prices at most grocery stores. I buy TP rarely enough that I can wait until I’m around one that has unit prices.

  4. Lauren says:

    To each their own, but I splurge on 2 ply. I cannot stand when DH buys Scot (sp?) toilet paper and it feels like sandpaper against your bottom. Especially during Winter, skin is dry enough. OUCH!

  5. Katie B. says:

    I’m a big proponent of Costco’s Kirkland Signature tp. Great price and good sized rolls = Great Deal!

  6. Debbie says:

    When I’m calculating the number of sheets, I also double the number for two-ply versus single-ply. My feeling is that people are looking for a certain volume rather than a certain square footage when using this product.

  7. Flexo says:

    The funny thing is I was developing a post about toilet paper yesterday while… well, you know.

  8. joan says:

    Toilet aper decision-making is hopeless. We used to buy the rather crisp single sheet, slightly shiny and give it a bit of a rub to soften it – perfectly adequate – but no longer available. Admittedleyt that was in the 40’s or 50’s, but I still remember it. Although the quality, strength, absorbency of kitchen towels has degenerated in our country (Australia), I find a sheet of kitchen towel torn in half and folded is better that any toilet paper as far as not melting in the hand when using, and going a long way is concerned. And why have both toilet paper and kitchen towel become so friable? – so that you buy twice as much as you did say five years ago. I can’t wait for the big stores to print the energy ‘footpint’ of these products as required information on all packs as Tesco is planning in the UK. Toilet paper and kitchen towels are a disgrace and we are so used to them that we continue to use them in increasing quantities because of the decreasing quality.

  9. paula says:

    Joan is right about the decrease in quality! My daughter did a science project about TP thickness about 12 years ago, and I have bought nothing but Charmin Ultra since. It is not at all what it once was–much thinner (it used to be the thickest). You have to use a lot more now. I also remember in the ’70s when all TP was sold in packages of 4 rolls, all of which were of the same size, all priced at $1.09 unless there was a sale. (I was a starving student saving every penny I possibly could.) Today’s single roll size is much, much smaller than a single roll of 30 years ago.

  10. Betty B says:

    July 30 2007

    Just purchased some Charmin Plus and noted that the sqare footage per roll had decreased from my previous purchase. Apparently P&G has reduced one dimension of the sheet from 4.5 inches to 4.27 inches. What won’t they think of next?

    Betty B

  11. Laura says:

    You do have to keep in mind the thickness. When I use “cheap” TP, I end up using 6-7 sheets, where with the more expensive brands, 1 or 2 is plenty. So you definitely have to try it out and keep in mind comparing the cost of 1 square isn’t always effective.

  12. anne says:

    I like Charmin Ultra, Giant Roll, it is very soft 2 ply and we(my teen daughter and I) used much less of it because of this, reference the above post that talk about thickness vs. square footage.
    We have tried cheaper rolls per unit and 1- ply but found that after a learning curve of about 1 week using the better, thicker stuff, we used much less and changed the rolls from 2 a day for 1 ply or cheap to 1 every 2 days during out monthly high use week … another factor to consider if women are using it or if you are not a man and menstruating.
    The cheap thin stuff also puts a huge amount of paper fiber into the air, something that we noticed because of our allergies, and asthma aggravated by particulates in the air … but the best part was easily getting enough in a few sheets and having them be absorbent and soft and not being stranded on the toilet bowl in a tiny apartment bathroom because you are going through 2 to 3 rolls a day … :)

  13. A says:

    I can’t believe other people think about this stuff. Awesome. Thanks for the tips.

  14. Susan says:

    For my money it’s Scott Toilet Tissue. Scott is kind to my purse and benign on my bottom.

  15. Susan2 says:

    I know the best deal is at Costco. But for the life of me I cannot figure out if the Scott package or the Kirkland package is the better deal. As I look around to see what everyone else is shoveling into their cart, it seems to split down the middle. Anyone know the real winner?

  16. Poopy says:

    we usually get kirkland, it’s usually cheaper.
    when you shop at costco the price sign tells you the cost per unit, and the kirkland is usually cheaper in a cost per unit basis.

  17. j h says:

    When figuring out the square footage of a 2-ply roll, does the manufacturer include the 2nd ply in the calculation? I can’t find this info. anywhere on the net. Thank you in advance.

  18. Lisa says:

    Hey, finally did this – drugstore.com now running a special where on their recycled products, if you buy one, you get 50% off the second. Also, you can go through upromise.com, and get college dough for your kids, too! :)

  19. UGH! I am just SO annoyed. Lately with Amazon’s subscription offers I’m finding that many items are cheaper at Amazon then even Walmart. That’s great news, but I’m getting all kinds of angry here because NO ONE (not this blog of course, I mean vendors) wants to post the square footage. Oh sure it has two-ply and how big each sheet is, like I even care, but NOT the important part.

    There was one at Amazon that did say and guess what? If you zoom into the picture, you find it’s a lie. As of this writing this page http://www.amazon.com/Charmin-Ultra-Strong-Bathroom-Tissue/dp/B002H5CCKW boasts 266.8 sq ft but when you zoom in (and not all of them will let you so this doesn’t work for all the tp there) it says 187.8 sq ft, which is 30 % less than they claim!

    It took an act of God to find the “contact us” form to let them know about their mistake, but honestly they could get cited for false advertising.

    Anyway, I just needed to vent because a simple search online yields nothing for me to compare sq footage. I guess I just have to make my own chart and carry it with me. Bleh. I hate math. ;)

  20. jim w in marietta ga says:

    how about WEIGHT, I wish the manufacturers would put the WEIGHT per case, or per 1,000 square feet, it wopuld assist in calculating quality, as some/many toilet paper manufacturers, I am sure, are making their product thinner and thinner since people are on to the price per sqaure foot formula.
    —-Gotta run, use up some of the crap we buy far too often!!!! Jim in Georgia

  21. joe s says:

    I try to take a shit at work to reduce the stress of making these decisions :)

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