If it feels as if you’re running through toilet paper rolls faster than ever before, that’s because you are. But it might not be your fault.
Toilet paper rolls have been shrinking.
Toilet paper squares, the individual sheets that connect to make each roll, were once 4.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches long. That standard, however, has shifted.
Now companies are selling sheets that are a half-inch shorter or thinner, or both.
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A reader wrote in to a columnist at the Los Angeles Times saying he’s noticed a roughly 26 percent reduction in the surface area of his toilet paper.
“The old standard for a single sheet of tissue was 4 and 1/2 by 4 and 1/2 inches, a nice square,” he said. “Some tissue companies have changed the length of the sheet to 4 inches, with a width of 4 1/2 inches, no longer a square.”
Others, including Consumer Reports, have noticed too. The consumer advocacy group said that rolls are becoming “narrower,” cardboard tubes are getting bigger, and sheets are shrinking in both size and number. So toilet paper rolls might look the same at a first or even second glance, though they carry less actual paper.
But consumers are still paying the same price. Toilet paper sales have barely budged in recent years, but the value per weight has. In 2013, the unit price rose by 2 percent, after growing by nearly the same the year prior, according to data from market-research firm Euromonitor.
“The practice also has been a tried and true strategy for makers of tissue and toilet paper, allowing companies to quietly, and effectively, raise prices per unit,” the Wall Street Journal noted in 2013.
On the surface, it might seem as though brands like Charmin and Scott are simply trying to sneak their way toward bigger profits in the personal hygiene aisle. And there’s some truth to that – companies are, after all, selling less toilet paper for the same price, and often doing it subtly.
But there’s a broader, and perhaps more important explanation, that is related only tangentially to toilet paper: The same few companies that make toilet paper also make other paper products, and those products haven’t been selling well lately.
“Paper towel volume is way down,” said Emily Balsamo, an industry analyst at market research firm Euromonitor. “There’s a lot of product rationalization happening right now.”
Napkin sales have also fallen by 7 percent since 2009.
The thing about toilet paper rolls is that unlike paper towels, they’re much harder to replace, or even ration. Companies understand this very well.
“They’re hedging their bets with toilet paper, because Americans aren’t ever going to start skimping on toilet paper,” Balsamo said.