Best Toilet Paper of 2020
After granting draft awards based on most of our testing, all those that we further consulted were utterly unsurprised that this product won our top honor. The Charmin Ultra Strong satisfies both those looking for comfort and performance. It topped the scales in our objective tests of strength and absorption and was nearly as soft and gentle as the gentlest in our review. While this Charmin is indeed more expensive than most, its effectiveness per sheet tilts the value equation back at least a little bit. We found that the most effective sheets of TP could do what it took four sheets of the least effective competitors.
Our proprietary, mathematically-derived effectiveness coefficient can be thought of as a multiplier of sorts. How many sheets of the TP in question does it take to do the job, relative to others? A lower number is better. In that regard, the Charmin Ultra Strong tops the charts. Value will be a function of the effectiveness, your associated usage patterns, and the actual cost per sheet. Diligent users can find better value with the more effective (albeit more expensive, per sheet) options than they can with flimsier options. The main actual drawback of the stronger options like this one is that some plumbing situations aren't prepared to handle more robust sheets, especially in bigger clumps.
The Quilted Northern Ultra Soft and Strong scored very well. In calculating our "effectiveness coefficient", it performed at the top. Its absorption is above average, strength tops the charts, and subjective softness comparisons rank it with the top 5.
Quilted Northern doesn't have the brand recognition and plethora of different styles/options that the bigger names offer. However, this flagship tp they put out is among the best. You can't go wrong with the Quilted Northern.
The Charmin Essentials is simple, widely available, and solidly performing. Its price is competitive with budget options, especially when you consider its effectiveness. In terms of strength, absorption, and cleanability, this top scorer is among the very best. To do what you can do with one sheet of Charmin Essentials, you need four sheets of Scott 1000. Super budget, "institutional" tp might require the use of 5, 6, or more sheets to match the performance of one sheet of Charmin Essentials.
Charmin Essentials is the company's least expensive product, but it still comes in at least a little more expensive per sheet, than bare-bones budget products. As we note over and over again, the absolute lowest price does not define actual value. In shopping for value, pay attention to both effectiveness and your usage patterns. If you need a value in toilet tissue, think about selecting the most effectiveness per dollar and adjust your usage/behavior accordingly. Essentially, use less of the good stuff per wipe, and you can save money by purchasing up the scale.
In assessing, both directly and indirectly, a huge spectrum of toilet tissue options, we found a pretty distinct consensus on what constitutes the minimum viable performance/comfort of a product. Even across significant demographic and socio-economic situations, users mainly agreed that the Amazon Solimo toilet paper offers the minimum in comfort and effectiveness.
Only if you are seeking institutional value or purchasing for environmental sensitivity will you really wish to compromise further than the performance offered by this high scorer. Amazon's Solimo brand of household products does the job at a good price. The TP is right in line with their other products we have used; typical "store" brand performance but available online.
The Seventh Generation 2-Ply toilet paper is for those purchasing for septic health and/or with respect to environmental values. It is among the most significantly recycled products in our test and is the 2-ply product that we'd recommend for older plumbing or septic systems.
You won't choose this product for comfort or performance. That is good, as this contender doesn't approach the top of the charts in either of these measures. Its GearLab "effectiveness coefficient" (3 on a 1-4 scale, lower is better) isn't the worst, but there are many products that do better. Testing notes from a couple of our testers indicate that, in their subjective comparative assessment, the Seventh Generation 2-Ply is softer than at least one product with "soft" in its model name. That's good, but wasn't an authoritative consensus.
Even when we blinded testers from the brand messaging associated with toilet papers, it was pretty clear that the Charmin Ultra Gentle option was the absolute softest in our review. If you seek maximum comfort, look no further. Effectiveness isn't too far behind. Others are stronger, more absorbent, and clean better, but not many others.
You'll pay for the comfort with dollars and with spinning lint flying around your bathroom. Every tester commented on the "poofs" of extra lint that accompanied this ultra-soft option. Spin a few rolls of Charmin Ultra Gentle through your dispenser, and you'll notice greater-than-average lint accumulation in the vicinity.
The Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare delivered the most mixed results of any in our test. About half of our six testing households loved it while the other half were thoroughly unimpressed. In processing this information, we are mystified as to how to rank this product. Such wide-ranging opinions aren't what we'd expect from toilet paper analysis. Objective testing concludes that this product is very strong and pretty absorbent.
To say that a type of bathroom tissue is "polarizing" sounds dramatic. But, let us have it. TP testing is rather undramatic otherwise. You might love this, or you might hate it. While we can't choose for you, we can say that this model is effective. On our effectiveness scale of 1-4 (lower is better; This number describes how many sheets will do a given job), the Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare scores 2.
We had difficulty discerning much of a difference between the two Cottonelle options in our test. This model, their Ultra ComfortCare, is supposed to be a little softer than the Ultra CleanCare style. We found subtle differences, with varying interpretations across the team. Overall, the testing team and their subjective assessment preferred this CleanCare to the ComfortCare type.
On the other hand, our objective strength and absorption testing found the CleanCare to surpass the ComfortCare. The CleanCare is more absorbent and stronger, as assessed in our lab tests. The ComfortCare, as the name might suggest, is softer than the CleanCare. Both of these compare, for the most part, favorably to other thick, top-scoring toilet tissue options.
Charmin's Ultra Soft Cushiony bathroom tissue is exactly that. It is among the softest options but keeps Charmin's effective attributes as well. Their Ultra Gentle feels a little softer, but both are equally effective.
This Charmin Ultra Soft Cushiony bathroom tissue is fully functioning and effective. It isn't as soft as others, and not as sturdy as our top scorers. Perhaps it strikes the balance you seek.
The Angel Soft toilet paper is in the upper echelon of products but doesn't top the chart in any one way. It is a solid, average, well-rounded choice. All of our testing households liked it and compared it favorably to the other top scorers. In our objective testing for absorption, this Angel Soft was nothing special. In similar testing for strength, the Angel Soft was surpassed by only a couple of options.
Our assessment of Angel Soft's cleanability has it performing about average. Similarly, softness was about average. One tester pointed out that it is "a step up from the lowest scorers here" and that it "rolls/tears a bit [more than the others] when it gets damp."
Scott 1000 is a small step above "commercial grade" toilet paper, and seems to be the most minimalist bathroom tissue widely available at retail. For the most delicate of sewer and septic systems, this is going to be your handiest choice. For bare-bones, budget emergency supply, you could stash a small package of this away for contingencies.
For day-to-day use in houses with plumbing made in the last 50 years or so, all of our testers agree that the Scott 1000 just isn't worth it. It is cheaper than the rest, per sheet — but each sheet is less effective than any of the others. You'll need up to four sheets of Scott 1000 to do what one sheet of the top performers will do. You can get other budget products that are twice as effective as this Scott option.
Why You Should Trust Us
We care about your bathroom comfort and cleanliness. And we care about information that helps you make intentional choices on even the most mundane of purchases. We saw an excellent opportunity to perform some objective and subjective testing of toilet paper that will truly help you make an informed choice. To perform that testing, we had lead test editor Jed Porter coordinate a team that included six households and over a dozen individuals.
First, we purchased all of the tested products at retail and made sure that the various types were distributed to our team scattered throughout the US. Most of the team performed subjective, comparative testing of the products to identify softness, strength, cleanability, and whatever else they observed in day-to-day use. Our lead tester Jed Porter performed a battery of objective tests. He developed and performed tests for absorption, wet strength, and dry strength. Absorption was tested by weighing squares dry and saturated. Both wet and dry strength were tested by suspending sheets of TP and assessing their resistance to tearing. We tested with weights and dropped projectiles. We tested single sheets and variable loads and fixed loads with increasing numbers of sheets.
To compile and organize the generated data (and we, as a team, recorded over 100 columns of toilet paper data, for each TP type!), we separated comfort from effectiveness. Mathematically, we isolated the various measures of effectiveness (strength, absorption, cleanability) from comfort (softness) and developed a measure of effectiveness.
Analysis and Test Results
There is great news borne of our objective analysis; for the most part, our critical examination supports intuitive and subjective preferences. The stuff you like is the stuff that performs better in our test. We are particularly excited about how our objective measures can be used by consumers to secure actual high value in toilet paper. With so many darn options on the market, all with mystifying pricing schemes, confidently ascertaining actual value is a tall order.
With toilet tissue, strength matters. We tried a whole host of testing methodologies. The best and final test we developed was to suspend a sheet or stack of sheets over a canning jar lid, held in place by the canning jar lid ring. We then dropped a small permanent marker (about the same diameter and shape as a finger) from 16 inches high. We started with one sheet of each type of TP and added sheets to the count until the aggregate effectively blocked the penetration of the dropped, lidded Sharpie. Our findings in this test correlated almost exactly with concurrent subjective testing. In the subjective test, we tore sheets with our hands, back to back, and comparatively.
We performed a similar strength test on wet toilet tissue. We suspended the TP a similar way, wet the product with a fixed amount of water, and then added small scale calibration weights until the paper failed.
Both top scoring products were the strongest in our test. The Charmin Ultra Strong and Quilted Northern Ultra Soft and Strong were considerably ahead of the next performers in our strength testing. Angel Soft, Charmin Essentials, and Cottonelle Ultra ComfortCare are pretty close behind the two top performers. Scott 1000 is an outlier on the low end in terms of strength. Down there near, but not as weak as Scott, is Seventh Generation 2-Ply and Amazon Brand Solimo tissue.
For liquid tasks, you want your TP to readily absorb. They all do so pretty quickly. The rate of initial absorption is virtually indistinguishable between the different products. The amount of liquid absorbed, though, is significantly different across the different products. We tested this by weighing, to the nearest 10th of a gram, dry sheets, and the same sheets saturated with water. The most absorbent sheets soaked up more than three times as much and the least absorbent.
The most absorbent products in our test were Charmin Essentials, Charmin Ultra Strong, and non-award winning Charmin Ultra Soft Cushiony. At the other end of the spectrum, the minimalist Scott 1000 holds about half as much fluid as the next closest competitor.
How well does a type of TP collect what it needs to collect? Assessment of this was purely subjective. That being said, we are confident in our subjective assessment of cleanability. Interestingly (but perhaps unsurprising), perceptions of cleanability are correlated with perceived and tested strength. Stronger products clean better, for the most part.
The Charmin Ultra Strong cleans the best, while the Cottonelle Ultra Clean Care and the other high scorers, like the Quilted Northern Ultra Soft and Strong, are up there too. TheScott 1000, Seventh Generation 2-Ply, and Amazon Solimo struggle near the back of the pack, and are not our first choices if seeking top-notch cleanability.
We aggregated the comparative softness assessment of about a dozen testers. We found notable agreement and are confident in our ranking of respective toilet paper softness. The Charmin Ultra Gentle is ahead of the rest. Next is Charmin Ultra Soft Cushiony Touch. The next echelon, at least a little behind these two super comfortable options, are Charmin Essentials and both top scorers. Predictably, Scott 1000 is the least soft in our test. One tester points out that Scott is "definitely the scratchiest".
Shopping for Value
It is challenging to shop for toilet paper value, and it's a tall order to seek the "best bang for your buck". First, toilet paper is sold in a wide array of configurations. You can buy one roll at a time, or in giant packages. You can get some sort of volume discount, or it can only seem like that is the case. Next, there isn't any standard size of roll. "Standard" rolls from one company can be different from those of another company. And then there are the plethora of roll size options. You'll see "double", "mega", "family mega" and "supreme", among others. Naming conventions vary from one company to another.
Further mystifying the quest for value is the varying effectiveness of different products. As noted above, we found that one sheet of a great product can do the same job that four sheets of a poorer product can do. If you can adjust your usage patterns for differing effectiveness, you can get the best value from something other than the absolute cheapest product.
The good news in your hunt for the best toilet paper value is that a square from each type of toilet paper is essentially the same size. The largest differs from the smallest by just a few percent. In comparing the effectiveness of various toilet papers, you can assume that each square is the same size as another.
With the above assumptions and findings, plus some discipline in your usage (i.e., use the minimum amount of tissue for any given job), you can calculate the actual best value in a toilet tissue product. It is a labor-intensive process, but is one you can do with price, sheet-count, and our calculated "effectiveness coefficient". Try this step-by-step process to find your best value.
First, determine how much toilet paper you can store at any given time. Buying in bulk is the best value, but we can't all store hundreds of rolls. Narrow your shopping to package sizes that you can store. Next, intuitively weed out the products that are obvious outliers. The most expensive choices will probably remain too expensive, even after a critical analysis. Same for the least expensive choices, absolute budget tp is borderline useless and likely not worth the time, money, and space.
When you have narrowed your choices, identify the cost per sheet (or per 100 sheets. This is how prices are often communicated online. Just make sure your denominator is the same for every product) and the GearLab "Effectiveness Coefficient" for your options. Say you have product A that is 13 cents per 100, and its Effectiveness Coefficient is 4. Product B is one that costs 34 cents per 100 sheets, and we scored it a 1 (these are real numbers from a recent GearLab analysis).
Multiply cost by Effectiveness Coefficient for each product to get an approximation of true cost. Product A appears very inexpensive, but it is far less effective. Its cost for a given amount of function is 52 (13x4). Product B, in the same analysis, scores 34 (34x1). Product B is less expensive per use. Product B, used with some discipline, is a considerably better value than product A, despite initial purchase prices that invert that value differential.
Intuitive assessments of function and value validate our mathematical approach and vice versa. What we propose with the use of our proprietary "Effectiveness Coefficient" isn't inherently unique, nor is it fully necessary. Critical thinking and actual value-oriented use of toilet tissue will support the same conclusions we have made mathematically.
Toilet paper isn't particularly technological or sophisticated. Nonetheless, quality differences are significant. Comfort and performance vary greatly across the spectrum. Prices and purchasing options are also all over the map, and sorting through the market can be overwhelming. We trust that our research, testing, data analysis, and subsequent buying advice will help you confidently proceed with an informed choice and a rubric by which to adapt purchases in the future.
— Jediah Porter