Best Toilet Paper of 2021
After granting draft awards based on most of our testing, all those testers and users that we further consulted were utterly unsurprised that this product won our top honor. The Charmin Ultra Strong satisfies pretty much all users. It is excellent for 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 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 (a measure that this award winner surely meets) could do what it took four sheets of the least effective competitors. If you can adjust your usage patterns accordingly, "expensive" options like this award-winning Charmin aren't actually much more expensive than "value" options — over weeks and months of use.
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. The 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 with flimsier options. The main 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. We suggest making sure your plumbing can handle it before getting too excited about the robust Charmin Ultra Strong.
The Quilted Northern Ultra Soft and Strong scored very well. In calculating our "effectiveness coefficient", it performed at the top. Quilted Northern does more with less (fewer sheets per wipe, if you are diligent). Its absorption is above average, strength tops the charts, and subjective softness comparisons rank it with the top 5.
Quilted Northern isn't offered in the plethora of different styles/options that the other big names offer. However, this flagship option they put out is among the best, and we think it's hard to go wrong with 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. Attentive use of Charmin Essentials can be less expensive than similar use of bargain-basement products.
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 repeatedly, the absolute lowest price (even if corrected for price per sheet) 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 task, and you can save money by purchasing up the cost and effectiveness scale.
In assessing, both directly and indirectly, a vast 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 Solimo toilet paper offers the minimum in comfort and effectiveness.
Only if you are seeking institutional value or purchasing for maximum environmental sensitivity will you really wish to compromise further than the performance offered by this high scorer. Solimo, which is Amazon's 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 and shipped to your door.
The Seventh Generation 2-Ply toilet paper is for those purchasing for septic health and/or with respect to heightened 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. Many TP products have recycled content in them, but of those we tested, the Seventh Generation 2-ply is the most recycled.
You won't choose this product for comfort or performance, because 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 it wasn't an authoritative consensus. If you're seeking the softest TP, you may very well find that this award winner isn't soft enough for you.
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 puffs 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. Don't discount the long-term annoyance of such lint accumulation; it is visible, cluttered, and doesn't sweep up very readily.
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."
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. We didn't get such divided feedback on any other brand of tested TP. We had different orders sent to different households. Is there a quality control issue at Cottonelle? Do they send different levels of product out under the same brand and model? Do different batches come out differently? This seems unlikely but could explain the findings of our test team. Objective testing (of just one batch of Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare) 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. Despite our pure speculation on quality control, we are not convinced that that is the issue we faced. We do think that some love this one while others hate it. While we can't choose for you, we can say that this TP 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. For the most part, both of these compare favorably to other thick, top-scoring toilet tissue options.
Charmin's Ultra Soft Cushiony bathroom tissue is exactly what the branding suggests. 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.
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. These other budget products are not twice as expensive as the Scott. In short, when you correct for effectiveness, diligent use of other products is a better value than Scott 1000.
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 ensured 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 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 with variable loads and fixed loads with increasing numbers of sheets. In preparing this review, we collected and examined more than 100 columns of spreadsheet data for every tested type.
To compile and organize the generated data, 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
If we learned one thing from our overall analysis, it is that, for the most part, intuitive and subjective preferences are in line with the results of our formalized testing. The stuff you like is the stuff that performs better in our test. We are particularly excited about how consumers can use our objective measures 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. So many shoppers, even value-oriented people in other areas of their consumer life, throw up their hands when purchasing toilet paper. The options and variables are seemingly too complicated. Our testing helps smooth and tighten this otherwise mundane choice.
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, 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. Not coincidentally…) 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. As part of 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 top performers. Scott 1000 is an outlier on the low end in terms of strength. Also on the low end, yet stronger than Scott, were the Seventh Generation and Solimo brands.
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 and then subtracting to determine the amount of water absorbed. The most absorbent sheets soaked up more than three times as much as 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 Solimo 2-Ply 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 pointed out that Scott 1000 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 the roll. "Standard" rolls from one company can be different from those of another company. And then there are a 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 the poorest 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.
There are so many variables in the TP purchase equation that you might assume it is hopeless to compare. There is some good news, though. A square from each type of toilet paper is essentially the same size. Yes, all TP squares are basically the same dimensions. The largest differs from the smallest by just a few percent. In comparing the effectiveness of various toilet papers, you can safely 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, generally, 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.
Once you have narrowed your choices, identify the cost per sheet — or per 100 sheets, which is how prices are often broken down online. Make sure your denominator is the same for every product, and then identify the GearLab "Effectiveness Coefficient" for your options. For example, say you have product A that is 13 cents per 100, and its Effectiveness Coefficient is 4. Product B costs 34 cents per 100 sheets, and we scored it a 1 (these are real numbers from a recent analysis).
Multiply the 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 many of the same conclusions we have made mathematically.
Choosing toilet paper isn't super complicated. However, you use it at least every day in situations where both comfort and effectiveness matter a lot. In some household situations, you might purchase enough for your potential savings to measure in the hundreds of dollars a year. Therefore, you want to be making wise choices on your bathroom tissue. You can spend a lot and get a lot, or you can spend a little and get a lot. You can also spend a lot or a little on a product that is not as effective as it could be. With some intention and use of our various findings and metrics, we are confident that you can secure toilet tissue that is the absolute best for your purposes. Our rigorous and calculated testing holds up to scrutiny, and our overall findings are authoritative and valuable.
— Jediah Porter
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