Toilet paper, the stuff you use for—well, you know—is one of the world’s most common products. Everyone has it. Still, not many people know how toilet paper is made. The process behind how toilet paper is manufactured utilizes heavy steel rollers and web guiding control systems to ensure the right product hits the shelves every time.
How It’s Made
- Trees arrive at the lumber mill to be debarked. This removes the outer layer while leaving as much wood as possible.
- Once debarked, the logs are chipped into smaller pieces an inch thick.
- The wood chips are mixed with cooking chemicals, turning it into a slurry. The slurry is then sent to a pressure cooker.
- While the slurry cooks, most of the moisture evaporates. The mixture reduces to about 25 tons of cellulose fibers, lignin (which binds the wood together), and residual debris. Once the cooking finishes, about 15 tons of usable fiber is left over.
- The pulp goes through a multistage washer system that removes most of the lignin and chemicals. Then the pulp separates into a solid mass and liquid. The solid portion will be converted into toilet paper.
- The pulp goes into a bleaching plant where a chemical process removes color from the fiber. Since the lignin is naturally yellow, it must be bleached white.
- The pulp is mixed with water to produce a paper stock. This stock is 99.5% water and 0.5% fiber, and it’s sprayed between moving mesh screens that allow most of the water to drain. Once this is complete, a wide sheet of matted fiber remains.
- The mat transfers to a large heated cylinder that presses and dries the paper until it has a final moisture content of about 5%.
- Then the paper is creped. This softens it and gives it a slightly wrinkled look. The paper is scraped off the dryer with a metal blade, making it slightly flexible, but its strength and thickness disintegrates when wet. The paper then rolls onto industrial-sized rollers constructed by companies that specialize in web handling applications, and these wind the paper at the rate of a mile a minute.
- The paper loads onto a converting machine that unwinds, slits, and rewinds it onto long cardboard tubing. These are cut into rolls and wrapped in packaging.
Recycled Toilet Paper
Toilet paper made from recycled materials undergoes a similar process. Once staples and pins are removed from recycled paper, the paper goes through a large vat that combines it with hot water and detergents. This forms a pulp slurry that goes through a series of screens to remove any coatings and inks. The pulp is whitened and sanitized. It then goes through steps 7 through 10 of the manufacturing process.
Toilet paper manufacturing contributes to deforestation and leaches chemicals into groundwater, emitting dioxins. Many consumers today opt for toilet paper made from recycled materials rather than traditional rolls. Modern techniques decrease the bleaching method and overall use of chemicals in the manufacturing process to reduce this issue.