The Toilet Paper Calculator
Use this simple calculator to quickly determine how many days your hoard of toilet paper will last before you run out.
Your stash of toilet paper will last 24 days
Graphic By: Alejandra Jimenez
The Great Toilet Paper Shortage
It has been an interesting month, to say the least.
On March 11, 2020, President Trump addressed the nation about the growing coronavirus pandemic. The next day I stopped by Costco in the evening after work and it looked like the entire city had all showed up at once. The line to check out stretched from the registers to almost the back of the warehouse.
While waiting to check out with a box of crackers, lunch meat, and some vitamins, there was a guy behind me with a cart loaded with 3 cases of bottled water. We got to talking and when he commented that I wasn’t buying water, I replied “no, I’m going to just drink tap water”. Maybe he thought I was a moron because he stopped talking to me after that.
Never mind that this is a viral pandemic and there is nothing wrong with drinking tap water, unlike say during a hurricane where public water supplies may be contaminated.
During emergencies, there are always particular products that people always stock up on. For example, when a snowstorm is coming, people buy milk, bread, and eggs. Maybe everyone’s making French toast while snowed in.
But the most interesting item people are panic buying during the pandemic? Toilet paper.
How Long Before You Run Out of Toilet Paper
We’ve been seeing pictures around the internet of people pushing shopping carts out of Costco loaded with a giant case or two of their Kirkland brand toilet paper.
Kirkland toilet paper comes in case with 5 packages with 6 rolls each for a total of 30 rolls. Each roll contains 425 sheets.
Using our calculator, let’s do the math to see how long a case might last.
Assuming a person uses 6 sheets per wipe, does an average of 5 wipes per trip to the bathroom, and makes two trips to the bathroom a day, that case of toilet paper will last one person almost 212 days.
That’s almost 7 months!
In a household of 4 people with similar usage patterns, that case will last about 53 days.
Why Hoard Toilet Paper: The Psychology Behind It
I get it. Everyone poops. Therefore toilet paper is a necessity.
Of all the things that people are mass buying at the grocery store, the great thing about toilet paper and paper towels is those items will never expire and you will use it eventually. It might take a few years if you have a whole basement full of that stuff, but you will use it.
During a natural disaster, people know what they need to do to prepare. When a snowstorm is coming, we might expect to be snowed in for a week before the roads are cleared. A hurricane comes through in a day or two and it’s gone. Not many people have experienced a viral pandemic with the possibility of being stuck at home indefinitely. During that time, the only things to do besides Netflix is to eat, sleep, and poop.
The thing about packs of toilet paper is they are big and bulky. They take up a lot of space and they are very visible. Shoppers see other shoppers with packages of toilet paper in their carts and their minds tell them they need to pick up some too in case they run out.
As more people start buying toilet paper, the shelves get low in stock. Upon seeing giant rows of empty shelving where toilet paper was once on display, it triggers the thinking there is a real toilet paper shortage. Never mind that there is plenty of toilet paper available if people simply bought toilet paper like they normally did. The stores just need to restock when the truck brings more from the distribution center.
But the perceived scarcity leads to fear of not being able to get it. When that person sees there is toilet paper available again, they buy more than they need just in case they can’t find more again for who knows how long.
Eventually, a perceived shortage turns into a real shortage.
I’ve stopped by at Costco, Walmart, and Kroger, mostly during the afternoon and evenings and they’ve been out of stock since the panic buying began. The stores have restocked through the day, but people are snatching them all up as soon as they do.
Why Hoarding Toilet Paper Is A Dumb Idea
The first reason why you might not want to buy too many rolls of toilet paper is it’s money that could be better spent elsewhere. 60% of Americans can’t pay an unexpected $1,000 bill during normal times when everything isn’t shut down.
Now with millions of people out of work because restaurants, bars, and non-essential businesses are closed, and as more people get laid off as the shutdown drags on, spending your money intelligently is even more important.
Having a year’s worth of toilet paper doesn’t do anyone any good if they can’t pay their rent or mortgage if their place of employment is closed for months. You can’t trade TP for a place to live. You might be able to build a toilet paper fort, however.
You can trade your stash of TP with other people for a few items that you need, but for how long? Eventually, the supply of toilet paper will catch up and the shelves will no longer be bare.
Who the hoarders are really affecting are people who can’t afford to stock up on items. These are the people who are living paycheck to paycheck or on a fixed income.
The second reason why you should avoid panic buying is it’s actually hazardous to your health. I’ve heard from Costco employees about people lining in the morning an hour before opening just so they could get their toilet paper. That is the last thing you want to do when there is a virus circulating among the population that can be spread asymptomatically. Standing in a crowd in close contact with other people, including waiting to checkout, will only increase your chances of getting sick.
In times like this, you want to practice social distancing. Try to shop during off-peak hours. Don’t wander around the store too long. Get in, grab whatever you need, and get out.
We only go to the bathroom X amount of times a day. This makes it easy to calculate how much toilet paper we would need.
You will have to take note of your own personal toilet paper usage to see how long your stash of TP will hold up. In my household, I last purchased a case of toilet paper from Costco in November when we were probably down to our last pack of six rolls. We just now started on our 3rd package out of the five so we average about one package a month.
I feel that since we have enough toilet paper available for at least 3-4 months, we should have enough to last until the panic buying ends.
Does anyone really need a whole year’s supply of toilet paper? It’s unlikely you will be locking yourself inside your home for months on end without stepping foot outdoors. You are likely to go to the store to get staples like milk, eggs, meat, fresh vegetables, or bread. If you shop weekly or twice a month, what are the chances you won’t find toilet paper available during one of your trips? Stock up with a few months’ supply of toilet paper and you should be fine.
Even though your city, county, or state might have orders for residents to shelter-in-place and stay home, you are still allowed to go to the grocery store. The grocery stores are considered an essential business. There is no need to panic buy anything. Even if your favorite store is still out, you can still find toilet paper at other stores or you can buy toilet paper online for delivery.
Maybe if you really need so much toilet paper, it might be time to consider buying a bidet to save some money and reduce the anxiety of running out.
I guess we now know what happens when the SHTF… we run out of toilet paper.
What do you think about the toilet paper shortage? What are your experiences with shopping during the pandemic? Are there shortages of paper products and other items in your city or country?