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How to figure out the best price on toilet paper

Figuring out the best price on toilet paper is made difficult by the huge variety in products, sheet size, and roll size. As a rule of thumb, in the US in 2007 you should not be paying more than $0.25 per regular size roll. With coupons and sales you can probably get even less expensive. It usually sells for more than this, but if you pay more, you definitely are not getting a good deal. But what about double rolls and mega rolls, etc - well then you can do the math with the help of the information below to decide what the roll is really worth.

Roll Sizes

There are many dimensions to roll size, essentially the amount of paper you get. Today's (2007) standard width of a roll in the U.S. is 4.5 inches. The other dimension will vary both in the size of each sheet, the number of sheets, and the length of the roll (but the sheet count times the size of the sheet will always give you the length of the roll and when multiplied by the width of the roll it will give you the dimention in square feet or meters that is used for the unit measure printed on the package, and on the store shelf).

Manufactueres have started to offer rolls that they claim have more paper. Within the brand, you can usually rely on their characterizations, such as that a double roll will have twice the paper as the single or standard roll of the same brand, and that jumbo, giant, or mega rolls have the claimed multiplier applied (e.g. Charmin has jumbo and giant rolls that are 2.5 times larger than their standard rolls). While these are the claimed multiplier larger than their standard rolls of today, there is nothing that keeps them from reducing the size of the standard roll (and thus the base figure that is multiplied). Today if you used a standard roll, you find yourself replacing the roll way too frequently, and more frequently than you might have done using standard rolls from the days when all rolls were standard.

I believe that most people use toilet paper by length drawn off the roll, or by depth when folded, rather than by sheet count, so that means that you can judge the relative amount between packages by the square footage (as long as the width of the roll is the standard 4.5 inches).

Number of Plies

If the roll is two ply it may reduce the amount used, but plies in such rolls are usually thinner than single ply sheets, so it doesn't quite equal twice the depth of that of the same amount of a single ply. One or two ply does affect percieved softness and quality, so it is likely more of a personal preference and comparisons are more accruate with other rolls of the same "one or two ply" characteristic. Often a single brand will have both one and two ply varieties, for example, both Charmin and Cottenelle have two ply versions that they call "ultra".

Some Numbers

Here are some of the numbers I recall reading off of packages in early 2007. I apologize in advance for any errors in my numbers, or in my calculations.

Cottonelle seems to have downsized their rolls recently, since in October 2007 just purchased single ply double rolls that have 308 sheets (4.2 x 4.0 inch) sheets, which is significantly smaller than the Cottonelle single ply rolls I purchased in early 2007 which had 352 (4.5 x 4.0 inch) sheets for a total area of 4 square meters according to the package (my calculation says 4.08). By calculation, I presume that the single roll would have been 2.04 square meters with 176 sheets, but since they reduced the double roll, perhaps they reduced the single rolls too. This is a reduction in surface area of slightly more than 20%. It also makes their double roll only about 1.6 times the size of the old single roll and it would appear to me that they are trying to implement an unnoticed price increase by implying that their product is larger than it actually is.

My early 2007 numbers for the Cottonelle Ultra double ply roll has 200 (4.5 x 4.0 inch) sheets for a total area of 2.3 square meters according to the package (2.32 by my calculation). By calculation, I presume that the single two-ply roll would be 1.16 square meters with 100 sheets. I do not know if they have similarly reduced the size of these rolls.

Charmin Ultra
The Charmin Ultra two-ply jumbo or giant roll (I have seen the same dimension rolls marketed both ways) has 250 (4.5 x 4 inch) two-ply sheets for a total area of 2.9 square meters. The package claims each roll is the same as 2.5 single rolls, which would by my calculation would make a single roll 1.16 square meters with 100 sheets.

Quilted Northern
The Quilted Northern double roll has 352 (4.5 x 4 inch) two-ply sheets for a total area of 4.09 square meters. By calculation that would make a single roll 176 sheets and 2.04 square meters. Interestingly, such a single roll would be pretty close to the dimensions of what others brands call a single roll for one-ply toilet paper.

Scott 1000
Scott 1000 single ply rolls have 1000 (4.5 x 3.7 inch) sheets for a total area of 10.6 square meters according to the package (10.75 by my calculation). I have not found Scott 1000 to be as soft as the other brands listed here, so your personal preferences will affect your comparison.

What is a standard roll

There is no standard size roll, but based on the measurements above, and as a rule of thumb for comparison I use the following: A standard rolle of single-ply toilet paper would be 2 square meters, and for double ply it would be 1.15 square meters.

Using the measurements from early 2007 listed above, I would apply the following approximate multipliers to the following products (i.e. one roll of the product is approximately the same as X standard rolls).

  • Cottonelle Double Roll (one-ply) - 1.6 (recently downsized)
  • Cottonelle Ultra Double Roll (two-ply) - 2
  • Quilted Northern Double Roll (two-ply) - 3.5
  • Charmin Ultra Jumbo / Giant Roll (two-ply) - 2.5
  • Scott 1000 (one-ply) - 5.375 (but it is not as soft as other major 1-ply brands (=3))
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