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How Toilet Paper Works

Should Toilet Paper Hang Over or Under?

There is a TP controversy that roils the U.S. cesspool waters more than any other. And that, dear readers, is whether to hang the roll so that the paper flows "over" or "under."

In 1891, a man named Seth Wheeler, of Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company, submitted a patent for the first perforated toilet paper on a roll. The illustration included with the patent clearly showed the paper being fed from the "over" position [source: Willett]. And that should have settled the issue once and for all.

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However, the underhand orientation has some nice benefits, too. It often thwarts curious toddlers and pets that would otherwise yank on the paper just for fun. It's also kind of nice from an aesthetic perspective, as the loose end can be hidden from view.

On the other hand, the overhand orientation makes it extremely easy to find the end of the paper so that you can start pulling. It's also clear that manufacturers intend for the product to be used in this manner — otherwise, their fancy imprints won't be as obvious to the user.

Speaking of fancy patterns in your toilet paper, do they serve a purpose? They do fluff up the paper a bit and make it more absorbent. And the patterns, sometimes called "ornamentation," do help companies differentiate their products from competitors. They also, you know, make your feel fancy while you are participating in a decidedly inelegant activity [source: Smallwood].

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