We surveyed more than 500 people, bought and tested 40 varieties of toilet paper over four months, and then had 10 panelists use and rate our nine finalists to find the one that could best satisfy the needs of most people. That toilet paper is Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care. It does the best job, on balance, of cleaning up, feeling deluxe without leaving lint behind, staying together while absorbing liquid, and yet still disintegrating when fully immersed in toilets and plumbing. It’s not the cheapest, but you will likely use less of it than cheaper toilet paper because it works.
If you can’t easily buy Cottonelle’s Ultra Comfort Care variety (don’t buy the other kinds of Cottonelle), a very close and widely available runner-up is Charmin Ultra Strong. Our panelists didn’t think it cleaned as well, but it was close in softness and linting. Our own testing showed Charmin Ultra Strong absorbed the most, it ripped more cleanly from its roll, and it seemed stronger when wet in our own observations, which makes it a better paper for what we’ll call trouble trips. It may not dissolve as readily in pipes or septic systems, and it costs a bit more than Ultra Comfort Care. But it’s a good toilet paper, and you can likely find it at most grocery, big-box, or drug stores.
If you have the space to store a lot of toilet paper or you need to save money, we recommend buying Charmin Basic. It’s about half the price of Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care per square foot (and 60 percent of Charmin Ultra Strong), but it works and feels about 70 percent as good as those papers. It’s not the kind of thick or fluffy toilet paper that feels “premium,” but it’s not bad for the price.
I wrote the original version of this guide in early 2013, spending about 20 hours reading and researching the category. Since then, I have written guides to paper towels and facial tissues, learning a great deal about the paper manufacturing industry, recycling, and how paper products work and break apart. For what it’s worth, I also researched and wrote a guide to The Best Toilet Brush.
For this update, I put another 20 hours into researching a much wider array of brands and varieties. I interviewed Kenn Fischburg, owner of Consumers Interstate Corporation and author of The Toilet Paper Encyclopedia, patient blogger Duncan Cross, and a representative with emergency plumbing firm 911 Restoration. I also tested samples myself, along with soliciting people—half Wirecutter/Sweethome staffers, half outside testers—to try our top contenders.
One thing we learned from the original version of this guide: The best toilet paper doesn’t do anybody much good if it can’t be easily purchased, let alone bought at all. We learned this after our prior recommended variety (Walmart’s White Cloud 3-Ply Ultra Bathroom Tissue) became hard to find. For this updated guide, we sought a toilet paper that was significantly better than the competition, but also sold at widely accessible stores, sold online, and available in quantities that could provide a discount to those with the room to stock it. So we considered major store brands and major manufacturers, and made a sweep of grocery, big-box retail, and drug stores to check on availability.
We started narrowing down candidates with an online survey that drew more than 700 responses. The survey asked what attributes people valued, and they told us: softness, price, wet strength, cleaning power, and being lint-free, in that order. We also asked what kind of toilet paper they buy, how much of it, what they think it should cost, and where they buy toilet paper (or “bath tissue,” in Victorian-minded industry-speak) most of the time.
We quickly filtered down the more than 40 brands and models we initially considered (and purchased) with our survey results, ratings by outside publications (like Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping), and online buyers’ reviews.
We objectively measured our half-dozen finalists by weighing sheets before and after dunking them in water to determine an absorption ratio. While measuring this, we also noted how well the tissue held together while wet, and if it fell apart when pulled from the water for weighing. We subjectively considered how well they tore off both a standing toilet paper holder and one set into a wall, using both the left and right hands.
Most helpful, though, was getting actual humans to use eight different varieties of toilet paper and give their feedback on how the papers performed in a real bathroom. So we offered up a query on Twitter and five folks responded. We mailed to them packages of toilet paper, labeled with letters, and asked them to rate from 1-5 each sample’s softness, wet strength, cleaning power, and lint-free quality (matching the priorities of our surveyed readers). We also roped in four Sweethome/Wirecutter staffers and one volunteer at a coworking space, to do the same. The testers (six female, four male) provided anonymous feedback with detailed ratings to bolster our own observations, research, and survey findings.
A note on preventing clogs: Both Toilet Paper Encyclopedia author Kenn Fischburg and a representative with Restoration 911 plumbing told us that some people—especially children and teenagers—use too much toilet paper, especially when using a multi-ply premium brand (like our top pick and runner-up). Each toilet is different, but if you’ve used more than 10 to 15 squares of toilet paper already, consider flushing midway through the visit. And if younger people in your house use too much toilet paper, consider buying them the thinner, cheaper budget pick, rather than the premium brand you earned.
Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care was the overall best-rated toilet paper by our panel of 10 testers, and we understand why. That panel found that Ultra Comfort Care had the best combination of cleaning power, softness, and strength, and it left the least amount of lint. It was among the best at absorption, yet its squares still dissolved well in plumbing. It has a good balance of attributes that will work for most people and most bathroom visits, and it can be bought in bulk and stocked, if desired.
Drag Ultra Comfort Care against your skin, and you’ll feel why our testing panel rated it both the best at cleaning power and as the second softest. Its thickness holds it together as it moves, but the varied texture does the picking up. Those indented ripples also seem to hold the two plies of paper together more tightly than other brands. Ultra Comfort Care feels like one smooth sheet and doesn’t slip into a thinner version of itself during use, unlike Scott Naturals Tube-Free, Kirkland Signature, or other cheaper papers. Ultra Comfort Care excels at cleaning well while feeling comfortable.
Softness is relative, from person to person, and from visit to visit to the toilet, but Ultra Comfort Care tied for second in softness among the wide variety of brands we sent our testers. The rippled texture can seem like a marketing gimmick, but it works. The toilet paper that ranked above Ultra Comfort Care in our panel tests, Scott Extra Soft, had notably less cleaning power. Kirkland Signature (Costco), which tied for second with Ultra Comfort Care, also ranked lower in cleaning power, and placed significantly below Cottonelle in linting. Ultra Comfort Care is strong when wet, rated second out of 10 by our testers.
In our 15-second water dunk test, the Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care exhibited wet strength, staying together well. Consumer Reports (subscription required) gave Ultra Comfort Care an “excellent” rating in strength, as measured by a mechanical puncturing device.
In everyday use, Ultra Comfort Care leaves little lint behind; it tied for least lint with our runner-up, Charmin Ultra Strong. We noticed in our tearing tests that the perforated edges of Ultra Comfort Care squares are slightly shaggy, and if a square tears off unevenly, the fraying can release some lint. In use, though, Ultra Comfort Care is fairly clean.
Women mostly gave Ultra Comfort Care higher ratings than men, perhaps for its excellent absorption. Ultra Comfort Care carried 11 times its dry weight in water, the third most of those we tested. That’s a good bit more than Kirkland Signature or even the thicker Quilted Northern Ultra Plush. Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care edged out Charmin Basic (our budget pick), and was slightly behind Scott Naturals Tube-Free and Charmin Ultra Strong.
Once toilet paper becomes soaked in a toilet bowl, it then moves rapidly through pipes and should break down as it moves along. Consumer Reports tests this aspect of toilet paper using a stirring bar and found Cottonelle “very good” at disintegrating.
Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care is available in many stores and has been reliably available on Amazon, with Prime shipping and Subscribe & Save options. Ultra Comfort Care costs 3.9¢ per square foot if you buy it on Amazon in eight packs of four rolls, or 3.1¢ per square foot if you buy the 36-roll mega-pack. It may be similarly priced at your local grocery store (a Wegmans near me has a 30-pack of Ultra Comfort Care that costs 3.3¢ per square foot).
As noted, Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care ranked fifth overall at Consumer Reports, where it earned an overall score of 49 out of 100, or a Good rating. Kenn Fischburg, owner of SupplyTime.com and author of the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia, actually prefers Cottonelle’s “regular” brand, Clean Care, but says that Cottonelle paper is generally “the most technologically advanced paper I know,” with “very good wet strength.” Duncan Cross, who blogs about his life dealing with Crohn’s disease, wrote in an email that softness and pipe disintegration matter to men who have “rare and dry bowel movements,” but for women and those whose movements are “frequent or messy,” wet strength and cleaning power are paramount. Cross wrote that Cottonelle’s texture “gives it good ‘grip’ … while making it easier on tender parts,” and that it “stands up to wetness better than most toilet papers.”
Squares of Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care do not always rip cleanly off the roll. If you know yourself well enough to know you like a clean tear-off with every visit, go with our runner-up, Charmin Ultra Strong, which deserves a gold medal in sheet-tearing.
While we found packages of Ultra Comfort Care at many stores, it was not as easily available as Charmin Ultra Strong, which we could find at nearly every grocery and drug store in our area.
It’s not a budget toilet paper; you can get Kirkland Signature, Scott Naturals Tube-Free, or Seventh Generation for half the price. But it’s less expensive than ultra-premium brands like Quilted Northern Ultra Plush, and Charmin’s Ultra Soft and Ultra Strong brands. It also performs a good deal better than many papers that cost more.
We found Charmin Ultra Strong to have notably less cleaning power, slightly less softness, and a very slightly higher likelihood to lint than our top pick. Charmin Ultra Strong also had less wet strength, men in our testing panel found, but women found it about even. Notably, though, we found Charmin Ultra Strong to be far more absorptive than other brands, stronger than our panel believed, the best at tearing cleanly off its roll, and more widely available than our top pick.
Charmin Ultra Strong held about 13.5 times its dry weight in water in our testing, a bit more than Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care (see chart above). Most important, its sheets held together while dunked, removed, and carried over to the scale. Being able to retain moisture without falling apart is a key job for toilet paper, so that it doesn’t leave wet remnants, and you don’t end up using a toilet-clogging amount for tougher bathroom visits. The only other brands near Charmin Ultra Strong’s wet-to-dry ratio were our pick, Scott Naturals Tube-Free, which fell apart entirely when picked up, and Charmin Basic, our budget pick, detailed further below.
Our panelists rated Charmin Ultra Strong an average of 3.4 out of a possible 5 in wet strength, compared with Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care’s average of 4. Having dunked these brands in water for testing, our own rating for Charmin Ultra Strong is at least matching the Cottonelle pick at 4 out of 5, or perhaps a bit higher. It feels like it holds together when dry better than Cottonelle, too; Consumer Reports disagrees, giving Cottonelle an “excellent” in puncture/pressure resistance, and Charmin Ultra Strong a “very good.”
When sheets are pulled from rolls, Charmin Ultra Strong does the best. It tore right on its perforated line 18 out of 20 times, and the two not-perfect rips resulted in very minor inward tears of less than an inch. Only Charmin Basic, our budget pick, came close to the Ultra Strong’s perfect tearing.
Whether you need toilet paper immediately or prefer to stick with something very likely to be sold online, you can find a distinctive red package of Charmin Ultra Strong just about everywhere. During a sweep of store inventories, we found it at Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS pharmacies, Target, Walmart, and two regional grocery stores around Buffalo, New York. On Amazon, as of this writing, you can buy 24 rolls for $27, or 2.3¢ per square foot, sometimes with a $2 click-coupon, or for a Subscribe & Save discount at $25.64, 2.2¢ per square foot.
Charmin Ultra Strong was the go-to toilet paper recommended by “Toilet Paper King” Kenn Fischburg. Fischburg told us it was his ideal mix of comfort (softness, linting) and performance (absorption, wet strength). “It leaves the skin dry, it doesn’t tear, and it’s extremely soft, feeling like a T-shirt, almost,” Fischburg said. Consumer Reports gave Charmin Ultra Strong a 45 out of 100 points. That put it just 4 points behind Cottonelle Ultra Strong, but with six other varieties between them. But Consumer Reports, as noted, tests the dry strength of toilet paper rather than wet, and does not consider absorbency or cleaning power (grip) in their ratings.
Our panelists thought the Charmin Basic was one of the softer papers; it’s not as soft as the Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care, but it easily beat the cheaper papers (like Kirkland Signature or Scott 1000). It fell somewhere in the middle of the pack in our panel’s wet-strength ratings (averaging 3.4 out of 5), but we found it held almost as much water as our top pick while staying together. It tied with Charmin Ultra Strong on cleaning power in our panelists’ ratings, and while it didn’t come close to Charmin Ultra Strong’s absorption, it did nearly tie our Cottonelle pick.
Charmin Basic’s primary weakness is its linting. It’s surprisingly fluffy for a one-ply paper, and strong, but when it does break apart, it can leave some lint. I didn’t find it as lint-prone as ultra-plush brands like Quilted Northern or Scott Extra Soft in my testing, but our panelists put it last out of nine brands, with a 3.2 average rating out of 5 (the top brand garnered a 4.25).
If you buy a quantity 40 pack of Charmin Basic on Amazon, the toilet paper costs roughly 2.6¢ per square foot. That’s compared with about about 3.3¢ for the Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care and around 4¢ per square foot for the Charmin Ultra Strong. The price difference may seem small, but it adds up over time.
Don’t buy wipes, unless you’re willing to put your used wipes in your bathroom trash can, or maintain a separate can for them. Flushing them down your toilet is passing along a huge problem to your sewer system, as evidenced by sewer crises in New York City, London, and recurring problems in Miami, Louisiana, Ottawa, and almost any other city where someone interviews a local sewer systems manager. Unless you’re willing to spare the effort, and you’ve made peace with using twice as much paper and binding products, wipes probably aren’t worth it for your bathroom.
The toilet papers we recommend are made from virgin wood pulp. Both Kimberly-Clark, maker of Cottonelle, and Procter & Gamble, maker of Charmin, pledge that their wood sources are 100 percent legal and that they buy only from vendors practicing sustainable forest management. Backlash against ultra-plush toilet paper seems cyclical; the last major effort from agencies like Greenpeace came in 2009.
As noted by the New York Times in 2009, and as cited by experts in our guides to paper towels and facial tissues, recycled toilet papers are inherently not as soft or strong, and people often end up using more of them to make up for it. The post-consumer pulp going into recycled toilet paper comes from office paper, cardboard, and other sources. It’s a grab bag of wood fibers, put through all manner of treatments and stresses, not the soft, aligned virgin fibers made both flexible and strong by factory treatments.
None of the environmentally friendlier toilet papers we tested, both for this updated guide or in previous versions, came close to a favorable balance of softness, cleaning power, linting, or, in particular, wet strength. We tested Scott Naturals Tube-Free, but it entirely disintegrated during our absorption testing. If environmental concerns trump those criteria for you, the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, and GoodGuide provide guidance to which toilet papers are the most earth-friendly.
Scott Extra Soft was highly ranked by Consumer Reports, seemingly for its disintegration and tearing ease. Our panel ranked it as the absolute softest (4.6 out of 5), but only middle of the road (3.6) for cleaning power and linting. It might make a good budget option (at 1.5¢ per square foot) for those who value softness above all else.
White Cloud Ultra Soft & Thick was our prior pick for the best toilet paper, and it likely still would be, were it available for purchase anywhere other than retail Walmart stores. The same general dismissal goes for most store brands, with one exception: Kirkland Signature, from Costco.
Kirkland Signature earned high marks from our panel in softness, wet strength, and cleaning power, but absorbed the least out of any toilet paper we tested. We also saw a few squares break into wet, rolled-up pieces when it was handled while wet.
Scott Naturals Tube-Free earned the lowest ratings our panel gave out in softness (averaging 2 out of 5) and cleaning power (2.75), and earned second-to-last place in linting and wet strength. It absorbed the second-most liquid, but paradoxically fell apart during testing.
Charmin Ultra Soft was not ultra-soft, or ultra-anything to our panelists. It averaged a 3 out of 5 in softness, just above 3 in wet strength and cleaning power. It didn’t lint, but it costs nearly the same as Charmin Ultra Strong and is not as good.
Quilted Northern Ultra Plush is a pillowy soft three-ply paper that fell in the middle of the pack for softness, strength, and cleaning power with our panel, but near the bottom in linting. It absorbs 33 percent less than Ultra Strong, and we found it to have significantly less cleaning power.
Cottonelle Clean Care did very poorly when tested for absorption, coming apart in wet strands when moved from water to scale, and also ripped clean only about half the time we pulled it off the roll. It was ranked second to last in softness by our panel.
Originally published: April 26, 2016