Over or under? Why hanging toilet roll 'the wrong way' is a health threat

Which way do you hang your toilet roll? (Getty Images)
Which way do you hang your toilet roll? (Getty Images)

You might not realise it but the world is divided into two distinct camps: those who hang the toilet paper in the 'over' position, and those who put the roll in the 'under' position.

And turns out there's some pretty strong feelings about which is the 'correct' way to place the paper.

For example, nearly half of people in the UK get annoyed when they see the toilet roll on the hanger the 'wrong' way, previous research shows. That's despite an estimated nine million people in the UK doing just that, getting it 'wrong'.

A study conducted by bathroom design company Bathroom Origins surveyed 300 people to see people's attitudes to the age-old question, which way should the roll go on the holder?

People aged between 45 to 54 were most frustrated with seeing the toilet roll on the holder the wrong way, with 25 to 34 years olds uncovered as the least frustrated with making the bathroom error. So here's the way it should and shouldn't go.

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Which is the wrong way to hang toilet roll?

Toilet roll under
Think twice next time you hang your toilet roll 'under'. (Getty Images)

It's worth noting at this stage that there is actually an officially documented 'right' way to place toilet paper onto the holder, and it seems that those in the 'under' camp have been hanging their toilet paper wrong this entire time.

The 1891 patent for the toilet paper roll (yes, that exists) literally states that the end of the roll should be hanging off the exterior. In other words, the patent, created by the inventor of toilet paper Seth Wheeler, reveals the correct way to hang toilet paper on the holder is actually over. Sorry under folk.

Re-surfacing it seems to the only way to tackle the ongoing debate years later. For example, when a doctor posted a snap of it on Twitter earlier this month with the caption, "This should settle the argument on the right way to hang toilet paper once and for all", users showed the division, commenting "Yes! I knew it!", "Not if you have cats", "Still prefer under", and "Tell that to my coworkers".

Someone even wrote: "My mother did an experiment when my I was little and she did one month with all the TP over and another under and we as a family of 5 used less TP when it was under.

"I know it looks nicer over but..."

But there's a more important reason why toilet roll should be hung correctly.

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Seth Wheeler, the man who invented the toilet roll, patented the correct way to hang toilet roll - over. (Seth Wheeler/Google Patents)
Seth Wheeler, the man who invented the toilet roll, patented the correct way to hang toilet roll – over. (Seth Wheeler/Google Patents)

Hang toilet roll the right way for good hygiene

Aside from some niggly family arguments between the over-people and the under-people, there's actually a pretty important reason we should be taking note of Wheeler's patent, particularly in recent years – cleanliness.

"The subject of which way the toilet roll should hang has been a light-hearted debate amongst couples and friends for many years, but it now holds a deeper meaning since the pandemic struck," explains Sofia Charalambous, co-founder at Bathroom Origins.

Of course while we're no longer in lockdown and the situation has vastly improved, unfortunately COVID-19 does still exist, and we're expecting a rise in flu this winter, so hygiene factors are good to bear in mind.

"A study performed in 2011 by the University of Colorado found that 19 different types of bacteria were found on a range of surfaces in bathrooms, and we know that COVID can live on surfaces for up to 72 hours."

The moment when a toilet user's hands are most likely to carry bacteria is when they reach for toilet paper.

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If the toilet paper is hung over their fingers, they'll only touch the toilet paper that they'll be using, which will subsequently be flushed.

However, if the toilet paper is hung under there's a good chance their fingers will brush the wall as well, leaving a deposit.

If so, every subsequent toilet-goer who reaches for the paper runs the risk of not only of picking up the bacteria that's been deposited already, but also leaving more for the next user to pick up.

"When you put the toilet roll on the bar so that the paper hangs under, you increase the risk of touching around to get the paper from underneath," Charalambous summarises.

"It's also normally closer to the wall in this position, which increases the risk of coming into contact with bacteria and droplets on the wall surface."

Charalambous says if you are unfortunate enough to go to the toilet after someone who has COVID-19 and the toilet roll is under, not over, you are increasing your chances of coming into contact with the virus.

"There is also a reason why toilet roll bars that have flaps on have the flaps going over, not under,” she adds.

Other than wanting to stay well generally, hanging the roll in the under position can also increase the risk of spreading E-Coli and other nasties.

toilet paper roll hanging on chrome holder
The direction of the bar's flap shows you the right way to hang your toilet roll. (Getty Images)

In their defence to getting it wrong all these years, those who believe under is the correct way to hang the roll argue that it looks more aesthetically pleasing as well as being more environmentally friendly.

They believe that putting the toilet roll under results in you using less toilet paper as the paper doesn't roll as easily.

But even if they do have a point (are you in this camp?), in terms of the official patent and cleanliness over-people can definitely chalk this one up as a win.

If, after learning what science has to say about the direction you hang your toilet paper, unders still refuse to become overs, the very least they can do is not be that person who leaves the roll empty.