What's in Your Case of Toilet Paper?

They are called cheater rolls by some. That may tell you most of what you need to know.

In fact, they've become a necessity for distributors to carry - adding to the problem - because in some cleaning departments, cost-per-case ranks higher than value-per-case. "They" are reduced-size bath-type toilet tissue rolls.

These smaller rolls were created to appear more competitive. Sometimes the paper core is increased in diameter to make the rolls seem more normal in size. Sometimes the paper is wound loosely for the same reason. But the fact in this case is, less is less.




There are two issues involved where a single focus on cost-per-case is relied upon. The first of those issues is that focusing on reducing line items in the supply segment of the cleaning budget affects, at most, about 5% of the facility maintenance department budget overall. So if a year's worth of effort re-negotiating and trying different products reduces costs in that segment by 10% on average - something that would represent a banner result - there is just a half percent of difference in the grand scheme of the overall budget. A budget, by the way, that is dominated by people costs. 


The problem with a focus on only 5% of the cleaning budget is that repeated efforts to cut corners on supplies are all but guaranteed to reduce both productivity and stakeholder satisfaction.

5% of the budget - based on pursuit of lowest cost - can have an adverse effect on 95% of the budget - based on people who need to perform at their best, and supplies that need to reduce the potential for complaints.

"The most expensive thing in a corporate or retail restroom environment is a complaint."

Although it sounds like blasphemy in an era of cost-shaving, in many cases the supplies budget literally needs to increase so that advances in technology can come to bear in improving custodial efficiency and effectiveness. Not to mention user satisfaction.


The second issue is that when sheet sizes become smaller, your price should be not only be lower because you are buying less, but you need to consider the increased costs related to rolls that have to be replaced more often (also potentially creating more stub-roll waste depending on dispensing system), and requiring increased labor. Unfortunately, when a smaller roll (or case size) is offered, the new price does not always fully cover the corresponding decrease in what you receive, much less provide an overall discount. 


Surely, the reason more cases of smaller (and smaller) rolls are being sold is not that as managers, we don't want to do the math. And surely, we aren't looking to have to increase the frequency of custodial staff checks on restroom supplies. Being out more often or fielding more restroom complaints is also an unlikely motivator.

The villian, it seems, is probably the thought that a case is a case is a case.

This belief may be based on the fact that for most of the last 50 years, both commercial and home-use tissue rolls were based on the unfailing standard of 4.5" x 4.5" by 500 sheets.


Click image to enlarge.

We've put together this quick overview of what "little changes" in sheet size do to the overall capacity of the case. We have used a random sampling of roll sizes. If your size does not appear, the closest size on this chart will get you in the ballpark. The far-right column shows the size of case you would receive compared with the former industry standard of a full, 4.5" x 4.5", 500-sheet refill. "Former," because in some brands, the full size is no longer even offered. But for comparison, it still serves as the baseline from which toilet paper started and will help you compare. 

If you long ago left the 4.5" x 4.5" inch standard, then just follow this formula (making sure the rolls have the same number of sheets and the cases have the same number of rolls):

  1. Multiply the width times the length of sheets in the case you are considering.
  2. Multiply the width times the length of sheets in the case you are using currently.
  3. Divide the first number by the second. If the case you are considering is smaller, the number will be less than one and is the percentage of product you will be receiving. .716, for example, would be about 72%. If the case you are considering is larger for some reason, you will get a number greater than one. 1.15, for example would be a case 15% larger.

So, if you are quoted a case that is 72% of your current case volume, and you are offered a discount of 25%, you are coming out 3% behind where you already are, and will possibly have labor and run-out issues to contend with to boot.


If the case of tissue you are being considered has no specifications regarding size printed on the container at all, this is a particularly questionable situation. No news is potentially bad news. There is no good reason we can think of for leaving the size specifications off the container, yet this is becoming more common.

Make sure you are getting your money's worth by looking at value-per-case rather than cost-per-case. Size, quality and sustainability are all factors to take into account when evaluating.