Is It Safe to Swallow Toilet Paper? (No, Here’s Why)

is it safe to swallow toilet paper

Between those who suffer from paper-eating disorder xylophagia and those still looking for something to do with the mountains of toilet tissue they purchased during COVID, there may be people out there with one question on their minds: Is it safe to swallow toilet paper?

The wood pulp used to make toilet paper may actually offer surprising health benefits. However, dangerous chemicals involved in the tissue’s bleaching process pose a number of risks when digested in large quantities or over long periods of time. For the sake of your long-term health, you’re better off sticking to more traditional culinary fare.

Of course, this still leaves open the possibility you may ingest some by accident. If so, you’ll want to read further for some of the specific risks associated with swallowing toilet tissue.

Can You Digest Toilet Paper?

Human beings were not made to eat wood pulp. Also known as cellulose, this pulp appears in everything from the paper in your bathroom to the paper in your printer. These products naturally sound inedible, so it may surprise you to learn that we’ve actually been eating wood pulp for nearly 300 years. Food manufacturers use it to this day, in everything from bread to parmesan.

By extension, it might sound perfectly fine to digest toilet paper as well. In fact, the Center for Science in the Public Interest lists cellulose as a perfectly safe product to digest.

There’s a catch here, though. It’s only safe because you aren’t technically digesting it at all. Your body can’t break it down. This informs the use of cellulose in our food. Since you can’t fully digest it, you’ll fill up and expel it as waste without gaining weight.

Remember, however, that toilet paper contains more than cellulose alone. It also contains chemicals such as chlorine and formaldehyde. Your body will digest these, and that may lead to problems.

Is It Harmful to Eat Toilet Paper?

Research shows that even using toilet paper as intended may prove harmful to the user. One particular Ghanaian study looked at the chemicals used in toilet tissue and found that adults exposed to these chemicals throughout a lifetime of 70 years may face greater risk of cancer. It seems unlikely that stuffing it down your throat would reduce these risks.

Two particular chemicals come up a lot in this discussion. When a person ingests chlorine on its own, doctors suggest emergency medical treatment, after which the patient may still experience severe symptoms of pain and discomfort. Formaldehyde causes even worse pain, as well as internal bleeding. As little as one ounce can kill you.

However, note that toilet paper contains very mild quantities of these chemicals. Too much of anything can prove unhealthy, while little enough won’t make much of a difference.

It turns out that the same proves true for toilet paper. Some people eat toilet paper for more than ten years with practically no side effects, provided the portions remain small. However, if you were to make it the featured course at your next Thanksgiving, you might be in for a rough holiday season.

Does Toilet Paper Dissolve in Your System?

Cellulose doesn’t break down easily. Even at the chewing and swallowing stages of the digestive process, too much could prove fatal. In 2014, an Indiana prison inmate proved this by eating enough toilet paper to take his own life through asphyxiation.

Once you do manage to swallow it, we make it to the next stage of the digestive system. Now, your body needs to start breaking it down. It won’t. Toilet paper can’t digest in your system because your body simply lacks the proper enzymes.

This doesn’t technically mean that toilet paper won’t dissolve in your system at all. Many of the cellulose fibers may separate, while your body will still absorb the paper’s bleaching chemicals. To put it delicately, you probably won’t recognize it on the other end.

In this one respect, swallowing toilet paper can actually prove beneficial. As a result of your body’s failure to break them down, the insoluble cellulose fibers may help push food through your digestive tract. Too much cellulose will still cause side effects, but moderate amounts may actually reduce your risks of heart disease and gastric cancer.

Can Toilet Paper Make You Sick?

The chlorine alone in toilet paper can make you sick if you eat too much of it. Symptoms of chlorine poisoning include:

  • Burning
  • Blurry vision
  • Bloody stool
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen throat

Too much ingestion of the formaldehyde in toilet paper will cause some awful side effects as well, including:

  • Gastrointestinal pain
  • Internal bleeding
  • Corrosion of the throat
  • Kidney failure
  • Coma
  • Death

Let’s say, however, that you wanted to eat toilet paper without putting yourself at risk of these symptoms. Believe it or not, there’s a way for you to do just that.  

How to Safely Swallow Toilet Paper

Eco-friendly toilet paper, specifically any brands marked “PCF” on the packaging, would theoretically prove much safer to digest. That’s because this stands for “processed chlorine-free,” meaning the manufacturer used recycled paper without any additional chlorine or other potentially harmful bleaching agents.

You might even go a step up and find TCF paper, which stands for “totally chlorine free.” This paper will not contain any chlorine whatsoever. This limits your exposure to dangerous chemicals absorbed through skin contact, and especially limits the risk of getting sick should you happen to ingest it.

Given toilet paper’s effects on deforestation and carcinogenic pollution, not to mention the previously mentioned dangers of simple skin contact, you may wish to consider making this switch regardless of whether you plan on adding toilet paper to you regular diet.


Eating toilet paper won’t end your life right away, and in small doses could even yield surprising health benefits. However, the fibers associated with these benefits already exist in other foods that don’t contain harmful chemicals. Switching to an eco-friendly brand will reduce your risks significantly, but it’s still best to avoid swallowing toilet paper for the foreseeable future.

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