The Great Toilet Roll Debate: Over Or Under?

Ruth Hargreaves
By Ruth Hargreaves Last edited 21 months ago
The Great Toilet Roll Debate: Over Or Under?

In 2015, Londonist was frequenting public toilets around the capital, and not in full-bladdered innocence. Oh no, we had a serious agenda: to find out if London is an Over or Under city.

What the hell are we talking about? Why, toilet rolls, of course. Allow us to explain.

On a standard toilet roll holder, there are two (logical) ways to hang your toilet roll. One way is Over — when the end of the sheet hangs ‘over’ the front of the roll, curving towards the seated toilet-goer. The second way is Under — where the end of the sheet is closer to the wall and you must reach your hand ‘under’ the roll to retrieve it.

Over, and Under.

For those of us who care about this, we really care — there are strong arguments for and against in each case. Our own household toilet roll will, without fail, be positioned in the ‘correct’ way. Our office toilet roll will be swapped around if our workmates dare display it in the ‘incorrect’ way. Friends will be educated regarding their faux pas, families will get heated over their discrepancies, and some Londoners will go on a hunt around the capital to find out, once and for all, which position Londoners favour and which is just a number two plop. After all, we live in the city where perforated toilet paper was invented.

Plaque in Hackney Wick.

Let us note now that this study, impassioned as it is, was conducted as we were travelling around London anyway, and should not be held up as a shining example of a watertight case study. For example, of the 101 toilets we toured, 33 pubs were perused but only one cafe (what can we say, we like going to the pub). 68 female toilets were frequented, 28 male toilets were monitored, and eight unisex/gender neutral toilets were researched.

But a quest is a quest and 101 toilets is 101 toilets. That’s a lot of loos, and as the results came in a leader began to emerge. So hold onto your bowels, because the verdict is in: in the Great Over/Under Toilet Roll Debate, London’s winner is (drum/toilet roll please)...

Neither. Yes, we were disappointed too. What tops the toilet roll chart is in fact what we call, the Side Roll. Here are the (frankly, insulting) breakdowns.

London's winner: the Side Roll

This fickle fellow led the way with 33 out of 101 establishments choosing to house the Side Roll, mocking us while ensconced in its plastic or metal fortress. Top places to find the Side Roll seem to be shopping centres, theatres and bars/clubs. Benefits: people can’t nick your TP, the remainder of the roll remains untouched by soiled hands and it’s probably more economically viable or something. Negatives: IT DOESN’T HELP US WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT STUDY.

Side Roll breakdown by establishment

Second place: Over

The next appearance on the list is a more welcome one: Over! Yes, in the battle between Over/Under, Over comes out on top with 25 appearances on this list. A favourite with restaurants, hotels and high-end venues (but shunned by fitness centres, railway stations and shopping centres), Over doesn’t just beat Under, it whups it. And when Under is crying and begging for some paper to wipe its snotty face with, Over cruelly jibes “I would get you some toilet paper, but IT’S TOO HARD TO REACH MY HAND ALL THE WAY UNDER AND RISK BRUSHING UP AGAINST THE BACTERIA-INFESTED WALL”. Cold.

Over breakdown by establishment

Third place: Dispenser

Popular with train station toilets in particular, the Dispenser came next; with its own special way of communicating to the lowly loo lurker that they cannot be trusted to unravel toilet paper properly, and therefore only permitting the user to extract one measly sheet per ‘tug’. Presumably so you don’t get overjoyed with the freedom of a bare roll and bat at it like a cat until the entire thing lays in a sorry, crumpled heap on the floor and you come to, panting heavily, wondering why the echoes of frenzied laughter seem to be ricocheting off the surrounding linoleum. In our survey, 22 toilets saved us from this fate by offering up the solemn, soulless dispenser instead.

Dispenser breakdown by establishment

Fourth place: Under

Oh, hi Under. Good to see you, finally. With just 10 appearances, Under is well and truly bringing up the rear and certainly falling far behind its main rival, Over. Whereas other positions seemed to be favoured by a certain type of establishment, Under is spread pretty evenly across the categories, leading us to believe it’s the position of non-believers. Those nay-sayers who think they have better things to think about than how their toilet rolls fall and therefore chuck it on any old way, willy-nilly, not even considering that some people may be conducting extensive research on this very subject.

Under breakdown by establishment

Fifth place: Lone Ranger

The dark horse of the competition, the Lone Ranger has seven counts to its name. Usually appearing atop, alongside or even underneath an unfilled Side Roll, the Lone Ranger gives you all the unrolling freedom of an Over/Under while demanding a slightly higher level of dexterity to pick it up yourself, unravel, tear and replace it. But don’t try to cage the beast, those plastic containers seem to be key operated (plus if the staff want it to roam free, who are we to argue?).

Lone Ranger breakdown by establishment

6th place: a bit of both (non-artist's reconstruction).

One cafe we visited was having an identity crisis and displaying Over AND Under right next to each other. Two bars/clubs had this too. We never managed to wrap our heads around Schrodinger’s Cat, so too we’ll never get over this ambiguous choice of paper positioning.

Seventh place: the Pyramid Stack

Pyramid Stack! Just one wonderful pub chose this underrepresented option and it made our day.

So let it be settled: in London, Over trumps Under hands down. But the reigning London King of toilet roll positions remains the Side Roll. Sad news, but as long as Dispenser doesn’t start rising through the ranks then we’ll manage to cope.

In the interests of utter transparency here is our final ‘logging’ sheet, complete with venue information, all findings and some entirely professional and unbiased side notes: Toilet Roll Findings - Londonist Public.

What’s your position? How do you roll? Are you Under(whelmed) or Over(come)? Are you a bit of a Softy or do you just find the whole matter Charmin? Let us know.

Last Updated 12 January 2017