What Did Cowboys Use for Toilet Paper? – 9 Alternatives

Written by

Paulk Webb


Freddie J. Hagopian

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what did cowboys use for toilet paper

Cowboys had an adventurous life, riding across the range for days and camping in the wild. However, cowboys have no access to modern plumbing, so what did cowboys use for toilet paper when nature calls?

Well, cowboys have several alternatives to toilet paper. This includes cobs of corn, smooth stones, and soft leaves. Crumples of paper, handfuls of grass, and pieces of cloth are also viable, while snow, moss, and water can get the job done even better.

Curious about how the Cowboys use each toilet paper alternative? Continue reading to know.

Alternatives to Toilet Paper

1. Corn Cobs


Dried cobs of corn are nature’s toilet paper in the Wild West because they’re abundant in rural areas and quite efficient. Cowboys would rotate this cylindrical part of the corn in one direction to make a thorough cleanup. To ensure that no traces are left behind, they’d follow a brown cob with a white one. 

The texture of these cobs isn’t as scratchy as you think. After all the kernels are removed, the cob becomes bearable to run through sensitive areas.

2. Smooth Stones


Wild West hygiene is pretty obscure so using stones isn’t surprising. Compared to cobs, smooth stones are far gentler in sensitive areas. They’re the firmest among all options, ensuring that you won’t poke your finger through them. 

Cowboys would often find these stones when they’re near river banks. They preferred those flat surfaces to get more cleaning coverage. Since they’re not absorbent, multiple stones are needed for the job.

3. Leaves


Another popular hygiene in the Old West is to use leaves for cleaning up themselves. Leaves are readily available all year round, and they’re easy to use. Cowboys relied on soft and absorbent leaves such as:

  1. Mullein: You can always find Mullein leaves anywhere, and they work well in cleaning up sensitive bottoms. These big, soft leaves are absorbent and sturdy enough to prevent poking through.
  2. Thimbleberry: If you want something more absorbent, look for thimbleberry leaves in the forest.
  3. Aster: These leaves aren’t only soft but also large enough to clean your bottom in one wipe.
  4. Corn lily: The long size of corn lily leaves also provides a lot of coverage for cleaning.
  5. Lamb’s Ear: A lucky find in the woods. These leaves are super soft and absorbent, making them comparatively good as regular toilet paper.

4. Grass


Cowboys would also grab the nearest grass to clean themselves after doing their business. They grabbed a handful of grass stalks and bundled them tightly to make a brush for cleaning. Others bent the bundled grass to provide more strength in cleaning all the traces of poop.

Soft blades of grass were preferred but even dry, thin grass could do the job nicely.

5. Paper


In the Wild West, any material made of paper served as good substitutes. Cowboys have several options including: 

  1. Newspaper: Old newspapers didn’t go to waste in the Wild. Though not as absorbent and soft as toilet paper, newspapers did a decent job in cleaning.
  2. Magazines: Non-glossy magazines also served as another viable option. They provide decent clean and good reading material at the same time.
  3. Catalogs: A hundred pages of a catalog could also provide comfort to the bums of cowboys. The soft, uncoated pages of a Sears catalog were particularly favored by the people in the old West.

6. Cloth


For places without trees and paper, cowboys would make use of whatever cloth they had on hand, such as bandana or any piece of fabric. Compared to paper and stones, a cloth feels softer on the bum. Not to mention that they’re more absorbent than toilet paper. 

The cloth is effective, especially when wet with water. A dampened cloth can remove any stubborn poop and leave anyone feeling thoroughly cleaned.

7. Snow


In winter, cowboys turn to what’s readily available to clean their backsides, and that’s snow. Surprisingly, the texture of the snow is perfect for cleaning the bum effectively. However, the temperature can leave your bum feeling wet and cold.

Using snow is tricky because you need the right texture. You want something not too icy that it will hurt your skin, or too powdery that it can get too wet. The perfect snow for wiping is something in between, which is close to what you’ll use for a snowball fight.

8. Moss


A handful of soft moss also serve as a great comfort for cowboys relieving in the forest. These small plants usually reside in moist environments. You can find moss in rocks, forest beds, or fallen trees.

Like the Charmin tissue that you know, moss has that same softness that leaves no burns on your sensitive bum. Moss is also absorbent, providing a better clean. Unlike regular tissue, moss offers great germ-killing properties to keep bums free from irritation.

9. Water


When water is nearby, cowboys use it to clean themselves after pooping. Rivers and lakes are great remote sources of water for cleaning. Cowboys would either use a container to get water or simply dive into a river after taking a poop. 

While toilet paper is unhygienic, water can remove the stubborn traces and keep you feeling refreshed.


So, what did cowboys use for toilet paper? These people used whatever was free and available, given the absence of modern conveniences. The key is to find something smooth, soft, and large enough to make a good wipe.

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