This question popped up in my brain the other day as I was doing the weekly shop in the supermarket. There were a few packets of white toilet rolls, but all the rest were pink. And, if you’ve been to France, you’ll know that it’s not a particularly nice shade of pink.

So – why?

Well, toilet paper (commonly known as PQ here – from pécu which is short for papier cul ie bum paper) goes back to sixth century China. However, it only became widely used in France in the 1960s! Bit of a time lag there. It had been around since the beginning of the twentieth century but was most definitely a luxury item. Newspaper was used, and then for a time, that dreadful shiny stuff that was no good at all if you remember!

At one time, toilet paper was made from virgin wood pulp. The WWF protested against this, and these days more recycled pulp is used. The vast majority of the toilet roll tubes are made from recycled paper. Recycled paper pulp tends to be a grotty grey so either needs more bleaching or dyeing a stronger colour to make it more appealing.

Pink is just a regional preference, although I can’t find out who started the craze for this colour in France. The idea behind coloured toilet paper was to make it match the décor in the bathroom. I cannot believe for a moment that anyone would paint their smallest room Grotesque Pink so I’m not convinced that rule holds for France. Germans prefer paper with motifs I’m told, Americans plain white.

As often happens, the French are going against the general grain by sticking to dyed toilet paper when the worldwide trend is for white paper. It has been suggested that dyes cause irritation in sensitive areas, and of course there are the environmental concerns. Whether the pink dye is better than the bleaching that produces white toilet roll is debatable. It’s more expenisive though. Sadly, unbleached toilet roll is not readily available anywhere since apparently consumers don’t like its brown tinge. Ironic really.

Toilet paper is evolving. There are now scented papers, 3 and 4 ply papers, quilted, even glow-in-the-dark paper. But the pace of evolution is slower here. We still like our pink PQ.