The toilet paper dispenser in a bathroom stall at work made me think of an interesting problem.

There are two rolls hooked up and ready for use at any time. As the rolls get smaller and smaller, the bigger roll of the two seems to be the more popular choice, and subsequently they shrink at just about the same pace. The problem lies in the situation at the end of the day - a custodian would have to restock the paper, but if both rolls are in a close-to-but-not-quite-depleted state, they either have to throw them out or just leave them in a depleted state (which might be compensated with loose rolls provided in the stall, but this is not ideal).

What could I do to encourage use of just one roll at a time?

(If possible, I'd like suggestions that don't involve remodeling the dispenser.)

One idea I've seen in practice is to fold the paper into a corner at the end of the roll you want to preserve, but this seems to be interpreted as a convenient handle and doesn't seem to be very effective.

  • 2
    Re: If possible, I'd like suggestions that don't involve remodeling the dispenser. You're asking on a design site for changes that don't involve modifying the design?? Sep 22, 2014 at 15:15
  • 1
    @3nafish I understand it somewhat goes against the spirit of the site, but I felt this was the right community to get the best answer. The reason I included that suggestion is because there are several existing designs that only dispense one roll at a time, and any variation of those would be a shoo-in for the best answer.
    – Chris
    Sep 23, 2014 at 11:52

6 Answers 6


A couple of ideas you could implement without remodelling the dispenser:

1.1 - A paper "seal" around the new roll

I've seen this in many hotels: new rolls are "sealed" with a paper stripe around them:

I guess hotels do that for at least a couple of reasons:

  • show the guest rolls are new;
  • (maybe?) at the same time reduce the amount of only partly used rolls and save money.

To be honest, I think that this solution may have has pros and cons at the same time:

  • lazy people will definitely use the existing roll;
  • hygiene obsessed people would be glad to have a brand new roll to open, starting a second branch of users on the new roll and taking us back to the original problem.

It would be interesting to test how users react.

1.2 - Place the new roll(s) just a bit farther, out of hand reach

Place new rolls in a visible location, but far enough (e.g., on a shelf?) to require a bit of extra work to reach them. Users will know the roll is there, but won't do the extra work to reach them unless it's necessary.

2. More ideas (remodelling the dispenser)

Hide the amount of paper left, showing just one roll at a time and at the same time letting the user free to access the new roll when needed:

Same principle, with new rolls just slightly visible (in the previous example users may not notice there's a second roll available):

If changing the dispensers is an option, I would definitely suggest you abandon roll and start using toilet paper single-sheet dispensers: they save up to 40% paper compared to rolls.


Place a small easy to remove sticker over loose end of one roll [and onto dispenser to fit] that says

Please use other roll first

Success rate will depend on how anti-social your average user is. A/B test against a large plain hard to remove sticker that also blocks removal easy removal of one roll.


CWS offers a system where you can only access the second roll if the first roll is completely used. It has a plastic slider system that covers the new roll. If the oldest roll is completely used the empty roll fits in the slider, therefor the "user" can move the slider over the oldest roll, thus uncovering the new roll. The custodian can open de system and replace the empty roll with a new one and just leave the other one. Very clever if you ask me.

enter image description here

Here is a demonstration video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL8OgX24ByQ


This would require some testing to verify how effective it might be. Have the rolls dispense paper in opposite directions. I.e. one roll dispenses paper from the bottom, one roll dispenses paper from the top. There may be a bias in people's use of the two different configurations that would meet the requirement sufficiently. If the test proved that there was a bias but not enough of a bias, you might consider moving the dispenser so the preferred roll was closer, strengthening the bias enough to achieve a full roll at the end of the day.


2 simple solutions from my perspective:

Without remodelling the dispenser

Are the 2 rolls fixed next to each other? If yes, then make sure they are at separate places. Eg: If both the rolls are fixed at left or right of the toilet, then it's natural tendency that the user will go for the one with more paper. Now imagine, we have one fixed on the left & other on the right. If the user sees the roll on the left side first, then the chances are high that he will be using the same as long as it has a paper. If there is no paper in the left roll, then the user might put an extra effort to look at the other places(right)

Remodelling the dispenser

Don't show how much paper is left. Just show the edge of the paper for the user to get hold of it.


Only stock up one roll at a time.

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