The Tow Rag Explained

Given that we find ourselves living in the future and that the future does not include toilet paper, I feel it my duty to explain the tow rag.

boat boating close up coast
Photo by Pixabay on

Back in the days of sailing ships, the sailors did not have toilet paper. What they did have were rags. Cloth rags. After having completed their daily evacuations, sailors would engage in ablutions using a rag. This rag (or rags, plural, I would hope) was then tied to a rope and dragged behind the ship in order to clean it (or them). Hence, tow rag.

This term has become a form of insult in Britain, and is sometimes misspelled as ‘toe rag’ but, in fact, its origin is much more nautical and the rag is associated with a verb, not a noun.

At present we have not been reduced to using tow rags, in part because we do not have ships from which to drag them. What we do have, however, are washing machines. Some of us may be reduced to using rags and subsequently washing them. This may mean cutting up old t-shirts or using up some of our Costco-sized supply of microfibre cloths. Either way, we will have to decide whether to wash them or trash them. It all depends on how long the paper-free future lasts.

white gallon ship

Alternatively, we could use bidets. It is possible to have a bidet installed in the bathroom if you can find a plumber who will come to your house to make that happen. Alternatively, you can buy an attachment for your toilet that performs the same function. You can buy them online if Amazon hasn’t sold out of them already.

The other alternative is to bathe after your daily evacuation. This presumes a ready supply of water which may be tricky for people in places like California which sometimes have water restrictions. It also presumes a ready supply of soap which, apparently, is not applicable to those of us in prisons. But, for the rest of us, that seems like a good choice.

Regardless, I just wanted to explain the tow rag. That’s it. And, who knows, maybe the concept will come in handy.





  1. Never knew this before. Of course, being English ( for my sins!) I was aware of the pejorative term.
    Question: would it be easier to go live on a boat/sailing ship?

  2. Anne, I had to share. When I initially read your blog about tow rags I was sort of grossed out. I appreciated the need for such a thing especially when on board a sailing vessel. Did not want to know anything further though. Then last evening I came upon a news broadcast on NBC in San Jose and the anchor people were discussing alternatives to toilet paper. I came in late to the broadcast and I do not know why it had become a topic. I also admit that I could not watch the entire segment as it made me very uncomfortable. However, it might be that some ideation of the tow rag is coming in these days of COVID-19.

      1. Indeed, people seem to still be hoarding toilet paper. I might be more empathetic to the situation should the day arrive when we are down to our last roll. We only buy what we need presently. Speaking of which, when one is at the grocery store and wishes to purchase a package of chicken, for example, and sees a sign that says “Two per customer”, I wonder if that sort of signage triggers some folks to immediately need 6 packages of whatever and would that not increase the hoarding desire? Obviously I have too much time on my hands!

        1. That is an interesting thought. The store I go to is doing its best to spread the popular items around as best they can. When this pandemic first arrived, though, some people were stripping the shelves bare and leaving nothing for others to buy. It took a while for the store managers to figure out how to control that.

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