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Test does more than squeeze the Charmin

Nevermind squeezing the Charmin. Consumer Reports' testers recently put 25 toilet papers through a battery of punishing tests that would have made Mr. Whipple, the mustached supermarket manager from the old TV commercials, wince.

Toilet papers were tested for strength, softness, tearing ease and disintegration. And when CR finished, Walmart's White Cloud Ultra Soft and Thick was the clear winner, with an overall score of 91 -- 10 to 50 points better than the competition.

It was soft, strong and an exceptional value. The CR Best Buy cost 25 cents per 100 sheets.

Not a Walmart shopper? Quilted Northern Ultra Plush, 38 cents per 100 sheets, is widely available and delivers excellent softness. Its tearing ease is also just right, so you won't get stuck with too little paper or too much. But the paper wasn't quite as strong as the top-rated White Cloud despite its three plies, and it costs more.

CR also tested green toilet paper, including Trader Joe's Super Soft Bath Tissue, 19 cents per 100 sheets. It was very soft but faltered when it came to strength and tearing ease. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, 18 cents per 100 sheets, and CVS' Earth Essentials, 8 cents per 100 sheets, landed at the bottom of the Ratings due to roughness and middling strength and tearing ease -- yet both offer excellent disintegration.

Rolls that do away with the cardboard tube are the latest thing in toilet-paper marketing. Scott Naturals Tube Free claims it has the potential to "eliminate millions of pounds of materials from the waste stream." However, CR found that it was not as easy to unravel, the paper did not tear off easily and it was harder to place the roll in the holder.

CR suggests that consumers keep the following in mind when shopping for toilet paper:

>Stock up and save. Keep an eye out for sales and use coupons to lower costs. Larger packages often reduce costs per roll. Consider multiple rolls, as you are likely to use fewer sheets as compared to single-ply.

>Understand green claims. Look for toilet paper that has been made not just from recycled content or trees from responsibly managed forests but from paper that would otherwise end up in a landfill or an incinerator. Avoid recycled products that have been bleached white using chlorine because that can pollute air and water.

>Be kind to plumbing. Toilet paper that does not disintegrate quickly can pose a problem for homes with septic systems, old pipes or large families. Check out CR's Ratings of toilet papers to see which products scored well for disintegration.

As commodity costs have risen, downsizing has become a common way for manufacturers to avoid a direct price increase, as it is often hard to tell that a package has gone on a diet. CR's readers have identified toilet paper that has fallen victim to product downsizing:

*Procter and Gamble has downsized the size of its roll in its Charmin Ultra Soft 30 Jumbo pack by 8 percent -- about 19 sheets less per roll.

*Procter and Gamble's Charmin 45 Ultra Soft Giant rolls has downsized from 250 sheets to 220 sheets per roll.

*Kimberly-Clark's Scott, a brand known for its 1,000 sheet rolls, shrank by 9 percent. But instead of reducing the number of sheets, they were made smaller and stronger, so consumers can use less.

By the editors of Consumer Reports at