Toilet paper in an oil filter is actually a good idea

Kyle Smith

The line between novelty and true advancement in technology is very fine. Razor-thin, in fact. That’s why a lot of products that could make our lives easier or better often get scoffed at by those who don’t understand them completely. On the other end of the spectrum are items promising the world for $19.95.

Somewhere in between is the Frantz oil filter.

Haven’t heard of it? I hadn’t either, until a member of one of the Corvair forums I follow put out a for-sale ad that caught my eye. A silver canister with two hose-barb fittings and an angle mounting bracket, along with what looked like a little adapter. Anytime I’m unable to quickly identify a part, I spiral rapidly down a hole of research. A Corvair piece that I hadn’t seen? Gotta know about it. Luckily, the seller didn’t leave folks guessing. It was a Frantz oil filter, with the rare, Corvair-specific adapter for easy install.

Neat—but why did it exist? What problem does this fix? Was it a … snake-oil filter?

Part of what had caught my eye in the listing was a roll of toilet paper used to prop up the adapter for photos. Turns out, as odd as it looked, the roll was supposed to be there. The Frantz filter is marketed to either supplement or replace a factory-fit oil filtration system with toilet paper. As strange as the idea sounds, toilet paper as an oil filter is not crazy.

After all, the vast majority of oil filters are paper media, strands of fiber woven together create a perfect net to catch particulates. A pleated paper element comprises the core of most spin-on cartridges, and it makes sense to change out the paper rather than the whole element. The Frantz company decided to utilize something every car owner had on hand: toilet paper.

By sizing the canister just right, Frantz could direct oil through a core of “filter material” nearly 4.5 inches in diameter before allowing the oil to exit and return to the engine. The roll provides markedly more filtering material than a pleated-element insert does. Frantz also claims that the toilet paper is constructed with a finer mesh and thus can trap even smaller particulates than a traditional filter.

That isn’t hard to believe. Anyone who has taken apart an oil filter to see what nastiness it was catching from inside their engine can see the filter media is fairly thin. It feels a bit like loose cardboard. If you unwind a roll of toilet paper, you’ll get about 75 feet of filter material. Seventy-five feet. That should filter your oil well for a long time—and it can. Sort of.

The trouble relates to how oil degrades in your engine. Sure, debris and junk that finds its way past gaskets or piston rings needs to be trapped, but oil itself degrades at the chemical level. Heat and pressure conspire to reduce the effectiveness of the many additives in modern oil, regardless of the system’s physical filtration level.

Frantz oil filter with dirty TP roll
New roll on the left, used roll (out of the filter) on the right. Frantz

Oil becomes acidic because of the byproducts of combustion that leak past piston rings and valve seals. Even if you removed all the debris floating in your oil, you would still need to change it on a regular basis. If your oil gets acidic enough, it can damage bearings and other surfaces just as badly as if it weren’t there or if it were contaminated with chunks of stuff. Only changing the oil can prevent the breakdown of those chemical compounds. If you are changing oil often enough to keep that degradation at bay, then do you really need a supplemental filter to remove every last floating piece of junk? That’s for you to decide.

I had to have the Frantz filter for my garage. I messaged the seller, then sent over some money and my shipping address. It won’t be installed on the Corvair, but I’m not going to call the Frantz a gimmick, either. It’s a fun conversation piece that I can mount behind the workbench and maybe even use as a storage canister for hardware or little bits that need to stay safe while I’m working on a project. After all, what gadget is more interesting than one meant to equip your vintage ride with a roll of toilet paper? I can’t think of much else.

Frantz oil filter with TP
Kyle Smith
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Comments

    You might want to do a flow test through that TP filter before you rely on it in your car to be sure it is adequate. Just sayin’.

    Order from your JC Whitney catalog! And while you’re at it get Winky the Cat that goes on the package shelf wired into your brake/signals lol. And a Hollywood Wolf Whistle. I could go on from childhood reading lol…I miss JC Whitney.

    These were proven to be failures decades ago. They clog up and oil goes through the bypass valve, if there is one. If not, either the can blows out or the crank seizes.

    When I was in high school, my first car was a 1937 Plymouth coupe which cost me $137.50 in 1950. Soon after I installed a bypass filter adapter, and it used a toilet paper filter. I still had the original filter factory installed and changed both every 1000 miles. I cannot remember for sure but probably bought the device from J C Whitney

    They operate only as a bypass filter so you end up with two filters. There is nothing wrong with a bypass filter per se, but toilet paper by design breaks up when in contact with water—something there is a lot of when an engine has a lot of when first started.

    I saw at least one restoration show where they took one of these off the car due to their reputation for the toilet paper roll coming apart and clogging every oil passage in your engine.

    Not to mention that that toilet paper roll is infused with god knows what to smell good, wipe good, and not clog a septic but probably not intended to mix with the additives that are supposed to be in your oil

    I used one for several years. Toilet paper does not react to oil the way it does paper. Also, these filters are not meant to be a replacement for a standard oil filter. It is meant to filter oil at at a precise rate to return filtered oil back to the pan. This way, oil pressure is not affected.

    Back in the 70’s my Dad had a sweet black 64 Caddy Deville. A guy from our church was selling these Franz filters and talked Dad into letting him install one in the Caddy, telling him how long it would make his car last. As soon as the guy was done and started the engine the main bearings seized up. So much for longevity.

    A filter media designed to dissolve in water sounds like a great idea. The fact that this didn’t occur to the author…

    “toilet paper as an oil filter is not crazy.”

    …while half the article is about chemical breakdowns that 99% of us will never see is telling.

    My old ’57 Caddy had a drop-in cartridge oil filter.
    I was told that a roll of toilet paper could be used…
    I wasn’t that adventurous — or dumb.

    CORVAIR ON TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES ALERT!
    Tomorrow, Saturday morning, TCM is airing “The Corvair In Action” (1960) at 5:45 AM.

    I used to work at a tribological engineering company and analyzed oil filters and oil samples for a living. Toilet paper is a bad idea because it doesn’t have anywhere near the necessary flow rate to keep the engine properly lubricated. A normal automobile engine oil filter should have no significant contaminants because it should be a sealed system and automobile filters get changed and wasted needlessly. There will always be some ferrous wear particles, but if anything else gets trapped in the filter like bearing materials it’s a sign the engine is self-destructing. One of the contaminants I tested for was water which is a combustion product that condenses when the engine is cold started. The toilet paper will just absorb and trap all the water which will further hinder oil flow. But you can use that Frantz toilet paper filter in the bathroom as a cool toilet paper holder.

    Negative Nelly’s! To all the negative commenters, the; my dad’s mates friend’s acquaintance had one of these….. REALLY.
    The only reason I am bothering to respond to all this B.S. is because there may just be someone reading these comments, who gets put off by the naysayers, most of whom have probably never seen, let alone tried one of these and some of whom can’t grasp the concept of “BY-PASS”.

    If you look at the way these filters are designed, firstly, I can’t see any way possible for chunks of toilet paper to get through, even if the paper did fall apart. Secondly, it’s a by-pass system, so the factory system is still in place. This system is in addition to the factory system and if installed correctly, cannot affect the operation of the factory system.

    This system is effectively like having a separate filter sucking oil out of the sump, cleaning it and putting it back into the sump. Because the filter cleans so well, it doesn’t take long for the oil in the sump to come back to clean as new!

    I am running a triple filter in a 13ltr detroit engine. The detroit are renowned for oil to be sooty and black as soon as you run them, (most diesels are black and sooty in the sump, but I have found the detroit especially sooty and I have run a few of them and currently still running two), but after fitting the triple stack Frantz filter, it took only 2500km (just over 1500miles), before the oil in the sump was very noticably cleaner. By the time the engine had done 5000km (3000 miles) with the Frantz filter, it was difficult to see where the oil level was on the dipstick as it was so clean.

    I have absolutely nothing to do with Frantz filters or toilet paper for that matter (other than using them), I run a small transport business and have always been into cars and mechanical stuff and have read many articles regarding Frantz filters over the years, so have been wanting to try it for myself.

    My first experience was an old Ford louiville at the wreckers. It was parked out the front with trucks they try and resell complete. I noticed a triple stacker Frantz filter in the engine bay and when I checked the oil, it was sparkling clean. I didn’t know the history of this truck or how long this filter had been on it, but I was more keen than ever to try it out.

    Well, as soon as I spotted a triple stack filter in the for sale ads, I bought it and I can say it is one of my better purchases. I have been using the filters from Frantz, cellulose fibre media rolls, rather than toilet paper (seems much the same as toilet paper, just tightly wound) at about $4.95 per roll and I am looking for any more triple stackers I can find.

    I probably shouldn’t have typed this up, as it will make it even harder to find a 2nd hand triple stack filter, but I am sick of reading the B.S. negative comments from people who either don’t seem to have a clue, or have some ulterior motive.

    P.S. I am looking at buying some of the new single filters for my cars very soon, but I find the original triple stack type better for the bigger truck engines.

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