Have you ever wondered what your receipts are made of? We dive into the paper used for receipts and discuss the top health and environmental issues regarding these materials.

Let’s go!

What kind of paper is used for receipts? 

There are three popular types of receipt paper currently on the market: thermal paper, wood-free paper, and carbonless paper. Let’s have a look at each type. 

1. Thermal paper 

Thermal paper differs from the white paper we use to write or draw on. What makes thermal paper special is a chemical coating on the surface of one side of the thermal paper rolls (also called the thermal side).

When exposed to heat, the coating on thermal paper rolls turns black and imprints an image or text. In other words, thermal receipt paper doesn’t need ink, ribbons, or toners—it relies on the heat-sensitive pigments in the chemical coating to generate receipt details. That’s also why these papers are called “thermal”! 

Thermal paper is the most widely used type of receipt paper. You likely come across it daily as debit and credit card machines, ATMs, and POS systems all issue thermal receipt papers. Businesses that still use fax machines use thermal paper too. Thermal paper is popular among businesses because it's cost-effective. There's no need to pay for expensive ink cartridges to print receipts.
Source: Wikipedia. A heat source near a thermal receipt paper.

Thermal paper rolls have a bright and smooth coating layer, so you can tell if your receipt paper is thermal or not by touching its surface.

Another tip to identify thermal receipt paper is to scratch your receipt’s printable side. If it leaves a dark mark on your receipt, it is thermal receipt paper. Scratching produces enough heat to cause a chemical reaction and generate an imprint.  

Thermal paper is the most widely used type of receipt paper. You likely come across it daily because many cash registers, debit and credit card machines, ATM machines, and POS systems all use thermal paper rolls.

Businesses that still use fax machines use thermal paper rolls too. Thermal paper is popular among businesses because it’s cost-effective. There’s no need to pay for expensive ink cartridges to print receipts.

How long does thermal paper last before it fades?

Paper stored at cool temperatures and in a dark, not-too-humid place can last up to three years. An image printed on thermal paper will last for at least seven years.

If you want to maintain the durability of your physical receipts, consider using a receipt organizer

If you want to maintain the durability of your paper receipts, consider using a receipt organizer. 
Source: Amazon. 

2. Traditional bond/wood-free paper

Traditional bond paper, also known as wood-free, is a popular choice with many offices. Take a look in your office’s printer tray—there’s a pretty high chance that’s what is in there!

When you compare bond receipt paper to thermal receipt paper, it is easy to see a significant difference between the two paper types. Neither side of the bond paper has a coating chemical layer, so its surface looks less bright and smooth than thermal paper.

As a result, the method of printing text on bond paper rolls is different too. The nozzles of the printer’s printhead release liquid ink onto particular places on the bond paper as it goes through the machine. The paper absorbs the ink to produce receipt text in those exact areas.

Source: PxHere. Traditional bond paper (wood-free paper).
Source: PxHere. Traditional bond paper (wood-free paper).

3. Carbonless paper

Another option for printing receipts is to utilize carbonless paper. Carbonless paper, sometimes referred to as No Carbon Required (NCR) paper, is available in many sizes depending on the number of copies needed. However, it typically contains two or three-ply, and the full copy often goes to customers while business owners keep the rest for documentation purposes. 

Source: Wikipedia. Carbonless copy paper. 
Source: Wikipedia. Carbonless copy paper. 

A carbonless receipt paper roll consists of three layers: coated on the back (CB), coated on the front (CF), and coated both back and front (CFB). Carbonless paper doesn’t require carbon to make copies.

The back of this coat has tiny capsules of ink inside it. When someone presses down on the fabric or writes on it, the capsules break open, and the ink emerges, creating a design or pattern. These capsules are tiny, so they accurately represent the writing on the top sheet. The front coat is made of a clay layer that reacts with the ink to create a long-lasting mark. 

How to choose the correct receipt printer type for your work! by POSCatch.com

Is receipt paper bad for your health and the environment?

According to Chicago Health, almost all thermal paper receipts contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol S (BPS) or bisphenol A (BPA). Hence, you shouldn’t handle receipts too much because their chemicals can enter your body through your skin. These chemicals are bad for consumers’ reproductive systems and can lead to attention deficiency and obesity.

The following studies have more information that can help you understand this topic: 

Ideally, all corporations and businesses strive for BPA-free receipts.

Physical receipts have disproportionate environmental impacts and expose workers and customers to toxic chemicals. Every year in the United States, usage of receipts depletes “over three million trees and nearly nine billion gallons of water” (Green America). Receipt production generates a lot of waste and greenhouse gases yearly. 

According to the ACS, even though recycling paper receipts is a recommended course of action, the chemicals in the recycled papers and products might still contain contaminated materials.

So, the safest choice for us is to dispose of thermal receipts in a garbage can.

American Chemical Society (ACS) explains how our world is facing a “receipt problem” in this video. 

Frequently asked questions about receipt paper

What are the different types of paper used for receipts? 

Different types of paper are used for different types of receipts. Thermal paper is used for receipts that need to be heat-sensitive. Wood-free paper is used for receipts that don’t need to be heat-sensitive. And carbonless paper is used for receipts that don’t need to be printed. These are the three most common types of paper used for receipts. You can use many different types of printers to print receipts, depending on your resources and personal taste. 

What chemicals are in receipt paper?

The receipts we get when shopping are usually printed on thermal paper with a chemical called Bisphenol-S (BPS) or Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPS and BPA are chemicals that help to make printing possible.

Bonus infographic: 3 ways to manage your business receipts

How to handle your business receipts? 

Here are 3 different ways to manage business receipts. 


Paper receipts 
Your employees attach the paper receipt to their expense report and send it to you or the accounting team. 

A receipt app on your phone that digitizes your receipts. 
For example, with the Shoeboxed app, you take pictures of your receipts to keep track of business expenses.

A receipt scanning service that scans and inputs your business’s receipt data. 
Shoeboxed's Magic EnvelopeTM service is a prepaid envelope that users fill with physical receipts and mail to Shoeboxed's office. The receipts are then scanned, human-verified, logged into users' accounts, and safely stored.

In closing

What can you do to reduce your exposure to thermal receipt paper? An easy way to go BPA free is to go digital.

If you can ask for an emailed receipt, go for it! Otherwise, if the business only offers paper receipts, you can use the Shoeboxed receipt scanner app to digitize it within seconds. Then, you don’t have to keep and handle paper receipts anymore!

Get all the important data you need from your receipts securely stored on your devices, minimizing your contact with receipt paper with Shoeboxed


You might also be interested in:


Originally published February 14, 2022. Updated on August 29, 2022.


About Shoeboxed!

Shoeboxed is a receipt scanning service that supports multiple methods for receipt capture: send, scan, upload, forward, and more!

You can stuff your receipts into one of our Magic Envelopes (prepaid postage within the US). Use our receipt app (iPhone, iPad, and Android) to snap a picture while on the go. Auto-import receipts from Gmail. Or forward a receipt to your designated Shoeboxed email address.

Turn your receipts into data and deductibles with our expense reports that include IRS-accepted receipt images.

Join over 1 million businesses scanning & organizing receipts, creating expense reports, and more—with Shoeboxed.

Try Shoeboxed today!