The first rule that anyone should know about toilets is there are certain items you should never flush down it. It would be nice if toilets were an all-encompassing deposit where you could get rid of anything, but that’s unfortunately not the case. What’s even more unfortunate is that some people still use their toilets this way, flushing down all kinds of inappropriate items that end up causing problems not only for themselves but also for the plumbers who have to located it, not to mention potentially the entire neighborhood that’s on that same sewer system.
To drive the message home, let’s take a look at the consequences of flushing inappropriate items down the toilet, and some common culprits that many people think are flushable but actually are not.
Have you ever tossed something seemingly harmless into your toilet, given it a flush, and assumed that everything was fine? You wouldn’t be the first person to do this. But just because something goes down the pipe when your toilet is flushed, that doesn’t mean the item is really flushable. It could be causing bigger problems just out of sight.
One of the first problems you might encounter when flushing an inappropriate item is a clog or a blockage. Anything that flushes down your toilet should be biodegradable (either waste or septic-safe toilet paper). When a nonbiodegradable item goes down your toilet, it can get stuck in the pipes, potentially just below your toilet or maybe closer to the public sewer system. Wherever it gets stuck, it can then stop the flow of everything coming in that direction. This could cause a water backup, possibly even flooding in your home or any nearby homes. This damage is expensive and inconvenient, and it’s something that can be easily avoided by not flushing inappropriate items.
The second big problem is environmental. When you flush certain items that aren’t biodegradable, they never break down. That means that even if they survive the sewer system, they can end up polluting bodies of water they might eventually wash into. This is damaging to aquatic ecosystems and the planet in general!
Finally, it’s just expensive when non-flushable items get flushed. Your public works department or similar agency will have to undertake cleaning or repair of the municipalities that are affected, and on an ongoing basis, this requires time and money. Such a financial burden ultimately could get passed on to the taxpayers—you and your neighbors!
Now that you understand why it’s important to never flush items that shouldn’t be flushed, you might be wondering what items make that list. It’s easier to list what can be flushed: waste and septic-safe toilet paper. Even if a product says that it’s flushable, such as baby wipes, that might not be the case—it can indeed go down your pipes, but that doesn’t mean it degrades in the sewer system the way toilet paper does.
Baby wipes and hygiene products, such as tampons and sanitary pads. Many people are guilty of trying to flush these items, and it makes sense—you likely use them in the bathroom, and they seem to flush just fine. The package even advertises them as flushable. But these products don’t break down easily, and they end up being common causes of blockages.
Paper towels and tissues might look similar to toilet paper, but they aren’t made the same. Toilet paper is designed to dissolve in water, whereas paper towels and tissues are not. When you flush them, they won’t disintegrate down along the pipes.
Medication shouldn’t be flushed, even though you might think it would dissolve right into the water. But medication ends up contaminating water sources, and this contamination isn’t something that can be filtered out the way waste can. It will end up harming aquatic life, so your best option is to dispose of medication through a take-back program.
Fats, oils, and grease shouldn’t go down the toilet any more than they should go down your sink (that is, never). Fats, oils, and grease end up solidifying, and this causes blocked pipes, which lead to sewer backups.
So, what should you be doing instead of flushing these items down the toilet? The easiest option is to dispose of non-flushable items in the trash. Use a plastic liner for your bathroom trashcan or wastebasket so there’s less risk of contamination with items like tissues and tampons.
Occasionally, most homes will see something non-flushable go down the toilet—instead of panicking, rely on regular plumbing maintenance and inspections to make sure everything is free from blockage and not prone to any costly damage.
Finally, you might be interested in looking at eco-friendly and biodegradable alternatives to many of the products you use in the bathroom. Many of these might not be any more flushable than the regular versions, but they will be less harmful to the environment when you dispose of them correctly, so you don’t feel as bad about throwing them in the trash.