The toilet is a marvelous contraption. Press a lever and everything in it disappears. It refills itself with clean water. But flush only urine, feces, vomit, and toilet paper. If you don’t know what not to flush down the toilet, you’re asking for a clogged toilet.
Flushing the unflushable can make the toilet overflow and damage the plumbing in the house. At the very least, you must take time to unclog it. At worst, you have an expensive visit from the plumber.
And if the unflushable doesn’t cause problems in your house, it will hamper the sewer system and operation of the wastewater treatment plant. Some cities spend millions of dollars every year to clear up the damage caused by what should never have entered the sewer in the first place.
If you don’t have sewer service, these objects will clog your septic tank.
Or even worse, flushing some wastes will permanently pollute rivers and streams.
Do not flush any of the following:
1. Paper towels, newspapers, etc.
I have lost track of the number of times I haven’t been able to use a toilet at the gym because someone tossed in a wad of paper towels.
Toilet tissue is made to break down quickly in water. Paper towels are made to be strong and absorbent. I suppose they might break down in water eventually. Just not fast enough to flush down the toilet.
2. Any tissue besides toilet paper
So what about the tissue you use to blow your nose? True, it’s tissue paper, but it’s not designed to be flushable. It will probably go down the toilet easily enough, but it can cause problems in the sewer system where you can’t see them.
3. “Flushable” wipes
Lots of companies make what they call flushable wipes. They come in handy for sanitizing surfaces as well as an alternative to toilet paper. Manufacturers claim that they begin to break down immediately after you flush. No law requires advertisers to verity such claims.
A Canadian study tested 101 wipes to see which ones were actually flushable. Not one passed.
As with facial tissue, they’ll go through the toilet easily enough. But then they get stuck in sewers and septic tanks. Combined with fats, oils, and grease (which don’t belong in the sewer, either), they can cause millions of dollars of damage.
4. Cotton swabs or cotton balls
Cotton balls present the same issue as the first three items. The swabs all too easily get stuck in the bends in the pipe that leads out of the toilet. And then, whatever would normally pass through the pipes can’t anymore.
5. Disposable diapers
Even the smallest diaper for the tiniest newborn can clog your toilet. Diapers are made to absorb liquid. They’ll only get bigger and bigger once you throw them in the toilet.
Of course, you can’t just throw it in the trash, either. Close it with the diaper’s adhesive strips with all the nasty stuff inside. Then close it in a plastic bag before putting it in the trash.
The environmental community is rightly concerned about the proliferation of single-use plastic bags, but here’s one case where they’re a good thing. I have seen dog treats and other products packaged in reclosable plastic bags. Here’s one way to reuse them!
6. Feminine hygiene products
And here’s another. Pads and tampons damage plumbing, either in the toilet or the sewer/septic tank, the same way diapers do. And for the same reason. They’re designed to absorb moisture.
Small, disgusting when used. And made of non-degradable latex that will never dissolve in water. Something else not to flush down the toilet.
8. Kitty litter
Kitty litter is like diapers for your cat, except it’s made with clay and sand. It is made to bind to moisture. When it does, it becomes hard, insoluble chunks that can do a lot of damage to toilets and sewer pipes.
9. Cigarette butts
Cigarette butts, too, are made of fibrous material that will not break down. When you flush them down the toilet, they can get caught in bends of pipes. And if they make it all the way to the wastewater treatment plant, they get stuck on the filters there.
10. Dryer sheets
Dryer sheets are made of a non-woven fabric. They’re probably polyester or another petrochemical. In addition to not dissolving, they’re treated with chemicals that the wastewater treatment plant probably can’t remove. So all those chemicals become a permanent water pollutant.
You know that hair clogs the drains in your bathtub and sink. Why would it not clog the toilet just as much? So far, everything on this list belongs in the trash and not in the plumbing. But if you have a compost pile, you have an even better place to put hair clippings—yours or your dogs’ or cats’.
12. Dental floss
Don’t flush dental floss, either. It causes all the same problems as hair. Except it’s not compostable.
Most bandages these days are made of plastic. At least if they get into the wastewater system they can’t get into the ocean. The wastewater treatment plant has to clean them off its filters and send them to the landfill. If they don’t clog your toilet first.
14. Fats, oils, or grease
Never ever put fats, oils, or grease into any drain or garbage disposal, let alone flush it down the toilet. They coat your pipes. If they get into sewers, they form soap-like solids.
Combined with other unflushables such as wipes, they form “fatbergs” that can grow to enormous size.
Some fatbergs have grown to more than ten tons! Imagine the cost whenever they break a sewer main.
15. Food scraps
Other food scraps won’t cause as many headaches as fats, oils, or grease, but they can combine with all the other stuff that should not be flushed—either in your toilet or sewer pipes—to make less spectacular clogs.
For too many years, the standard advice for no longer needed prescription drugs was to flush them down the toilet.
Everything else in this list of what not to flush down the toilet causes clogs in sewer system. Drugs dissolve completely. But that’s the whole problem. Wastewater treatment does not remove them. Downstream, water treatment plants don’t remove them.
So fish and other creatures that live in our rivers and lakes ingest all our medicines. We do, too, either in eating the fish or drinking the water. Low doses of antibiotics in the water lead to antibiotic resistance. And that’s only one kind of medicine that doesn’t belong in our water.
There are right ways and wrong ways to dispose of all these various wastes. Do not flush any of them down the toilet.
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