Your toilets do an amazing job, day in and day out, of removing human waste from your home. However, that does not make any of them a foolproof trash removal system. At only four inches wide at their biggest, your toilet’s openings and your home’s sewer pipes are simply not designed to take the place of your home’s other waste management options.
If anyone in your home repeatedly flushes any of the items below, a clogged pipe is your best outcome, and it’s a repair that will cost you hundreds of dollars. Your worst-case scenario is the expense of having to repair water damage caused by toilet overflow, which could easily run into the thousands. Here are some household items that are commonly flushed and why you just shouldn’t do so if you want to save yourself hassle and money.
The Chemical Concerns
Let’s start with the potentially dangerous stuff.
- Never flush medications. The toilet is not a safe way to dispose of unused or expired pharmaceuticals; there’s evidence that water doesn’t dissolve them completely, so the drugs may leach into the water supply and cause toxic environmental problems. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the best way to dispose of unwanted medicine is to drop it off at a drug take-back site.
- Similarly, never flush potentially hazardous or toxic household materials such as paint, antifreeze, cleaning products or other chemicals (not even bleach or chlorine, which could be corrosive to your sewer lines). Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests you find a collection program in your community that will help you safely dispose of these materials; here’s a guide specifically for Texans.
Now here’s a collection of items that should always be disposed of in a lined, lidded waste basket instead of in your toilet.
All Hygiene Products
These products sound like they should respond similarly to toilet paper when flushed, but they don’t, and here’s why:
- The first category are products meant to absorb water, not dissolve in it; this means they’ll greatly expand if you flush them. That expansion can make each one of them several times their original size, which can lead to clogged pipes. These products include all feminine hygiene products and baby diapers.
- The second category includes all wipes that claim to be safe to flush but simply aren’t. We’ve talked about this before; it was a big news item last spring when we were all facing toilet paper shortages. However, it’s worth repeating here that no wipes, including baby wipes, should be flushed because they aren’t made of fibers that dissolve in water. They travel through your pipes into the larger sewer system, clump together and cause massive clogs at water treatment plants.
A common-sense caution should be noted here against using too much toilet paper per flush. Not only is it unnecessary, but large wads may challenge your toilet’s ability to flush and therefore cause a blockage.
Other Paper and Cotton Products
Here are more products that fail the test of whether they dissolve in water and can therefore clog your toilet or sewer lines if flushed:
- Paper towels and facial tissues
- Cotton balls, cotton rounds, and Q-tips tend to clump and tangle together and cause clogs.
- Bandages often include non-biodegradable plastic that can pollute water systems; in addition, their sticky adhesive can grab other materials and create an even larger clog.
These materials may seem insubstantial but don’t dissolve at all. Instead, they snag and cause a “netting” effect in your pipes by catching and holding other waste when flushed:
- Dental floss
- All types of hair
Use a regular trash can for the disposal of the following items.
We’re not going to start a hypothetical discussion of why you’d ever need to flush these items; just understand that you should never flush:
- Any grease or oils, particularly cooking grease; when these fats cool, they turn solid, trap other materials, and can easily clog pipes.
- Any food; it’s biodegradable, yes, but will take plenty of time to break down and will cause clogs in the interim.
It seems like a fine idea to flush pet waste, but let’s take a closer look.
- While some brands of cat litter claim to be flushable, it’s not 100-percent accurate. Cat litter is designed to dehydrate waste, and the water flow in today’s toilets often isn’t strong enough to move this material along properly. Instead, it settles and causes clogs. Even if your toilet is up to the task, consider everything else you’re putting into the sewer system: potentially disease-causing parasites and other materials that just make the water harder to purify.
- Pets make in-house messes including vomit; see above about food waste.
- We’ve all heard the urban mythology about flushing dead fish. Like other items mentioned here, fish don’t quickly break down in water; instead they can get stuck and cause a clog.
- Condoms are yet another type of item that don’t break down in water and can therefore end up contributing to obstructions.
- Chewing gum is both sticky and completely insoluble – two characteristics that lead to increased potential for blockage.
- Cigarette butts are a combination of a couple of the categories above; they absorb water without breaking down, and they’re made of toxic chemicals. Even if they don’t affect your pipes, they’re more likely to damage the larger water system.
In Other Words…
When it comes to flushing anything that’s not toilet paper or natural human waste, just say no. Teach your friends and family members: The question to ask yourself is, will this item quickly disintegrate in water? If the answer is no, you’re risking the smooth flow of your sewage pipes and even your water safety if you flush it anyway. In that instance, when it comes to clogs, it’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when one develops and how much the repair will cost.
But, Sh…tuff Happens.
You have kids, pets, and guests, and a lifetime of happenings will take place in your home. So when something inevitably goes wrong with your toilet or any other part of your plumbing system, don’t hesitate to schedule your free consultation with Horizon Plumbing Services. Our licensed professional plumbers will scope out the situation and offer you a realistic bid with no obligations or hidden fees.