What NOT To Flush!
Alex "Solar Girl" Steele
If you’ve ever lived in, or visited an older home, chances are you’ve been warned to flush absolutely nothing down the toilet other than waste and toilet paper. This is good practice - flushing things that aren’t designed to go down a toilet can be harmful to your plumbing pipes, septic system, and also damage the ecosystem you live in.
You might have seen advertisements for new toilets that have powerful flushing mechanisms which boast they can flush almost anything - these look cool on the commercial, but don’t let the bells and whistles fool you. Even the most intense toilet-flushing technology can’t protect your pipes or septic system from a disaster if you flush carelessly. Read ahead to learn more about the most risky items that you should always avoid flushing, no matter how fancy your new toilet is or how hard the label tries to convince you something is “flushable”!
Baby wipes and personal cleansing cloths may say “flushable” on the package, but they are spell disaster for your plumbing. Even the ones that insist they biodegrade on the label do not break down the same way toilet paper does. This can cause buildups and blockages in your pipes, catastrophic destruction to your septic tank, and if you’re connected to the public sewer system, it can cause damage that will impact the entire community. Removing sewer blockages caused by wipes can cost a community millions of dollars, and make it harder for wastewater treatment facilities to properly purify water. The long term damage and expenses associated with repairs is just not worth the short term convenience of flushing wipes away. Wipes should always be thrown in the trash - even if they say “flushable”.
Floss is such a small item that you might absent-mindedly flush it down the toilet after your nightly dental routine, but try to remember that it’s a bad idea to toss it in the loo. Once it goes down the pipes, it can tangle up and turn into a tiny net, collecting all sorts of nasty debris and slowly turning into a huge, nasty clog.
You’ve probably seen signs reminding you not to put any menstrual products down the toilet in most store restrooms, but it’s especially important not to flush them at home. These products are designed to absorb and hold as much moisture as possible, so if even one gets flushed, it may get lodged in the pipes and cause a serious clogging problem. If you make the mistake of flushing one or you suspect one may have been flushed, you can try to dislodge it with a plunger, but if that doesn’t do the trick, a call to an emergency plumber may be needed.
There are a lot of cat litter brands that are marketed as flushable, but unless you’ve got a super powerful toilet, it’s likely that the water pressure from a standard flush isn’t intense enough to wash all of the granules of cat litter down your pipes. This can result in debris slowly getting caught up in your plumbing system, leading to annoying blockages when even a moderate amount of waste is flushed.
If you’re cleaning out your medicine cabinet and you find some old prescriptions or over-the-counter pills that have expired, it might be tempting to flush them - especially if they’re pills that could be abused if they fall into the wrong hands. But flushing them can be very harmful to the ecosystem you live in. As medications break down, the chemicals can leach into the water supply and contaminate local waterways. These can be harmful to the fish and amphibians who call them home, and can also end up in our drinking water. As you can see, flushing medicines is dangerous for the entire community. It’s better to take old medication to a Drug Take-Back Site.
If you don’t have a garbage disposal, it might be tempting to flush unfinished food down the toilet… After all, isn’t human waste just old food anyway? Well, yes, but undigested food does not behave in a plumbing system the same way waste does. Before it’s digested by the body, food biodegrades much slower than waste would. Eventually, food will biodegrade in your pipes, but until that happens, it can cause unnecessary clogging.
If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably pretty clear - toilets are for waste and toilet paper, and nothing else. For the sake of your wallet, your property’s plumbing infrastructure, and your community’s water supply, you should respect your toilet and only flush what’s really flushable!