Things You Should Not Flush in Your Toilet

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Plumbing repairs are expensive. If your system is always clogging, it’s time to learn what things you should never flush.

Hand holding a cleaning wipe over a toilet bowl demonstrating things you should not flush

Are you tired of racing for the plunger? If you can’t figure out why your toilet keeps backing up, perhaps you’re using it to flush the wrong things.

Things You Can’t Safely Flush

Generally, it’s safe to flush most things that come from your body. But there are some exceptions. You should never flush nail clippings, for example, because they don’t dissolve. Surprisingly, some things labeled as safe to flush aren’t. Other things we’re used to flushing (but shouldn’t) can build up over time. Then you’ll wind up with a toilet that clogs and overflows no matter how many repairs you make to it.

1. Any Kind of Wipes

Always dispose of cleaning wipes as well as personal care or baby wipes in the trash, not the toilet. Wipes don’t dissolve quickly enough, even those that claim to be flushable.That’s because there’s no industry standard for making such claims. If it’s a messy one, tuck it into a plastic bag or food container that you’re already throwing away.

2. Paper Towels

Paper towels are manufactured to hold up to scrubbing without dissolving while wet, but that’s exactly why you should never flush them down your toilet. It might not be a problem the first few times you do it, but if your pipes have any form of buildup (and most do), undissolved towels will add to it. Then, your lines get so narrow that everything causes a clog — even stuff you’re supposed to flush.

3. Adhesive Bandages

Never flush adhesive bandages, plasters, or Band-Aids. They are designed to remain in place and not dissolve during hand-washing or showers, and they won’t dissolve after flushing, either. Instead, they’re likely to get stuck in pipe bends or caught on debris in your system. Toss them in the trash instead.

4. Cotton Pads, Balls, or Swabs

Although cotton is a natural, organic fiber, it doesn’t dissolve quickly enough to be flushable. That’s great if you’re wearing cotton clothing and it suddenly rains, right? It’s not so great for your home’s plumbing. So, don’t flush cotton pads or balls, or even the swabs you use to clean your ears. Toss them in the trash instead.

5. Feminine Hygiene Products

Don’t flush sanitary napkins down the toilet, no matter how small or discrete they are. Pads consist of wood pulp, petroleum gels, and plastic — none of which dissolve fast enough to avoid clogs. As for tampons, you won’t find a single tampon maker claiming their product is flushable — they’re made from cotton, after all. Instead, wrap them in toilet paper or other material and discard it in the trash.

Tampons are designed not to dissolve in liquid. That makes them extremely likely to catch on a pipe bend or snag on buildup, leading to costly repair bills. The problem with flushing them isn’t limited to your home’s plumbing, either. Tampax notes that “tampons cannot be processed by wastewater-treatment facilities and they can harm septic systems.”

6. Condoms

Never flush condoms — they are designed not to dissolve and that includes not dissolving in your home’s plumbing. There’s also the risk they’ll get trapped in a pipe bend, which makes them yet another thing you should never flush. Instead, wrap them in toilet paper and toss them in the trash.

7. Cooking Grease and Food

Do not flush leftovers or food scraps. Toilet systems are not designed to dispose of large, undigested chunks of food. When you flush them, the force of water is likely to cram them together at your pipe’s narrowest spot.

Don’t flush cooking grease or oils, either. Even though it goes into your plumbing like any other liquid, the cold water in your system makes it congeal. Over time, layers of congealed grease narrow your pipes. Then anything you flush will get caught on it and cause clogs.

8. Cigarette Butts

Cigarette butts don’t dissolve in water, as any walk along a busy street makes clear. In fact, their fibers swell when wet, so if you’re flushing cigarette butts to hide a secret smoking habit, you should know that you’re slowly clogging your plumbing system. Throw the butts in the trash, or kick the habit altogether.

9. Hair (Human or Pet)

Hair is another exception to the general rule about what’s safe to flush. The problem isn’t that it will immediately cause a clog, although that can happen. It’s also that flushed hair is likely to snag on buildup in your plumbing system, and other things will eventually snag on it, too. Over time, this leads to solid, compactig clogs. So, whether it’s yours or your pet’s hair, toss it in the trash or add it to your garden where it will help keep away pests and enrich the soil.

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  1. Add hairbrush hair to my garden! To keep away pests and enrich the soil! Who’da thunk? Little gems like that – combined with an amusing read – are why your blog is one of the few I read pretty consistently that always survives my periodic “why am I subscribed to this?” purge. Almost time for another go at that lemon blueberry cake….

    1. Katie Berry says:

      What a sweet thing to say, Judi! I’ve been waiting to hear about your latest twists on my Lemon Blueberry Bread recipe. There’s another one coming soon that I think you’ll enjoy playing with, too. 🙂