Watching little rubber balls swirl around the toilet bowl is a delight for many toddlers, but any adult witness will swiftly plunge his arm to the elbow to retrieve it. That’s because every homeowner knows that flushing small, hard items can cause messy toilet back-ups, yet any plumber will tell you that this isn’t the primary cause.
Most toilet back-ups are a result of consistent flushing of common household items by adults.
Check out these ten things that you should never flush down a toilet.
Hair, String, Floss
Hair, string, floss and other fibrous items do not easily dissolve in water. Flushed into the pipes, they can catch on items, tangle up, stick to the inner walls, and over time provide a netting to catch other non-biodegradable items into a solid, stubborn clog.
“Disposable” diapers are meant to be tossed in the trash, not flushed down the toilet. Designed to be absorbent, they’ll quickly swell and get stuck in the pipes.
Feminine Hygiene Products
These items are quite commonly the cause of toilet back-ups. Like diapers, they’re built to be absorbent which makes them a terrible threat to the pipes.
Baby Wipes, Paper Towels, Sanitary Wipes
The general rule of thumb is to never flush down the toilet anything that isn’t degradable. Toilet paper is thin and easily ripped for a reason: Once in water, it dissolves quickly, making for a swift and unimpeded ride through the sewage pipes.
Baby wipes, sanitary wipes, and even paper towels are designed to be stronger and tougher. They’ll only cause trouble if you flush them down the toilet.
Cotton Balls, Swabs, Make-Up Removal Pads
A cotton ball may seem fluffy and insubstantial, but it won’t quickly dissolve. Most likely, the tiny threads will get caught on something (say, a seine of hair and dental floss) and help build an ever-more-dense accumulation of non-degradable material.
Grease and Oil
Grease and oil disposal is a more common problem in a kitchen sink drain, but the theory still applies for toilets. Grease and oil can coat the walls inside the pipes, inviting accumulation that may lead to a clog.
Kitty Litter And Its Contents
Kitty litter isn’t easily biodegradable, no matter what the package says. Pouring large amounts of this granulate into the pipes is never a good idea no matter how many times you flush to try to push it into the sewage main. Furthermore, if the kitty litter is used and thus full of hard, dehydrated cat excrement, you may as well just add a few stones to the mix.
Band-Aids, Butts, And Bubble Gum
Bubble gum lasts forever, as any high school janitor knows. Imagine what those pink wads can do sticking to the inside of the pipes. Band-Aids are made of plastic and most cigarette butts are made cellulose acetate, a form of plastic, not meant to degrade quickly.
Technically, all food is biodegradable. But a toilet doesn’t have stomach acids that can break food down quickly. Feed bread to the ducks, take home a doggie bag, or just throw leftovers away.
Be careful of flushing bleach, other corrosive chemicals, or automotive fluids down the toilet because of the damage they can do to the pipes as well as the environment. When it comes to prescription drugs, it’s generally a bad idea to flush them away. Not all municipal water treatment systems are designed to remove the kind of chemicals found in many common prescriptions, so they’ll end up your local water supply. Check with your pharmacist, doctor, or a local medication collection site for specific requirements.
Outside of a complete sewage main backup, there aren’t many plumbing issues messier or more disruptive than a clogged toilet. A little knowledge and prevention can go a long way to avoiding the expense and the bother of this trouble altogether.