What Happens to Things that You Flush Down the Toilet?

Jeff Palady
Vice President
Master Plumber

Website

When it comes to our plumbing, we usually take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach when it comes to things that go down the drain or toilet. Once we don’t seeit anymore, we don’t thinkabout it anymore. But those foreign objects you flush down the toilet go somewhere—and in some cases they’re still lurking in your pipes, on the verge of causing a major sewer backup. While it’s not generally pleasing to visualize, let’s talk about what happens when you flush something down the toilet.

The Sewer System

When things are working as they should, when you flush the toilet, your waste exits through your drain pipes, which then empty into the sewer system. Eventually this sewage makes its way to your local wastewater treatment plant, where it goes through a variety of steps for treatment and waste removal. Anything that is biodegradable (e.g., toilet paper) will break down naturally, but other objects that shouldn’t be flushed (like napkins and used feminine products—yuk!) will have to be manually removed and disposed of.

That is, if they make it all the way to the treatment plant.

You see, anywhere along the system of pipes, this debris can accumulate and eventually cause clogs and backups that affect multiple homes. And sometimes, if the foreign object is big enough, it never actually leaves your home. It stays lodged in the pipes underneath your house, and even though it might not cause a backup for weeks or months, if enough objects pile up around it, you’ll know it right away. At this point, you have to call a plumber to clear out the sewage and repair any damage to the pipes, which can be an expensive proposition.

What Not to Flush

As you can probably tell, flushing the wrong things down a toilet not only can affect your own plumbing, but also potentially an entire community, as well as the environment itself. Here’s a list of common things many people think are safe to flush, but really aren’t:

  • Napkins or paper towels.
  • Feminine hygiene products (including tampons).
  • Wet wipes.The package might say they are flushable, but they are known to cause problems.
  • Cotton balls or Q-tips.While cotton is technically biodegradable, it won’t degrade fast enough, and it can cause clogs.
  • Pills and drugs.Those TV dramas that show people flushing drugs down the toilet are sending the wrong message. You might be doing an intervention for someone you love, but those drugs will eventually affect groundwater, wildlife and the environment.

So…what canyou flush down the toilet? Human waste and toilet paper.That’s basically it. Anything else can eventually bring grief to you, your family or your community. Take care of your plumbing—and take care of your environment—by flushing only what should be flushed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Palady, RMP is the Vice President and co-owner of Budget Rooter Plumbing & Drain Cleaning.  This family owned plumbing company has been serving their customers for more than 25 years, and makes customer service and quality of work their priority.

Jeff started working in the field at the age of fifteen under the tutelage of his father, who owned a Philadelphia-based plumbing and drain cleaning company.  At the age of eighteen, Jeff and his mother decided to open their own shop in their home state of Delaware.  For the first few years, Jeff was Budget Rooter’s only field technician, and was often out on calls until late at night while going to school to earn his Master’s License.  As Budget Rooter grew, Jeff trained new technicians, researched and purchased the best equipment, and today he manages the operations of the company.

Known for being dedicated to Budget Rooter, Jeff is one of the first to arrive in the morning and is usually the last to leave.  In his spare time, Jeff enjoys fishing, modifying his truck, and spending time with his wife and two sons.  

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