Regular toilet clogs can indicate a plumbing issue – but they can also be a sign that the wrong materials are being flushed down the toilet over and over again, building up problems. The wrong materials can also cause issues with local septic tanks, problems with larger sewer systems, and generally a lot of plumbing headaches.
If you’re looking for one simple rule, here it is: Only use the toilet for toilet paper and waste, period. Nothing else. If you want to dive into some specifics, here are the top items that every household really needs to avoid flushing, and why. We’ll also offer some tips below on how to fix a clogged toilet when it’s being stubborn!
1. Anything Made of Cotton
Cotton may not strike you as the sort of thing that would normally be flushed down a toilet anyway. But consider that bathrooms are frequently home to cotton balls, cotton pads used for hygiene purposes, and Q-tips, among other possible cotton culprits.
While cotton can be very absorbent, it does not play well with plumbing. Cotton fibers are tough and do not dissolve or become more compact in the way toilet paper does. That’s why cotton can easily become trapped in your pipes and create clogs, especially clogs further down in the system that may be hard to deal with.
2. Diapers and Baby Wipes
We know, items like disposable diapers smell and are annoying to deal with, but you should never, ever flush them down the toilet. They are bulky items that can absorb lots of water and expand to create serious blockages. They also won’t break down properly in the pipes or in septic systems, and often require expensive professional help to remove them. Get a sealed trash pail just for diapers instead.
On a closely related note, toss baby wipes into this trash receptacle, too, never flush them in the toilet. Yes, some baby wipes say “Flushable” on the package: Ignore this. Baby wipes do not act the same as toilet paper inside your toilet and can cause clogs no matter the type.
3. Other Hygiene Products of Any Kind
Never flush hygiene products in your toilet. We already mentioned cotton, but do not flush wipes of any kind when you’re finished with. The same goes for dental floss, band-aids, and disposal contacts. Likewise, do not flush feminine products like menstruation pads or tampons. All of these products can cause major clogs and are unhealthy for the septic system or sewer management as a whole.
The only hygiene product that should end up in a toilet is toilet paper itself. Otherwise, into the trash it goes. This is a great way to avoid serious toilet clogs that could have you calling a plumber for professional help.
Please do not flush condoms in the toilet! There’s usually a trash can right there in the bathroom, but there is certainly no part of a plumbing system that’s prepared to deal with condoms. Latex does not dissolve or degrade, so it can pile up in septic tanks or last all way into sewage treatment, where the plastic material can cause serious issues for the whole network. You don’t want that on your conscience, right?
5. Paper Towels or Tissues
Paper towels and tissues may feel a little like toilet paper, but they don’t act like it when you flush them down the pipes. These items stay together more easily think of the commercials that market paper towel durability and are just waiting to clog up an unsuspecting toilet.
6. Cat Litter
There are two very important reasons you shouldn’t be flushing cat litter down the toilet. First, cat litter is very dense and often refuses to move properly through the system. Even “flushable” cat litter isn’t really that flushable because it can still pile up in septic tanks and dehydrate waste or create chemical imbalances, leading to larger problems.
Second, larger municipal systems are also not prepared for cat litter, or even for cat waste, which may contain additional parasites that systems are not set up to handle. Scoop cat litter into cheap dog poop bags instead, and toss them.
While flushing pills down a toilet is a popular visual, it’s also a very bad idea. Plumbing systems can’t break down the chemicals found in medications properly, and waste treatment plants aren’t designed to handle them either. That means those chemicals quickly through a sewage system and can enter the environment, creating toxic conditions that pollute nearby water for flora and fauna alike. Use the normal trash for medications, or go to a drop-off site if you don’t want them in your home.
How to Clear a Clogged Toilet
All right, our list of banned toilet items may be helpful for the future, but if you’ve got a clogged toilet right now you’re probably focused on fixing it.
If the toilet is overflowing, turn off the water valve where it enters the wall behind the toilet. Now it’s time to get out a plunger and see if you can clear the clog. Plungers specifically made for toilets have something called a flange, or lower extrusion that’s designed to fit deep into the toilet bowl and form a tight seal. Find a plunger with a flange and insert it into the bowl to form this seal.
Plunger vigorously at least several times, then ease the plunger out and see if the toilet water is draining, indicating that the toilet clog is cleared. If the water level remains, then so does the clog. Try two or three sessions of the same plunging technique to see if you can force the clog apart.
If you’re wondering what to do when a toilet is clogged and your plunger just can’t make a difference, it’s time to call in a professional like Mr. Plumber to help with professional tools like drain snakes/augers to root out deeper problems.