Avoid clogged pipes and costly repairs with these tips on what to stop flushing down the drain.

By Jessica Bennett
April 06, 2020
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Toilets are a modern-day convenience that take care of human waste, but they're not so great at disposing of other items. Flushing certain household products, instead of tossing them in the trash, can clog drain pipes, contaminate the water system, or even cause environmental damage. According to the public utility company American Water, your pipes are only four inches in diameter at their widest, which means even small, seemingly harmless items can cause major plumbing problems. Hiring a professional to snake your clogged drain can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention the expense of repairing water damage caused by an overflowing toilet. Prevent a plumbing emergency (and a costly bill) with these tips on what can and can't go down the drain.

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1. "Flushable" Wipes

Although the package might state otherwise, flushable wipes should not go down the toilet, according to American Water. Because these wipes do not break down quickly, they can easily get stuck in drains and cause clogs. Keep a lined trash can in your bathroom and dispose of wipes there instead.

2. Paper Towels and Tissues

If you've run out of toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues are not a suitable substitute (at least not for your drain). These paper products were designed to absorb water, not dissolve in it like toilet paper, so they're more likely to block up your pipes, according to J. Blanton Plumbing in Chicago. Always dispose of paper towels and tissues in the garbage, not the toilet.

3. Too Much Toilet Paper

Not only is it wasteful, using too much toilet paper can lead to major plumbing issues. Large wads of toilet paper are difficult to flush and can easily cause a clog in small pipes. To avoid toilet troubles, use only what you need next time you head to the restroom.

4. Cotton Balls, Rounds, or Swabs

Although cotton balls, rounds, and swabs might seem small enough to flush, they can cause big problems inside your pipes. When flushed, these cotton products do not break down in the water; instead, they tend to build up inside pipelines. According to Hubbard Plumbing in New York, this can result in blockages and even bent or broken pipes.

5. Feminine Products

Tampons, sanitary pads, and other feminine products are designed to absorb liquid and, in some cases, expand to several times larger than their original size. According to Green's Plumbing of California, these products can swell up with water when flushed and block pipes that lead to the sewer or septic system, causing toilet water to back up and overflow. To be safe, always dispose of feminine products in the trash.

6. Dental Floss

Usually made of nylon or Teflon, dental floss does not break down easily in water and can build up over time if flushed. According to American Water, the floss can wrap around other items flushed after it, creating even larger clumps that can clog sewers and pipes. After practicing good dental hygiene, toss your floss in the trash.

7. Hair

Similar to dental floss, sending hair down the drain can cause larger problems later on, experts at American Water note. Hair tends to stick to the inside of pipes, leading to build-up and clogs over time. Don't flush large clumps of hair down the toilet, and use drain covers to protect your shower and sink drains.

8. Bandages

Some bandages are made of non-biodegradable plastic, which can pollute water systems when flushed down the toilet. The sticky adhesive can also adhere to other items, resulting in a larger clog. Avoid these issues by disposing of bandages in a garbage can.

9. Medications and Other Hazardous Materials

To help prevent water pollution, never flush medications or potentially hazardous household materials (such as paint and some cleaning products, including cleaners for ovens, windows, and tile) down the toilet. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the best way to dispose of unused or expired medicine is to drop it off at a drug take-back site. For household hazardous waste, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests locating a collection program in your community that can help you recycle or dispose of the materials safely.

10. Cigarette Butts

Cigarettes are another waste item that can introduce potentially harmful chemicals into the water system and harm wildlife, note the experts at Hubbard Plumbing. Plus, cigarette butts don't always go down the drain after flushing, leaving an unpleasant surprise for the next person to use the bathroom. After safely extinguishing them, dispose of cigarettes in the trash.

11. Fats, Oils, or Grease

As a rule, you shouldn't flush food down the toilet at all, but fats, oils, and grease can be especially problematic for drains. Although these ingredients might start in liquid form, they can solidify and attach to the interior lining of your pipes, according to American Water. This can block other items from passing, causing a blockage. After cooking, allow fats, oils, and grease to cool completely and solidify before throwing the remains in the trash.

12. Kitty Litter

Unlike human variety, feline waste should never go in the toilet, according to experts at Green's Plumbing. Flushing cat litter or waste down the toilet can introduce potentially harmful parasites into the water supply, while the litter can absorb water and clog pipes. Always bag and dispose of cat litter and waste in the trash.

It's important to remember that a toilet is not a replacement for your garbage can. Protect your plumbing by following these guidelines, and when in doubt, throw it in your trash rather than flushing.

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