Stop! That Won’t Flush
It’s happened to all of us. We’re in a rush and we just flush. Or we turn our back to a toddler for just a minute and find them flushing the toilet. The next thing we know, we have a clog. First we think, “What caused that clog?” Then, “how much is this going to cost and how long will it take to fix it?” We are sometimes tempted to use the toilet as a trash can and flush items that shouldn’t be flushed. We assume that our toilets are almost indestructible.
We’re fortunate to have clean, safe water in Austin. Municipal water sources provide cleaned waste water recycled from our sinks and toilets. But a lot happens to keep our faucets flowing with nice, clear water. Our used water is drained through pipes to the water treatment plant from our homes and businesses. The first step in cleaning our wastewater allows the solids to separate from the liquids. The solids are removed and then hauled to the landfill or incinerator. In the second stage, bacteria break down the remaining solids in the water. Then, chemicals and/or filters for additional clarification and the water is returned to the water cycle.
Water treatment is made more difficult for the sanitation workers and the equipment when inappropriate types of waste interrupt the treatment process. Flushing the unflushable items also wastes a lot of water and raises our water bill, not to mention the repair costs. So, what items should be flushed down our toilets?
The Top Ten Unflushable Items:
- Food – Since food does take time to decompose, it will collect other debris to cause clogs rather quickly. A pea or a few seeds won’t do much harm, but larger items, like lemon peels will cause problems. It’s best to compost food items or use your garbage disposal to grind up your leftovers
- Sanitary Items & Feminine Products including baby wipes, etc. – Baby wipes and wet wipes are made of a cloth like material. Don’t always believe the packaging, They aren’t all flushable. It takes quite some time for :f;ushab;e” wipes to dissolve. Feminine items are made of both natural fibers and plastics. They may decompose – eventually. All of these items should be placed in the trash.
- Paper/Natural Fibers (cotton swaps, paper towels) – These will decompose, but it may take months or even years. In the meantime they will clog your drains. These clogs have to be unblocked by hand. Send them to the landfill or compost pile.
- Metals (aluminum foil and cans, car parts) – Entire cars probably weren’t flushed down the toilet, but car parts have been found in the sewer pipes. These discarded parts have prevented other debris from passing through the pipes and caused huge clogs. Aluminum foil and cans are very common and should be sent to a recycling center.
- Construction Materials (paint, tile grout, plaster, etc.) – Paint can be highly toxic and should never be flushed into the water system. Paint viscosities can create problems when it joins with other trash and clumps of debris. Some construction materials, like sheetrock dust and tile grout, are heavy and will settle in pipe bends. This provides a base on which other debris can collect. These materials should be allowed to dry completely in their containers before discarding them. Check with your local sanitation department and recycling centers for disposal recommendations.
- Grease (from food, cars and goopy stuff in general) – Grease and fat from food will go down the drain easily while it is warm and flows easily. Once it cools, it congeals to form a solid, which will clog the pipes. Pour grease and fat into a paper or plastic container, allow them to cool and take them out with the trash and recycling. Some grocery stores have food grease collection stations. Motor oils, mechanical grease and similar materials should be recycled, if possible. Check with your local sanitation department for recycling locations or disposal recommendations.
- Medications/Syringes, etc. = Expired, unused or unwanted medications should not be flushed or poured down drains to dispose of them. This includes both prescription and over-the-counter medications in both liquid or pill form. Water treatment plants aren’t equipped to remove these chemicals from the water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends sealing them in plain, opaque plastic bags and sending them to the landfill. Syringes, etc. are a big problem. They are unhygienic and may pose a danger to sanitation workers and equipment. Again, send these in a safe, plain container to the landfill. Contact the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal or the Environmental Protection Agency for proper disposal recommendations.
- Plastics (army men, grocery bags, etc.) – These items can float to the surface or fill with air and other debris then clog pipes. These plastics can also harm animals and fish. Most plastics are not biodegradable Even if they are biodegradable, they may take centuries to dissolve. Plastic items should be taken to a recycling center.
- Pets – Not just goldfish and other aquarium creatures have ended up in the toilets, but hamsters and gerbils have also been “buried at sea”. A backyard burial ceremony with a few nice flowers is a much preferred option. Animals, such as alligators, snakes and even a badger have been found in the pipes surprising sanitation workers that then had to find a way to remove then.
- Other stuff that doesn’t flush – Don’t flush items such as dental floss and dentures, cigarette butts, or anything else that should be disposed of properly. Don’t play “Will it flush?” Despite the claims of toilet manufacturers about how well they flush, clogs will still happen and are expensive to repair.
Keep our pipes free from trash and chemicals in order to maintain our water treatment system. We can save money on our utilities and repair bills if we are conscious of how we dispose of our trash.
If you do have a necessary repair, contact a licensed plumber, like Abacus Plumbing, to correct the issue. It is not recommended to try to repair a clog with grocery store products, which can cause further damage. Liquid clog removers are intended for small clogs and can cause more harm than good.
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