The 8 worst things to flush down your toilet
You’d be surprised what people will flush down their toilet. If asked why they do that, they likely would justify that flushing something besides human waste down the toilet is harmless. They throw an item in, flush the toilet and away it goes never to be seen again.
But is that ‘harmless’ item really truly gone for good or is there a chance it could lead to bigger problems. Ask experts in waste management, who have to deal with the mess when these so-called ‘flushable’ items become a nuisance, and they will tell you a different story. Many common items we may innocently flush down the toilet can cause serious issues with clogging plumbing systems, overflows and can threaten the safety of our water supply as well as aquatic life. The only things that should be disposed of and flushed down a toilet is human waste (urine and feces) and toilet paper.
Here is a “No-flush” list of common items that end up in our sewer systems but have no business being there. These items can be some of the worst offenders to serious harm to our waterways and should instead, be disposed of in a trash can.
1. “Flushable wipes” – Wet wipes are great to have around the house or in a car when needed but should never be flushed down the toilet. That is because they really don’t break down and disperse. Instead, when flushed down toilets, they can combine with other waste in the system to form giant blobs of indestructible detritus. The city of New York alone has estimated that $18 million has been spent dealing with the improper disposal down a toile of wet wipes between 2010 and 2015.
2. Paper towels – You may reason if it’s okay to flush toilet paper down the toilet, paper towels should be okay too, right? Wrong. You should never flush paper towels, napkins, or any other paper products. Toilet paper is specifically designed to disintegrate once you put it into water. However, other types of paper will just get wet and soggy in water without disintegrating completely, which is why it’s not a good idea to flush them down the toilet. They could cause clogs in pipes, even if you only flush them occasionally.
3. Dental floss – You may never consider that something so small as dental floss to be a problem throwing it into the toilet after use. Yet floss threads are nearly indestructible and can gum up septic and municipal sewer systems and pumping stations as they snag other materials in their way, creating a knotty mess.
4. Hair – Never flush hair down the toilet – put it in a wastepaper basket instead. Human hair can get caught up in the machinery of septic system pumps. Hair also can combine with other material to create clumps that block pipes, especially at joints where they bend.
5. Cigarette butts – Smokers may be tempted to flick that used cigarette into a toilet but keep in mind, they contain toxic chemicals and are not biodegradable. Not a good fit for keeping waterways clean and healthy.
6. Disposable contact lens – Up to one in five contact lens wearers will flush their contact lens down the toilet or sink instead of in a trash can. Each year, 7 to 11 tons of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the U.S. alone, contributing to growing “micro-plastic pollution” of our waterways.
7. Expired or unused medications – Medications, old or not, should never be disposed of by flushing down the toilet. The chemicals in these medications can end up in waterways where they can harm fish, and in drinking water. The best way to dispose of expired or unused medication it to take them to a pharmacy or a store that participates in the government’s National Prescription Day Take Back Day program (takebackday.dea.gov). If there is no take-back day near you, the FDA advises mixing the medication with coffee grounds, kitty litter, or anything else that is utterly unpalatable. Then seal it in a disposable container like a plastic baggie and throw it in a trash can.
8. Other things not to flush – Sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms, cotton makeup balls and pads, and bandages.