My wife and I attended a birthing class when she was pregnant with our first child. Never being parents before we found these classes very insightful. We were told about the usual dos and don’ts, and some products and techniques that would help us care for our newborn son. One topic during a particular evening session was diapers and all the different options.
Samples were shown and passed around the class. One disposable diaper of note was labeled “flushable”. ‘It says so right here on the package”, the instructor explained, as it made its way around the room.
Because I am who I am, managing a company with a plumbing department, it made me smile. It is well known among our plumbers that most of these so called “flushable” items often end up being the very thing we pull back with our cable from a clogged drain.
Many items these days are marketed to the consumer as “flushable” and/or considered safe to flush by the consumer. Some of these being; cat litter, disposable diapers, feminine napkins, baby wipes, etc. In reality, even though they may flush down a toilet, it’s frequently the end of the journey. More often than not, they get hung up in a drain and can cause the building to back up. Furthermore, they can damage pump systems and city sewers and your local Waste Water Treatment Plant may not be equipped to handle and treat some of these items.
It takes several things working together for a toilet to flush completely out to the city sewer. Among them are:
1) Proper grade. Lines that are flat or back graded simply cannot flow matter completely towards the city sewer. However, lines that are graded too much can increase the flow to the extent that the water and solids separate from each other, leaving solids behind that could potentially cause a clog.
2) A line free of defect. Common defects are; age deterioration, a belly or slump in the line, line breakage, and root intrusion from trees or plant life. These problems can cause matter to get hung up in a drain and eventually build a blockage. Flushing the wrong items down the toilet can increase the odds of blockage dramatically.
3) A well engineered toilet. In the age of low water consumption, reducing the gallons per flush (GPF) has also lead to a poor quality flush for many brands. A toilet with a lesser flush and poor evacuation may need several flushes to evacuate properly (then how could it possibly be considered a low flushing toilet?), could cause a clog or incomplete evacuation within the toilet itself, and impede complete drainage to the main sewer. We always recommend a professional grade toilet to greatly reduce and/or eliminate clogs within the fixture.
5) Installed Per Code and Manufacture Instructions. Drains sized improperly, vented incorrectly, installed wrong and/or with the wrong material all add to poor drainage. Fixtures, including toilets, have to meet certain code requirements and be installed per the requirements of the manufacturer. Deviation from this can cause trouble down the road…and down the drain.
4) Free from misuse and/or abuse. Your building drain is designed for a certain function and capacity. Flushing the wrong items down the toilet, could damage the drain. Most building drains were not designed to handle garbage down a toilet. The minor convenience of quickly removing trash will be trumped by the major inconvenience and expense of a clogged toilet or worse; a clogged building drain.
Often when a drain clogs, even with “flushable” items, there is usually another reason for the backup beyond something just getting stuck in the drain. The question we always want to ask is; why did it get stuck in the first place? For this reason we often recommend an inspection of the building drain with a sewer camera after the drain is cleared. This visual inside your sewer line can help determine defects in the drain, and offer the correct solution before starting any other kind of repair.
Clearing a drain is great! There’s nothing like being able to flush your toilet again, and removing the smell of sewage from your home. But clearing a clogged building drain without knowing if there is a unresolved problem with the drain itself, leaves the potential that this same problem could reoccur… an experience that no one wants to relive.
It’s not only important to consider the proper use of your own drains, but also the capability of your local waste water treatment plant to handle and treat some of these items. So what can we flush down the toilet? When I use to be out in the field, my mantra to those with a clogged toilet or building drain was simple; if it isn’t toilet paper or didn’t come from your body… don’t flush it down the toilet! It’s easy enough to remember and well worth sharing with renters, employees, … and even your own family.
To learn more about what can go down your drain and what belongs in the trash, contact your local waste water treatment utility. Here’s a link to King County and their recommendations.
Bruce Davis Jr.
Bruce is a second generation plumber and HVAC technician. He earned his Commercial Plumbing License and later became N.A.T.E. Certified and E.P.A. Refrigerant Certified for HVAC service and repair for commercial and residential HVAC appliances. Bruce has years of experience as an HVAC Technician, Boiler Technician, and Plumber. He is now General Manager for the company he has been with his entire career and oversees the Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning business for Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.