Stop trying to flush your secrets — and other advice from plumbers (2023)

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The toilet should only be a receptacle for bodily waste and toilet paper. That’s it. Even less should go down a drain.

People’s refusal to follow these simple rules makes finding all manner of objects in people’s pipes routine for plumbers. “After so many years,” says David Mizrahi, owner of Capitol Handyman and Plumbing in Washington, “I don’t get surprised anymore.”

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Here are some of the most common situations that keep plumbers busy all day.

Your secrets

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Just because you flush something down the toilet or toss it down the drain doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. In fact, it could very easily come back to haunt your plumbing — and you.

“We know more about people than they know about their own spouses and kids,” says Shary Moxley, owner of Shary’s Plumbing in Monrovia, Md. “Believe me, we’ve pulled stuff out that other people were not aware was in that house. … If it could be found, we find it.”

Among the items people often try unsuccessfully to flush: Q-tips, dental floss and tampons. Also: condoms, underwear and other contraband that those doing the flushing presumably hope will disappear into the deep blue forever.

Mitch Smedley, owner of Smedley Plumbing in Blue Springs, Mo., once got a call from a woman who returned home after a few days away and found the toilet in the primary bathroom clogged. Smedley went there to auger the pipes and found that flushed condoms and feminine products were to blame. When the customer asked what had caused the blockage, he told her. “And her husband starts backing out of the room very slowly,” says Smedley.

Moxley says her teams have uncovered marital infidelity “multiple times.” Most often, it’s because of evidence flushed down the toilet, but different-colored hair pulled from drains has also led to drama. “Everyone has their secrets,” says Moxley. “If you want to keep yours, don’t try to flush it down the toilet.”

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In the land of bathroom drains, the biggest villain is hair. Once the strands get tangled into the drain, they trap soaps, shampoos and gels, building up into a clog. Your best bet is to prevent the hair from going down there in the first place with a drain protector that you can empty into the trash after each shower or bath.

If your drain is already clogged with hair, there are easy ways to try to fix it. You can get a tool called a “hair snake” — a long plastic device with barbs coming out of it — at just about any hardware store. Wind it down the drain and, when you pull it back up, it should bring gunky clumps along with it.

When customers tell Smedley they’ve got a slow-draining tub, he advises them to take the stopper off the drain, then check to see if there’s a knot of hair just beneath it. If the hair is visible, he tells them to stick a cotton swab into it and start twisting (he likens it to twirling a fork in spaghetti). It might take two or three swabs to get it all, but you’ll save yourself a visit from the plumber.

The bathroom sink is also vulnerable. When it comes to double vanities, says Smedley, “it’s usually the guy’s sink that gets plugged up with a whole bunch of sludge,” which he attributes to shaving cream and hair. The best way to avoid those clogs is to close the sink drain during a shave, then wipe up the refuse and throw it in the trash.


Drano (in excess)

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Some DIY solutions, though, can be quite problematic. Chemical drain cleaners such as Drano can work as a short-term fix for getting rid of a clog, but, because they’re so corrosive, they might cause leaks in the joints of pipes, or other long-term damage. If you use one of these products and still need to call a plumber, be sure to warn them: The liquid could still be in the plumbing line and lead to chemical burns on a worker’s hands, arms or face.

Plumbers also advise against toilet tablets, with chlorine or bleach as their active ingredient. These tablets, which often turn your toilet water blue, clean the porcelain and get rid of stains. But the chemicals can erode your toilet’s rubber seal and other inner workings. Some toilet manufacturers even void warranties if you use in-tank toilet cleaners.

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‘Flushable’ wipes

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One concern has floated to the top of the tank for plumbers over the past few years: “flushable wipes.” Turns out, they’re not so flushable. “They don’t dissolve like toilet paper does,” says Doug Wyman, owner of Wyman Plumbing and Mechanical in Phoenix. “They get caught up in the drain going down to the main city sewer and they cause a lot of problems.” The issue is especially pronounced in septic systems and older pipes.

“We tell our customers not to use them,” he says. “And if you do enjoy using them, then I wouldn't put them in the toilet.” Dispose of them in a lidded trash can instead.


Most food

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If your kitchen sink has a garbage disposal, you’re probably sending all kinds of food down the drain after each meal. But the name “garbage disposal” is deeply misleading, says Mizrahi. To ensure your disposal lasts, you should scrape leftover food into your actual garbage can or compost bin. He recommends a sink strainer to protect the drain from smaller pieces that come off dishes as you wash them. Really, he says, you should think of the disposal as a fail-safe for the stuff that accidentally gets down there, and not as a first resort.

And there are certain types of food you should try extra hard to keep out of the drain. Some of the biggest no-nos are fats, oils and grease; bones; stringy foods such as celery, onion skins, meats and anything else that can wrap around garbage disposal blades; and foods that expand, such as rice. Moxley says she doesn’t intentionally put anything in her own disposal other than juiced lemons, baking soda and vinegar to keep it fresh.

When food does wind up in your kitchen sink, plumbers advise running more water than you probably think you need. Try to introduce water into your disposal’s chamber before it fills with any waste, says Smedley, and “make sure that there’s copious amounts of water going down as you’re grinding the food.”

Deodorant caps, towels, toys — just close the lid!

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According to plumbers, people knock all sorts of random stuff into the toilet by accident — then try to flush. “Probably the most common is the cap of a stick of deodorant,” says Smedley. “As gross as it may sound, glove up and do what you have to do. … Because if you’re wondering if it could flush, it’s about to get really expensive.”

You can prevent the whole fishing expedition by keeping the toilet lid closed. (As a bonus, this will also prevent germs from blasting into the rest of your bathroom.) If you’ve got young children, consider toddler-proofing the lid. Another perennial find? Small toys flushed by kids. “That happens quite often,” says Smedley.

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Can you flush a toilet when the plumber is working? ›

How to flush a toilet when the water is shut off. Since the gravity-flush toilet does not run on any type of outside assistance, you can still use it if there is a water main break or the supply is off for a plumbing project. All you need is water in the tank to initiate a flush.

What are the common mistakes in plumbing? ›

These are the five biggest plumbing mistakes along with the best ways to avoid these common pitfalls.
  • Mistake 1: Mismatching Threaded Fittings.
  • Mistake 2: Skipping the Primer.
  • Mistake 3: Not Back-Holding.
  • Mistake 4: Using a Dull Tubing Cutter.
  • Mistake 5: Heating the Solder, not the Copper.
Jan 14, 2019

Are flushable wipes really flushable? ›

Be aware of wet wipes are marketed as flushable and septic-safe. Even though these wipes do eventually break down, they take a longer amount of time to do so compared to toilet paper. Since the breakdown of wet wipes isn't as rapid, clogged pipes and blockages occur more frequently.

Should plumbers clean up after themselves? ›

They'll clean up after themselves—but not after you.

Even though the process might be messy, good plumbers will leave your home exactly as they found it. “We want it to look just like it did when we got there,” says Chris Wallace, the owner of GFB Plumbing in Dallas.

Can I flush a toilet by pouring water into the bowl? ›

You can also flush by pouring water directly into the toilet bowl. Pour slowly at first, then quickly dump the water in to create enough pressure for a flush.

What things should you not flush down the toilet? ›

Never flush the following items down the toilet or pour them down a drain:
  • Automotive fluids*
  • Bandages and bandage wrappings.
  • Cleaning wipes of any kind.
  • Condoms.
  • Contact lenses.
  • Cotton balls and swabs.
  • Dental floss.
  • Disposable diapers.

What is the 135 rule in plumbing? ›

A clean-out is required at the junction between the building drain and the building sewer. A clean-out is required because this angle exceeds 135° (45°+45°+45°+45°=180°). service people to access clean-outs and also have room to work.

What is the average life of plumbing? ›

On average supply pipes that are brass, iron or steel can have a viable lifespan of 50-70 years; copper is 70-80 or more years. PVC piping has a shorter lifespan of fewer than 50 years.

What are 5 ways a pipe system can fail? ›

The common causes of pipe failure are corrosion, water velocity, clogging, movement, and extreme temperatures. To prolong its use, ensure that the appropriate class, grade, and material are used before installation. Also, consider the environmental elements present on the site to prevent problems in the future.

Which toilet wipes are really flushable? ›

Cottonelle® Flushable Wipes are 100% flushable.

Are Cottonelle wipes safe to flush? ›

They're flushable, plastic-free, alcohol-free wet wipes that will give you a refreshing clean. They get you cleaner and fresher than using toilet paper alone, for a shower-like feeling throughout the day. It might just be the thing you're missing in your bathroom routine.

Do dude wipes clog toilets? ›

Dude Wipes or any other type of wipes will clog a pipe when you overuse it. If you have no choice but to use an excessive amount, consider not flushing them.

How do plumbers deal with the smell? ›

If food or other smelly debris is trapped in the pipes, your plumber can use a hydro jet to wash it through. However, if the clog is caused by a broken or collapsed section of pipe, more extensive repairs will be needed.

What is the chemical smell after plumber? ›

You may notice a smell like that of new plastic during the pipe repair process. This odor may be caused by an ingredient that is used to make many types of plastics and resins, including many household products. This ingredient is called styrene.

What problems do plumbers face? ›

What Are The Most Common Plumbing Problems? The most common plumbing problems are clogged drains and toilets, leaky faucets and pipes, water heater issues, low water pressure, and a running toilet.

Will a gallon of water flush a toilet? ›

If your home is newer than "1994" it probably was equipped with toilets using 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Available on the market now, are toilets which use 1.28 gallons per flush. Using the same formula in the example, you can calculate the difference. 3.5 gallons per flush equals 23,520 gallons per year.

How dirty is toilet water after flushing? ›

Is The Water In The Toilet Dirty? The water in your toilet bowl is actually clean. Sure, it is full of bacteria, but that is because it contains sewage—which, by definition, is wastewater that contains human waste. However, the water itself is relatively clean and poses no health risk.

Should paper towels be flushed down the toilet? ›

DO NOT Flush These Items Down the Toilet: Disinfecting, Baby, or Flushable Wipes. Paper Towels. Facial Tissue/Napkins.

Why do guys flush condoms down the toilet? ›

Prophylactics, or condoms, are another common item many people flush down their toilets because it seems like the most convenient option for disposal.

Why you shouldn't flush the toilet with the lid up? ›

' Researchers say flushing with the lid up releases a so-called 'aerosol plume' – a big cloud of vapour particles that carry bacteria and other pathogens. Some of these particles can zoom straight into your face, land on your skin, or even come into contact with objects around the bathroom - including your toothbrush.

What is a 22 in plumbing? ›

Division 22 Plumbing captures the scope of work at a project site that extends from inside the footprint of a building or structure to, generally, a distance of five feet outside the building.

What is the rule of thumb for venting plumbing? ›

Vent pipes must be installed so they stay dry. This means they should emerge from the top of the drainpipe, either straight vertically or at no less than a 45-degree angle from horizontal, so that water cannot back up into them.

How often should plumbing pipes be replaced? ›

The lifespan for the most common residential plumbing systems are: Brass: 40 to 70 years. Copper: 50 or more years. Galvanized steel: 20 to 50 years.

How often do drain pipes need to be replaced? ›

You can expect your sewer line to last a minimum of 60 years (as is often with an older home), or longer depending on the material the pipes are made from. For example, the oldest homes may have pipes made from hardened clay (discontinued) and generally last about 50 - 60 years.

What pipes last about 100 years? ›

Lead: Lead pipes can last up to 100 years. However, if there is even a chance you have lead pipes in your home, YOU NEED TO REPLACE THEM IMMEDIATELY.

What are the major causes of failure of pipes? ›

Pipeline Failure Causes
  • Corrosion.
  • External Corrosion.
  • Internal Corrosion.
  • Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC)
  • Selective Seam Corrosion (SSC)
  • Excavation Damage.
  • Natural Force Damage.
  • Other Outside Force Damage.
Nov 26, 2018

What is the main cause of major loss in pipes? ›

Major losses occur due to the friction effect between the moving fluid and the walls of the pipe. The minor losses occur due to any disturbance that might occur to the flow, which is mainly caused by the installed fittings on the pipeline.

What are the three basic piping systems? ›

There are three different types of plumbing systems; sanitary drainage, stormwater drainage and potable water.

Is Charmin septic safe? ›

Is Charmin septic safe? Yes. Charmin is septic safe and thoroughly tested to ensure it will settle in a septic tank and then undergo biodegradation in the tank.

Can I use flushable wipes after I pee? ›

Sometimes, it may even result in either inflammation or infection. And you should only use unscented wipes to clean the vagina after urinating. The scented wipes can increase the chances of irritation and inflammation of the skin of vulva and vagina.

Do you use flushable wipes before or after toilet paper? ›

Using moist toilet tissue first to clean, then using toilet paper to pat the area dry afterward. Using dry toilet paper to wipe, then following up with a flushable wet wipe for a more thorough clean and a refreshing feeling.

Do plumbers recommend flushable wipes? ›

Compared to regular toilet paper, flushable wipes take longer to break down and dissolve in water, putting your home plumbing systems at risk of clogs. Our plumbers caution homeowners from flushing flushable wipes down the toilet for the following two reasons. Dissolvability.

How long do flushable wipes take to break down? ›

They Don't Break Apart

Unlike toilet paper that usually breaks apart in about 24 hours or so, wet wipes will remain whole even when flushed down the bowl. Many plumbing experts would agree that wet wipes have been found intact within drain pipes even after months of being flushed.

Are baby wipes flushable? ›

A frequently asked question is: Are baby wipes flushable? The short answer is no. Baby wipes are NOT flushable unless explicitly stated on the package. That's because many brands of baby wipes contain plastic.

Are DUDE Wipes plumber approved? ›

DUDE Wipes are flushable pursuant to the INDA GD4 international flushability guidelines. Check out all 39 thrilling pages of the GD4 Guideline here! Our wipes are made with 99% water and plant-based fibers that begin to breakdown when flushed per the GD4 standards in sewer or septic systems.

Do moist toilet wipes blocked drains? ›

Wipes and other so-called disposable products are the main cause of sewer blockages and emergency call outs to sewage pumping stations. A 2011 study showed that baby wipes and other items not suitable for flushing down toilets made up a substantial proportion of blockages.

Are there any septic safe flushable wipes? ›

Nolla Flushable Wipes, 100% Plant-Based, Plastic-Free and Biodegradable - Septic and Sewer Safe - Unscented + Soothing Aloe and Vitamin E 360 Count (6 Packs of 60)

Do plumbers get covered in poo? ›

I explained that I didn't unblock drains and her immediate response was “Well what do you do?” I smiled because it is a common misconception that plumbers get covered in poop and whizz all day, but while the effluent is a by-hazard of the job, generally most plumbers don't get covered in it – in fact they try to avoid ...

How do I stop my P trap from smelling? ›

To eliminate odors coming from a dry p-trap, pour half a gallon of water into the trap to restore the barrier. It will prevent the odors from seeping through the drain. Another helpful method is to add a cup of white vinegar bleach to get rid of larvae and slow down the evaporation.

Why does my plumbing smell at night? ›

One of the most common issues of drain odor is due to blockages and clogs. Any type of blockages, whether they are partial or full, can prevent waste water from properly leaving your home. Over time, this stagnant water sitting in the pipes can build up bacteria and produce pungent odors throughout the night.

Why does my house smell after plumbing work? ›

Your plumbing system contains certain features that help seal out gases from your home. If these seals dry out or become loose, that could explain the foul sewage odors you're smelling. Check the following seals: Water traps: Called P-traps or S-traps, these winding pipes exist below every drain in your house.

What chemical smells under bathroom sinks? ›

If an odor is coming from your drain or bathroom water, it might be because of sulfur. To be specific, hydrogen sulfide gas creates the unpleasant smell. It is produced because of bacteria and can be in places such as the ground, the sewage, and/or contaminated water and pipes.

What chemical cleans smelly drains? ›

One option for how to clean smelly drains is to use a combination of 1 litre of boiling water, 1 cup of white vinegar and 2 cups of baking soda. Pour the baking soda down the drain, followed by the boiling water to dissolve it. Add the vinegar and insert the drain plug.

Is being a plumber hard on the body? ›

The career is physically demanding

Plumbers spend a lot of time on their feet, bending, crawling, and carrying heavy equipment. While this helps them to stay active, the physical demands can take a toll on the body especially for those who have health issues.

What disease is associated with plumber? ›

These illnesses include COPD and Asthma, something that many in the construction industry will face throughout their careers. Although these are common risks within this sector, there are preventative measures that can be taken to avoid or decrease the risks.

Why do plumbers make so much? ›

Plumbers Are Highly Skilled

Just as not everyone could do your job, not everyone can be a plumber. Professional plumbing requires a set of unique skills and knowledge that come more naturally to some people than others, and when you hire a plumber, you're paying for their expertise in their field.

Can you still flush the toilet if the power is out? ›

They aren't directly affected when the power goes out, provided water is still flowing and your waste system doesn't rely on electricity. As long as the water disappears down the drain and the tank refills, there's no reason not to flush.

What happens if you flush the toilet while someone is taking a shower? ›

You see, balancing valves balance the water pressure, both hot and cold. So, if you're taking a shower and someone flushes a toilet, the valve will adjust accordingly and the water temperature won't fluctuate.

Should you let contractors use your toilet? ›

Your bathroom is one of the most personal places in your house, so it makes sense that you may have reservations about who uses it. However, it's good etiquette to allow contractors to use your bathroom while they're working.

Do I need to call a plumber for clogged toilet? ›

If you have tried corrosive chemicals to remove the clog and it didn't work, it's also time to call a plumber for your clogged toilet. Those caustic chemicals can damage your toilet or pipes if they are continually exposed to them.

What does putting downy in toilet tank do? ›

When dumped in the toilet tank, it's very likely that too much softener could loosen some pieces and pipes, and ultimately ruin the mechanics of your toilet's flushing system.

Why do you fill a bathtub with water during a power outage? ›

Homeowners with private wells should save as much water as possible since their well will not work if the power is out. Fill the bathtub with water to be used for toilet flushing during a loss of power.

Why you should not always flush the toilet after urinating? ›

It gunks up your toilet bowl faster

Urine and hard water deposits leave hardened mineral deposits around your toilet bowl over time. These deposits form faster when you let pee sit around.

Should you flush while someone is showering? ›

Don't flush the toilet when someone is in the shower.

However, even the most courteous family member can forget on occasion, so don't be surprised if you still get an occasional blast of hot water while showering.

What is the OSHA toilet rule? ›

Employers must: Allow workers to leave their work locations to use a restroom when needed. Provide an adequate number of restrooms for the size of the workforce to prevent long lines. Avoid imposing unreasonable restrictions on restroom use.

Is it illegal to tell an employee they can t use the bathroom? ›

Giving Bathroom Restrictions the Business

While there is no federal law that specifies the number or length of bathroom breaks an employer must provide, restricting bathroom use unreasonably can lead to lawsuits and even all-out labor disputes with picketers and media.

Can you contract anything from sitting on a public toilet? ›

Yes, there can be plenty of bugs lying in wait in public restrooms, including both familiar and unfamiliar suspects like streptococcus, staphylococcus, E. coli and shigella bacteria, hepatitis A virus, the common cold virus, and various sexually transmitted organisms.

How do professional plumbers unclog toilets? ›

In case the matter is more serious plungers do not work anymore and at this point of time plumbers come up with a much stronger instrument known as the toilet auger or toilet snake. This is a cable-like tool that plumbers twist in deep into the toilet to the clog. This is a kind of device to loosen the clog.

How do plumbers unblock toilets? ›

Plungers are the plumber's favourite tool as they can be used to unblock waste pipes of all kinds. Plungers are highly effective provided the blockage is not solid.

Does a clogged toilet count as an emergency? ›

A clogged sink or toilet is not an emergency. However, it is a maintenance emergency if the whole plumbing system is clogged.


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