Fix-It Friday: To Flush or Not To Flush… Things You Should NEVER Put Down Your Toilet, Drain, Or Garbage Disposal

Cat_lying_in_a_toilet_bowl
Fix-It FridayHome Improvement 12 Comments

In a previous Fix-it Friday column, I wrote about how to unclog a toilet, which got me to thinking… an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or a quart of Liquid Plumr.

Back when I did a lot of plumbing work with my cousin Sal in Brooklyn, I unclogged more toilets, clean-outs, shower drains, sewer mains etc. than I can count. It never ceased to amaze me the things we’d find in waste lines.

I think the funniest of all colossal-clogs was in an Italian Mama’s house. She dumped leftover Sunday Sauce down her toilet, whole sausages and all! When we asked her why, she explained dumping old food in the toilet avoided her trash bins from getting a puzza (stink). Bless her heart…

So this one’s for you nonna! Here’s my hit list of things you should NEVER put down your toilet, drain, or garbage disposal.


Flushing Faux Pas

  • White toilet bowl and boots (Clipping path)Tampons: I know some are packaged as “flushable,” but trust me, I’ve seen inside enough pipes, especially in older homes, to know they’re all little trouble makers. That goes for the applicator AND plug part. Instead, wrap it up in TP and throw it in the garbage. (ps – while we’re on the topic, I recently did some Tam-pondering, so be sure to check out what I just discovered about tampons… the good, the bad, and the bloody.)
  • Hair: Folks know about trying to keep hair out of shower drains, but they don’t hesitate throwing clumps of hair in the toilet. Don’t! It will make it down the toilet drain, but will eventually become part of the stuff that clogs things down the waste line.
  • Food: Like the Italian Mama I mentioned above, it’s understandable why you’d want to throw liquidy-smelly food down the toilet, but only do so if it’s soft like baby-food and NOT greasy.
  • Paper Towels: Especially the very thick ones, they won’t break down and will end up causing a clog.
  • Wipes: And this goes for wipes of any kind, even make-up. They may say “flushable,” but I’ve seen how they can wad up and create blockages in pipes. Avoid!
  • Cat Liter: Again, I don’t care what the label may read, don’t do it.
  • Condoms
  • Cigarettes
  • Cotton Swabs/Pads/Balls

Down the Drain DON’Ts

  • grease canGrease: The worst clogging culprit of all! Pour off fat in a jar, not the sink! We keep a fat-jar in the fridge then dump it in the garbage when it’s full. This goes for any kind of fat – butter, lard, shortening, oil, etc.
  • Food Scrapings: They seem harmless enough, but will build up over time! Scrape all food particles in the garbage.
  • Chemicals: This is more of an environmental warning. Any chemicals, paints, turpentine, nail polish remover, anti-freeze, etc. is best collected, then brought to your local disposal site.
  • Medications: Another environmental concern. Keep meds out of our water supply.
  • Coffee Grinds
  • Tea Leaves
  • Eggshells

Garbage Disposal DON’Ts

  • garbage disposalStringy or Thick, Fibrous Peeled Fruits and Veggies: Celery, banana skins, asparagus, corn husks, artichokes, etc.
  • Ice: There’s a myth about ice cleaning and sharpening blades. Truth is there are no “blades” in a garbage disposal and manufacturers don’t advise grinding ice anyway.
  • Coffee Grinds or Tea Leaves: You’d think this would be ok, but large amounts of grinds or leaves can clog up the trap.
  • Any Food that Expands When Wet: Rice, pasta, bread, cereal, etc.
  • Eggshells
  • Bones
  • Grease
  • Non-food items

On a final note, you may be able to get away with a few no-no’s here and there, but believe me when I tell you, long term dumping and flushing fouls will set you up for failure and a date with a plumber… which is fine as long as he/she’s buying, and has spectacular glutes in the likely event of plumber’s crack.

Norma sig


Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.

Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.

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  • Jean B.

    As always, Norma, great tips. Most kitchen sinks today come with strainers that can be removed and can also be locked so the sink can hold water. I found that this type of strainer never really worked at keeping little food items from going down into the drain. I recently bought an Oxo sink strainer that works like magic. It has a chrome outer rim and a rubber center with very small holes. It fits into the sink perfectly. The water goes down really well, AND the food particles stay in the strainer. Then I simply take it out and dump what is in it into the garbage pail. And it was only about $7.00!!

    • Norma

      Jean B. Love this product tip!!! I’m gonna check it out now!
      Thanks for the kudos AND thank YOU for the tip!

  • APS

    This is great information! Norma… what’s the deal with not putting eggshells down the garbage disposal? I think this is one habit that’s going to be hard to break in our household.

    • Norma

      Hey APS! Glad you like the info!
      Here’s the deal about eggshells…or anything that will grind to a very small size and stay that way for a while…over time they will get stuck in places, little nooks and crannies, and give something for other drain debris to stick to, kinda like a mortar! So there’s the potential pipe problem.
      Then, depending on the horsepower, age, and quality of your disposal, copious eggshells can be tough on the system and age it prematurely.
      As I point out in the article, you can get away with it here or there, but on a regular, not a good idea. If your home, pipes, and disposal are new, you’ll be fine for a while. Older, cloggier, weaker said articles…well you get my point!
      Gosh, home plumbing is so much like human plumbing!!!

  • TheDrainGuy

    Terrific article. We have some similar items on our list and some helpful links @ http://thedrainguysnj.com/kitchen-drain-cleaning.html

  • Only flush down poo, pee and (toilet) paper! I´ve invented a product, Baaggi.com, to help women dispose of sanitary products, and save the Environment, and I am now raising money to produce it. Please visit my project at Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chricko/baaggi-for-women-and-the-environment

  • Jean B.

    As always, great tips, Norma. My husband is very concerned about hair clogging the bathroom drains so he purchased a very simple metal screen that clips onto the shower drain and a “cap” that slips over the pop-up bathtub drain. Both of these do a great job of catching the hair before it goes into the drain, and neither looks bad. After seeing how much hair gathers on both after we shower, I am really glad he purchased them. Our drains would have gotten clogged in no time.

  • APS

    This is great
    information! Norma… what’s the deal with not putting eggshells down the
    garbage disposal? I think this is one habit that’s going to be hard to break in
    our household.

    • Norma

      Hey APS! Glad you like the info! Here’s the deal about eggshells…or anything that will grind to a very small size and stay that way for a while…over time they will get stuck in places, little nooks and crannies, and give something for other drain debris to stick to, kinda like a mortar! So there’s the potential pipe problem. Then, depending on the horsepower, age, and quality of your disposal, copious eggshells can be tough on the system and age it prematurely. As I point out in the article, you can get away with it here or there, but on a regular, not a good idea. If your home, pipes, and disposal are new, you’ll be fine for a while. Older, cloggier, weaker said articles…well you get my point! Gosh, home plumbing is so much like human plumbing!!!

  • Happy with no disposal

    Norma, We recently moved into a brand new house and the kitchen came equipped with a waste disposal. I know I am probably one of the few people in the world that does not like them so I had my husband totally remove it. As you said above, you really cannot put everything down them because the drains will become clogged. So my theory is that if I cannot put what I want down it, then why have it. Besides, I gained a lot of room under my kitchen sink.

  • Eileen

    Kitchen sinks today come with strainers that can be removed and can also be locked so the sink can hold water. I found this type of strainer never really worked at keeping tiny food particles from going down into the drain. I recently saw an Oxo sink strainer that works like magic. It has a chrome outer rim and a rubber center with very small holes. It fits into the sink perfectly. The water goes down really well, and the food particles stay in the strainer. Then I simply take it out and dump what is in it into the garbage pail. It only cost me about $7.00!! Well worth it!

  • Pingback: Things that Often Do but Should Never be Flushed Down the Toilet Drain | Guide to Home Plumbing()

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