Flushing paper towels down the toilet might, in the moment, seem like the easiest and most convenient way to dispose of them.
However, getting rid of paper towels (and other things that aren’t toilet paper, such as baby wipes or makeup wipes) by flushing them can cause many problems, from clogged toilets to environmental damage.
In this article, we’re going to be explaining what happens when you flush paper towels down the toilet and how to fix any problems caused by doing so.
We’ll also be recommending ways to get more use out of your paper towels so that you don’t need to dispose of them as often.
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Should You Flush Paper Towels?
The answer to the question ‘should you flush paper towels?’ is definitely ‘no.’
Flushing paper towels might not seem like a big deal, and it probably seems more convenient than putting them in your wastepaper basket.
On the surface, flushing paper towels appears to be an easy and quick way to get used paper towels out of your home so that you don’t have to deal with them anymore.
Unfortunately, disposing of paper towels in this way can have some unpleasant consequences for your plumbing as well as for the environment.
You may be wondering why it’s okay to flush toilet paper but not paper towels. This is a good question, but it has a simple answer.
If you feel a piece of toilet paper and a paper towel side by side, you’ll notice that the toilet paper is much lighter than thinner.
This is because paper towels are designed to be more absorbent and toilet paper is supposed to be thin so that it can disintegrate in water.
While the added thickness of paper towels is useful when it comes to cleaning up spills in your kitchen, for example, it means that they won’t break down when you flush them down the toilet.
This is why putting paper towels in the toilet and flushing them frequently results in clogged pipes.
If your plumbing gets completely blocked with paper towels, the water in your toilet might overflow (see also ‘ How To Stop An Overflowing Toilet ‘).
Even if it doesn’t, you may start to notice an unpleasant smell as waste gets trapped in the blockage over time.
Plumbing blockages are just one potential consequence of flushing paper towels down the toilet.
If the paper towels don’t get stuck and manage to make their way through your plumbing, they will eventually end up in the sea.
Since they won’t break down like toilet paper, they’ll contribute to ocean pollution, especially since many paper towels are treated with chemicals to help make them stronger and more absorbent.
So, in general, flushing paper towels down the toilet isn’t a good idea and will ultimately have consequences, even if you don’t witness them first-hand.
Unclogging Paper Towel Blockages
Once you’ve flushed paper towels, there’s not much you can do to undo the damage to the environment – besides resolving to stop disposing of your towels this way in the future and making sustainable choices moving forward.
However, if your paper towel flushing has resulted in a clogged toilet, there are a few ways you can go about resolving the problem. For example:
1. Get Out The Plunger
In our opinion, a plunger is something that every household should own.
Many people don’t think about buying a plunger until their toilet gets blocked, at which point, they really wish they had one!
If your toilet is blocked as a result of flushing paper towels, you may be able to fix the problem quickly and easily using a plunger.
2. Buy A Drain Cleaning Kit
A drain cleaning kit, also known as a clog removing kit, is something you can purchase relatively inexpensively through online retailers.
Alternatively, you may be able to purchase one at a hardware store near you.
The contents of a drain cleaning kit will vary depending on the manufacturer, and some contain more items than others.
However, most will feature a tool that looks like a long rod with some barbs sticking out of it.
The idea is to insert the rod as deep into the u-bend of your toilet as you can.
The barbs then catch on whatever is causing the blockage (in this case, paper towels) so that it can be dislodged.
3. Try An Auger
You probably don’t have an auger at home unless you’re a plumber by profession, but if your toilet is seriously clogged with the paper towels you’ve flushed, you might need one of these tools.
A plumbing auger is basically a flexible drill bit that can be inserted into the toilet.
It’s essentially a high-powered version of your average drain cleaning kit, and it’s very effective, which is why professional plumbers often use it.
However, if this clog is one of many you’ve had in your household, it might be worth investing in an auger for your personal use.
It might be an expensive purchase, but it’s better than having to eventually replace your entire toilet when it becomes irreparably blocked.
4. Hire A Plumber
If all else fails and your toilet remains clogged (see also ‘What Liquids Can You Use To Unclog A Toilet?‘) after trying a plunger, an auger, and a drain cleaning kit, you know you’ve got a serious blockage on your hands.
In these situations, it’s best not to try and unblock the toilet any further by yourself. Instead, you should call a plumber.
Obviously, everyone wants to avoid calling in a professional for a blocked toilet because plumbers cost money.
However, in some cases, it’s the only way to get rid of the blockage without causing damage to your toilet.
Calling a plumber can definitely get expensive and sometimes, your entire toilet bowl will need to be removed if the clogging is too severe.
That’s why we recommend trying all the options listed above first if you can.
How To Make Paper Towels Last Longer
One of the reasons people often choose to flush paper towels rather than disposing of them correctly is that they get through paper towels too quickly, leading to an accumulation of these towels in the trash can which then needs to be emptied more frequently.
Having to take out the trash constantly is definitely an annoyance, but even so, you don’t want to end up with a blocked toilet or contribute to environmental pollution.
Luckily, there is a third solution: using fewer paper towels.
If you rely on paper towels for most of your household cleaning, the idea of using less of them might be daunting, but don’t worry!
There are actually a couple of easy ways to make paper towels last longer and cut down on your usage overall, such as:
1. Using Smaller Squares
This is probably the most obvious way of cutting down on how many paper towels you are using.
However, when you’re used to taking several squares of paper towel at a time without really thinking about it, you might not even notice that you’re using more than you need.
Next time you spill a few drops of orange juice on your kitchen counter, it’s worth asking yourself whether you really need two or three squares of paper towel to mop it up.
In some cases, you might not even need to use a whole square!
If you fold a square of paper towel in half and slightly moisten the crease where you have folded it, you can easily tear off half of a square and use the other half another time.
2. Reusing Your Paper Towels
You might think that reusing paper towels sounds unhygienic, and in some cases, it can be.
Obviously, if you’ve cleaned up some chemicals, food, or wiped part of your body with a piece of paper towel, you should throw it away (in the trash!) and not reuse it.
However, if you spilled some water on your kitchen counter and used a paper towel to wipe it up, it’s absolutely fine to leave the towel somewhere to dry and reuse it later.
You can use most paper towel brands at least twice before they get worn out, and some are strong enough to be used three times, so as long as you haven’t transferred any dangerous or unhygienic substances onto a paper towel, you should do your best to use it again.
How Can I Dispose Of Paper Towels?
We’ve established that you shouldn’t flush paper towels down the toilet. But then how can you dispose of them?
The simplest way to get rid of your used paper towels is to simply put them in the trash can.
If you find yourself tempted to flush paper towels when you’re in the bathroom, make sure you have a trash can in that room so that it’s no extra effort to throw them away properly.
Depending on the chemicals in the paper towels and whether or not you have used them to clean chemical or food spills, you may be able to either recycle or compost your used paper towels.
Check the packaging to see if your paper towels are suitable for composting or recycling.
If they are, then as long as you haven’t exposed them to anything that might be damaging to the environment, you can put them on your compost heap or, as long as they’re free of food stains, in your recycling.
Flushing paper towels definitely isn’t a good idea because they don’t break down like toilet paper and will either clog your toilet or pollute the environment. Neither of these are good things.
Instead of flushing paper towels down the toilet, you should dispose of them in your trash, recycling, or compost.
If your toilet is blocked from flushing paper towels, you can try unblocking it yourself with a plunger, auger, or drain cleaning kit.
If none of these methods work, you will need to call a plumber.