Raise your hand if you’ve never: 1) used paper towels in the bathroom, and 2) simply tossed them into the toilet.
Sadly, this is often followed by 3) pulling your hair out because the toilet backed up. So no, flushing paper towels isn’t a good idea!
Paper towels don’t belong in the toilet as they don’t break down like normal toilet paper. They can’t dissolve in there and can clog your toilet pipes, causing a weird odor in your bathroom.
Think of it this way. They are good for your kitchen precisely because they won’t fall apart when wet.
In other words, what makes them your best friend in the kitchen is exactly what makes them the pipes’ worst enemy!
Why Flushing Paper Towels Isn’t Safe
If you don’t have a bin or decide to ignore it for a while, the toilet bowl looks like your second best for paper towels disposal. However, paper towels are pretty thick and aren’t like toilet paper (which is called toilet paper for a reason), so they can run down the pipes and cause problems.
But what about the occasional paper towel that you flush down?
That probably wouldn’t damage your toilet on its own. But it can still harm the sewage system if it’s super dirty!
If you flush down a whole bunch at a time, then you’re asking for a plumbing problem!
The thing is, paper towels can build up on top of your waste and other muck that’s in your pipes. These towels can form a fatty, thick layer of totally solid stuff called a ‘fatberg’ (I giggled too).
This fatberg is a giant yucky lump that is SURE to damage your toilet system. If that should happen, backups will be the least of your problems!
These monsters can even clog up an entire city! (If you don’t believe me, ask citizens of Birmingham who helped whip up a 330-ton fatberg that went on and blocked their town a couple years ago.)
Unfortunately, paper towels don’t EVER break down wherever they are in the toilet system. What makes this worse is they expand when wet. Think about when you have a spill, you immediately grab a paper towel as they absorb the liquid.
When flushed down the toilet, paper towels become huge and stay that way, giving way to a clogged sewer line or even the mainline. This can also cause a nasty odor.
You may hear people claiming that bleach can dissolve a build-up of paper towels in the toilet. While bleach is an important part of the cleaning ritual, it cannot dissolve paper towels. Actually, it tears them and clogs the toilet pipes even more.
Dish soap dissolved in some warm (not hot) water, or some salt, or some baking soda and vinegar can help if the clog isn’t too big. But more often than not, it won’t be enough.
So, if you’re dealing with a paper towel problem, either take an auger and roll up your sleeves, or call a professional!
But What to Do With Used Paper Towels?
We don’t want fatbergs in our toilets! You can either use your paper towels as compost or have a small bin.
You can simply feed your ‘used’ paper towels to your compost pile.
Shred up your paper towels so they take up less space and decompose quicker. This way, you’re not contributing to the landfill and are promoting green living in your home.
Although paper towels are not really good toilet paper substitutes (pandemic flashbacks to empty shelves), they make great material for giving your soil a boost.
Especially if you used them to soak up or wipe off food leftovers!
If your paper towels have oil, grease, and other inorganic or chemical waste, you shouldn’t recycle or compost them. Instead, you have to throw them away.
Wherever you use paper towels, have a small bin in the corner where your family and guests can see it. I like to use half my paper towels, so I don’t use that much each time.
Don’t forget that the roll of your paper towel is 100% biodegradable, so toss that into the recycle pile!
How to Save Your Paper Towels
The disposal of paper towels can often be a pain, so I have two foolproof methods to prolong that process! In this way, you’re also saving that cha-ching!
Ration Your Pieces
So, your paper towel squares are pretty big, right?
Whenever you can, make that half. Some brands actually offer half sheets, which is great because it saves your paper towels while being neat on your roll.
Sometimes, we don’t need the whole sheet to wipe up your surface, only if the spill is really bad.
You can also use smaller pieces instead of the half sheet too. If you just want to clean a drop of mess or pick up something your hands don’t want to touch, a smaller piece would do.
If you’re a neat freak like me, then you can take a roll, pre-tear the sheets, and cut them all in two!
If You Can, Reuse Them!
Guilty as charged, I’ve always thrown away or composted my paper towels after use. But in some cases, paper towels are not a one-time use. Especially if you use eco-friendly paper towels made of bamboo or some other material.
If you used your paper towel to wipe up some water or other not-yucky messes, you can actually dry it out and reuse it again for another spill. A good brand of paper towels can give you up to three uses with one sheet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I flush paper towels down a septic tank?
Paper towels should not be flushed down a septic tank system, as they can stick to the concrete and cause a fatberg, making it difficult for the system to work properly. Paper products, in general, shouldn’t be going down your septic tank!