Can You Flush Paper Towels Down the Toilet? 

We’ve all been there: after you have completed your business with the toilet, you look over only to notice there is no toilet paper in sight. 

Luckily, you’ve thought ahead and stashed some paper towels in the bathroom cabinet (for wiping spillage and the mirror, but at least they’re there!). You proceed to use the paper towels, but before you throw them in the toilet, you ask yourself: can you flush paper towels though? 

Unblocking a toilet costs £112.50 on average. Will throwing the paper towel in the toilet thus turn out to be a costly mistake? 

Can You Flush Paper Towels Down the Toilet? 

No, you can’t flush paper towels down the toilet, as they don’t break down like toilet paper does. They absorb much more liquid and expand when wet, so they may eventually cause a blockage in your pipes. 

Paper towels aren’t meant to be flushed, as their purpose is to absorb as much liquid as possible without breaking apart. When you flush them, they will likely get stuck in your pipes, so far down that you can’t easily fish them out.

This certainly won’t happen if you only flush one paper towel. However, if you do it repeatedly, it will eventually turn into a problem. The worst part is that you won’t even notice something is wrong until your pipes are so clogged that sewer water starts backing up in your toilet, sink or shower, or even in your washing machine or dishwasher!

Some items just aren’t meant to be flushed, so don’t be lazy, and walk your used paper towel over to the trash can, or to the compost bin. 

What Happens If You Flush One Paper Towel Down the Toilet?

Flushing one paper towel down the toilet won’t do much harm, and it is unlikely to clog up your pipes, unless there is a blockage already. If this is the case, your sewer water might start backing up through any and every drain in your home. 

While paper towels weren’t made to be flushable, using an occasional one instead of toilet paper won’t end up clogging your pipes. If you do routinely flush other non-flushable items though, like condoms, tampons or even hair, you will eventually create a blockage. 

You can use a drain unblocker to dissolve some of the debris that has been piling up on your pipes over time, especially if you have now discovered you are flushing what should not be flushed. 

To maintain your pipes, you can also use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda as a part of a regular toilet cleaning routine. 

Will Paper Towels Eventually Dissolve?

Yes, paper towels will eventually dissolve in your pipes, but it may take several weeks or even months. If you pile a lot on top of them in your piping in the meantime, they can cause a blockage. 

Don’t make the mistake of believing every paper item is the same. Toilet paper is specifically designed to dissolve quickly, while paper towels and even napkins are meant to be absorbent and more durable. They won’t flush equally. 

How Long Does It Take for a Paper Towel to Dissolve in Water?

Paper towels can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to fully dissolve in water, depending on their quality. 

This may not sound like a lot, but it’s still not fast enough to prevent a clogged toilet. Toilet paper hand will dissolve in one to four minutes, which is significantly faster. 

Decomposition time depends on an item’s intended use. If it’s meant to absorb large quantities of water, like paper towels, it will be much sturdier. Toilet paper on the other hand is meant to travel through endless networks of rather thin pipes, and will thus dissolve in a matter of minutes. 

What Will Dissolve Paper Towels in the Toilet?

Letting a paper towel sit in the toilet for a few hours and flushing it several times afterwards can help dissolve it. You can also use warm water and a bit of dishwasher soap. 

Letting the paper towel soften in your toilet bowl will help it flush more easily. You can also be a bit more vigorous with the flushing, to make sure it gets as torn up as it can get before it reaches the depths of your piping. 

A bit of warm (not hot or boiling, mind!) water mixed with dishwashing liquid can also soften the paper towel, and help it go down more easily, so to say. Just pour the combination into the toilet bowl and let it sit for as long as you can before flushing. 

Does Dish Soap Dissolve Paper Towels?

Yes, letting a paper towel sit in dish soap in your toilet bowl will help dissolve it. 

The longer you are able to wait before flushing, the higher the chances the paper towel will dissolve sooner rather than later. Ideally, you want to let it sit overnight, if at all possible. 

Does Bleach Dissolve Paper Towels?

Bleach won’t actually dissolve a paper towel, rather help it tear into smaller pieces. Whether these will then end up snagging on your pipes is a matter up for debate.

Don’t use bleach to dissolve paper towels. You should either let them sit in the bowl for as long as you can, or simply flush them and do your best to maintain clear pipes in the future. 

If, however, your child has thrown an excessive amount of paper towels in the toilet, for example, but not flushed them, your best course of action is to put on a cleaning glove and fish them out. 

What Can I Use Instead of Toilet Paper?

You can use a napkin, a tissue or a paper towel as an alternative to toilet paper. You can also try baby wipes or even a towel or washcloth. 

Whatever you replace toilet paper with, make sure not to flush it though, as toilet paper is actually the only thing other than human waste that should go down the toilet. 

Also note that if you are using paper towels to wipe your toilet, they should be thrown in the trash can, and not flushed. While regularly cleaning your toilet is of course important, keeping your pipes clear is important too. 

How to Dispose of Paper Towels

The best way to dispose of paper towels is either to throw them in the trash can or to compost them. 

Paper towels are not recyclable, but they are compostable, so if you have a compost bin, the best thing to do is add your paper towel pile there. You can however recycle the roll. 

If composting is not an option, just bin your paper towels. And remember to take the trash out regularly to keep the trash can from smelling

Wrapping It Up

You shouldn’t flush paper towels as they may end up clogging your pipes and costing quite a bit in plumber expenses. They are easily compostable and binnable though, so just take that bit of extra time to dispose of them correctly.  

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