When it comes to what is and isn’t allowed to go down your toilet, the answer is simple: flush toilet paper, pee, poo and nothing else. Of course, not everyone abides by those rules.
But there’s one unexpected item that you might not know is clogging your pipes: dental floss.
Yes, some people actually flush dental floss. HuffPost spoke with a colleague who does so regularly, saying it’s easier to throw floss into the toilet than the garbage.
“The less I throw in my bathroom garbage, the less times I need to empty the garbage,” one floss offender said.
And while signs in restrooms often caution people against flushing tampons and baby wipes, the dangers of flushing dental floss are less talked about. Until you learn the hard way.
Dental floss is made of nylon or Teflon and isn’t biodegradable. Because it doesn’t break down, it can cause serious clogs and environmental damage when flushed down your home toilet, according to Boulden Brothers, a Delaware-based plumbing company.
When dental floss flushes down your toilet, it can wrap around hair, toilet paper, wipes, tampons and fecal matter in the pipes.
“When [floss gets] go into the wastewater system they end up balling up into these big clumps and getting the workings of our system stuck or broken,” Andrea Pook, spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, told HuffPost.
A spokesperson for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County echoed those sentiments.
“Floss can combine with other items, such as single-use wipes (like baby wipes), and form balls that can grow quite sizable and can clog sewers and pumps,” Rosales-Ramirez told HuffPost. ”Sometimes these items also combine with tree roots and grease and create huge problems for sewer systems.”
The spokesperson added, “So even a small item like dental floss that does not break down in the sewer can contribute to a problem. These materials sometimes can cause sewage spills, which threaten public health and water quality. And this results in the need for local agencies that own and operate sewer systems to spend more money on maintenance to keep the sewers and pumps clear.”
A spokesperson from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection also told HuffPost that “treatment plants are not designed to remove dental floss from wastewater.”
Plumbers, city officials and people who have dealt with this dental monster in their drains say the final product looks similar to a three-to-four pound animal made of literal and figurative crap.
Below is a less-gross video of floss in drains:
Sometimes, if the floss goes into a septic system, it can also wind around moving parts and burn out motors, according to Today.com.
If you do flush dental floss down the toilet and start to experience problems with flushing, you can fix it yourself. Instead of using a cheap, $10 augur for your toilet, try this $60, six-foot toilet augur with a drop head from Home Depot that has rave reviews. Though the auger a bit tricky to use (and does require some strength) it beats spending $200-$300 on a plumber.
And as Pook told HuffPost, “Don’t use your toilet like a trash can.”
Make sure you’re not throwing these items in your toilet either :
- Feminine products
- Cat litter
- Baby Wipes
- Liquid drain cleaner
- Money (yes, some people do that on purpose)
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.