Is It OK to Flush Paper Towels: What Are The Consequences?

We have all asked this question at some point, should you flush paper towels? We have the answers you need to know!

Paper towel

You know what I'm talking about—it's that age-old question we've all asked ourselves at least once in our lives.

Are paper towels flushable? Well, the answer is not so straightforward. It seems like an innocuous enough action, but flushing paper towels can actually cause some serious plumbing problems.

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of flushing paper towels and why it might be best to avoid doing so altogether.

What Are The Negative Aspects To Flushing Paper Towels?

There are a long list of potential problems and not very many upsides to flushing those thick paper towels down the toilet. We will cover some of the most common issues so you are aware of what could happen.

Clogging of pipes and drainage systems:

Paper towels are designed to absorb moisture, which means they can quickly become heavy and dense when wet. This makes them much more likely to get stuck in pipes, especially in older or narrower plumbing systems. Over time, flushing paper towels can lead to blockages, slow drains, and even complete backups.

This is especially problematic if you have a septic tank, as the paper towels can clog the inlet and outlet pipes connecting the tank to your drainage system. This will reduce your septic tank’s ability to filter out waste and may lead to serious problems such as overflowing or backwashing sewage into your home.

In addition, flushing paper towels can damage a septic system’s bacteria balance, causing it to become less efficient. This can lead to a buildup of solid waste in the tank, which will eventually need to be professionally pumped out.

Damage to plumbing and sewage infrastructure:

In addition to clogging pipes, flushing paper towels can also cause damage to plumbing and sewage infrastructure.

When paper towels get stuck in pipes, they can create pressure and tension that can cause cracks or breaks in the pipes themselves. This can be especially dangerous in underground pipes and sewer lines where repairs can be difficult and expensive.

Finally, flushing paper towels can also damage sewage treatment plants. Paper towels contain chemicals and materials that are not biodegradable and can overwhelm a sewage plant’s filtration system. This can lead to costly repairs as well as the release of pollutants into local water sources.

Environmental impact on waterways and aquatic life

Flushing paper towels can have serious environmental consequences, especially if they end up in waterways. Paper towels do not biodegrade as quickly as toilet paper, which means they can remain in the environment for months or even years. This can harm aquatic life and disrupt ecosystems, leading to long-term damage to the environment.

In addition, paper towels often contain chemicals like dyes and fragrances that can be toxic to aquatic life. These pollutants can accumulate in the water over time, leading to an unhealthy environment for fish and other forms of marine life.

Increased risk of sewage backups and overflows

When pipes become clogged with paper towels, sewage backups, and overflows can occur. This can be a health hazard, as it can lead to exposure to raw sewage and the spread of disease. Sewage backups can also be costly to repair and clean up and may require professional intervention.

This can add up in cost over time, especially for homeowners who have to pay for the damage caused by repeated flushing of paper towels in their plumbing system.


Increased maintenance costs for homeowners and municipalities

Flushing paper towels can be costly for both homeowners and municipalities. Homeowners may need to call a plumber to fix clogged pipes or damage to their plumbing, while municipalities may need to invest in additional infrastructure to prevent sewage backups and overflows. This can result in increased taxes or fees for residents.

In addition, paper towels can cause blockages in public sewage systems. This can lead to backups and overflows that require costly repairs and maintenance, adding to the burden of taxpayers.

Alternatives to flushing paper towels down the toilet

To avoid the negative effects of flushing paper towels, there are several alternatives that individuals can consider. These include using washable cloth towels, composting biodegradable paper towels, or simply disposing of paper towels in the trash. By choosing more environmentally-friendly options, individuals can help reduce the impact of their actions on the planet.

For those who wish to use cloth towels, there are several types of options available. For example, kitchen and bathroom towels can be made from a variety of materials such as cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo or recycled polyester. Washable cloth towels come in various sizes and colors, offering plenty of choice for those looking for an eco-friendly option.

Composting biodegradable paper towels is another great choice for those who want to be environmentally conscious. These types of paper towels are made from post-consumer recycled materials and can quickly break down in a compost pile, helping to reduce waste and pollution.

Finally, the simplest solution is to simply dispose of paper towels in the trash. This is a good option for those who don’t have access to an efficient composting system or don’t wish to purchase reusable cloth towels.

Toilet paper

The Pros & Cons of Flushing Paper Towels

On the one hand, paper towels are made of cellulose fibers that are designed to break down quickly when they come into contact with water. This means that they can often pass through plumbing systems without causing any major blockages or backups. However, this isn't always the case.

Even if a few paper towels make it through your pipes without causing any damage, they may still accumulate over time and eventually clog your drains or septic tank system.

Another issue with flushing paper towels is that even those labeled as "flushable" often don't break down fast enough for them to pass through plumbing systems without creating a problem. As such, it's best to avoid using these products in toilets altogether unless you want to risk having your drains or septic system clogged up with wet paper towels!

Finally, remember that even if you do flush a few pieces of paper towel successfully, these products will still end up in your local water treatment facility where they can cause problems for both plant workers and the environment as a whole.

For example, when large amounts of undigested material enter water treatment facilities, it increases their workload and makes it more difficult for them to process wastewater safely and efficiently.  Additionally, undigested materials can harm aquatic wildlife by blocking sunlight from reaching vital algae populations which provides food for many species of fish and other animals living in lakes and rivers downstream from the facility itself!

If you have ever wanted to know if you can use a paper towel to make coffee or if paper towels are biodegradable check out these resources. For a full list of facts around paper towels check out our guide.


Ultimately, while flushing a few pieces of paper towel may not seem like a big deal at first glance, it can have some serious repercussions for both your home's plumbing system and the environment as a whole. As such, it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid flushing any type of paper towel product down your toilet whenever possible! With just a bit of extra effort on your part now you can keep both yourself and the environment safe from potential damage later on down the road!

If you are in the market for a paper towel holder check out the options below: