What causes toilet and pipe blockages?


When I recently posted about not flushing tampons and pads down the toilet, I had comments asking whether people still do that? Well people don’t – it’s generally females that do and whether it’s from laziness or ignorance, they are a common cause of toilet blockages.


Toilet and pipe blockages can also be caused by wet wipes, toilet wipes, paper towel, nappies… really anything other than poo, wee, vomit and toilet paper. And yes people have tried to flush nappies down a toilet. I had someone flush a nappy down my toilet one day and thankfully I had a plunger to save the day. I wasn’t particularly impressed though because I had guests when it occurred and it was the guest toilet that was nearly overflowing to the rim of the pan. It could have turned nasty.


A toilet waste is 100mm in diameter so it has the potential to allow bigger items through but a bend here and a belly in the pipe there and a tree root that has penetrated the waste pipe means that anything other than human waste and toilet paper has the potential to cause a blockage.


It’s important for our overseas migrants to also know what can and can’t be flushed down the loo. I had one apprentice tell me that he was constantly unblocking toilets in the Moorooka area in Brisbane where African immigrants have settled. Flushing toilets are an amazing invention to some of those who have travelled from the third world (we westerners take flushing toilets for granted sometimes) and they have put rubbish down the toilet because they have never been told any different. This apprentice told me he had found tennis balls, small milk cartons and one time a skateboard wheel wedged in the s trap of the toilet pan.


If we are flushing down things that shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, then what are we rinsing down our sink wastes?


Oils and fats from cooking should never be rinsed down the sink. You should leave the fat to solidify and then place it in the rubbish or reuse the oil (if you can) to make gravies.


Food scraps like rice, pasta or cereal shouldn’t be rinsed down the sink either. They expand in water and when they get gluggy they have the potential to block a sink waste too.

Some blockages are inevitable and have nothing to do with what has been flushed down the toilet. Often a tree root can penetrate the pipe and grow through the pipe causing anything flowing through the pipe to back up.

When this happens, on most newer properties the sewerage should overflow through the ORG (overflow relief gully) and you will find that your basins and sinks won’t drain nor will the toilet flush away waste.

The only way to fix this type of blockage is to cut the roots out and fix the broken pipe to prevent the tree root from growing into the pipe again. This can be a big job depending on how deep the pipe is.

Most plumbers who unblock drains as their niche in plumbing will have a camera that can determine the cause of a blockage in a pipe. It can be fascinating watching the camera descend down a pipe. (It can also be a bit gross as it travels past poo and soggy toilet paper).

The cost to unblock a pipe or toilet can start from $180 depending on how far the blockage has occurred and how long it takes for the plumber to unblock it.

So it pays to make a note to yourself and your family not to flush or rinse anything down the pipes that shouldn’t as most pipe and toilet blockages can be avoided.