What you can and can’t put down the drain

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Whether you rent or own your home, a blocked drain will always be a source of stress and inconvenience. If you’re a homeowner, then you will be personally responsible for fixing any problems that arise; even if you’re only a tenant, then calling out the landlord to make repairs can also create problems, particularly if a fee is required for the maintenance work.

When you also consider how these blockages can contribute to the formation of fatbergs that cause area-wide drainage and flooding issues, it soon becomes clear why it’s so necessary to pay closer attention to what can and cannot safely go down the drain.

Fortunately, educating yourself on this topic isn’t a complex process – contrary to many assumptions, the list of items that can be safely emptied into the sink, toilet or drain is actually very short, with most other materials posing a serious risk of causing drainage or environmental problems.

What can be safely put down the drain?

It is a common but incorrect assumption that plugholes and toilets can be safely treated as waste disposal units – a perception strengthened by the existence of products such as food macerators, which encourage users to tip food scraps down the sink to be ground up and washed down the pipes.

In reality, domestic pipes are actually designed to cope with only a small handful of substances:

  • Wastewater
  • Toilet paper
  • Excrement (solid and liquid)

All of these items can be washed safely down the drain, where they will be broken down and processed sustainably – but letting anything else enter the pipes could hinder that process, create blockages and potentially put your property at risk of flooding.

What cannot be washed down the drain?

In particular, the following items – which we call the Big Offenders – are known to be major causes of clogged pipes, and should never be put down the drain or toilet:

  • Food waste
  • Fat, oil and grease (FOG)
  • Plastic bags
  • Nappies
  • Sanitary towels, including tampons, applicators and wrappers
  • Cotton buds
  • Condoms
  • Bandages and plasters
  • Baby wipes
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Razor blades
  • Medicines, needles and syringes*
*These should be taken to your local pharmacy or heath authority for safe disposal

All of these are common culprits when it comes to blockages, whether they are localised to the drainage system of an individual home, or come in the form of a giant fatberg clogging up an entire sewer. It’s particularly dangerous to flush away old medical supplies – they need to be taken to a local pharmacy or health authority for safe disposal.

What to watch out for in the kitchen

When working in the kitchen, it’s most important to avoid putting any waste food, cooking oils, fats, coffee grounds or anything solid down the drain – scrape these into the bin instead. Although they often wash down the plughole easily enough, they will inevitably end up creating a blockage further down the pipes.

What to watch out for in the bathroom

Although it might seem like an easy thing to do, you should avoid flushing wet wipes, kitchen roll or anything other than toilet roll when in the bathroom; the same also goes for cardboard toilet roll tubes, cotton buds and dental floss.

Because they won’t disintegrate, they’ll eventually create blockages that will need to be manually cleaned out of the soil vent pipe that carries waste from upstairs floors to the underground drainage system. Similar advice applies when using the bathroom sink, bath or shower drain – solids should generally be kept out of the plughole wherever possible.

It’s also worth bearing in mind how items flushed down the drain can impact the broader public struggle against blocked drains; you can check out our fatberg infographic to find out more about how these items cause costly blockages in public sewers, and just how much effort it is to rectify.

What to watch out for when dealing with chemicals

One of the substances that creates the biggest challenges in terms of proper disposal methods are household chemicals. It can be tempting to think of the toilet or sink as the easiest way of getting rid of these substances, but in reality, it’s a matter that needs to be handled with great care.

Generally, most household cleaners purchased from the supermarket are fine to rinse down the drain when cleaning; you should check the label to make sure of this, as well as what to do if you have a lot to dispose of. On the other hand, paint should never be put down the drain for any reason; to learn more about where to dispose of excess paint, visit recyclenow.

White spirit is also commonly used in conjunction with some paints, and is another substance that must not go down the drain. Like unwanted paint, this will need disposing of at an appropriate local facility; even the small amount used for cleaning brushes can be damaging to the environment, so considerable care and attention to the instructions is needed when handling it.

How can Lanes help when drainage problems arise?

Taking these precautions will help your household to avoid many of the most common problems that affect domestic drains. However, accidents can and will happen, so it’s vital to have someone to turn to when a drainage-related issue does arise.

At Lanes, our specialist drainage engineers are well-equipped and ready to help unblock, repair and maintain household drains across the country. Find out more about our domestic drainage services, or give us a call on 0800 526 488.

If you’d rather speak to someone right away, call our 24/7 team on 0800 526 488.

Need help? Fill out a few details to give us a better idea of your problem, and we’ll call you back as soon as we can.

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