Just how big of an item can go down the toilet?
December 1, 2008 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Face lotion bottle went down the toilet as it was flushing.

This very bottle of lotion went right down the toilet as it was flushing. It reached in as far as I could and couldn't feel anything, so I thought I'd flush it again and see what happened (stupid, I know but I wasn't thinking clearly). There was a bunch of rattling, the toilet seem to back up and start to overflow, and then nothing. It went back to normal. It has had a lot of use since, flushed a lot of solids, and it seems to be fine. I swear it bubbles a little when it flushes by the husband says I am crazy (he also says if his poop can make it through, that bottle can *rolls eyes*)

The bottle seems way too big to have made it out and I'm excessively worried about what problems could arise from this, but the husband says the toilet is flushing perfectly (better than normal, he says). I don't know if I am just being overly stressed (probably), but can a lotion bottle really make it through? I fear it is stuck somewhere and going to cause future problems.
posted by rainygrl716 to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's going to be fine. Kinda depends on what you set up is, but with city sewer with would have either floated back to the top of the bowl by now, or made it to the sewer. Septic it's in the tank.

Kids flush things bigger than that all the time.

Also, look on the other side of things. Too late to worry about it now. It's either going to be fine, or it will cause a problem. Nothing to be done in the first case, and not much to be done it the second. If it causes a clog, it will have to be snaked. Until then, poop away.


I am not your plumber.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:48 PM on December 1, 2008

Standard toilet/sewer pipe size in the U.S. is 3 or 4 inches in diameter. Do you have a similar bottle there you can measure? Presumably the bottle had some trouble fitting into the initial bend, but was pushed to the larger 4" pipes under the house and to the sewer main. If you can flush some toilet tissue several times without backing up and a full bathtub drains just fine, the line is probably clear.
posted by crapmatic at 10:52 PM on December 1, 2008

Kids flush things bigger than that all the time.

"Bloomington, Ill. - On a toilet repair call, Michael Woggon found that a 3-year-old boy had apparently been trying to train his G.I. Joes for deep-water rescues. When they didn't return, he began sending Matchbox cars after them. Woggon reported recovering 15 toys from the pipes."
- from Red Orbit
posted by terranova at 10:52 PM on December 1, 2008 [9 favorites]

Look at the floor of your bathroom where the toilet sits. Though it's probably disguised by the sexy curves of your modern toilet design, you can still pretty likely discern the "circle" that shows you how wide the drainpipe is. From there it will connect to other pipes, but none of them are SMALLER (that would be crazy), and they can only get larger after that.

So your bottle is probably fine. The fact it's a bit squishy and will give a little on the way out, and it seems to have very smooth rounded edges, which will probably help along the way.

A friend of mine had a slow toilet, slow draining sink, slow draining shower... slow everything for years before finally calling a plumber. After tracing it for awhile with those wires they use to find obstructions, he went outside and started digging up the main drain in the yard, where everything exited the house to link up with the city's sewer system. He had to adjust his initial guess by about two feet and dig again, but when he did and cracked open the actual pipe, he pulled out a 2 liter soda bottle, full and with the cap still on. Sprite, if I recall correctly.

Now, I don't know how that thing got in there (too big to flush!), but what amazes me is that the system was working (though slowly) AROUND it for at least a couple of years and probably more. So your teeny tiny lotion bottle is probably no issue. Heck, maybe it even scraped some hairballs off on the way out, and that's why the thing is working "better" now.
posted by rokusan at 11:50 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only thing that can possibly happen, as far as I can tell, is that the thing may get wedged in upright somewhere. Though, the chances of this are happening are very slim. Pretty much, if it's cleared the toilet (where the pipes are both narrowest and bendiest) its well on its way to the local wastewater treatment plant (or is bobbing in the septic tank, as the case may be).
posted by wsp at 1:00 AM on December 2, 2008

It looks far too small to cause any problems. The pipe beneath your toilet bowl is going to be at least 4 inches in diameter, after that everything just keeps getting wider.

...he pulled out a 2 liter soda bottle, full and with the cap still on. Sprite, if I recall correctly.

Do not obey your thirst.
posted by mandal at 1:42 AM on December 2, 2008 [6 favorites]

My wife dropped a bottle of deodorant into our toilet once. It made it almost all the way through the toilet but got stuck on the last bend. It was too far to see or feel by sticking our hands in the toilet, but, unlike yours, our toilet was noticeably slower at draining after that. So I'm going to agree with everyone else here and say if you toilet is flushing fine, and you do not have a low flow toilet (these usually won't flush something all the way out and into the pipes) your lotion is probably happily off in the city sewer pipes. If you were really worried about it, it isn't too hard to take the toilet off the floor (though empty the water out of it first) to check this out. Granted if you have an old toilet this may cause more problems as the various metal bits may be quite rusted and only holding together because of that rust. So in general, if it doesn't act like it's broken, don't fix it.
posted by JonahBlack at 7:26 AM on December 2, 2008

I second JonahBlack -- if it works, it works and don't worry about it. If it stops working, a toilet is not that complicated to remove and replace. They are heavy, usually have rusty bolts, and are nasty, but very straightforward. Once you have the toilet off you can get to the trap in the toilet and can see fairly deep into the drain pipe. The only special part you will need is a wax ring, which is a 6" diameter ring of wax, available at any hardware store, that is used to seal the toilet to the drain pipe. You scrape the old one off (one of the nasty bits) and put on a fresh one when you reseat the toilet.
posted by rtimmel at 8:59 AM on December 2, 2008

I'm going to go against the grain here and say you may not be out of the woods yet. Unlike most things that are supposed to go into a toilet, that bottle isn't going to dissolve and it isn't going to bend. It could very well become wedged somewhere, particularly if it encounters something else that shouldn't be in there, like some other blockage that isn't big enough to cause problems on its own.

Removing your toilet will not help if the blockage is further down. Sewer lines can and do back up, even without bottles in them. (Inspecting a cleanout on a line that's backing up is an adventure that every homeowner should experience at least once. )

However, at this point, you probably don't need to be doing anything except watch and wait. If you start to hear gurgling in the toilet while something else is draining, get it attended to.
posted by sageleaf at 9:15 AM on December 2, 2008

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