Does anyone flush sanitary napkins?
October 13, 2005 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone ever really flush sanitary napkins?

I realize this is an odd question, but for the third time in my life (in three different apartment buildings) I have been informed that flushing "sanitary napkins" has caused flooding in my building. I for one, do not use sanitary napkins (and think that term is evocatively icky) though I understand that their packaging clearly advises against flushing them. Does anyone actually do this? Or are (male) plumbers just coming up with an excuse? Or are they actually using this term to (mistakenly) refer to tampons? Can any females or plumbers or female plumbers shed some light on this?
posted by unknowncommand to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am neither female nor a plumber, but I did know someone of the first type who had to call someone of the second type on Christmas Day for exactly this reason. And she copped to it, so I know the plumber wasn't just making it up.

It's one of the more memorable Christmas dinners I've been to.
posted by dragstroke at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2005

A female guest of mine once flooded my bathroom in exactly this way. I'm guessing it happens mostly in situations where tossing said item in the garbage would be socially embarrassing.
posted by Skot at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2005

I'm sure it does happen. When I was living in my first apartment, the toilet backed up and we called a plumber. As soon as the plumber got there, he gave me a stare and said "did you flush a Kotex?". (For the record, no.)
posted by luneray at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2005

Every toilet I've seen snaked had many s. napkins produced from this task of plumbing clogged drains.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2005

I've lived in several apartment buildings where the plumbing problems were (alledgedly) caused by sanitary napkins, at least according to the plumbers and/or landlords. In every case, I've chatted with the other women in the building (they were all pretty small buildings with only a few units), and none of us -- not one! -- even use sanitary napkins. My vague guess was that the problem was in fact being caused by tampons, which perhaos the plumbers/landlords thought was a more indelicate word that they couldn't bring themselves to say. (Or pehaps they just didn't know the difference? After all, flushing "a kotex" [per luneray above] could mean either a tampon or a pad, since it's just a brand name.)

I also suspect in one case in particular that the real problem was simply the ancient, disintegrating plumbing that could barely handle toilet paper, which our crazy asshole landlord was too cheap to repair properly or (god forbid) replace -- he not only would blame the problems on "sanitary napkins," he would also randomly forward the plumbing bills to the women in the building and insist we pay (which, needless to say, we never did).
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

That's my thought, scody -- no one, but no one, uses pads any more. Well, maybe some people, but they're rare. It's got to be that the guys are just calling everything by the oh-so-delicate phrase 'sanitary napkin'.

In my new apartment, I flushed a tampon and stopped up the toilet. I was able to plunge it, but I haven't flushed one since because the plumbing obviously couldn't handle it. That's a new experience for me -- everywhere else I've lived, I could flush those.
posted by Miko at 2:32 PM on October 13, 2005

I think when they say "sanitary napkins", they mean tampons, even though no woman on earth uses that phrase to refer to either pads or tampons. I think it suggests pads, and I do flush tampons, even though I know it's bad and I probably should stop.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:39 PM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Residents two sections down in the dorm I used to live in flushed a tampon once or twice a month. I was friends with some of the maintenance men; they complained most of that and of people taking the screens off the windows so they could throw the keys down to visiting friends.
posted by Tuwa at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2005

So now we're not supposed to flush tampons? It's always been obvious that flushing a pad is like stuffing a diaper down there, but I thought used tampons were OK to flush. They need to send out newsletters or something.
posted by dual_action at 2:49 PM on October 13, 2005

I used to manage an apartment building. One evening all the downstairs toilets started overflowing. Raw sewage seeping across everyone's floors, and yes it's exactly as disgusting and smell-o-rific as you might imagine. The plumber came quick, and eventually snaked the main line. Tree roots were the core problem, but I personally witnessed that snake pulling out a buckletload of tampons and pads that had become ensnared by those roots into one hell of a drain plug.

It's amazing what people will flush. Among the identifiably bizarre things tangled up in there was also christmas ribbon (!).

(The plumber assured me that ours was not even the strangest drain content he'd seen that week.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:51 PM on October 13, 2005

You get the same problem with baby wipes, too. They're not paper, they're cloth, and if they get snagged on something in the pipe (tree roots, or something) then they don't tear away, and they also don't dissolve like toilet paper does.

I'm not a plumber, but I have had to have a drain snaked because of exactly this problem.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 2:53 PM on October 13, 2005

The sandwich shop I worked at had an ongoing plumbing problem in the women's restroom because of flushed tampons and pads. Old pipes get corroded and clogged; the only complete fix is a full plumbing replacement, and that costs a lot more than a sign and a plunger.
posted by me3dia at 2:55 PM on October 13, 2005

I use napkins. I alone keep the sanitary napkin industry alive!

However, I never flush them down the toilet.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:04 PM on October 13, 2005

What's with the assumption women don't use pads any more? Don't want to TMI the thread, but just wondering ... it's pretty clear from the presence and usage of bins in public restroom stalls that women do use them. (Despite the clogging problem, I think that in most public restrooms women flush tampons).
posted by R343L at 3:09 PM on October 13, 2005

I also use pads. That's two of us!

I also never flush them down the toilet.
posted by Savannah at 3:13 PM on October 13, 2005

Thank you spinifex23!

Wasn't sure the etiquette of talking that personally, but I'm with you. And the not flushing them. Afterall, they come in these convenient little plastic or paper wrappers which makes them as polite and ungross as possible for the next one in there (plus there is always extra toilet paper).

posted by R343L at 3:13 PM on October 13, 2005


Mom always taught me to wrap them in toilet paper. She also didn't like tampons, as she was scared by the Toxic Shock Syndrome going around at that time. Thus, no items like THAT would EVER go up THERE. Thus, napkins it was.

(And now, we have probably scared away any male readers, if they haven't been terrified of this question to begin with!)
posted by spinifex23 at 3:28 PM on October 13, 2005

spinifex23: ditto.
posted by Lotto at 3:28 PM on October 13, 2005

My god, there are people who don't have to use pads? I have days where pads and tampons together are barely enough... folks like me will keep the pad industry alive indefinitely.

I also find it funny and kind of sad that women would feel embarrassed about thowing a pad in the garbage can ever. That's what they're there for.
posted by lorrer at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2005

I'm guessing it happens mostly in situations where tossing said item in the garbage would be socially embarrassing.

Pray tell, what on earth could possibly be embarassing about throwing out a pad or tampon? It's not like menustrating women are rare freaks, performing unnatural acts, or otherwise doing something that's remarkable.

If some weasel of a man feels it necessary to comment on your tampon disposal, stomp him. There's no need to put up with that bullshit.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:34 PM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have never flushed a pad or a tampon-- but then I grew up in a house with bad plumbing. So it has never even occured to me to do so.

And as far as pad vs. tampon-- after switching to OBs, I've been able to get away from the pads. Thank Jeebus. But I never even tried tampons until I was 20 (and sexually active) and I'm reluctant to let my 12 year old try them just yet. Even after 36 (!!!) years of menstruating and two husbands, tampons can feel intrusive.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:54 PM on October 13, 2005

My uncle is a plumber, and you know what? People flush DIAPERS. People are very, very stupid.
posted by peep at 3:56 PM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I never flush tampons. I've lived in too many old houses with antique possessed plumbing to ever flush anything more than a couple folds of toilet paper and now it's second nature. I wrap them & toss them in the bin - even if I'm at a friends' house. Oh and yeah - I use both. Pads & tampons.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:59 PM on October 13, 2005

Considering I work for a fancy schmancy Big Investment Bank and at least once a week there's a toilet clogged with toilet paper in the bathroom on my floor, not to mention the frequent seat peeing, it doesn't surprise me AT ALL that people flush sanitary napkins.
People are gross.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:01 PM on October 13, 2005

Yup, peep; I have a friend whose plumbing was blocked 'cos someone in the building flushed a Depends...
posted by scruss at 4:03 PM on October 13, 2005

Oh, and derail: SLoG, if I may intrude, my own mother used only pads, and VERY subtlely made me feel quite ashamed for wanting to use tampons. And she was certainly no prude - I have no idea why she was opposed to it. I secretly cried for days about it. My depression gave way to anger, and I shoplifted tampons for months rather than ask her again.
posted by peep at 4:04 PM on October 13, 2005

I also use pads. That's two of us!

Three. Plus my roommate, so that's four.

Also, for the record, any woman who had ever ended a pregnancy by any means -- giving birth, abortion, miscarriage - will need to wear pads for at least a couple of weeks.

Plus they make great wound dressings if anyone at your house ever cuts themselves so badly they need stitches.
posted by anastasiav at 4:05 PM on October 13, 2005

To echo peep and scruss, my father recently had to go through a complicated procedure at his work which involved opening up the septic tank and yanking a large adult diaper out of a clogged pipe. It seems like an absurd thing to flush, but if you think about it, say you were an adult who had to wear diapers. You pooped in one, and you were out with a group of friends at a place where there was just one bathroom. Everyone has lined up to use the bathroom. Would you want to leave your poopy diaper on the top of the trash bin for everyone to see and smell? Probably not. Certainly tying it up in a plastic bag and throwing it into a dumpster or something would be a better, albeit less discreet solution.

To answer the question: When I was younger I was frequently v. embarassed to place a used pad into a dainty, usually empty trash can in the bathroom at a friend's house, for anyone to see. I never flushed one, but the thought did cross my mind. And I sometimes flush panty-liners.
posted by bonheur at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2005

ch1x0r: I work in a similar office building and we get the same seat peeing and clogging problems. Not to mention the used pads and tampons left on the floor and in the bowls, despite there being a sanitary disposal bin in every cubicle. And the non-flushing of toilets. I don't get why people don't use the bins and flushes available to them - is it some kind of territory marking thing, or what?

I grew up on a farm with a weak plumbing system so I've never flushed a pad or tampon in my life. I wrap them up and put them in the bin.
posted by andraste at 5:30 PM on October 13, 2005

I would think that just about any unpleasant item could be disguised with enough toilet paper wrapped around it so that throwing it in even the most dainty of tiny empty trash cans would disguise it sufficiently. I mean, it may look like a large wad of paper, but it's not like anybody's going to go in there and unwrap it just to find out what's in there. I guess someone might realize what it is by deduction, but come on...
posted by Rhomboid at 5:42 PM on October 13, 2005

I learned my lesson the humiliating way: I was That Girl who flooded the toilet at school in seventh grade, trying to flush a pad (thank you, idiots who didn't put trash cans in the stalls). I wasn't busted, but oh, the horror when Ms. Becker whispered the terrible news of the pad-flooded bathroom to the girls in the class!

Since then, not a tampon, a pad or a pantiliner has gone down the pipes at my hands. I have never felt particularly embarrassed about discarding my leavings; as Rhomboid noted, a wad of toilet paper goes a long way.

The only exception? When there is no trash can in the stall. Nothing like wandering a large public bathroom with a sheepish look and a mysterious package, looking for the garbage. Public service announcement, people: women's and unisex stalls, or private bathrooms expecting guests, MUST contain a trash can.
posted by hilatron at 6:38 PM on October 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I was young I used pads (I came of age at the same time Rely tampons were associated with women's deaths, so my mom was a little cautious about my using tampons).

I always rolled them up and threw them in the trash. Then one day a boy we knew was over and in the middle playing a game of Asteroids he stopped and freaked out because there, on the floor, was our dog with a used pad he'd scavenged from the bathroom trash.

I knew better than to flush the damned things, so from that point on I went waaaay overboard when wrapping my pads. I imagine that's the kind of fear that makes people risk flushing.

For the record I use the keeper now and I love it.
posted by stefanie at 7:23 PM on October 13, 2005

Wait till you have a septic system.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:25 PM on October 13, 2005

I use pads and I've never flushed them. I'm living in an RV so flushing tampons isn't going to happen either.

People do flush all sorts of odd things. I had to tell my husband not to flush floss down the toilet.
posted by deborah at 8:15 PM on October 13, 2005

So pads = never flush.
Tampons? Flush or no flush? What's the verdict?
posted by herc at 8:49 PM on October 13, 2005

When I was fourteen I threw away a pad at my grandparents and covered it with paper. The next time I went over I found out that my (now ex--I don't claim ties to her since my grandfather died) stepgrandmother had rummaged through the wastebasket to see what it was. I got lectures from both of them.

In the early nineties I read a lifestyle advice book that said not to flush tampons if there are tree roots nearby.
posted by brujita at 9:09 PM on October 13, 2005

I only use pads at night and I've never flushed one.

I'll flush tampons and cardboard applicators though, unless there's a sign that says specifically not to, or I'm at a cottage with a septic system. I've never ruined any pipes.
posted by sgrass at 9:55 PM on October 13, 2005

I hadn't known any women who used pads until I came to Japan 6 years ago. Since then, every girl I've been with has used them. I asked my current girl why she didn't exclusively use tampons and she says it's because her flow is really heavy. This hasn't been the case with all the others though. I've also asked a couple why they flushed and all have claimed Japanese products dissolve more easily than Western counterparts. Maybe this is true and the extra solubility is a trade-off for less effective use.

It wouldn't surprise me if Japanese women settle for this as a lot of Japanese hygiene and sanitary products are pretty shitful. I can recall Japanese shaving foam that's got to have a habanero component and a lot of toothpaste brands will have salt as an abrasive but no fluoride in them. Deodorant and anti-perspirants are piss weak too until you adopt a more indigenous diet and bathroom routine at which point, you no longer need them.
posted by Jenga at 12:18 AM on October 14, 2005

Another pad-user, no-flusher here. I've never even considered flushing pads, so I'm shocked anyone does. American plumbing must kick ass because I've never seen any UK toilet that could handle a pad!
posted by speranza at 12:47 AM on October 14, 2005

Ditto on the using pads, not flushing. No matter what I do, tampons just don't feel right. [[shrugs]] Bleeding is a hassle, and someday I hope to rid myself of it in some manner. (Seasonale? Something along those lines.)
posted by limeonaire at 1:33 AM on October 14, 2005

herc writes "Tampons? Flush or no flush? What's the verdict?"

As a general rule I don't flush anything that wouldn't be handled by a septic tank and leach field system. Tampons aren't nearly biodegradable enough for flushing.
posted by Mitheral at 9:14 AM on October 14, 2005

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