Why do I clog the toilet?
February 20, 2017 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Apparently I have an issue with frequently clogging toilets (more than other people, maybe?). Is it my toilet paper habits? Is it my bowel movements? Help me figure this out.

This only occurred to me when I started living with roommates, though really this happens regardless of my living situation. The pattern is, I'll move to a new place, the toilet is fine for a month or so, and then it will start clogging every once in a while, and whoever I'm living with will find it odd that the toilet starts clogging when it's been perfectly fine for years prior. Nobody's ever equated it with me, but because it's happened with several moves to different houses and different people, I'm starting to think maybe it is me and not a coincidence.

What the clogs are like: It doesn't seem to happen for a clear reason. Sometimes it will clog even though I was just doing #1, so whatever is causing the clog seems to be happening further down in the pipes. Once the clogs start, they happen 2-3 times per month and I need to use a plunger to remedy the situation. Sometimes even if I use the plunger and fix it temporarily, the clog will start again after a couple flushes.

What the poop is like: On a bristol stool scale, usually type 2 or 3, hard, always sinking and never floating. The other types are very rare. Usually just 1 big log per session, so it's kind of hard for me to stop "mid-way." Usually the poop is small enough to go down the toilet hole. There have been maybe 5-6 times in my life (I'm 30) where I dropped a deuce so huge (or it was oriented in a bad way) it wouldn't go down the toilet hole for some reason.

Frequency: Like 1-2 times per week. It doesn't seem to change whether I eat lots of little meals or one big meal.

Urination: 1-2 times per day, often in the morning but it really depends on how much I've been drinking and how salty my food has been.

Diet: Not very consistent. I eat out a lot, like a few times a week, and that could be anything between getting a salad at the Whole Foods salad bar, to burger/fries, to assorted Indian/Chinese/Japanese/Mexican restaurants. When I eat at home, it tends to be foods that require VERY little preparation: fruit salads, raw broccoli/carrots with hummus, beef jerky, crackers, peanut butter & banana sandwiches, cottage cheese + berries, yogurt. Sometimes I'll go through "phases" where I eat a disproportionate amount of one particular thing for a couple weeks. Regardless of what that thing is, it doesn't seem to affect my poop very much.

Water intake: Also not consistent, or hard to measure. When I go to the gym (4-5 times a week, for 45 min), I sip on water while on the treadmill, and in between sets of weight-lifting. When I go out to eat, I'll grab a drink wherever that is. At home, maybe 1-2 glasses (so 2-4 cups, or 20-40 fl oz?) of water per day, unless it's summer and then more like 3-4 glasses.

Toilet paper habits: My poops are usually "clean" and I only need 1 wipe, maybe 2. Usually I take 5-6 squares, fold them, wipe, discard. The only time I use more toilet paper is if I have to use the really cheap thin type, or less tp if it's the expensive thick type. In the event that I have to wipe multiple times, usually I flush after a couple wipes instead of just one flush for everything. Also the same applies if I'm wiping after peeing, or wiping menstrual blood.

Irregularities: A few times a year, I'll get some kind of painful intestinal ache and indigestion resulting in diarrhea, and I'll have no idea what caused it because I poop so infrequently. This will always require several wipes, but again I usually flush after 1-2 wipes each.

Anything else going in the toilet?: No, just excrement and toilet paper. I throw all used feminine products in the trash. I can't imagine what else would go in there.

Other things, where I'm not sure if it contributes or not: My hair is thick and sheds a lot, and I know it very slowly clogs the shower drains. Usually I try to pick them off and throw them in the trash to prevent this, but inevitably as I shower at least some hairs will slip down the drain. Do the shower/toilet pipes eventually connect? Is it actually my hair???

Sooo, what's going on? Am I doing something weird? Or is my clogging issue just coincidental and it's all in my head?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like you are fairly dehydrated. The IoM recommends that women drink 2.2 liters of water per day, and men 3 liters. Source. Everyone has different bathroom habits, but defecating 1-2 times per week and urinating 1-2 times per day (!!!) seems quite infrequent to me.

I would up your water intake and see what happens.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:13 PM on February 20, 2017 [27 favorites]

(For context, it is considered normal to urinate 6-8 times per day. Source.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:15 PM on February 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

You use the bathroom REALLY infrequently by my estimation. I drink a lot of coffee and water so I am an above-average bathroom visitor, but peeing 1-2 per day seems dangerously low to me, and you should be having bowel movements daily. I'm not sure how that correlates to your BMs and your plumbing but if you're somewhat constipated and having higher output on those days then yes, that could certainly be an issue!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:17 PM on February 20, 2017 [13 favorites]

Your poops sound very large and also possibly very hard from you being dehydrated.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:28 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, you should definitely hydrate more, and it looks like you may need more fiber. You mention that you like to eat some foods high in fiber (certain fruit, broccoli, hummus) but others that are low in it (beef jerky, crackers, peanut butter), and it's not clear what the proportions are.

There are of course fiber supplements like Benefiber, but if you go right into one of those you may be uncomfortable for a while. I suggest getting more roughage through foods that you like, since you clearly do like foods that have a good amount of fiber. The general RDA for adult women is 25 g.

If you are on the go and concerned you won't eat up fruit faster than you can buy it, you can try FiberOne's line of brownies, bars and cookies that are pretty low-calorie but contain 20% of your RDA of fiber. They are very tasty and just like any other baked good, but be careful not to eat too many!
posted by Countess Elena at 3:52 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, dehydration is a common and often overlooked cause of constipation, which in turn is a common cause of clogged toilets. Easy test as to whether you are dehydrated: what color is your pee? Should be a very light yellow; darker yellow or amber means you should up your water intake. Keep in mind that the commonly quoted 8 glasses of water (or 2.2 liters if you're metric/the IOM) includes water in fruits and vegetables -- all fluid intake, not just aqua pura. Unless you've got a lesion along the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, your body does what it needs to keep your water and electrolyte balance in check, and forcing yourself to drink more water "because you should" rather than listening to your thirst mechanisms can lead to big problems. That being said, a trial of upping your water and fiber intake can't hurt!

But getting back to your question, are these freestanding houses or apartments? In houses, all the drainage facilities connect into one big sewer line that exits the property. (explanation). I'm less sure about apartments but presume the same thing applies. It sounds like something is stuck somewhere in the sewer line, maybe from that first clog a month after you moved in, and the plunging is just moving it enough for it to clear for just a little while. Time for a plumber, maybe?
posted by basalganglia at 3:54 PM on February 20, 2017

If you get FiberOne stuff start with a quarter or half a serving. Trust me. I warned many people at work when the Fiber One bars started being stocked and no one listened and many told me they wished they had. It will give you loud, painful gas if you don't have a tolerance. Please trust me.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:55 PM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think it's the hair, given that a) it seems the clog isn't in the toilet itself, b) as far as I'm aware waste water does usually end up leaving the bathroom via a shared pipe and c) when we had a clog the dude told me it was the hair.

I also think you probably want to be making more frequent offerings at the porcelain altar, but regarding the clog I think it's the hair.
posted by lucidium at 3:57 PM on February 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Contrary to what most people think, the sewage lines in your home are only 3-4" at best. And, depending on age, could have quite a bit of build-up inside, reducing flow.

You could have a weak spot in the line where your stuff is getting temporarily trapped, causing a blockage until it clears somehow.

Your diet may not be helping matters, but since this happens regularly, I'd suggest you get a plumber out there to perhaps run a video line down the pipes and see if/where there might be a weak spot.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:21 PM on February 20, 2017

and you should be having bowel movements daily

I also think you should drink more water by the sounds of it but I have no idea if that has anything to do with your toilet. A quick note on this, though...

There is no "should" be pooping daily. An acquaintance of mine worked on some big health survey project a few years ago and her assignment was poop frequency. She collected survey results from thousands of people, and interviewed several dozen people about their pooping habits. Healthy, normal people poop anywhere from 3 times a day to 1-2 times a week. 1-2 times a week is on the low end of normal, but is still normal.

Like with all sorts of things in the human body, there's a lot of variance on what presents as healthy. Pooping is one of them. If you're a once a day pooper suddenly pooping 1-2 times a week, then sure, that's probably something to be concerned about. But "normal" varies. Don't poopshame.

As for your clogging problem, my brother grew up clogging every toilet he encountered. Eventually he developed a system where he'd time things and try to flush during a poop right before finishing so the poop itself was whisked away. I believe there was a shape/orientation issue that was causing him a lot of problems but I never really investigated myself if you'll forgive me, so flushing on the poop helped this a lot. And do the poop and the paper down in different flushes. No need to crowd things.
posted by phunniemee at 4:23 PM on February 20, 2017 [18 favorites]

I can't even imagine that it's you. I go much more than this, both kinds (at least once per day poop, generally of the type 4 Bristol scale, and at least 8 times per day pee -- you are definitely not drinking enough) and I sometimes use a boatload of TP (I don't count the squares but I'm guessing it could even be 30 squares of double-ply sometimes) and our toilets never clog. And our septic system is clean as a whistle, said our septic sucker on the 5-yr-visit last year. I also have longish hair that collects around the shower drain (I clean it out) and in the sink (spouse cleans it out when the sink clogs) but our toilets never clog. Been in this house for 8 years, no problems. I really don't think it's you or your bathroom habits.
posted by mmw at 4:24 PM on February 20, 2017

1) Start flushing your poops before you wipe. Poop gets one flush, then used toilet paper gets its own second flush. This alone stopped my toilets* from clogging, and despite all my interventions I seem to have digestive results very similar to yours. They flush just fine the way they are as long as I don't try to flush poop + t.p. in the same go. This has the added benefit of reducing smell, imo. If you have to do it at someone else's house, they won't notice you've flushed twice or if they do, no one's ever said anything to me about it.

2. You can get one of these for the shower. It's horrifying how much hair it catches. I have no idea if hair in the shower affects toilet pipes but just in case. This will mean you get less shower clogs, at least!

*Lots of old houses/old pipes/new houses/new pipes, it works on all of them.
posted by stellaluna at 4:30 PM on February 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Toilets can clog from wadded toilet paper. Leave it looser so that it breaks down the way it supposed to in contact with water. Do not put tissue paper in the toilet (kleenex) as it will clog a toilet - it doesn't break down the same way as toilet paper. Ditto for paper towel.
posted by srboisvert at 4:33 PM on February 20, 2017

I actually know several women who have had this happen. In all cases, there are two common factors: constipation and thick shredded hair. I can't speak to the source of the constipation, as one of them chugs water constantly, but they all only go 1-2x/week at best. If you can get yourself to go more frequently, that's likely to help. How you go about that is another question, one that I can't answer. (One person went on a diet that consisted of only prune juice and roughage and still only got herself to go every other day.) But going more often has generally helped.

Definitely get a drain guard. Hair probably isn't the source of the problem, but it doesn't help. Even for me, my hair is really short, but as o get older and balder, my lost hair has clogged a drain before.

Finally, don't put this all on yourself, yet. How do you know it's you? Maybe the reason none of your roommates have pinned it on you is because the drain clogged before you moved in, too. Especially if you live in older buildings, pipes get clogged. It happens.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:49 PM on February 20, 2017

You can pour some bleach, detergent, soap, shampoo etc. in there before you flush and it stops everything from sticking together & clogging. I have no idea if this is plumber approved but it prevents that embarrassing situation at least.
posted by bleep at 5:12 PM on February 20, 2017

I have no idea what's up with your toilet but I'll nth that it really sounds like you are chronically dehydrated and need to drink more water.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:13 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's your poops. Gah, I have a friend who apparently poops like this, and likes to poop when he comes over, and we've had to have a plumber over twice because he's clogged our toilet.

I agree that you need way more water. You can pick up a morning coffee habit if you want to increase regularity, or consider trying something like a calcium and magnesium supplement (Natural Calm is one brand) which should help loosen everything up. You know the dosing is correct when your bowel movements are "comfortably loose" according to the directions. Maybe add some fish oil, too.

Don't add fiber supplements when you're drinking so little water. They'll just constipate you more.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do the shower/toilet pipes eventually connect? Is it actually my hair???

Yes, generally. You can see a diagram here. Depending on the age of your house, the age of the toilet and the age of the pipes this could be some coincidences or it could be you, or some combo of what you and your roommates do. Also in the wintertime a lot of drains can move slower because the roof vent can get clogged with snow and everything can get messed up. Don't worry too much about it but try a few things.

1. Use a drain strainer thing to keep your hair out of the pipes when you shower/bathe/brush hair. This may mean you're picking it out a lot or standing in some water.

2. Talk to your landlord and see if it's okay to use something like Liquid Plumber in the pipes (some places are okay with this and some are not) and try that (there are other friendlier things to try like boiling water and etc)

3. Drink more water and up your fiber a little. If you're a big person (you don't mention) and you're pooping twice a week and eating normally, those might be big poops. NO BIG DEAL but it is a thing that may be adjustable. Eat an apple or two a day with a big glass of water. See if things change for the better.
posted by jessamyn at 5:36 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Old low-flow toilets suck (or don't, as the case may be). For about $200 you could get a modern, low-flow high-flush toilet installed. It would solve your poop problems and save water.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:52 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have this problem. The things that most improve the situation are courtesy flushes and separation of TP and solid waste. I also tend to poo only once or twice a week. When I was a kid it was more like once every two weeks. Literally infrequently enough that I was made to see a doctor about it. Doc said any frequency is fine as long as it is regular enough that there is no impaction happening. It's only constipation if it is difficult or painful to go.

Unfortunately, I've just had to get used to having to plunge about a third of the time, even when making sure to split up the waste into multiple..logs and make sure there's a plunger at hand before using the bathroom. It was more than a bit embarrassing when we were living with my SO's parents for a few months, but everybody got over it, including me.

Lately, I've taken to eating canned chili once every week or two. It tends to soften the stool enough that it goes down more easily as long as there isn't a huge volume at once. Softer stool makes it easier to pinch off when necessary, also.
posted by wierdo at 7:12 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

What TP do you buy? Many expensive TPs do not break down well at all. Over time, that clogs the pipes and leaves you standing there watching the water rise and rise. You're looking for TP that gets it job done and then disintegrates.

Consumer Reports measures disintegration rates in their testing. Scott is usually one of the best for disintegration.
posted by 26.2 at 9:37 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh gosh, please drink more water. Only needing to poo 1 - 2 times a week could be normal for some people, but the fact that you only need to pee 1 - 2 times a day is a sure sign to me that you're not drinking nearly enough water. I think your poo is too solid and is causing some kind of blockage.

I drink around 2 - 3 litres a day depending on weather and physical activity. To make it easier to remember to drink more water, you could start out by adding an extra glass of water before you go to bed, and an extra glass when you wake up in the morning.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 10:51 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Occasionally I poop a lot. It is okay to do a mid-production flush.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:49 AM on February 21, 2017

Agree, it's your poop. When I was on a medication that made me constipated, I'd have poops like you describe, and it regularly caused clogs. The solution was to flush mid-poop. Also agree you sound extremely dehydrated. Peeing once or twice a DAY?! Probably directly related to why you are constipated. If it's hard for you to start drinking more water one trick that seems effective is a big water bottle that holds your whole day's worth of water (or maybe half, and refill once, or buy two) and freeze it half full, on an angle. Then in the morning, fill it the rest of the way, and sip on it throughout the day. Cold water all day, and you can guage how much you have to drink for the day. Also, if you just don't like drinking water maybe try an additive like Mio or Dasani Drops.
posted by catatethebird at 8:44 AM on February 21, 2017

Also, you don't mention it (but maybe one of your roommates uses them?): "flushable" wipes aren't so flushable, and should go in the trash. They can cause all kinds of plumbing problems.
posted by catatethebird at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Simple ovarian cyst   |   Great restaurant in Madrid? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.