21 items that should never be washed down the drain or toilet

Some blocked drains are out of our control, such as those caused by old, damaged pipes or tree roots that have entered a crack in the sewer line. The majority of blocked drains, however, can be easily avoided. Sydney drains become blocked when foreign items get incorrectly washed down the sink or flushed down the toilet. While your drains may be able to keep up for a while, it's only a matter of time until they get blocked - and repairs may be costly. Below is a list of 21 things that don’t belong in drains.

  1. Oil: Cooking oil, fats and grease adhere to the insides of pipes and gradually accumulate until water flow is severely restricted or stopped. Dishes and cooking pans containing a large amount of oil should be wiped clean with a paper towel before being washed.

  2. Wet-wipes: These are becoming an increasing problem for our private and public sewer lines, causing major blockages and costing homeowners and councils millions of dollars each year. Because wipes don’t break down the in same manner as toilet paper, they can get snagged in the pipes and mix with oil and grease to create a solid mass, know as a fatberg. Wet-wipes include make-up wipes, baby wipes, household cleaning wipes and those wipes used in place of toilet paper.

  3. Kitty litter: Even though some brands of kitty litter market themselves as flushable, it is never safe to flush kitty litter down the toilet. The paper variety of kitty litter swells when wet, while the clay variety forms clumps for easy removal. Anything that clumps or swells has the potential to clog drains and should be placed in a bin. Cat faeces and urine can also carry diseases which are toxic to marine life.

  4. Hair: It’s not just long hair that can block Sydney drains. Pet hair, short hair and even beard trimmings can potentially get snagged and mix with other sediment leading to major issues for your drainage system.

  5. Tea leaves and coffee grounds: Despite being small and biodegradable, tea leaves and coffee grounds are one of the main causes of blocked kitchen sinks. They can sit in the S-bend, building up over time and combining with other debris such as food scraps, grease and oil. Coffee grounds and tea leaves are a great natural compost and can be thrown out in the garden.

  6. Condoms: Pure rubber does break over time and is compostable, which may lead some people to believe that it’s okay to flush condoms. The fact is, condoms are not composed of pure latex. Other substances are added it to make them more durable. Even if they were biodegradable, rubber takes a very long time to break down and condoms can get stuck in the sewer and contribute to a blockage.

  7. Tampons and sanitary pads: Tampons and pads are designed to absorb liquid and they don’t disintegrate in water. While it seems like a mess-free and easy method of disposal, sanitary items can get lodged in the pipes resulting in problems for your sewers and expensive repairs.

  8. Nappies: Due to their size, it should be obvious that nappies can’t be flushed. Yet it’s not uncommon for plumbers to discover nappies when clearing out blocked drains. Always place nappies in the bin provided and carry nappy disposal bags with you just in case there isn’t a bin, so that you can dispose of them properly later.

  9. Goldfish: When pet goldfish die, make sure you bury them in the garden. Goldfish can carry diseases which are detrimental to native marine life. The bones may also get caught on other sediment in the drains such as tree roots, which in turn act as a snag for other items like wet-wipes.

  10. Foods that swell: A small amount of food scraps entering the kitchen may seem harmless enough. Some foods swell in water and can block a drain over time. Things like chia seeds, oats, pasta and rice should be wiped off dirty dishes and placed in the compost so that they don’t end up in the sewer system.

  11. Cottons buds and tips: Cotton buds and tips should always be placed in the bathroom bin, rather than flushed down the toilet. Cotton buds become heavy when wet and sit at the bottom of pipes and S-bends. Cotton tips are even worse due to the plastic stick. These sticks can get jammed in the pipes causing toilet paper and other debris to get stuck

  12. Dental floss: The majority of dental floss brands are not biodegradable. When flushed, dental floss can wrap around other items in the pipes, such as tree roots, slowly turning into clog.

  13. Paper towel: Don’t be tempted to use paper towels if you accidentally run out of toilet paper. Paper towel is thicker than toilet paper and offers higher absorbency and durability. It’s not manufactured to break down when wet. To avoid a blocked toilet or sewer line, avoid flushing paper towels down the toilet.

  14. Fruit stickers: The little stickers on fruit are not biodegradable and are very harmful to your plumbing system and the environment. Now that soft plastics are recyclable (thank you Redcycle), a great way to dispose of these nasty little stickers is to stick them to other soft plastics that you intend to recycle.

  15. Bones: Be careful that no fish or chicken bones get accidentally washed down the sink when you are doing the dishes. Because it takes many years for bones to break down, they are likely to clog pipes, which will prevent other liquid from filtering through.

  16. Excessive amounts of dirt: It’s inevitable that a small amount of dirt will go down the drain when you shower or wash your hands. If there is a large amount of mud on your hands or feet, try to wash the majority of it off outside using a garden tap. Excessive amounts of dirt can form a sludge in the bottom of pipes and eventually cause a blockage.

  17. Paint: Even though paint is a liquid, it should never be washed down the sink. It hardens when it dries and could coat the inside of pipes, making them narrower. Paint is also highly toxic and can harm the environment and marine life.

  18. Fibrous foods: Stringy or fibrous foods such as celery, corn husks, and asparagus can get stuck in the pipes and act as a web that catches other debris in the sewer pipes. The best place all food scraps in a compost bin or the garden.

  19. Sand: After visiting the beach, dust off as much sand as possible before getting into the shower. One of the most common areas for sand to become trapped is in the trap of the pipe near the sink and shower drain.

  20. Flour: When flour combines with water it creates a sticky, stringy substance. This is because flour contains gluten which becomes activated when water is added through stirring/kneading. A small amount is probably okay, but the best way to avoid a clogged sink is to wipe off any excess flour from mixing bowls and pop it in the compost - before washing them up.

  21. Potato peels: If you’re peeling potatoes in the sink, make sure you have the plug in to prevent any peels from accidentally washing down the drain. It only takes a few to clog a sink and due to their starchy nature, they often clump together and congeal into a paste-like substance.

In summary, the best rules to go by are these. Water is the only thing that should go down sink, shower and bath drains. The only items that can be flushed down the toilet are toilet paper, water and human waste. If you want to minimise the risk of a blocked drain in your Sydney home or business, place everything else in a bin or the compost.