Why do toilets block?

AuthorEmmeline | Product specialist                                              7 min read

It's a question everyone wants to know the answer to, but the answer is not always as straightforward as we may hope for. The problem is that toilets can block for many reasons including, and combining, the issues outlined below.
 ~ It may be related to the age of the sewage system in your area.
    - Older systems are often narrower therefore it only takes a slight blockage, which may go unnoticed at first, but is likely to build up very quickly, causing the drains in the area to be more likely to block.
    - As sewage systems get older, there have been cases where tree roots have actually grown into the drainage system, making it trickier for waste to get through, therefore weakening the system and blocking the drains. That way, flushing the toilet would result in water coming through, but not flushing it down.
 ~ This is probably the one that most people would be aware of; using too much toilet tissue. This can cause the toilet to block and, if enough people in your area are doing it too, the whole drainage system could easily be affected.
 ~ Another common issue is when fats/oils are poured down the drain. We don't often think of it, but the drain for the sink and the drain for the toilet end up in the same place. Of course, there's another fact to bring in here, fat and water don't mix. Over time, the fat builds up on top of the water, creating a layer that other, non-liquid waste attaches itself to. The more the drain is being used, the worse it will get. For example, the Birmingham fatberg, 90% of the mass identified as being cooking oil and thought to weigh 300 tonnes and estimated to take more than one month to clear!!
 ~ Putting wipes or sanitary products down the drain is possibly one of the worst examples of drain blockage. Unfortunately, it only takes one of one of these items to block a drain! This is simply because they are not designed to be broken down, whereas toilet paper is. These products are also highly likely to swell as they are designed to be absorbent. This then slows down the normal speed that the drainage flows at and the faster moving objects in the drain will get caught up behind or in it. Over time, as short as an hour, this can build up and cause your drains to become blocked.
You may be thinking, well none of the reasons above apply but our toilets have blocked. There are many other reasons why your toilets may be blocking. Another option to consider is the type of toilet paper being used.

What types of toilet tissue are there?

There are a lot of different types of toilet tissue, pure virgin comes from wood-pulp, recycled is made from pre-used paper, and now tissue is available from bamboo and other faster growing plants.
The demand for eco-friendly products is ever increasing, and Bamboo toilet tissue is one answer, but is it really your best solution? It is soft, even luxurious, so why isn't everyone keen on it? Some users have found a big increase in blocked toilets when using bamboo tissue. Maybe it’s the stronger fibres which are less likely to break down when they get wet that result in blocked drains. Toilet paper needs to be able to break up to keep easily when flushed to keep the drains running smoothly.
Pure virgin toilet tissue is made in a very similar way to bamboo toilet tissue in the way that they break the plant down into fibres, then take the fibres and make them into a pulp, they soak, press, and form that pulp into the paper, roll it up into a long log and then cut it down to the size we use. Yes, this comes from forests – but major companies have vast areas of forest and responsible planting programmes. Bamboo toilet tissue is strong due to the nature of the plant and fibres. The pure virgin toilet tissue is more likely to break down in the sewage system because of the traditional pulp, from forests. Therefore, the pure virgin toilet tissue is less likely to cause toilet and drainage blockages.
Recycled toilet tissue is made from recycled paper and/or wood pulp is often the least soft, cheaper option. Eco-friendly as it is by creating something useful from our waste paper bins, some users find it blocks their drains. Recycled toilet tissue is made from creating a pulp from recycled paper and wood in a similar process to how virgin and bamboo toilet paper is made, but because there is often variety in sources it would crumble if glue wasn't used to keep it together. As you can imagine, this glue then gets wet in the drains, goes gloopy with the paper, and creates a sticky blockage in the drain.