Can Paper Towels Clog a Toilet?

Using paper towels is part of our everyday routine. We use them for cleaning spills, drying hands, wiping surfaces, and more. While very handy, paper towels are not made to dissolve or break down. So what happens if you flush them down the toilet?

Can Paper Towels Clog a Toilet

When it comes to your toilet and what you flush, it’s critical to understand what can and cannot go down there.

Why Paper Towels Are Prone to Clog Toilets

Toilet paper is specifically engineered to dissolve rapidly in water, while paper towels are designed for maximum wet strength and absorbency. This key difference makes paper towels far more likely to get stuck in drainage pipes.

Paper Towel Composition

Paper towels consist of wood pulp fibers that are pressed and dried into thick, highly absorbent sheets. The fibers bond tightly together and the sheet goes through an embossing process to increase surface area.

This gives paper towels their rugged, durable characteristics that are great for cleaning but spell trouble when flushed.

Toilet Paper Composition

In contrast, toilet paper contains loosely bonded wood pulp fibers that easily break apart in water. Toilet paper goes through a creping process that creates air pockets, allowing rapid dissolution.

The softer, thinner structure gives toilet paper its septic-safe properties not found in paper towels.

How Flushing Impacts Pipes

When flushed, paper towels retain their shape and block narrow pipes. Their water-resistant structure prevents dissolution and allows other materials to stick to them over time.

Repeated flushing drives the blockage further down until major pipe clogging occurs. Paper towels are a top culprit in the formation of huge masses of debris known as fatbergs that wreak havoc on plumbing systems.

Consequences of Flushing Paper Towels

Flushing paper towels seems convenient in the moment but causes serious short and long term consequences.

Plumbing System Damage

Paper towels can easily snag on pipes, joints, and elbows within your home’s plumbing network. Over time, buildup strains the system and causes leaks, bursts, and water damage.

Repairing household plumbing requires opening up walls to access pipes and can cost thousands depending on severity and location.

Sewage Backups

Beyond your home’s pipes, flushed paper towels menace public sewer and septic systems. Slow breakdown enables accumulation and formation of gigantic obstructions.

Sewage backups into streets, homes, and waterways result, creating health hazards and environmental harm. Removing a colossal fatberg from a sewer line strains municipal resources.

Overflowing Toilet Water

A toilet clogged by paper towels leads to backed up water overflowing onto bathroom floors. Contaminated water spreads germs and leaves behind stains, odors, and damage.

The saturated area around the base of the toilet provides a breeding ground for mold and mildew growth inside bathroom walls as well.

High Cost of Repairs

Along with physical damage, a toilet clogged with paper towels brings expensive plumbing repair bills.

Clearing embedded clogs requires significant drainage snake machine operation or replacement of pipe sections. Remediating soiled and damaged floors or walls adds more costs.

Flushed Paper TowelsDrainage Pipe Clogs
Accumulation Over TimeSewer Line Blockages
Deep-Embedded ObstructionsSewage Backups
Overflowing Toilet WaterBathroom Flooding

How to Dispose of Paper Towels Properly

Now that the pitfalls of putting paper towels down the toilet are clear, how should you get rid them? Follow these simple guidelines for safe paper towel disposal.

Trash It

The easiest method is to simply throw paper towels in the garbage can. Make sure to have bins conveniently located so this habit becomes reflexive.

Used paper towels containing food residues or chemicals go directly in the trash as well since they shouldn’t be flushed or composted.

Compost It

An eco-friendly way to keep paper towels out of landfills is compositing them. Check locally to see if your municipal waste program accepts compostable paper.

If you compost at home, add only clean paper towels to prevent contamination. Avoid composting soiled towels or those with residual cleaning solutions.

Reuse It

An even greener approach is to use reusable towels made of cloth rather than disposable paper towels. Cloth towels cut down on waste significantly and function just as well for most wipe-ups.

Washable microfiber cloths stand up to repeated use and machine washing. Consider paperless reusable options whenever feasible.

Key Takeaway: Safely get rid of paper towels by throwing them in the trash bin, compositing clean sheets, or better yet – replacing them altogether with reusable microfiber cloth towels to minimize waste and environmental impact.

What If You Accidentally Flush Paper Towels?

Despite best intentions, paper towels may end up taking an unexpected trip down the toilet on occasion. Take quick action as soon as this happens to avoid clogs and damage.

Use a Plunger

If recently flushed, promptly attempt to dislodge paper towels using a plunger. Creating suction may pull towels back up to the toilet bowl for removal.

Aim to plunge within 30 minutes for best results before towels get drawn deeper into the drainage pipes.

Try a Toilet Auger

For toilets still clogged after plunging, use a toilet auger (also called a plumbing snake) to hook and extract lodged paper towels. Feed several feet down the toilet drain twisting to snag then remove the blockage.

Avoid using harsh chemical drain cleaners; they corrode pipes but likely won’t dissolve sturdy paper towels very effectively anyway. Resist repeated flushing as well or you’ll only make matters worse.

Call a Plumber

If DIY attempts to clear the clog fail and water starts backing up, it’s time to bring in a professional plumber. They have the necessary equipment to locate and retrieve flushed paper towels and skill to fix any resultant damage.

Removal methods include high-powered augers, pressure flushers, pipe inspection cameras, and hydrojetting if needed. This maximizes chances of eliminating the clog without taking apart pipe sections.


Can a few paper towels clog a toilet?

Yes, even a couple flushed paper towels can clog a toilet drain. Their water-resistant structure enables fast accumulation in pipes.

What dissolves paper towels the fastest?

Paper towels resist breakdown by water and basic solvents. The best way to dissolve them is avoiding flushing in the first place and disposing in the garbage instead.

Is it OK to flush paper towels if they say “flushable”?

No product containing paper should ever go down a toilet, even if labeled flushable. Flushable wipes and paper towels still tend to clog. Toilet paper is the only paper made for safe flushing.

Can using a plunger push paper towels further down the pipes?

Excessive or overly aggressive plunging could drive blockages deeper. Use moderate force and stop immediately if water starts rising indicating towels are jammed tighter rather than dislodging.


Flushing paper towels down the toilet leads to disastrous clogging and damage due to their durable, non-dissolving structure. Save yourself plumbing disasters by following proper disposal methods.

If accidental flushing occurs, act rapidly to remove them using a plunger, auger, or professional assistance if needed. Being mindful about what goes into toilets keeps home and municipal drainage systems operating smoothly.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.