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Can you flush tampons?

The TL;DR answer is nope. And we’re pretty sure that you won’t be tempted to flush them again by the time you finish this article.

Updated

We’re guessing you’re here because a friend has told you not to flush tampons. Or maybe you were bored enough to read the packaging and spotted the microscopically tiny graphic showing someone flushing a tampon with a cross through it. Either way, you’ve probably Googled ‘Can you flush tampons’ hoping to be told that it’s absolutely fine to chuck ‘em down the loo.

Sorry to disappoint you, but the only place a used tampon should go is in the bin.

‘But why?’ we hear you ask. After all, surely they can’t be any worse than loo roll? Unfortunately, tampons don’t break down as easily as toilet paper (let’s face it, if they did they wouldn’t be much good at doing the job you buy them for).

What happens if you flush a tampon?

If you flush one, it can block your loo. If it does get past your loo, it can contribute to blockages in the sewer, whether it’s a few metres away, or a few miles away. But if it doesn’t and your tampon makes it all the way to the waste treatment plant, it can still cause serious issues there.

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And if that isn’t enough to put you off, your tampon could even make it as far as the sea. More than six percent of beach rubbish is believed to have ended up in the sea because it was flushed rather than binned. Do you fancy swimming amongst used sanitary products? Nope, us neither.

Turns out that raging hormones, cramps, bloating and an overwhelming urge to eat everything in the fridge, aren’t the only side effects of periods.

If you’ve been happily flushing for years, don’t beat yourself up. According to the Journal of the Institution of Environmental Sciences, around 2.5 million tampons disappear down the U-bend every day in the UK. So clearly you’re not the only one who didn’t realise that they’re supposed to be binned.

So why do so many people assume that flushing tampons is safe? Well, considering that most of us tend to tick ‘accept terms and conditions’ without actually reading them, it’s not too surprising that many of us have missed the ‘do not flush’ warning on our tampon box. And a lot of brands don’t even spell it out – they just use very small graphics that are easy to miss.

Another reason people often dispose of sanitary products down the loo is the ‘yuck’ factor. There’s not much we can do to help you there, except suggest that you wrap them in loo roll first and use a bin liner.

Need some extra motivation? Dealing with sewers blocked by wet wipes, sanitary products and other ‘unflushables’ costs companies around £100 million a year. We’re betting you can think of a few things that money would be better spent on.

Tampon disposal: Your questions answered

Are tampons biodegradable? Most of them aren’t. In fact, they could take hundreds of years to fully degrade because they contain traces of plastic. They also often come with plastic applicators and plastic packaging, just to add to the waste. Can tampons be flushed if they don’t contain plastic? It is possible to buy tampons that are made without plastic. However, they can still take months to break down properly, so can cause major issues in sewers and treatment plants. So, in short, please don’t flush them. If I can’t flush them, what should I do instead? Not sure how to dispose of tampons? They’re not recyclable so the only place for them is the bin. If you’re feeling squeamish, you could wrap them in loo roll first, or pop them in a toilet roll inner and fold the ends closed. If you’re out and about and don’t fancy leaving a tampon in a friend’s bin, you could pop it in a biodegradable nappy bag or dog poo bag first. (It’s worth buying a pack so you can keep a few in your bag or coat pocket.) It’s only one little tampon… Well yes, but you’ll probably get through around 11,000 of them before you reach the menopause. And there are more than nine million people in the UK using tampons. In short, it adds up. Anything else I need to know? As well as the plastic issue, many tampons are also chemically bleached. The waste resulting from the bleaching process is pretty toxic, so not exactly great for the environment. So can you get environmentally friendly tampons? Some eco retailers sell tampons that don’t contain plastic and aren’t chlorine bleached. They’re certainly a lot greener than standard ones, but still result in a lot of waste. (And as mentioned, they still shouldn’t be flushed.)

How about switching to a reusable option? From cloth sanitary towels and washable tampons, to period pants and menstrual cups, there are options to suit everybody. Made the switch to silicone but not sure how to sanitise your new menstrual cup? Check out our guide to cleaning a menstrual cup. Can you flush tampons if you have a septic tank?

Definitely not. Not only could you end up with a hefty bill for fixing the tank, you could end up with raw sewage seeping into your lawn. Enough said.

Can condoms be flushed?

You’re probably now wondering about some of the other rubbish you’ve been disposing of down the loo. For pretty much all of it, the answer is still going to be ‘no’. The only things you should ever send down the toilet are the three Ps: poo, pee and (toilet) paper. So no baby wipes, hygiene wipes, condoms, nappies or goldfish.

Help, my loo is blocked!

Accidently flushed one of the above and now have a blocked loo to contend with? Unblocking a toilet is one of those adult jobs none of us would have signed up for as a child. It’s not fun, but it can be done: read our tips for unblocking a loo here.

How can I get rid of blood stains?

The phrase ‘sod’s law’ comes to mind when it comes to leaks. They always seem to happen when you’re wearing new white undies rather than your old black granny knickers. Our top tip for dealing with blood stains is to use cold water, but you can find out more in our in-depth stain removal guide.

Originally published