HELENA — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many stores saw toilet paper fly off the shelves. Over the coming weeks, more shipments will find their ways to stores, but what happens if you run out?
There’s actually a lot of "number 2" options out there for people.
Some of the more obvious options are paper towels and napkins. However, the City of Helena says those items should not be flushed down the toilet.
“Toilet paper is actually made to start to dissolve when it gets wet,” explained Superintendent of Utility Maintenance Trent Scheuer. “Anything else is not, so anything other than toilet paper is not going to break down when you flush it.”
“Flushable wipes” are not actually designed to be flushed, and have been a big problem for the city clogging pipes. “Even if they don’t cause a blockage, when they get as far down as our lift stations, they’re going to cause bad problems with our pumps. Our pumps aren’t made to suck rags and paper towels and ‘flushable wipes,’” explained Scheuer. The City sees thousands of wipes and other items that should not have been flushed every year. "I’ve seen everything from toy cars-- and even a wiffle bat one time,” added Scheuer.
Any item that doesn’t break apart quickly in water can wreak havoc on the system and cause costly and time consuming maintenance. “You have to shut the pump down, isolate it, tear it apart and get out whatever is in it and be on our way as long as there was no damage to the pump,” said Wastewater Treatment Superintendent Mark Fitzwater.
So what should you do if you run out of toilet paper? Bidets are always an option, but installing a new throne isn’t in everyone’s budget.
Most paper products work just fine for wiping, like receipts or newspaper, but you’re going to want to bag those and throw them in a trash can just like diapers. “Do not flush receipts or newspaper,” said Fitzwater.
If you’re completely out of paper products, an alternative could be using washable cloth rags. Sponges and socks are also options: “Definitely do not flush cloth rags, and do not flush sponges or socks,” added Fitzwater.
Many agrarian societies used corn husks for wiping, and colonial Americans would use dried corn cobs for their bottoms: “Don’t flush corn husks, those can go in the garbage,” insisted Fitzwater.
Sailors on ships that were out at sea would use a bit of rope soaked in sea water back in the day: “Don’t flush any rope whether it’s soaked in sea water or not,” urged Fitzwater.
Smooth rocks can be used for the “scraping” method: “Don’t flush rocks. The system doesn’t like rocks,” emphasis Fitzwater.
Northern dwelling people have been using snow to clean their posteriors for centuries, although it can be a bit chilly: “You can flush snow,” affirmed Fitzwater.
Again, the only real thing you should be flushing down your toilet is what comes naturally and toilet paper.
If you see toilet paper at a store, please only take what you need so the rest of us don’t have to resort to the alternatives.