Closeup on a homeowners hand lifting the top part of a toilet set, with graphics depicting odor and bacteria arising

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

You’ve probably heard this rhyme depicting the battle between those who prefer to flush a toilet immediately and those who would instead save water by waiting before hitting the lever. 

Unfortunately, this saying creates confusion for most of us who want a more sustainable, healthy, and hygienic lifestyle.

So, what happens if you don’t flush a toilet for a long time?

In this article, we’ll discuss how often to flush a toilet. We’ll also cover the reasons not to flush frequently.

Therefore, if you’re at a crossroads between flushing and not flushing, keep reading to learn how to settle this whiz war.

What Happens if You Don’t Flush a Toilet for a Long Time?

If you don’t flush a toilet for a long time, waste, bacteria, and mineral deposits accumulate in the bowl.

In the presence of pee, mineral deposits from hard water form quickly, gunking up the toilet bowl. In turn, you’ll spend more on harsh chemicals to remove the rings on the bowl.

a very old toilet with sediment and deposits caked on the inside of the bowl, built up through the years by not flushing it enough
This is what the multi-decade old toilet looked like in our second bathroom of our netzero home renovation project before ripping it out and installing a new one. You can see all the buildup from it sitting idle through the years!

How Often Should You Flush a Toilet?

It’s advisable to flush a toilet at least once daily.

Leaving your bathroom unflushed for longer than that leads to odors and the accumulation of mineral deposits that gunk up the bowl.

On the other hand, flushing a toilet frequently wastes water, a valuable resource on the planet.

Flushing a toilet at least once daily prevents gunking up and odors. However, if multiple people use the same bathroom, you should flush more often.

Closeup on a toilet bowl mid-flush

Contrary to popular belief, flushing every time you pee isn’t hygienic for your family. Although this sounds shocking, there’s a perfectly good explanation for this.

Reasons Not to Flush a Toilet Too Frequently

Flushing too frequently does more harm than good to your family. Here is why:

Flushing Spread More Germs

We all want to live healthy lifestyles and protect our families from germs and bacteria.

Most of us believe that flushing a toilet every time we pee is an excellent way to keep germs and bacteria at bay. However, science says otherwise.

Although going to the bathroom on top of someone else’s waste seems disgusting and an easy way to spread germs, Dr. Jeff Engel, a State Epidemiologist, gives a different view

He says, “Urine is normally sterile as a body fluid. Even if you have a urinary tract infection with bacteria in your urine, it would be inactivated with the chlorine levels in the public water supply. So there’s really no known disease transmission with urine left unflushed in the toilet.”

Now, how does flushing a toilet frequently spread germs?

According to MIT Medical, flushing a toilet creates a toilet plume—an airborne dispersal of microscopic droplets.

Besides mixing with air in the room, these droplets can land on your skin and clothing, spreading bacteria that can cause infection.

Three images in a sequence displaying a toilet plume that results when you flush a toilet
Courtesy of USA Today

Therefore, leaving your toilet unflushed is better if you won’t be using it in a while. Flushing once or twice a day (depending on how many people are using the bathroom) is enough to keep your family safe from diseases caused by germs.

Check out this article to know more about a sink built into the toilet and where to buy one.

Flushing Consumes a Lot of Water

An average person pees approximately six to seven times daily, which amounts to six to seven flushes daily for each adult person in a household.

Modern, efficient toilets use 1.6 gallons (6.06 liters) of water per flush (traditional models use seven gallons (26.5 liters)). So, at this rate, how many water gallons are used daily when you flush a toilet?

Hold on while I get my calculator…

An adult peeing six times daily uses 9.6 (1.6 • 6) gallons (36 liters). This calculation equates to 42 gallons (159 liters) for traditional toilets. In a year, that translates to 3,504 and 15,330 gallons (13,264 and 58,030 liters), respectively.

Let’s look at it the other way—instead of flushing each time you pee, you decide to flush it only once a day. How much water will you save?

If you flush a toilet once daily, you use 1.6 and seven gallons of water for efficient and traditional toilets, respectively. 

Regarding water saving:

  • Modern, efficient toilets save eight gallons (9.6-1.6) per day, or 2,920 gallons annually.
  • The figure for traditional toilets is 35 gallons saved (42-7) per day, or 12,775 gallons annually.

The more water you save by not flushing the toilet means you’ll have less to pay in utility bills. Let us put that into context.

According to the U.S. EPA, the average cost of water in the U.S. is $0.03 for every 10 gallons

Therefore, you’ll save the following:

  • Modern efficient toilets: {(2,920÷10) • $0.03)} = $8.76
  • Traditional toilets: {(12,775÷10) • $0.03)} = $38.33

Although the savings seem negligible, conserving water is a laudable endeavor that contributes to sustainable living.

Installing a home greywater system can help you save even more water. If treated, greywater from laundry and sinks is suitable for flushing toilets instead of using fresh water.

A pipe from a greywater system that recycles water from an air conditioner dripping water into a bowl outside a home

Plumbing Issues and Maintenance Challenges

Neglecting to flush your toilet for a long time can lead to various plumbing issues and maintenance challenges.

Let’s discuss some of these issues.

  • Clogs in the flushing system: The buildup of minerals and sediments in the toilet bowl can create clogs. These clogs can affect the flushing mechanism, making it difficult for water to pass through. The consequence is poor flushing performance.
  • Gasket and seal deterioration: The rubber gaskets and seals in the toilet can deteriorate when not in regular use. Lack of flushing can lead to these components drying out and losing their elasticity. Deteriorated gaskets and seals can result in water leaks.
  • Pipe and sewer line issues: If a toilet is not flushed for long, it may contribute to clogs in the pipes and sewer lines connected to it. Accumulated waste, debris, and mineral deposits can create blockages, potentially leading to backups and slow drainage throughout the plumbing system.
  • Potential for costly repairs: Not flushing your toilet for long can result in various issues that may require professional intervention. The cost of repairing or replacing damaged components, addressing clogs, and restoring proper functionality can be much higher than routine maintenance and timely repairs.

Why You Should Flush a Toilet Regularly

We’ve already established that flushing a toilet less frequently has more health and sustainability benefits for a family.

However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid flushing it entirely. If you do, you’ll set yourself up for a toilet cleaning and maintenance nightmare


A combination of urine and hard water is catastrophic for your toilet. When the two come together and are left to sit for a few hours, they form layers of solidified mineral deposits.

It doesn’t take long before these deposits form stubborn rings around the bowl. You’ve probably seen the brownish-yellow rings on a public restroom toilet.

The formation of such rings around your toilet bowl is the primary concern for not flushing it regularly.

Removing these deposits may require using harsh chemicals that are catastrophic to the environment.

An efficient way to prevent the formation of these crystals is by connecting the toilet to a water-softening filtration system.

The system filters water minerals responsible for the arrival of rings when hard water mixes with the urine.

Alternatively, don’t let your toilet mellow for too long. Instead, flush it once or twice a day, depending on the number of people using it. This approach will prevent the build-up of solidified minerals that cause rings and other issues in your toilet bowl. 

Besides the discoloration of the bowl, the waste materials start decomposing, emitting a foul odor. The odor creates an uncomfortable environment for your family and visitors.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need to flush a toilet every time you pee, but doing so semi-frequently will help keep your family safe from diseases and conserve water for sustainable living.

It’s also essential to flush regularly to avoid the formation of stubborn rings and foul odors in your toilet. 

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