Can You Flush the Toilet When the Power is Out?


Natural disasters, like thunderstorms and floods, are the leading cause of power outages no matter where you live. Considering our lives are linked with electricity, extended power breakdown can be a complete hassle. Unless you have a backup generator, you can get stranded from enjoying the amenities in life, from watching your favorite food getting spoiled in the refrigerator to basic tasks like flushing a toilet. If you are still sticking through with us, you must be asking, “Can you flush the toilet when the power is out?”  

Do Toilets Work in a Power Outage?

The answer to the question is not as straightforward as it may appear. Whether you can flush your toilet or not depends on two basic mechanisms. First is how water is delivered to your residence and how the wastewater is ejected from your house. There are some other things that determine if your toilet would work/operate under a power outage. Therefore, it completely depends.

When You Can Flush a Toilet During a Power Outage

Your toilet flushing will keep on working despite power loss in the following scenarios:

  • You have a gravity-fed waste removal system – The system does not require electricity to operate but rather relies on gravitational force to eject the waste downward into the main sewer. Although the system works fine, extreme cold conditions can cause the waste pipes to freeze for the most part. Fortunately, dumping a bucket of water through the drain can unclog the pipes.
  • You are connected to city water – Almost all homes in big cities or small towns are connected to municipal water distribution systems. The systems usually have water stored in large reservoirs meant to sustain pressure even under power outages. The water is distributed through various pump stations and water towers that keep the water flowing through your water taps.
  • You have access to Well water – In case you live off-grid or far from the reach of the city’s water distribution system, chances are, you fulfill your water requirements through well water. Although the water is drawn using electric pumps, there is still water left in the holding tanks in case of a power outage. However, you should use the water carefully. If the holding tank goes empty, you can flush the toilet manually with a bucket of water.  

You can flush the toilet manually with a bucket full of water without depending on the water pump or the city water. However, that’s only one side of the picture. It is equally important to figure out how the wastewater is ejected from the toilet into the sewer. Some plumbing designs, such as upflush toilets, keep you from flushing your toilet in case of a blackout.

When You Can’t Flush a Toilet During a Power Outage

Your flushing system will not work during power loss under the following situations:

  • You have a septic system – A septic wastewater system relies on pumps to transfer wastewater from the pipelines into the sewer or to a secondary water treatment system situated at a higher altitude from your residence. In case of a power outage, the pumps won’t work; however, there may be some room left in a septic tank for a few flushes. Nevertheless, it’s better to find an alternative waste disposal method instead of risking with the septic tank.
  • You have up-flush toilets Upflush or macerating toilets are common in basements. These toilets rely on their pump to force sewage water into the sewer or septic tank. As we have so far understood, the pumps don’t work in case of a power outage, meaning you would be unable to flush your toilet if that happens.
  • You live in a high-rise apartment building – High-rise buildings have a central water circulating system that provides water to all the water pipelines in the building. Blackouts can cause the circulating system to cease, leaving your toilet without the water supply. Despite that, the sewage system remains operational, allowing you to flush your toilet manually with a bucket of water.

How to Flush Your Toilet In case of a Water Shortage

You won’t experience a water shortage in most cases unless there is a severe and extensive power outage. Anyhow, you must be prepared for any unwanted circumstances, regardless. You can refill your water tank manually instead of pouring water at every flush. This will allow you to use water as you typically do and prevent water wastage.

Sounds convenient, right? But how do you refill your water reservoir manually? Well, here are a few options you can try:

  • You can bring water from any natural reservoir like a pond or river near your locality. Or you can collect the rainwater from the roof in a bucket. You simply need to detach the bottom part of the downspout and direct the pipe straight to your bucket. Don’t worry if the water is muddy. Any water, as long as it’s clear of sediments big enough to clog your drain, would do the job.
  • You can draw water from your house’s central water heater. However, ensure the heater is turned off for enough time to let the water inside cool down. Hot water can not only scald your skin but can create cracks on your toilet. Once the water cools down, you can draw it through the valve located at the bottom of the tank.
  • If you have enough bottled water to surpass your drinking needs, you might as well use it for flushing. You would need a gallon of water for a single flush, provided you pour it into the tank. Bottles have a thin neck that might not fill the bowl fast enough to flush a toilet.

How to Prepare for Power Outages?

Power outages caused by excessive rainfall or flooding won’t threaten your flushing needs. However, in places that often have massive wildfires, water is often a scarce resource reserved for drinking purposes, let alone for flushing. So, it’s vital to keep yourself in touch with any emergency disaster warnings in case of a power outage.

If you hear any emergency warning, make sure to collect enough water to last you for days. For starters, fill your bathtub to the brim as well as any other reservoirs you can find. Don’t forget to fill your water storage tank if you have a well installed.

Bottom Line

Power outages can cause serious hassles, especially when you are not prepared for it in advance. If you counter such pressing scenarios, we have shared a few tips that enable you to flush your toilet during a power outage. Share with us your experiences in the comment box below!

Smith Edwards

Smith Edwards is a licensed plumber and writer with over a decade of hands-on construction and home improvement experience and has been providing home improvement advice for over 12 years.

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