How to Flush Toilets in a Power Outage –
Flushing toilets is a luxury we often take for granted in this modern world. We carry mini-computers in the palm of our hand all day long. We have technology at our fingertips 24/7. We’re not living in the Stone Ages. When we enter a bathroom, we expect the toilet to flush without any problems, right?! Many of us don’t even remember a time when toilets were not a common fixture in every home.
But What Happens to Your Toilet During a Power Outage?
If you live in a city or town and have municipal water, you may not experience any disruptions in your ability to use the bathrooms in your home. I’ve never lived in a city, but from what I understand, the water held in those big water towers still flows into your home just the same because it’s gravity being used to feed that water into your pipes. Gravity still works during a power outage.
Those of us
Our pressurized water tank is in our basement. Some people have them in their garages. Others likely have them in utility closets and so on. I’m not quite sure about all the different options for well and septic, but if your well pump runs on electricity, you will not be able to pump water during a power outage unless you have some type of alternative power source.
We do not have an alternative power source at this point. I’ve discussed some of our winter storm preparations in a series of other posts. Alternative power hasn’t made sense to us because of the high cost in comparison to the number of times we would actually use it. We do take the precautions we need to be comfortable without power. You can read our winter storm series by clicking the following links.
Winter Storm Survival Series:
- How to Avoid a Winter Power Outage by Being Prepared
- Winter Storm Preparedness Must-Have #1 – Alternative Heat
- Winter Storm Preparedness Must-Have #2 – Cheap Massive Water Storage
- Winter Storm Preparedness Must-Have #3 – Easily-Prepared Food
- 10 Foods You Must Stock for a Power Outage (Focuses More on Non-Perishables)
What Makes a Toilet Flush?
The technology involved with flushing a standard toilet isn’t really all that sophisticated. The toilet tank holds a couple of gallons of water. When you push the toilet handle, the little chain lifts a small plug that was covering the opening between the toilet tank and the toilet bowl. The water goes rushing into the toilet bowl and washes all the waste down the drain.
The toilet itself, in most cases, does not require electric power to operate. I realize there are now smart toilets with all kinds of fancy features which I’m sure require electricity because they have some sort of computer in them, but most homes (or at least the ones of people I know) still have standard dumb toilets. If you do feel inclined to install fancy smart toilets in your home, I recommend you leave at least one of your toilets as the older style because it would be much easier to flush in a long-term grid-down situation.
I’m going to assume anyone with fancy-schmancy smart toilets doesn’t read my frugal lifestyle blog anyway, so we will proceed under the premise that your toilet, like mine, does not require electricity to operate the actual toilet. The toilet itself does not plug into any sort of power outlet. What does require electricity, as stated above, is filling the tank on the back of the toilet. Pumping water into the toilet tank does require electricity.
This means once the electricity goes off, you have one flush left in each of your toilets. USE IT WISELY!
Unless You Know My Very Special Toilet Flushing Secret . . .
You don’t have to be held to that one-flush-in-each-toilet rule during a power outage if you know how to flush a toilet without pumping water from your well. It’s actually very simple to flush a toilet in a power outage, but it does require some planning ahead of time.
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You can’t wait until the ice storm has arrived and completely knocked out your power if you want to have extra flushes. To cheat the off-grid system and flush the toilets without electricity, you must store extra water for this purpose.
You simply need large quantities of water to pour into the toilet instead of pumping water from your well to flush a toilet during a power outage. There are two different methods of flushing a toilet with no electricity.
#1 – Pour water directly into the toilet bowl.
I’ve seen people flush the toilet during a power outage by pouring water directly into the toilet bowl. If you pour enough water quickly enough, you will cause the toilet to flush by that method.
If you pour the water slowly, or you don’t use enough water, you will fail, and it will just add water to the bowl. You could risk overflowing your toilet. Yuck! Or you could risk wasting some of your valuable stored water.
Because pouring the water directly into the toilet bowl to flush a toilet during a power outage requires a bit of skill and practice and comes with some risks, that is not my preferred method. I would rather be safe than sorry with my precious water (And who wants to get a bunch of towels dirty at a time when you don’t have access to proper laundry facilities if you happen to overflow the toilet bowl?).
#2 – Pour water into the toilet tank, and use the flush handle as you normally would.
My preferred method of flushing a toilet during a power outage is simply pouring water directly into the toilet tank to the replace the water that was used in the prior flush. This way works without any particular skill, and it should be effective every time.
Storing Water to Flush During a Power Outage
Because flushing the toilet requires a considerable amount of water (on top of the water you need to store for drinking, cooking, and so on), you don’t want to wait until you hear the ice pelting your roof to come up with a plan for storing water.
There are several ways a family could store water for a flushing toilets during a power outage.
1.) Fill the bathtubs to store water for flushing.
I know some people fill their bathtubs to save water if there’s potential for a power outage. I don’t like that way of storing water for a power outage myself. It’s just not very practical. The only time I tried that, my drain plug wasn’t a tight seal, and all the water had slowly drained away before the next morning. That could happen to you.
If you do use your bathtubs to store water for a power outage, you should probably use one these expensive water bladders made for that purpose to avoid accidental draining.
My big issue with filling the bathtubs or using a water bag in the bathtub is that it monopolizes the entire bathtub. I will admit one advantage of the WaterBOB Bathtub Emergency Water Storage Container pictured above is that the water it stores is drinkable. You would not want to drink the water without boiling if you just run water straight into your bathtub. We store other water for drinking, so that’s not an issue of us.
You can read more about our other water storage in Massive Water Storage on the Cheap, but drinkable water or not, I don’t like to monopolize the bathtubs with water storage.
Are you going to leave that water in your bathtub all winter? Are you going to pour it right down the drain after the storm h
2.) Use a rain barrel to store water for flushing toilets.
This is a method I have used for a lot of years in the past. I keep a rain barrel outside during spring, summer, and fall to collect water for my garden. I would clean the rain barrel well in the fall and bring it into my basement. Then I would fill it, add a pool chlorine tablet to keep it fresh, and cover the top with plastic.
The rain barrel would stay in my basement all winter storing huge amounts of water in case of a power outage. In the spring, I then attach the hose and use any water I didn’t need for emergencies on my garden and take the rain barrel back outside. I hate just pouring water down the drain. It feels wasteful. The little bit of chlorine added originally has never been an issue with my garden.
You can read more about my rain barrel in here.
3.) Use 5-gallon buckets with lids for storing water to flush toilets.
This is my new favorite way of storing water to flush the toilets during a power outage. Because we have 7 people living here, we buy our laundry detergent by the 5-gallon bucket. Kids sell these huge buckets of detergent for school fundraisers here, so I buy them.
It’s not necessarily cheaper than buying inexpensive detergent by combining sales and coupons (ends up being about the same price), but it’s much more convenient than picking up a jug of detergent every week. It also helps whatever club or sport is doing the fundraiser. Plus there are so many uses for the buckets.
I’ve accumulated many of these 5-gallon laundry detergent buckets over the last few years. This year we’ve been experiencing some crazy winter weather. Indiana weather is always crazy, so that’s not really unusual! This week we’re at 40 degrees on Monday, but we are expecting -40 degrees by Wednesday. That’s an 80-degree shift in temperature in 48 hours. We’ve had to prep for storms repeatedly this winter.
While getting ready for the first storm with a prediction of ice, I realized these 5-gallon laundry detergent buckets would be amazing for storing the water to flush toilets if we lost power.
I posted a Facebook Live video while I was prepping for the storm because I wanted you to be able to see exactly how I use these 5-gallon buckets. You can view the video here, and please feel free to Like/Follow our Facebook page while you’re over there.
Using these 5-gallon detergent buckets to store water for flushing toilets has been great so far. Fortunately, we haven’t lost power in any of the major weather fronts, but I’ve been able to leave the buckets of water in each bathroom instead of having to get ready again for every storm.
I love having the buckets in each bathroom instead of needing to carry water up the stairs from the rain barrel if we do experience a power outage. If I get tired of having them in the bathrooms, I can always have one of the guys carry them down to the basement and stack them all in a corner someplace.
These 5-gallon buckets when full of water are way too heavy for me to lift. I will not be lifting them to fill the toilet tank. Even though my husband is strong enough to lift them, he would not be capable of pouring water from the bucket into the tank without making a horrible mess.
If we need to use this water for flushing toilets, we will pop off the lid, and use a pitcher (or an ice cream bucket) to transfer water to the toilet tank.
If you want to remove the lids from these 5-gallon detergent buckets, YOU MUST HAVE THIS VERY SPECIAL TOOL! I’m not joking. Trying to pry open the lid with a steak knife from your kitchen is extremely dangerous and disastrous.
I’m completely serious. You know if I can go without owning an item, I don’t buy it because I’m frugal like that, but you have to buy the special tool to reuse these awesome buckets. The tool is available for just a couple of dollars as an add-on item at Amazon, or you can get it for a little bit more if you are just buying the tool, but you must own it.
I promise you will thank me for telling you about the 5-Gallon Paint Can Opener if you buy laundry detergent this way and have been removing the lids by other completely idiotic methods involving your kitchen cutlery. You will not regret this purchase. Put this bucket lid opener in your cart right now! (Drop me a line once you’ve used the tool and realize it might have saved your life or at least prevented a serious injury from your prior bad habits with the kitchen utensils.)
Once you have the 5-Gallon Paint Can Opener, DO NOT LOSE IT! You must carefully guard it. Keep in a place of reverence when not in use, so you will always know where it is because you will never want to open a bucket again without it.
Conserving Water in a Power Outage
Even though we work hard to prepare for winter weather emergencies here, there’s no possible way to store an unlimited amount of water. Water storage is one of the largest space hogs in any sort of emergency prepping. It’s likely no matter how much water you do manage to store, you will always need to be mindful of your water usage during a power outage.
We live in a rural area, and in the rural areas, you can never predict how long it will take for the electric power to be restored. We had one power outage when my older two kids were small that lasted for nearly ten days. It’s difficult to store the water you will need for that many days, so you still need to use your water sparingly throughout a power outage.
You can’t go wasting water willy nilly when you don’t know when you’ll have a fully operational well pump again. This means you must ration your toilet flushes during a power outage.
The first rule of toilet flushing in a grid-down situation is “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down!”
During a power outage, the toilet paper from the yellow needs to be placed in the trash instead of the toilet. Reserving your flush for a couple of times a day could result in way too much toilet paper collecting in the bowl before your next flush. The last thing you need during a power outage is a toilet clogged with too much paper.
Also, keep in mind you can use some of your gray water to flush toilets. Gray water is water you’ve used for completing tasks like rinsing dishes. You might not want to use water you soaked your dirty dishes in if it’s full of food chunks, but water used for rinsing dishes or rinsing laundry would be perfectly fine for flushing toilets in a power outage.
DO NOT pour the gray water in the back of your toilet tank though. Keep the toilet tank clean! Pour gray water directly into the bowl to flush using that other method I mentioned because the toilet bowl is accustomed to seeing nasty waste anyway.
Now You Know How to Flush a Toilet in a Power Outage
Now that you know how to flush a toilet during a power outage, it’s time for you to get busy storing some water. Get off your phone, and start getting ready for the next Snomeggedon! A little bit of preparation now goes a long way later when you’re fumbling around in the dark and the cold because you figured the storm wasn’t really going to happen. Trust me, we’ve all been there at one point or another!
So what crazy weather are you expecting this week? Do you have any other great ideas for storing water?
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You may also enjoy other posts in our Winter Storm Preparation series! Click the image below or here to find out other winter survival tips.