Can You Flush a Toilet When the Power is Out?

Can you flush a toilet when the power is out? That’s a question we’ve all pondered when we have been left in the dark due to a power outage and suddenly have the urge to go. 

White toilet in bathroom with brick floor

Depending on your plumbing system and what type of dwelling you live in will determine whether or not the toilet will still be functional. In this article we will discuss if your toilet will still work when the power is out and how to flush it if you don’t have power. 

Severe thunderstorms and snowstorms are common occurrences. In many cases, these significant weather events can knock out the electrical power supply to your home for a few minutes, a day or two, or even longer.

If you don’t have a reliable backup generator, an extended power outage can pose a variety of problems such as a loss of air conditioning or heat, spoiled food in the refrigerator, and the inability to use your electrical appliances. And as if these issues weren’t bad enough, at some point when the power is off you might find yourself asking the question: Can I flush the toilet during a power outage?

Preparing for a power outage

As natural disasters and storms become more frequent we can expect to lose power on a more regular basis. Most of the time there are weather warnings and we can plan ahead to prepare for a power outage. In addition to stocking up on emergency supplies like flashlights and batteries its good to have a few buckets filled up with extra water in addition to extra drinking water. 

Will it work? It depends…

If your home has a gravity-fed waste removal system, you shouldn’t experience any toilet-related plumbing issues. These systems do not rely on electricity and instead use the natural force of gravity to move waste downward through the piping and out into the sewer. The only time you might have a problem with a gravity-fed waste removal system is during a winter storm when extremely cold weather causes the pipes to freeze. If you’re unable to flush, dumping a bucket of water into the toilet can usually rectify the issue.

If your water removal system is powered by electricity, flushing the toilet during an outage may be problematic. With this type of system, waste gathers inside a specially designed chamber and is then transferred into the sewer by an electric pump. Without electricity, the pump won’t work. Frequent flushing will eventually cause the chamber to become full and potentially overflow causing sewage to back up, which can create a messy, unpleasant and expensive situation.

White toilet with a black tile wall behind it.

Your toilet will still flush in a power outage if:

  • If you have standard gravity-flush toilets. They aren’t directly affected when the power goes out, provided water is still flowing and your waste system doesn’t rely on electricity. As long as the water disappears down the drain and the tank refills, you can keep flushing.
  • If you live in a large community you should be able to flush without power because municipal water generally comes from large holding tanks. Water pressure, as well as the flow of sewage to treatment plants, is generally unaffected when the power goes out.
  • If you get your water from a well, because you also have holding tanks. While water pressure may be reduced when the well pump and pressure pump lose power, there should still be enough water in an average tank for several days of flushing, depending on how much water you use for other purposes. If your water goes out, flush manually with water from buckets.

Your toilet will not flush in a power outage if: 

  • If you have a septic system that uses an effluent pump to transfer waste from the tank to a drainfield, or secondary treatment system located at a higher elevation. The pump won’t work when the power goes out. There may still be room in the septic tank for a few flushes, but you risk overfilling it and a nasty sewage backup if you flush too often. In an extended power outage, you’ll probably need to consider alternate waste disposal methods.
  • If you have upflush toilets that plug into a wall outlet and need electricity to operate macerating blades, and a pump that transfers the waste to the sewer. They won’t flush if there’s no power. This type of toilet is often found in basement bathrooms or other parts of a house far from the main sewer.
  • If you live in an apartment building. You might lose water during a power outage because the pump that circulates water throughout the building stops working. The sewage system is usually unaffected, however. Although you may not have water, you can bring in water from outdoors.

White toilet in a room with blue tile walls.

How do you flush your toilet without electricity? 

Once the power goes out you will have at least one flush available so try to save it for when you really need it. As the saying goes: If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down. 

If it’s safe to go outdoors during the outage it may be worthwhile to do your business in a secluded area of your yard if possible until you get things powered up again. 

If this isn’t possible stock up on water because there is a way to flush your toilet even if it won’t work if the power is out. 

Be Prepared for Emergencies

It takes approximately 1 gallon of water to flush the toilet

Depending on the length and severity of the outage, you may experience a water shortage. Then the tank may not refill. In that case, you can manually add water to the tank to flush the toilet. Simply pour the water into the tank and flush as you would normally. This creates a cleaner flush and wastes less water than pouring the water directly into the toilet bowl.

If you know a storm is coming fill the bathtub up with water. You can then keep a bucket or bowl beside the tub and scoop water directly to the toilet tank. 

Alternatively, if you have a number of spare buckets you can fill them all up and store them in the bathtub so you can just pick them up and use them as needed. 

Fill up as many buckets as you have available. Try to prepare for at least a week’s worth of water in a major emergency. 

Adrienne Carrie Hubbard
Latest posts by Adrienne Carrie Hubbard (see all)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *