Toilets carry waste from the home away to special treatment plants or to small tanks that keep it separate from the household. While this service is an integral one, it is often taken for granted. In fact, toilets must be flushed and maintained in good working order for several reasons, ranging in importance from the mild to downright dangerous.
One of the most apparent problems with unflushed toilets is the odor the refuse leaves behind. If left too long, the smell from an unflushed toilet can infiltrate the whole house and even soak into the clothing of the occupants. While this smell is repugnant to us, the smell of decaying feces can actually attract other life forms such as cockroaches and beetles. These animals look for decaying biomatter to feed on.
Of course, a direct consequence of leaving organic matter to rot in moist conditions is the precipitation of mold and mildew. While some forms of mold are benign, others such as black mold can cause severe respiratory problems in humans and pets and can even cause deadly allergic reactions. Mold spores can also make occupants more susceptible to infection when allowed into open wounds such as cuts or when allowed to settle on toothbrushes or other toiletries.
Although flushing the toilet can cost the homeowner up to 2 gallons of water per flush, occasional flushing can overload the toilet's plumbing system. This can lead to clogs that back up water flow until it floods the bathroom. Additionally, if clogs happen nearer the septic system outlet, sink drains, food disposers and dishwashers can also be affected, effectively backing dirty toilet water into sinks and over dishes. This situation can be avoided by flushing after every restroom visit.
Aside from increased susceptibility to infection produced by mold spores feeding on stagnant human waste, some diseases are directly caused by human sewage. Exposure to human sewage can lead to diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, occupational asthma and even Weil's disease, which is characterized by jaundice, cramps and severe headaches.
Leaving a toilet without flushing can hurt more than the homeowner. Pets such as dogs and cats often drink from the toilet when their owner is not there to stop them. Although drinking from any toilet exposes the dog to potentially dangerous bacteria and stagnant water, water that is tainted with urine or fecal matter can contaminate a pet inside and out. Even if the pet is put off by the waste, the first taste coats the snout and tongue with potentially harmful bacteria or mold.
Sean Russell has been writing since 1999 and has contributed to several magazines, including "Spin" and "Art Nouveau." When not writing, Sean helps maintain community gardens in Silver Lake and Echo Park, California. Russell also worked extensively on the restoration and rejuvenation of public parks in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi after damage from 2004-2005 hurricanes.