Can You Flush the Toilet When the Power Is Out?

A power outage can seriously interfere with your daily routine. And we are not talking about charging a phone or laptop, but something much worse — a malfunctioning toilet.

In this post, you will learn which type of flush system you have at home and how it reacts to power shortages.

Can You Flush the Toilet When the Power Is Out?

You can flush a gravity-based toilet when the power is out, but you can’t flush a toilet with an electric pump. 

The former utilizes the force of gravity, while the latter depends on electric power to remove waste. Toilets relying on gravity only need water for flushing. They work as long as the water supply system is functional.

On the other hand, toilets with electric pumps need electricity to increase water pressure when flushing. They can’t work during the power outage. 

Two Types of Flush Systems

There are two basic types of flush systems. One is a gravity-fed waste removal system, while the other relies on electricity to handle debris.

Each solution has its advantages and downsides, but here’s how they react to power outages.

Gravity-Fed Toilets

Most toilets in the United States are gravity-fed flush systems. They have a tank — a water cistern you’ll likely see on top of the toilet structure. Sometimes the hides behind the wall, so you’ll only notice the flush button.

The water supply enters the tank through the plumbing system, and it takes less than a minute for the tank to fill with water. When the toilet tank is full, there’s enough water to handle the waste. The process behind gravity flush is simple:

  • You press the flush handle or button
  • The flush arm raises the toilet flapper, so the water flows out of the toilet tank
  • The force of gravity pushes the waste out of the toilet bowl and into the outlet drain

The system is purely mechanical and self-sufficient. So can you flush a gravity-fed toilet when the power is out? Yes, you can. It doesn’t require electricity, and it rarely contains digital parts.

Electricity-Powered Toilets

The modern variant of the flush system is an electrically powered toilet. The most common type of system is the pressure-assist toilet, which uses an electric pump to generate water pressure.

Many toilets in newer homes rely on electricity because they have pressurized tanks. You activate them with buttons or foot pedals located near or on top of the unit. To activate the flush system, you need to press the button or pedal.

The electric pump then sucks water into the tank and generates higher pressure for flushing waste down the drain pipe. The electrical system relies on a power supply, so can you flush an electric toilet when the power is out? 

No, you can’t.

Toilets That Will Work During a Power Outage

The two toilet types we mentioned above are the most common, but there are many other models in use. That’s why it’s important to discuss different toilets that can work during a power outage.

Gravity Flush Toilets

Gravity flush mechanisms work independently from the grid. The gravity-fed toilet works smoothly with or without power — there is no difference.

They use the power of gravity to handle waste, so the only thing that matters is to have enough water in the tank. As soon as you flush the toilet, it starts refilling with water from the plumbing lines.

Toilets Receiving Water From the Well

A well is a large accumulation of water, so it’s easy to imagine that toilets connected to this source will work during an outage. Even if you have a pump that pushes the water down the drains, the problem is not acute.

How come?

The pump pushes the water from the well to the holding tank. The pump won’t work when the power is out, but you’ll likely have more than enough water in the holding tank to flush the toilet for a few days. 

Toilets With Communal Holding Tanks

Many communal toilet systems can work independently from the power grid. This is particularly the case with large communities where sewer systems function without the use of electricity.

You will often see holding tanks with huge water quantities on top of residential buildings. Such systems always have enough water and gravity power to eliminate hard waste from the toilet. 

Toilets That Can’t Work During a Power Outage

Quite a few toilet types can’t function without electricity, so let’s discuss these models as well.

Toilets With Water Pumps

A pressure-assisted toilet is the most common type of electric toilet. It’s easy to see why — you need water pressure for flushing the waste down the drain pipe.

The pump generates power by sucking water into the tank. After that, the pump channels the water through a hose that goes straight to the toilet bowl. But what about electricity?

Without power, this system won’t work — you cannot flush these models when the grid fails. The only thing you can do is disconnect the pump from the power grid — it prevents short circuits and protects the tool from sudden power influxes.

it prevents short circuits and protects the tool from sudden power influxes.

Upflush Toilets

Upflush toilets are special waste disposal systems. An upflush toilet has a macerating pump that shreds waste into little pieces. It doesn’t flush waste down the sewer line directly, but rather through above-the-gound pipes.

The benefit of installing a macerator is that you don’t need to drill a hole in the bathroom. 

However, the pump can’t work without electricity. Upflush toilets demand a consistent supply of electrical power to treat waste. If your home is facing frequent power outages, the macerating pump will betray you too often.

Septic Systems With Effluent Pumps

Some households have an independent septic tank with an effluent pump. An effluent pump is a tool that enables sewage treatment systems to transport raw wastewater away from the toilet.

But the effluent pump can only accomplish this task by using motors, gears, and rotating shafts that pull water inside an enclosed tank. In other words, septic systems with effluent pumps require electricity to work well.

In case of a power outage, this kind of septic system will betray you.

Residential Buildings With Water-Circulating Pumps

Tall buildings often need electric pumps to dispose of toilet waste. Most water-circulating units use alternating current power to run the pump mechanism. 

It’s a highly efficient waste removal system, but only if the power is on at all times.

In case of an extended power outage, water-circulating pumps halt, and your toilet won’t work. You’ll notice that the toilet bowl is losing water due to a malfunctioning pump.

How to Keep the Toilet Functional During the Power Outage?

First of all, remember that households with traditional flush systems won’t notice the difference in case of a power outage. Your toilet will keep working as usual, so there’s no room for panic.

On the other hand, homeowners with electric pumps in their bathrooms should think about prevention. The easy way to keep the toilet functional during a power outage is to install a power generator.

You can set up a whole-house generator in case of an unforeseen outage. The device can generate power that recovers electricity-dependent toilets. That way, your toilet pump can work when the power is out in the entire neighborhood.

The best thing about standalone generators is that they support the entire home’s electricity demands. The generator won’t only help your toilet but also other electrical appliances, including air conditioning and the exhaust fan.

Can You Flush the toilet When the Water Is Out?

Yes, you can probably flush the toilet at least one more time without a water supply. That’s because there’s still enough water in the tank for one flush. 

You’ll need to improvise after that and flush the toilet without running water. Our advice is to open the tank lid and pour bottled water into it. That allows you to flush your toilet as usual. 

Another option is to pour the water into the buckets and then use it to splash the waste in the bowl. The risk of sewer overflow is low because you don’t have too much waste to dump down.

The Bottom Line

So is it possible to flush the toilet when the power is out? The answer is yes for traditional gravity-fed toilets. On the other hand, toilets with electric pumps can’t work without electricity.

If you have a pump at home, we suggest installing a standalone power generator. It’s a highly practical tool that provides all household items with electricity, including your toilet.

FAQ

Can I take a shower when the power is out?

Yes, you can take a shower when the power is out. There’s nothing unsafe about it, so the only thing that matters is to have enough hot water in the heater to shower comfortably.  

Can I use water when the power is out?

Yes, you can use water when the power is out. Some of your tools and appliances may not work without a constant power supply, but your shower and faucets will. If you have a traditional gravity-powered toilet, it will also work during the outage.

Do toilets use electricity?

Most toilets don’t use electricity, but there are models that do. The majority of households have gravity-fed toilets that only need water for flushing. On the other side, some homes have upflush toilets or power pumps that demand electricity. 

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