There’s nothing worse than pushing the handle on the toilet and not hearing that characteristic swoosh. You can try jiggling the handle all you want, but without water, that won’t clear up the problem.
But don’t panic!
There are two easy ways to flush the toilet without running water.
What you need
- A bucket
Method 1- How to Bucket Flush a Toilet
This method can be a little tricky but works great once you get the hang of it. It is the best method if you don’t have access to your toilet tank.
1. If It’s Yellow, Let It Mellow
The first rule to know about using flush toilets without running water is when to flush and when not to flush. According to the EPA, the average toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush (1). If your water is turned off and you don’t know when it is coming back, it is best not to waste it flushing away your pee.
Obviously, if it’s brown, you flush it down. So let’s get started.
2. Fill Your Bucket With Water
Since your water isn’t running, filling your bucket is a bit more complicated them simply turning on the tap. Hopefully, you are prepared for your water outage and have other water sources on hand. Keep in mind any water will do, it does not need to be “clean.” After all, you are literally just going to flush it down your toilet.
If you are really short on drinking water, check out these eight ways to purify your water.
You will want at least two gallons per flush but may need as many as 5 gallons with this method. If you do not have enough water in the bucket, you will not create the siphoning action necessary to achieve a flush. And consequently will just be wasting your precious water by just adding more liquid to the bowl.
3. Pour Your Water Into the Toilet Bowl
When pouring the water from the bucket, you want to imitate the toilet’s flushing action. It’s best not to pour the water directly into the center of the bowl.
Instead, pour the water down the sides of the bowl. Think about how water flows down the sides of the bowl in a swirling action. Start slowly, gradually increasing the amount of water exiting the bucket.
This method is easiest if you place one hand on the handle and the other on the bottom of the bucket. Tip slowly at first, then more rapidly. In the end, you want the water to be entering quickly. It is the force of the water that will flush everything out of the bowl and down the tube.
Watch this video to see it happen:
4. Look away
If you aren’t careful, you may find that this method may splash a bit. So to avoid any splatter you on your face, make sure you look the other way as you dump the last of the water into the bowl.
5. Place Water In The Toilet Bowl
After everything has flushed down the drain, pour a little water into the bottom of the bowl. This water will help prevent gasses from traveling up your tubes and filling your bathroom with a stinky smell. (I bet you didn’t know why there was always water in the bottom of your toilet).
6. Wash Your Hands
Even during a water shortage, you should practice good hygiene. If you don’t want to waste your drinking water to wash your hands, you can also use hand sanitizer.
How to Flush a Toilet By Manually Filling the Tank
While bucket flushing a toilet is pretty easy, there is another method you can use to flush your toilet if your water is not running. This method has you manually filling the tank on your toilet. This won’t work if you have a tankless toilet or your tank is hidden in your wall.
Manually filling your tank uses less water than bucket flushing, especially if you have a low-flow toilet that uses less water per flush.
1. If It’s Yellow, Let It Mellow
Even if you are manually filling your tank, if your water isn’t running- don’t flush your pee. While filling your tank uses less water than a bucket flush, you still want to limit your water consumption until your water comes back.
In case of emergency, the CDC recommends storing 1 gallon of water per person each day for drinking and sanitation (2). But keep in mind that while the average toilet flush in a modern toilet is 1.6 gallons.
If you have a toilet that was built before 1982, it could use as much as 5-7 gallons per flush!
You need to keep a lot more water on hand if you plan on flushing your toilet more than once a day.
2. Fill Your Bucket
Just like doing a bucket flush, you will want to fill a bucket with water for this method as well. Again, you don’t need to be using clean drinking water for this. In fact, this is a great way to recycle gray water that you used for washing, laundry, or dishes.
3. Pour Your Water Into the Tank
Once your bucket is full, you can pour the water into the tank. You don’t need to pour it in any particular way. Just fill it enough that the float is level at the top.
4. Flush Toilet as Normal
Once your tank is full you can then flush your tank as usual. Simply push the handle, and everything should go down the drain. The only difference is that the tank won’t refill from the water lines.
5. Refill the Tank
If there is still water in your bucket, you can refill the tank for the next person who will use the toilet. It’s the polite thing to do, after all.
6. Wash Your Hands
You can rinse your hands directly over your toilet tank to make better use of your water.
Yes, you can flush a toilet without electricity. Toilets rely on gravity to create a siphoning action that flushes your waste and water down the drain. No power needed. However, water pressure is needed to create the siphoning action.
Yes, you can flush poop with a bucket of water. However, it is not the most efficient method to flush your toilet. It requires more water to do a bucket flush than when you flush with your handle, so if you can, we recommend filling the tank with water and flushing normally.
If your tank is full, but the toilet will not flush, then your toilet is probably clogged. You should use a plunger to try and unclog the toilet. After plunging, try flushing the toilet again. When it is no longer blocked, the toilet should flush normally.
- Residential Toilets. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/watersense/residential-toilets#:~:text=Specification-,Flush%20Facts,of%201.6%20gallons%20per%20flush.
- Creating and Storing an Emergency Water Supply. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/creating-storing-emergency-water-supply.html
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.