What is a Courtesy Flush?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

No one seems to agree on a single definition of a courtesy flush. It can occur during or after the act of defecation, particularly when using public facilities. The idea behind it, in most cases, is to flush away any excrement that is particularly bad smelling as quickly as possible, out of courtesy to other people who might be in the restroom.

A toilet is a plumbing receptacle for human waste.
A toilet is a plumbing receptacle for human waste.

A courtesy flush is meant to be just that — a courtesy for others. If a person knows ahead of time that he is about to pay the price for last night's overindulgences, he may want to consider flushing the toilet several times during his visit in order to minimize unpleasant odors. The common belief is that most unpleasant odors are generated between delivery and reception. This type of flush is supposed to take the offending material out of the game as soon as possible, reducing the total exposure time for others.

A courtesy flush is most common at a public restroom while others are nearby.
A courtesy flush is most common at a public restroom while others are nearby.

There are others who suggest a courtesy flush should be coordinated with emanations of unknown origin. Trapped gases or explosive diarrhea can create embarrassing sounds, along with smelly odors. A well-timed flush of the toilet could cover up any unexpected developments both tangible and intangible. Arguments against a flush of this type generally involve the principles of flowing water and suction.

There is also the post-ceremonial flush. No one likes to leave a bad impression, and few things qualify as well as an unflushed or underflushed toilet. For some users, debris may be left behind, which should prompt a second flush in order to leave a clean bowl behind. Others may find multiple flushes may be in order to deal with things that don't disappear as expected.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


All that "wasted water" goes through the sewage treatment plant, so it's not wasted. You just have to wait for it to recycle.


So I sat down and did the math, it equates to 1 trillion, 820 billion gallons of water wasted each year based on my very conservative estimates. Doesn't that make you just a little more concerned about the environment? I understand that each of us says, wow it's just a few gallons of water, but when you do the math it is astronomical. If this doesn't make you weak in the knees, you are a seriously selfish person.


OK so let's do the math. If 25 percent of the population uses a courtesy flush based on an average of 350 million people in the US, that is 87,500,000 people. If said people poop twice in a day, and the average commercial toilet uses two gallons per flush and each person courtesy flushes twice, that equates to 700,000,000 gallons of wasted water per day, everyday. And yes, that is 700 *million* gallons daily.

Now you can do the math, if possible, because my calculator and Excel won't calculate that high. Take 52 weeks per year, five days per week in public, results in 260 days per year this takes place. We are talking about billions and billions of gallons of water wasted each year. And this is simply based on 25 percent of the population doing it, which I know is low, and using a number of two extra flushes, which I've heard some do it five or more times, and assuming that commercial toilets only use two gallons per flush, which is also a low estimate. Now does anyone get the point?


Crap stinks primarily because of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is only slightly soluble in water. Floater or not, that crap will stink without a courtesy flush.


Seriously, do you not know what a courtesy flush is? Anything that floats or doesn't make it below the water line needs to be flushed immediately for the good of all! Additionally consider how much can be flushed in one go so as not to clog the toilet, if production is high break up your shipments! That is all.


I've read somewhere that when we flush, organic matter in volatile form blows out of toilet and spreads over the whole room. I close the toilet lid, if there is one. Public washrooms generally don't have it, so i guess it doesn't matter.

Wow. What a debate we have here. LOL.


courtesy flushes deprive the next user of smelling the last user's crap. complete waste.


Personally I like to have a good look at my poo to make sure that its nice and healthy - on top of that the courtesy flush is a total waste of water. Maybe some people never noticed that toilets already have water in them which the smell doesn't escape from.


11 has it right.


What a waste of water. It's so anal.


Courtesy flushes are good for some, but I personally don't like the feeling of water particles splashing up on me when the flushing occurs.


While of course no one wants to see the evidence of a previous occupant in a public toilet, we do have to make sure that we're not wasting water. People flushing toilets to cover up noises or even flushing toilets when they go in the stall to change clothes or cry and are afraid of what people will think if they don't flush the toilet are wasting a lot of water.


hey there. love the courtesy flush but it isn't necessary where i work because the toilet is an odorless one. we, my co-workers and I, never have this problem anymore. i would recommend any public facility using this wonderful thing. I had gotten pretty good at the courtesy flush but now I don't need to worry about it anymore. check out the toilet bowl exhaust system, saves on sewage water usage as well as the icky aerosols. good times!


Couldn't you just make sure you stand up before you flush an unfamiliar toilet - so that if it does have a violent reaction, at least you won't get the bad end of it?!


While I appreciate your insight, I do want to point out that most toilets flush a gallon and a half or so of clean water each time--that's a lot to be wasting just to "test the waters"...


There are several things that can ruin a courtesy flush. Plumbing problems are the most common but the pressure level and agitation are just as unpleasant. To put it delicately, if you're sitting atop a swirling maelstrom of waste water, you could be endangering your health as well as your hygiene. In an unfamiliar setting, I use a pre-flush to "test the waters".


I can agree with the courtesy flush. In certain areas it sure would help the next person in line. However one must be very careful. Unbeknown to many are the toilets that for some reason have the tendency to sent the flush the wrong way. That is up instead of down. If this phenomenon has ever happened to you once you will always be reluctant to commit to a courtesy flush. Also there is always the chance of while sitting and exercising the courtesy flush that things down below are full or stuffed or just plain stopped up and then too you are in a fix.

Post your comments
Forgot password?