Updated on 08.26.14

Do You Save Money By Not Flushing?

Trent Hamm

Jennifer writes in:

My husband grew up in an area that often had summer droughts and water rationing. Because of that, he was trained as a child to stick to the “if it’s yellow let it mellow if it’s brown flush it down” mantra. We’re married and live in an area that doesn’t have any water issues at all. In fact, we live near an immense reservoir.

My husband still sticks to that same mantra, but now he claims it’s to save money. I can’t find any evidence one way or another when it comes to this concern. I can’t believe it would save much money at all.

I’m surprised how often I’m asked this question. It must be something that comes up pretty frequently in marriages and relationships. Interestingly, it’s almost always the guy who lets the “yellow mellow” and it’s almost always his female partner complaining and saying it doesn’t save that much.

The big question, of course, is how much does it save? Let’s find out.

The national average for a gallon of water is 2/10ths of a cent per gallon. Many municipalities also charge sewer rates based on water usage, so to compensate for that, we’ll calculate it at a rate of 3/10ths of a cent per gallon.

The average amount of water used in a flush has varied over time. Toilets from the 1950s use as much as eight gallons per flush. Over time, the total amount per flush has gone down drastically. Currently, the average toilet manufactured today uses about 1.5 gallons per flush. Since many people aren’t necessarily using brand new toilets, I’ll calculate the average at two gallons of water use per flush.

So, how many times does a person flush per day? A recent AWWARF study indicates the average person flushes a toilet 5 times per day. And a survey that I saw recently indicates that the average person has 1.5 “brown” flushes per day.

We have our data – now let’s do the math.

If Jennifer’s husband flushed every time he used the toilet for a year, that would be five flushes per day times 365 days, equaling 1,825 flushes. Each flush uses two gallons of water, meaning he would use 3,650 gallons of water in a year. Each gallon of water used costs Jennifer and her husband 3/10ths of a cent, so the total cost for a year’s worth of normal flushing is $10.95.

Under the “if it’s yellow let it mellow if it’s brown flush it down” philosophy, that would add up to 1.5 flushes per day times 365 days, equaling 547.5 flushes in an average year. Each flush uses two gallons of water, so he would use up 1,095 gallons. Each gallon of water used costs 3/10ths of a cent, so the total cost under this philosophy for a year’s worth of flushes is $3.29.

Jennifer, your husband’s prudence in flushing is saving you guys $7.66 per year. Assuming, of course, you follow the national averages on everything. Most likely, you don’t follow it in some areas, but the variation is probably a mix on both sides of the line, so I think this is a pretty reasonable estimate.

Is it worth it? That’s for Jennifer and her husband to figure out. I don’t think it’s worth $7.66 in a year’s time to deal with the odor of toilet stagnation or potential health concerns, either.

However, if you do live in an area with water rationing, such a philosophy does save 2,565 gallons per year per person that adopts it (on average, of course). It does cut down on water consumption, but as a purely financial move, it’s just not worth the $7 to me.

Good luck! If nothing else, the numbers should give Jennifer and her husband something to talk about!

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  1. Finance Nerd says:

    Only tangentially related, but where I live, sewer rates are actually HIGHER than water rates. So, your .2 cents would turn into more like .5 cents.

    Not enough to change the answer, but interesting nonetheless.

    P.S. Every gallon of water out of the meter gets charged sewer rates too, including watering the lawn which doesn’t go through the sewer — ripoff!

  2. I think the argument for the theory is more about water conservation than frugality. As you’re numbers show, the cost difference is less than a $1 a month, so it’s not really something that should concern a person fiscally. The water conservation is the bigger issue. 2500 gallons of water is nothing to scoff at. In many municipalities, sewer water treatment plants are in use, so excess water usage is minimalized. In drought conditions, however, every gallon makes a difference.
    My opinion is that, in most cases, it’s a drought condition only practice. The health and odor issues far outweigh any monetary gain, and the treatment facilities and recycling negate most of the environmental issues.

  3. aryn says:

    I grew up in a drought region and it still affects my habits. For example, I never run water while brushing my teeth. We had the mellow yellow policy, and on top of that, we had to put buckets in the showers to catch the water that we would then dump into the toilet to flush the brown. This was before low-flow toilets, and during a 7-year drought.

    So far, I haven’t gone that far, and Los Angeles is in year three of a drought with water rationing. Water usage is down to 1979 levels – without most of us mellow yellowing it.

  4. Kristen says:

    These are the posts I love! Thanks for doing the footwork, Trent.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Not the question-asker Jennifer. :) I “let it mellow” quite often, but I live alone (and I drink a lot of water), so it doesn’t bother anyone. I figure I’m saving water more than money, and though I live in an area where water is plentiful, it doesn’t mean I have to be wasteful with it. I usually use my dirty dishwater to water my garden and plants too. Every bit helps!

  6. Beth says:

    Dunno if it’s the same in the US, but in Europe modern toilets have two buttons for this purpose. The “small flush” uses far less water than two gallons.

  7. Amy says:

    Jennifer (not the above commenter ;o)) could compromise with her husband by putting a water saver in the tank of the toilet – whether one is purchased or created from a recycled milk jug (I think the half gallon ones fit), they can reduce the amount of water that “fills” each time.

  8. Amy says:

    Jennifer (not the above commenter ;o)) could compromise with her husband by putting a water saver in the tank of the toilet – whether one is purchased or created from a recycled milk jug (I think the half gallon ones fit), they can reduce the amount of water that “fills” each time. Then maybe he would feel better about flushing each time (if she can break him of that habit).

  9. Sergio says:

    Of course adopting the “yellow..” policie is not a big saving on money.

    This is mainly because most “developed” countries consider the access to water as a basic right. Because of that, a lot of the real cost of water transport is not charged to the consumer (it’s subsidized). Also, government doesn’t consider the cost of water as a resource (because it’s available “in nature”), the only part taken into the ecuation is transport.

    But sooner or later, the water is going to become a more limited resource, and when that time arrives, the cost of water is going to be bigger than other resources.

    When that happens, there is going to be a lot more taxes related to this service to improve water rationing and “used water” treatment.

    Also, is more easy (and cheaper) to implementing these changes in lifestyle in a step by step program than take emergency measures when it’s already late.

    If you need to see the economical side, just think of this like an investment. You are using resources now (mainly effort) to reduce the impact in the future (directly in water, in effort, in money, and others).

    It’s a reality that your children will need to apply this policies and other that may look extreme. Start teaching them know.

    (I’m really considering the option to install a dry urinal in my house..)

  10. NMPatricia says:

    Interesting post with great factual information. Not to be a nicpicker BUT I wonder how the cleaning of the toliet and the water used for that is affected by not always flushing.

  11. Z Man says:

    Just food for thought: for folks living in rural areas with well water and septic systems, that 2,565 gallons of water a year saved would lengthen the life of both of those very expensive pieces of equipment. In the northeast re-drilling a well or putting in a new septic costs upwards of $10k. Maybe it’s worth it to “mellow” out in the sticks?

  12. Ashly says:

    I agree that purely as a financial decision it doesn’t make sense, but the number of gallons saved does have a significant impact on the environment — drought or not, why waste all that water?

    We let it mellow on our house — and there certainly isn’t any “toilet stagnation” odor. We don’t necessarily only flush when it’s brown but I also can’t imagine a household where the toilet is only flushed 5 times per day…even on a day I work 9 hours I go more than that by myself; add in DH and DD and it would easily be 10-12.

  13. Jennifer H. says:

    Funny; I (the wife) am actually the one who tends to let it mellow. I didn’t grow up that way at all, but reading Dune way too many times and spending time in Africa have made me very water-conscious.

  14. Jane says:

    We are a “yellow let it mellow” household except for when we have guests (no need to gross anyone out!). I particularly hate flushing in the middle of the night as it is loud. I don’t do it to save money. It just seems wasteful to me to flush every time, especially since I go so often and am home all day. We also have an old toilet (that we love – much nicer for flushing than the new low flows!), so this is our way of saving water without replacing the toilet. We also have a liter soda bottle in the tank (with rocks in it) to cut back on the flush.

    I will agree that such methods do mean that you need to clean your toilet more often….

  15. steph says:

    Trent, what potential health concerns result from not flushing urine? I was under the impression that health concerns about human waste were about fecal waste rather than urine.

  16. Sergio says:

    I forgot this:

    The urine is, by nature, a steril solution. It only has bacteries if you’re sick or something is not working to well.

    The strong odor cames from the urea. If yours is really strong, you may consider drinking more water or visiting a speciallist.

  17. Beth says:

    Oh, the lengths we will go =o). I’m with Jane on the loud toilet part and the guest exception (no-brainer there!). I just moved out of an apartment on a university campus that had a super-loud institutional-style toilet. Water conservation saved my eardrums, too. If we’re talking about health hazards, flushing distributes particles of toilet water into the air if you don’t shut the lid. I think not flushing is more of an olfactory hazard.

  18. Your husband could always “let it mellow” outside on a tree. ;)

    Personally, I think it is important to conserve water, not for financial reason but for the sake of being a good steward of our Earth…yet, I don’t let it mellow. I find other ways to conserve water such as shorter showers, turning off the water when I’m brushing my teeth, water plants with left over drinking water rather than dumping it down the drain.

    (I’m not sure I fall into the 5 times a day category, maybe 3).

  19. As Trent has outlined, this certainly isn’t the low hanging fruit of the “budget cutting” discussion. However, going through the exercise is the only way to find out how much, or little, you are saving.

  20. Colin says:

    On my toilets, I can pull the handle up to cut off water sooner than it normally would and I can hold it down to drain the whole tank. It’s a way to use less water when it’s not needed.

    Now, a urinal would be nice!

  21. Gretchen says:

    We are a mellow household, especially at night, for the reason Serigo mentioned. No need to wake each other up!

    I wonder what these ” potential health concerns ” you mention are.

  22. T. says:

    I don’t flush at night, it’d wake up our son and just is loud overall – wakes me up!

    If it’s not a lot of urine (especially when my young son goes), I just leave it, and flush when I later go. If there’s enough urine to be dark yellow in the bowl, it’s time to flush!

    I think the thing we need to remember is if the urine sits long periods of time, it leaves a ring – that with low flow toilets – or any – can be hard to clean. Which leads to more expensive cleaners – which negates any original savings. So be careful with the ‘savings’. This is one thing I think is a not truly frugal idea in the end, it’s partially frugal.

  23. Lisa says:

    In addition to using a low-flow toilet, you can save more water using a toilet lid sink. Then the water you used to wash your hands after the last flush gets used for this flush.


    We have one, which solved the problem of not having room in our closet-with-toilet to add a sink.

  24. Alex Johnson says:

    Interesting. According to your link, Pittsberg leads the cost in water. But when I pull my bill out from Greater Cincinnati Water Works, I find that my water costs are even higher than that.

    Between December 29th and March 30, my family of 5 used 1745 Cubic Feet of water. That is roughly 13,053 gallons. I was charged $57.84 for water and $120.06 for sewer charges (Total of 177.90). That comes out to $0.014 a gallon, almost 5 times your guess of $0.003 a gallon.

    So your calculation saves me quite a bit more money.

  25. anna says:

    I replaced my circa 1960’s toilets with 2010 toilets using 0.6 gallons per flush, using all of Trents numbers just replacing my gallons of water amount, it really isn’t worth it for me!! My city utilities company gave me a $50 rebate/toilet.

    Letting it mellow is too far for my frugal or enviromental side!

  26. YOY says:

    we also mellow yellow except when we have guests .. to save our own well, pumps and septic system a little wear and tear,

    and to save on electricity costs to pump water TO the toilet and pump water OUT of the holding tank to the drain field. not to mention the wear and tear on the flimsy modern toilet workings !

    and we also try to be good stewards of our resources in some small way

  27. Hannah says:

    I know some guys who constantly leave the seat up and don’t flush no matter where they are, because their moms let it slide their entire lives at home. I mean, if something works for you in your house that’s perfectly fine, but the problem is when you build a lifelong habit that other people will find questionable, or even rude. Jennifer’s husband is evidence of this- he had a reason to get in the habit originally, but now he doesn’t want to get out of his habit, even though it bothers his wife and it really doesn’t save enough money to justify an argument.

  28. Jane S says:

    I am female – and the one in the house who enforces the yellow policy. (also have a bucket in the shower to catch water while it warms, and rain chains collecting rain water into large barrel for watering the drough resistant garden)…the COST isn’t just about money to BUY water. Water use & waste costs a lot in terms of negative impact on the environment. We are diverting water out of streams and rivers for our own use, threatening the well being of many fish and wildlife species. Sometimes are choices are not only about US!

  29. Tamara says:

    In Brazil they undertook a national campaign to save water, and encouraged everyone to pee in the shower to save water. Here is the ad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gESV9nTMBTc

  30. MattJ says:

    Anything you smell is something that’s in the air. The byproducts that evaporate out of your toilet and fill up your bathroom collect on the walls, ceiling, floors, cabinets. Sergio is correct that urine is sterile when fresh, but Jennifer’s husband’s policy is making an unsanitary mess of their bathroom. Unless one is in drought conditions or just enjoys cleaning urine byproducts out of their home, flushing has got to be the right thing to do.

    What is actually needed here is a toilet with two flush buttons, each of which releases a different amount of water. If you google ‘two button toilet’, you’ll see that they’re available now. It seems that 1.6gpf/0.8gpf is common.

  31. Colin says:

    MattJ, I’d like to see the research on the “byproducts” collecting on surfaces and making it unsanitary.

  32. Jennifer says:

    I never heard of the mellow yellow policy until I visited my inlaws house (before they were my in-laws, when they were just the parents of my boyfriend I was meeting for the first time.) Their reason is also to save money, as they are on a well and water’s free, on a septic-tank pump outs are not. Every drop that goes down the drain they pay to pump out later. I would be curious to see how it compares in cost to our city water/sewer bill.

    I admit to being totally skeeved out by seeing someone else’s pee in the toilet when I was a guest in someone’s house. Rational or not. It might save them more than $10 a year but I think some things are worth paying for.

  33. shizzknits says:

    My kids ‘let it mellow’, and it would fine except for the fact that letting pee sit in the commode means a lot of extra cleaning for me. The kids’ bathroom toilet bowl has to be deep cleaned 2-3x a week with a strong chemical cleaner or we get a nasty ring at the waterline, plus it *does* smell.
    On the other hand, our guest toilet is flushed every time we use it, and the bowl only needs a deep clean once a week (and it’s used just as much as the kids’ commode, probably more).
    So how much $$ are you saving if you have to clean more often and with stronger chemicals? IMO not enough to justify ‘letting it mellow’.

  34. David says:

    You was born to write! Congratz for all blog.
    Saluts from Brazil

  35. David says:

    *were born, my mistake.

    Best regards,

  36. Carey says:

    I’ve been a strong believer in the yellow-mellow/brown-down philosophy for many years; not in hopes of saving money, but in an attempt to do my part in conserving clean water.

  37. Ryan says:

    Maybe I should adopt this policy to lessen my guilt for driving an SUV… ;)

  38. Ann says:

    I’m a woman who does this and has for years with boyfriends and roommates. When the water is fresh, I leave the toilet set open. When it’s used, I leave the seat down. If a roommate/boyfriend/regular guests have a problem with it, they know to flush before lifting the seat.

    I clean the toilet bowl once every two weeks. I think it’s the same amount of cleaning I’d do if I didn’t have this flushing policy.

  39. James says:

    Or, you could put the stopper in the bathtub when you take a shower, save the water, and scoop out about 2 gallons of old shower water into buckets, and flush your toilet with gray water! Thus saving ALL of the cost of flushing, because you are re-using water that would usually only get one use. And pissing in your drinking water is really not that smart, is it?

    For our family of 4 in the house, we save lots of water this way!

  40. Angie says:

    So gross, yet I couldn’t stop reading!

  41. George says:

    Here in the Pacific NorthWet, a 1,000 sq ft roof can be used to capture 33,000 gallons of rainwater per year. Redirect a small portion of that to toilet flushing and be content!

    P.S. to Jennifer – Septic pumping is for the SOLIDS, not the liquids. The liquids will disperse into the soil.

  42. Holly says:

    I tend to follow this too, but am not strict with it. I usually followed it mostly at night, but now that my sleep apnea is being treated I don’t get up at night anymore. And yes, it’s for environmental reasons and not financial, since I rent and water is paid for by my landlord. I always put the lid down on the toilet seat–if I’m not sitting on it, it’s down. I saw on a tv show that the spray when you flush goes for 6 feet, so I started that habit. So I really doubt there is any “residue” collecting on my walls! Saving 2500 gallons of water a year is noble, in my humble opinion, no matter where you live. Oh and if your urine smells that bad, I think you need to see a doctor or change your diet or something!

  43. Evangeline says:

    Can anyone say ‘Eww?’

  44. KC says:

    I don’t flush much in order to save water. The same reason I try to take quick showers – it’s environmentally the right thing to do.

    I’m at home all day and drink lots of water, coffee, caffeine and a beer in the evening – guess where I am at least 10 times a day! My urine is not concentrated much at all since I drink and go quite often, therefore not much smell. My husband on the other hand might go 4 times a day and its very concentrated. He must flush – I don’t want the room smelling like pee.

    I don’t flush because it’s not ecologically friendly, but our clean water supply is in danger and we may all eventually be looking for clean water – so we might as well take care of this resource now.

  45. KC says:

    And to those of you with the old toilets you love so much – I’m with you. However….I just installed a new Standard Cadet (for some reason I remember the name). That thing will flush anything. The plumber said it’s better than any of the older toilets and it’ll flush 28 ping pong balls (haven’t tried it, just taking his word for it). But my home is 10 years old and had the first generation of low flow toilets installed and …they suck, even too much paper (no solid waste) stops them up.

    The plumber explained to me that the laws (requiring low flow toilets) were ahead of the technology ten years ago, but now they’ve caught up. The latest generation of toilets are better and far more efficient than anything made in the past (due to better engineering). I’ve had my Cadet (haha) for a year now and it was well worth the money ($450 installed) if nothing else because I don’t call the plumber anymore. Now I’ve just got to get the other 3 (rarely used) other toilets changed out.

  46. lmoot says:

    I only do mellow yellow when I live alone, or have my own bathroom. More gross than the urine, to me, is the soggy wads of toilet paper that build up. I usually flush after the 3rd pee. I drink ALOT of water though, and I live in Florida where we are water conscious. I wouldn’t dream of doing it when I live with someone and I would be grossed out and intolerant of having to see someone else’s pee…husband or no. I also use a bleach tablet in the tank to prevent stains and odors.

  47. RS says:

    I am skeptical of the 2 gallons per flush, but it could be because my toilets are 20 years old. They are 3 gallon tanks, and prior to my adjustments, it used 10 gallons per flush! My local water company suggests for “conventional” toilets 5 -7 gallons per flush, and for low-flow 1.5 – 3.5 gallons.
    So, the 2 gallon average seems too low for an average, to me.
    Atleast where I live, there are more older homes than newer ones, and like #26 KC mentioned, there’s a lot of disinformation about low-flow toilets out there, so most homeowners here cling to their old 3 gallon tankers. I bought my home a year ago, and even my home inspector told me I was “lucky” to have 3 gallon tanks.
    Due to the low cost of water, however, I’m sure the math would show that there’s still not much of a difference, financially.
    I mellow, but I live alone. But I do often wonder about whether or not I’m being environmentally friendly, since I end up cleaning more regularly with chemicals? I suppose I could try vinegar..

  48. Anthony says:

    I average $14/month for water and sewer. ($12.26 is the bare minimum rate.) I think I’ll fight my battles elsewhere to save money.

  49. Matt C says:

    I first encountered this philosophy in college when one of my room mates was raised by the brown=down philosophy to conserve water for the future (At first I was disgusted, and later mad because it’s tuff to have a girl over when she doesn’t even want to set foot in a bathroom.

    However, it does save a lot for the environment, and farmers (FYI LA the less water you use, the less that has be taken from other places). Therefore, I have been convinced of the benefits to the environment, and compromise by not flushing at night. This has the added benefit of not waking the baby when she is sleeping. Good thing I knew how to scrub down a bathroom quickly in college!

  50. Michele says:

    Our water/sewer bills are huge and we are facing a serious water shortage due to well below average snowpack – to the point that many farmers are not planting this year. (ag is a major part our our economy in the Klamath Basin in Ogegon)
    At my house, we also save the water while the shower and sinks are running, ‘mellow yellow’ and have water barrels for the garden.
    But- even in above average snowpack years, we still conserve water. My Church supports the Tanzanian Clean Water Project by the Hanga Abbey to build clean water wells in Tanzania, Africa. (Our priest is from Tanzania) You will appreciate our clean and readily available water in America much more after hearing first hand about the problems with contaminated water and lack of available water in countries like Tanzania, Africa. We are blessed here, and we are trying to remember that not everyone in the world has fresh, clean water easily available.

  51. Akanksha says:

    Ummm Trent, you forgot to add a significant “COST” of not flushing. The abominable, unbearable stench that invariably results. You should be adding the cost of cleaning up the toilet repeatedly because of the habit. Perhaps then you wouldn’t be coming up with such a tidy sum of “saved money”

  52. Finally some momentous scientific research! What is it that I’ve been hearing from some celebrity types lately? Something about only using one square of toilet paper per flush? Any takers?

  53. Jeremy says:

    In Japan most toilet handles turn one way for a big flush and the other way for a small flush. I don’t know why that hasn’t caught on in the US.

  54. Yes,

    But just because its not a huge dollar amount of savings does not mean that we shouldn’t still do it.

    I look at it from the standpoint of water conservation as well.

  55. Jenyfer says:

    thank you. thank you. thank you!

  56. EF says:

    Gross, gross, gross. This is why low-flow toilets were invented – they work just fine.

  57. Steffie says:

    The ‘mellow yellow’ happens at our house because of lazy/forgetful children. But the amount of tp that builds up after 3 girls go at one time is amazing and necessitates flushing more often. We are redoing our bathroom this year, it is necessary due to mechanical failures, and I am looking into the two button flush toilet. Mostly to save water, but our sewer rates are going to go up because of added service charges. Something about sewer runoff…

  58. Patty says:

    Paper buildup is not a valid excuse…teach your kids to use less toilet paper or try using cloth wipes.

  59. Nancy says:

    #7 Sergio is absolutely correct. Americans really get grossed out way too easily, and this is a good example of that.

  60. Scott says:

    I also use a bucket in the shower, but instead I pour the water on plants inside and outside. The water line in the bucket is a good gauge when I should stop taking a shower. I also use the leftover water from floor mopping on plants. They seem to thrive on the dirt and soap (which helps keep disease down).

  61. Gretchen says:

    When you get a sewage tank pumped, it all goes out, solid and liquid.

    If there is too much of a buildup of solids (or assorted other reasons, one being the age of the system, another being excessive or improper water usage) you’ll have to pump more frequently.

    And possibly replace said septic system- which isn’t cheap and assumes you have the land to do so.

  62. Daron says:

    Money is almost never the issue when it comes to dozens of gallons of water, as opposed to thousands of gallons (such as watering a lawn).

    Most of us pay our water bill by “buckets” of thousands of gallons. At two gallons per flush, with four people in a house, at five flushes a day (this is too high, many flushes are at work or school or church), for 30 days, equals 1200 gallons. Continuing to use the post’s math, we might be able to get that down to an actual use of 600 gallons, but again, many of those flushes actually are at locations outside the house.

    If I pay in 1000 gallon increments, this really will not impact my bill. So there is no dollar savings.

    But it’s the right thing to do by the environment to flush as little as possible and save as much water as one can, regardless of the money.

  63. micki says:

    There’s just something about urinating over someone else’s urine that keeps me from really wanting to do this policy. I’ve done it in the past but it really is kind of gross especially as a woman (think about it…). I think that’s probably why more women than men balk at this policy. Maybe its having it sit around but maybe its just an anti-splash mentality? yuck. and i think its a really personal thing and no one ought to be judging on anyone else’s habits here including little girls and TP. just sayin’

  64. Laura says:

    Adult urine isn’t that sterile – it is sterile if you aspirate it with a needle straight out of the bladder. If it travels through the urethra to get out, especially in women, it has bacteria in it – and since that’s the way most people pee, what enters the toilet isn’t sterile. Additionally, as it sits in the toilet and breaks down it provides a lovely breeding ground for a variety of bacteria which are floating around in your bathroom anyway.

    Personally, I suspect men like this rule more than women because they don’t have to sit to pee, so they never have to worry about someone else’s pee splashing up from the toilet to hit their ass. Not nice.

  65. partgypsy says:

    We started doing this because a couple years ago we had a drought and our local government in addition to creating restrictions on a number of things (outdoor watering, washing of cars) increased the rates everyone pays. There are bump ups past a minimum. We also do it because it teaches water conservation to the kids. What I’d suggest for this couple to do is to get a copy of their waterbill and analyze how many gallons they are using a month. Then brainstorm ways to reduce that amount (rainbarrel for watering outdoor plants, bucket in the shower for flushing the toliet, water efficient diswasher, shorter or more infrequent showers, not letting the water flow when brushing teeth, etc). Maybe if you can reduce your water bill by at least that much that you save by not flushing, can make an agreement to flush, as that seems to be causing conflict. I guess I’m weird, it doesn’t bother me that much. I guess I camped too much as a kid to be grossed out by such things.

  66. Kevin says:

    Wow, this is bordering on the edge of “too much information!”

    Interesting analysis, Trent, it really helped illustrate the futility of such an extreme frugality measure. A couple minor nits to pick:

    You did the math for one person – but presumeably Jennifer is going to be using the bathroom too, no? Shouldn’t the numbers all be doubled?

    Also, I’m assuming at least one of them is employed. Since most bathroom trips occur during the day (and not while sleeping), that means they could drastically reduce the number of “at home” bathroom visits by employing the washroom at their place of employment. If they adjust their routine such that their “brown” bathroom trips occur during work hours, and employ restaurant washrooms on weekends, they could go WEEKS without having to flush their own toilets! :)

    Finally, I can’t imagine a toilet using 8 GALLONS of water per flush! That’s more than I use in a shower!

    Interesting post, even if the topic is a little gross. Next up: Toilet paper? :)

  67. Kathy says:

    This is one of those frugal things I couldn’t bring myself to do, because it’s just disgusting to let anything sit in the toilet, regardless of color or consistency.

  68. Katie says:

    I’m another in the Sergio/Nancy/enviro camp. Our family “mellows” for the benefit of preserving a natural resource to the extent we have the ability to do so. There is no smell in the air at all, so not sure why that was even brought into it — I’d love to hear from someone who DOES have a smell when using this method, because I don’t think it happens unless you virtually NEVER flush.

  69. Michelle says:

    If you want to conserve water, that’s fine. Wash your dishes by hand, put in a low flow shower head, take shorter showers, heat water in the microwave rather than letting the water run, never turn your faucet on full blast, turn it off unless something is under it, fill up a soda bottle with gravel and put it in your toilet tank. All of that saves water. Having 2, healthy, kids who aren’t good at flushing, my upstairs bathroom REEKS of urine. So does about 10 feet around the door. I consider myself an environmentally conscious person, and I do all of the above things, but I draw the line at letting my bathroom (and hallways) smell like a latrine!!

  70. Ruth says:

    ok… how funny is it that I had this argument with my husband last week. His issue (isn’t money saving or conservation) he just hates the loud noises the toliet makes…. so we agreed that he can mellow yellow all he wants during the day ect. in the upstairs bathroom (and it really is gross because there gets to be this icky ring at the waterline from it) but not in the downstairs bathroom! The funny thing is that the downstairs toilet is one of those low-flows so even though i flush everytime it’s using about the same as one flush on the upstairs.

    and Micki and Laura! I totally agree with you girls.

  71. Larabara says:

    As helpful as this thread is for frugal living, it has long crossed the border into “way too much information”!

    I’m keeping my toothbrush in the medicine cabinet from now on!

  72. Steffie says:

    I would rather pay for more tp and water than doctor bills for infections due to wearing wet underwear. There are health concerns that trump saving pennies. And I’ll say it for all of you, it took a long time to get back to the mention of tp in the blog/comments !

  73. Arthi says:

    I’ve got a question for readers of The Simple Dollar.

    How do you cover up dented floor tiles? (vinyl on wood)? My husband accidentally dropped something heavy in the kitchen, and now there are some dents in the floor and the wall.

    We’re moving out soon, so we dont want to pay a huge fine for it. Is there any way to repair or cover the damage?

    The floor looks to be wood, covered with vinyl tiles. If just the tile was scratched, it could be replaced, but the wood below has been dented, as in a 1 inch long oblong crack that has given in, so there is a small depression at that place.There are three of them, and there is a similar dent on the wall.

    I’m worried the apartment might say that the entire wood has to be replaced and retiled at our cost, and I hope to avoid that.

    Any suggestions will be welcomed.

  74. J says:

    @Michelle – automatic dishwashers use less water than handwashing. There have been a number of studies done on this in recent years. Also, most dishwashers heat the water to a temperature high enough to sterilize the dishes. You can’t do that with handwashing.

  75. Leah says:

    My boyfriend and I let it mellow, and we don’t even pay for our own water. Mostly, it’s a combo of things culminating with “why bother to waste water?” We don’t let it mellow every single time — if the yellow is particularly dark, we flush. If we ate asparagus, we flush (stinky!). But, really, it never smells, nor does it make cleaning anymore difficult.

    Maybe the people who find the bathroom stinky have kids who don’t always hit the toilet. When I worked at a summer camp, a lot of boys were afraid of the toilet (no joke), and I was always cleaning up urine on the floor. That did stink. But my toilet? Definitely not a problem.

  76. Brian says:

    Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

    Do the right thing. No excuses.

  77. DiscoApu says:

    Sometimes I flush the toilet because I am bored.

  78. Geoff Hart says:

    A larger issue is non-economic; it’s ecological. Reducing the amount of water that enters the sewage system means less water that must be treated by sewage plants. That treatment is costly both economically (we don’t pay the full cost) and environmentally (more water is wasted). The better solution is to upgrade to a low-flush toilet, which can use much less than half the water used by a conventional toilet. That saves enough water that you can flush after each visit without incurring any economic or environmental costs for doing so.

    Unfortunately, changing toilets doesn’t have much economic return given the artificially low cost of water. But if you believe in minimizing your environmental impact, it’s an ethical choice, particularly if your old toilet needs to be replaced. The local water utility company may even have an incentive program to encourage you to switch. Can’t hurt to ask!

  79. Sam says:

    Take a 5 gallon bucket put it in the bathroom. While you wait for your shower water to heat up fill the bucket. Use that water to flush. Save water by not wasting water. Save money by not wasting water. Simple easy and you can decide to go ocd about letting it mellow or not.

    The actual savings for this singular activity are of course are negligible, there are super fancy toilets out there (I work at a sustainable architecture firm) but really this is less a thrifty issue and more a personal choice. That being said if one applied the same principles as always turning out a light, replacing energy hogs with High efficiency light bulbs etc. to water savings, like low flow fixtures or aerators, turning off water while brushing, turning off water while sudsing your hands up etc. savings add up. This is the one limitation that article’s analysis has.

    Trent you wouldn’t isolate turning off of lights when leaving a room for it’s individual savings. Why do so on a water? I guess it is easier to do for electricity but not much. In the end it is personal choice.

  80. Most people have jobs and go to work elsewhere, Trent, so this would be more like a $5 dicsussion.

  81. Rez says:

    I follow this same mantra. The thing that is not being considered here is the usage of water. That is one thing that we are unable to make more of. We only have one planet. Its not like when you want to move to a new area. We don’t have another planet to move to. This is it. I think that’s the key here. Yes, you do save some money, whatever that amount is. But lets think about the future and what kind of planet we will be leaving our children & then their children.

  82. Stacie says:

    If there is a tampon in the toilet – is it mellow yellow or brown flush it down?

    This reminds me of Trent’s 9 squares of toilet paper lesson.

  83. Ben says:

    There are some other costs that aren’t factored in here particularly toilet and pipe repair. If you end up reducing your flushing by half you are likely decreasing those bills by a significant amount.

  84. Anthony says:

    My wife and I use the mellow yellow method occasionally. I understand that it will not save me a ton of money, but it will save water. In the future I believe water will become more scarce. So if everyone household would follow the mellow yellow method as pointed out above we would conserve 286.2 BILLION gallons of water annually (assuming 112 million households conserving 2555 gal/year). That makes it worth it to me. Everyone does a little bit to make a big difference.

  85. Carrie says:

    Our minimum water bill is 7,000 gallons (a whopping $55). We only use around 3,000/month so reducing our usage does nothing to our bill. I think this system encourages people to waste water because they are paying for it whether they use it or not.

  86. Michelle says:


    I’m at a loss to figure out why not flushing leads to wet underwear and even if it did, why it would lead to some kind of infection. Urinary tract infections usually develop from not voiding the bladder often enough so that bacteria can multiply to infection levels in the urethra.

    We mellow yellow at night and before showers. We’re on a well, too, so it’s not monetary but environmental concerns that drive us.

    I have to agree with Sergio and Nancy that Americans get grossed out too easily. These are natural human bodily functions. Living in an uber-sterile environment isn’t possible outside of scientific clean-rooms and in any case might actually be detrimental to your longterm health. And this is coming from someone who used to be (and to be honest still is a little bit) weirded out by having pee-water splash on my butt. I will definitely flush at night, I don’t care about the noise, when it’s that time of the month though. How’s that for grossing you guys out? :)

  87. Spike says:

    In our household we will put a bucket under the shower until the water is hot, then keep that bucket for flushes, it take about 3 gallons of cold water for the shower to heat up, so this can stack up, I believe we saved over 5 dollars a month with this procedure alone.

  88. Wren says:

    I live in a area where water is outrageously expenisve (compared to other places I’ve lived). My base water — meaning the monthly cost if I don’t use one drop of water all month — is $20.60. For actually using water, it’s an additional $1.63 per 1000 gallons. Sewer is a flat rate $57.45 per month. It is rare for the two of us to use more than 1200 per month because we do everything we can think of to conserve. Now, because I rent in an area where the Homeowner Association Nazis make life miserable for those whose grass isn’t the right shade of green (and the landlady will not even consider redoing the idiotic landscaping, our water bill skyrockets in the summer due to the sprinklers. ($135 a month is not uncommon. Why don’t I move? The rent is very reasonable for the area, and this is where we need to be for another two years.)

    So, yeah, we let it mellow sometimes, esepcially at night when there’s no point in waking the other person with the loud plumbing…not because we’re going to save much on the bill, but because water is scarce here. And I do not worry about “germs” from urine IN the toilet since studies show a flushing toilet scatters minute droplets for a radius of six foot anyway. (Putting the lid down to flush greatly decreases taht, but the mist still travles quite a ways — just not as wide a path.

    What would REALLY save water is for the crazy landlady to invest in a system to use brown water for the yard sprinklers. But what does she care? We pay the water bill.

  89. Todd says:

    This discussion reminded me of first learning about chamber pots. When I was a boy, my 90-yr.-old great-grandmother told me about using a pot with a lid for urinating in the house (esp. at night when no one wanted to walk to the outhouse). One of the older kids had to carry the pot outside and empty it in the outhouse toilet every morning. Her story really horrified me at such a young age!

  90. SLCCOM says:

    I keep a bucket in my sink and put rinse and dish wash water, and water from cooking in it. When it cools, I put it on my plants.

  91. MiniDayz says:

    I agree, it’s not worth it. My grandmother does the same thing to save money on water, they overreact about water prices even with a single flush. Therefore, sometimes, she uses the bathroom and doesn’t flush. And when unexpected company comes, we see yellow liquid in the toilet.

    Personally, I think this is a bit gross, but I wouldn’t bash anyone who does it. But, for me, I wouldn’t do it. I rather flush and not save about $8 a year than to have my bathroom stinking, and have guests ever wondering why my bathroom is stinky (even after a flush before they came) and having to maintain a clean toilet and odor.

    Plus rarely do I drop something into the toilet, but if it does happen, I would never pick it up if it was pee unless it was jewelry. I would pick anything else up, with only water in the toilet bowl.

    Plus, I always close the lid on the toilet when I’m done.. I get self-conscious about things falling in. No one has the same problem with that as me though.

  92. Kai says:

    I believe in a moderate version of this policy for water, not financial savings. It’s not a large amount, but if everyone made a little change, then we would see large water savings. If it saves me a bit of money along the way, that’s nice, but I think I’m still on a flat-rate water service.
    I agree that having the house, or even just the bathroom smell is not worth it. Having to plunge out a mass of TP is not worth it.
    But if you’re properly hydrated, urine doesn’t smell. It’s barely tinted yellow, and odourless.
    So I leave it in the toilet. I flush anytime it’s brown, or after a couple goes when the TP pile is too big – 3 pees is typically enough. And anytime I do pee and it smells, I flush it, and go drink some water.
    This moderate policy has no quality of life impact, and saves a bit of water. All good to me!

  93. Kevin says:


    Why would we need to save water? 2/3rds of the planet is covered in the stuff! Trust me, there’s more than enough water!

    The problem, if there even is one, is too many PEOPLE. Since I have no kids, and am thus not contributing to the problem, I feel no guilt in using all the water I want!

  94. Janis says:

    I am a “mellower” and my husband is not. Your post inspired me to take a look at our numbers and I was surprised by how much money we save by reducing the number of flushes.

    We have an unusual situation at our rural home: no city water and no well. Instead, we pay $60 to have 2,000 gallons of water delivered to our in-ground cistern about once a month. That works out to 3 cents a gallon, MUCH higher than the national average. We have a two gallon tank, so if we can reduce our flushes by three each every day, that works out to 36 cents a day or $131.40 a year. Not exactly chump change for our household.

  95. I agree with David. You may have calculated that it does not save much money, but Jennifer would be saving a lot of water (3,650 – 1,095 gallons). Flushing is big part of your overall water bill and if you combine this with other actions, you may reduce your water usage substantially as well as your water bill.

  96. Jackie says:

    I like this one, we mellow yellow sometimes. I had a bad water leak and didn’t know where is was, and it turned out to be outside of the house
    Lots of $$$$$$ to repair. Anyway, it became a habit and the way I look at it is this. It will save on the cost of toilet repair.

  97. Guy G. says:

    For the cost of water, you don’t save much. Just put the flow reducers in the tank.
    It sure beats the eventual yellow splash

  98. Meg says:

    My husband & I are mellowers. I’m actually a bit shocked by all the “Ewwww! Gross!” people here. I hope they appreciate how lucky they are that they have access to gallons of drinking quality water to flush a few ounces of urine into the sewers to be treated and returned to drinking quality state. There are a lot of things far more gross and far, far more horrible than a little pee in your toilet. So, frankly, I hope they get over it.

    I live in Florida, not some desert region, but where I’m living we’re already seeing our aquifers dry up, much of it from use upstream where water appears to be so plentiful. So I think the least one can do is to think before flushing (or using any resource, really), “Is this really necessary?”

    And no, not all of us can afford fancy new toilets. Even if I could, I realize that manufacturing one of those toilets will itself use many, many gallons of water as well as other resources. So, the more environmentally friendly thing to do is to save my money and water by just using the toilet I have more thoughtfully until such time that it truly needs to be replaced.

  99. kelsey says:


    It’s not true that “there’s more than enough water”. Only %3 of the world’s water is fresh water, and most of that is frozen in glaciers. Yes, there is lots of water on earth, but we can’t use most of it. Though perhaps using saltwater for toilets wouldn’t be a bad idea – no need for it to be potable.

  100. Peter says:

    No! The water you save is spent in cleaning materials, water, and labor.

  101. lc says:

    both my husband and i don’t flush our bathroom one. we have no problem with odor or stains or too much tp buildup. seems wasteful to flush just for pee. we have been trying to get our boys to do the same but its just a habit for them so they keep flushing after each use. we do flush the other ones in the house though. no need for our guests to have to see it!

  102. HonestB says:

    If you have an older toilet, it’s quite possibly using substantially more than 2 gallons per flush.

    We tried the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” thing for awhile and I decided it wasn’t worth it more for the extra cleaning it required (you definitely need to clean the toilet more often if you do that). It meant more bleach going into the sewage system, so I’m not sure how that weighs against the water saved.

    If you are going to do it, it’s more worthwhile for environmental reasons than financial. You can also collect gray water and flush with that.

  103. FL Sunshine says:

    Ya left out a problem that has to be considered- By letting the toilet paper build up- you increase the likelihood of sewer pipe clogs. (esp. w/ low flow toilets) Factoring in the cost of a plumber or even renting a elec. snake changes the equation. (voice of experience here)

  104. Janis says:

    As for extra toilet bowling cleaning, I do what Flylady calls “swish and swipe.” I add a little cheapo shampoo or liquid dish soap to the container that holds my toilet bowl brush, and every day, I give the toilet bowl a quick “swish” with the brush. It takes possibly 10 seconds and daily cleaning has completely eliminated the need for the harsher chemicals that I used to resort to when the bowl was only cleaned once a week. We’re never more than one flush away from having a company ready bathroom.

  105. Sergio says:


    Yep, actually about 71% of the planet is water.
    But from that 71%, almost all (96.5%) is located on the oceans, it means that you can’t drink it because it has salt on it. Also, using that kind of water in common purposes (doing laundry, washing dishes, using it for plants) is not recommended because it could damage the equipment needed and may not be very effective.

    The other 3.5% is divided as ice in the poles (another 1.74% that is not really available), water in subterranean streams (about 1.72% costly to use, but “available” some times).

    The water we are using right now, is the 0.04% of the total water in the world!!!. It’s the water located in the surface (lakes, rivers, and alive beings!), the price you pay is just from the transport structure, not the water itself.

    Of course, scientifics are working on finding cheaper and more efficient ways to make the other 99.96% of the water available (Desalting water and deep deposits mainly), but right now is veeeeeeery expensive just to think of using that in a global way.

    If we could reduce our water use/waste to the half, we could give those scientist more than the double of time to work.
    And when the time comes, we are going to have more water available, and also the culture of water saving.

    As I said earlier, if you don’t want to think of it from the environmental side, you can always think of it as a investment from an economical and practical focus.

  106. Kai says:

    @Kevin (#93)
    You’re right, there is a ton of water. So if you have a toilet that runs on salt water, you go right ahead and flush the hell out of it.

    As for children, I’m not contributing to that problem either. That doesn’t mean it’s going to go away.

  107. Clyde McFarlin says:

    My latest water payment cycle showed that it costs us 1.2 cents per gallon; water and waste.
    I now live in a city but years ago I lived in the ‘sticks’ and had my own well and septic.
    I went thru two well pumps and one horrendous septit tank clean out to come to the conclusion that water usage must be curtailed. I went to the ‘if it’s yeallow let it mellow” stratigem and attenuated my troubles.
    Oh, did I mention that we still use the Y-M method?
    Actually if it were not for my wife; the toilet would sit much longer without flushing. And, yes you want to keep the lid down, usually.
    I am no green nut but the ’70s taught me much about saving resourses.

  108. When you factor in the cost of air freshener, and the hardcore cleaning products needed to get urine stains off the porcelain, I think NOT flushing ends up costing more.

    When you get right down to it, how much would you save with an outhouse instead? It boils down to the same thing. Not flushing is like keeping the outhouse in-house!

  109. Shoshani says:

    To take this interesting discussion to a different level, there may come a time when more Cities will need to supply recycled sewerage water for drinking water.

    In Singapore, about 1% of recycled sewage water is used for drinking.

    Orange County in North Virginia, USA, and

    South African cities of Scottsdale, Pretoria and Cape Town rely on indirect schemes, where recycled sewage is introduced back into a river, dam or aquifer where it mixes with the rest of the water before being retreated for drinking.

    In Namibia, since 1968, the town of Windhoek has used recycled sewage directly for drinking water during droughts or emergencies.


  110. jean says:

    We also yellow mellow, always. {Septic tank and well water.} Two women and we never flush toilet paper. All paper goes into the compost. It disappears very quickly there. “It isn’t easy being green”!

  111. S says:

    In my experience, if your toilet smells, it’s due to stuff collecting on the sides or under the rim of the bowl (which are dry between flushes), rather than in the pool of toilet water at the bottom. So stinky toilet should only be a problem if someone in the household is unable to aim well.

  112. Priswell says:

    Anybody consider using a composting toilet?

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