The paper issue


THERE ARE TWO primary rules for living in Mexico. Everyone knows the first: Don’t drink tap water.

The second is less known, except in U.S. border states where we Mexicans are all over the place: Don’t deposit toilet paper into the toilet bowl. It’ll clog the pipes.

I doubt we’ll ever be able to drink tap water because bottled water is a billion-peso industry here run, to a large degree, by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They don’t want you to be able to drink tap water, ever.

Dang capitalists! Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them.

When we moved into the Hacienda almost 13 years ago, we didn’t ask anybody about flushing toilet paper. We just did it, and we’ve been doing it ever since with no problem, which is kinda weird considering the backwoods neighborhood in which we live.

The Hacienda’s wastewater goes out to pipes that run under the back street, and from there it goes to a big hole in a ravine about a block away. Yeah, nearby. I remember when they dug that hole, but I haven’t been down that way in years. It was open when I last saw it, but I assume it’s been covered. Lord, I hope so.

Now we have a new situation with the pastry workshop/storefront we recently had constructed. It has its own septic tank. I had never seen inside a septic tank before. I sure had not been down into one, but I have now. See photo below. The tank was cherry at that point. Unused as a starry-eyed virgin in Victorian times.

We’ve decided that perhaps it’s best to deposit only bodily material down here. Toilet paper will degrade in time, but we’re not gonna put toilet paper in there. So I hung a cute sign that’s directly in your face if you’re sitting on the throne in the new bathroom. That’s the sign in the top photo.

In Spanish, it says “Use trash can for paper. Thanks.”



Just for the fun of it, here’s the sink in the new bathroom. Today a carpenter came to give us a price on installing the Formica countertops in the pastry workshop. He’ll make a Formica-topped worktable too. When that’s installed I’ll post a photo of our totally finished situation.

* * * *

(Note: A friend in Mexico City told me years ago that she always drops the paper into the toilet unless there is something specifically indicating that you should not. Truth is that much of Mexico has modernized on this issue, but old habits die hard, especially among the ill-informed.)

28 thoughts on “The paper issue

  1. Thanks for the update. I hadn’t recalled these signs in bathrooms in Mexico when we were in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago, but then saw them in Cancun last year in a couple of places. It just seems so wrong not to flush it all down.


    1. Angeline: I’ve lived in Mexico for 15 years, and I can count, I’m pretty positive, the number of times I have seen signs in public johns on one hand, which is to say almost never. And yes, it does seem creepy not to flush it all down.


  2. Things are looking very nice, Felipe. Soon you will be a successful businessman contributing to the economy of your little Mexican town. Who’d of thunk 15 years ago that would happen?
    Saludos to your lovely wife from north of the Rio Bravo!



    1. Thanks, Mike, and saludos to your family too. As for my becoming a businessman, successful or otherwise, I sure hope not. But it’s there for my wife one day, and not any day soon, I pray.


  3. Mira, flushing toilet paper isn’t going to make a difference. And flushing it is a hell of a lot cleaner than letting it repose in the trash. I spent more than twenty years living in houses with septic tanks in Iowa. The garbage disposal, dishwasher, and washer all fed into the septic tank with nary a problem. Add a slurry of yeast (you can Google how to prepare the yeast) twice a year, and you’re good to go.

    Take down that sign, or at least alter it. (You’re not gonna listen to what I write, but that isn’t gonna stop me from writing my mind.) You do not want to be considered ill-informed, do you?

    You have traded in those pages ripped from the Monkey Ward catalog for that nice, white Kirkland quilted stuff that comes in a nice roll, haven’t you?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ms. Shoes: While the new spot remains in the family and not open to the public, no Number Twos will happen, just Number Ones. When I do a Number One, no paper is involved. There will be a bit of paper involved when my lovely bride does a Number Two. Perhaps paper in the septic tank will cause no problem, as you claim, but no paper at all definitely will cause no problem. As for the yeast treatment, that would entail taking off the steel door, which is screwed down, and that will not happen on my watch. Pee-yew! Perhaps your old Gringo septic tanks had a small hole for that treatment. Ours does not. Perhaps it can be flushed down the toilet. I’ll have to look that up, as you recommend.

      So, the sign stays up. Sorry. I bought that pretty frame after all.


    2. Ms. Shoes: Some online investigation this morning gives me this info:

      “Digestion of the solids that accumulate within the septic tank is a naturally occurring process. The microbes that drive the digestion process are present in raw sewage at a high enough concentration that supplemental products are not normally necessary. However, adding commercially available products will not harm your system.”

      Sounds like adding yeast is not needed.


  4. Like The Woman with Red Feet, I have joined the Flushing Party. In six years of beach living, I have not had a problem. Of course, only the minimum of paper goes in the bowl. I suspect that the whole lot is floating somewhere near my house. But I am not going to start looking.


    1. Señor Cotton: Of the very few places I recall bathroom signs telling me not to put paper in the toilet, I believe most were beach areas. Yes, your paper is likely floating somewhere distasteful.


  5. You know what they say. Fecal matter goes downhill. Poop here in Tlaxcala eventually winds up in Lake Valsequillo in Puebla, or so I’m told. Anyway, I see signs saying throw it in the can. We don’t in my house. It’s an antiquated notion. There’s paper on the market that dissolves into tiny fragments. Petalo is one of them. I understand 50 years ago drainage pipes were smaller, and people used newspaper or corncobs. Now THAT will definitely clog things up. A nurse I met on a medical caravan tour told me, I don’t think it’s healthy to have poop in a can with flies on it that later get into the kitchen. I had to agree that I thought she was correct. Like Felipe said, old habits die hard.


    1. Señor Mystic: You and Ms. Shoes are making me smarter. I didn’t know about the yeast treatment or about Petalo paper. I may have to remove my nice, new sign after all.


  6. I’ve always had a problem with Rule #2 in my past visits to Honduras

    Rule #1 is easy to remember, because if you ever forget once you will pay the price. I lost 15 pounds in a week on my second visit. Too sick to do what I went to do. Too sick to do anything but long for home. Never forgot Rule #1 again.

    Rule #2 is more difficult because it is such a habit if you’re from the States — not something you stop to THINK about. I began to take it more seriously when I had to help a missionary team leader unclog a septic line that our group clogged by flushing paper.

    All that said, Ms. Shoes is correct. Septic tanks can be successfully managed with proper care. My last two homes have had them, and we have had nary a problem using the methods she describes.


  7. Most paper dissolves by the time it gets to a sewer main, or in a septic system, quite quickly as per Ms Shoes. That is, unless you have someone like one friend of mine who uses about 1/2 a roll at each use. Normal folk won’t clog anything, and the paper biodegrades, as designed, faster than the organics. Speaking from over 30 years in municipal engineering.


  8. I do not see signs like I did in the 80’s & 90’s, but still see plenty of waste cans next to the toilets. As noted, newer paper has been developed that basically dissolves. I have lived at many places NOB with septic tanks and do not remember any problems.


    1. Mike: Yes, the waste cans are still there. I think that’s because so many people will toss the crappy paper on the floor otherwise. That’s very common.

      I think you were sent to the moderation line due to not putting a space between Mike and M. Most anything will trigger WordPress’s ire.


  9. Felipe, you are on a roll today 😉 You could write a white paper on the subject.

    Although (trash cans) still predominate in Mexican bathrooms, modernization is taking place. For example, in the Hotel Embassy, Mexico City, you put your paper in the squatter. Same with Costco, Morelia.

    (The very idea of using corncobs for bottom cleansing makes me cringe.)

    Don Cuevas

    Liked by 1 person

  10. And here I thought you were a modern man. Adding so much stress to your daily life since your movement (yes) down south. One of the benefits of living in the high mountains miles before town is that our water comes directly from the springs in a small village further up the mountain, allowing us to drink water directly from the tap and not lug or buy those plastic bottles all over creation.

    The number two also has always gone into our septic tank from day one. Why would anyone in these modern times, in this modern country, perpetuate a lifestyle of having to toss one’s paper skid marks into a can next to the crapper. Perhaps for feminine used items, which indeed would plug up some systems, but the modern (last 100 years) systems both N and S of the border accept single and multifold personal sheets for your convenience.

    I am glad you have finally slipped into the 21st century and allow the flush to accomplish what Thomas Crapper wished all keen fellows to utilize.

    You are welcome anytime to come by and fill up those heavy water jugs if you like.


    1. Tancho: All right already. You and others here have convinced me of the error of my previous thoughts. Paper will go down the pipes, and the trash can will remain cherry.


  11. The owner of the B&B where we stayed in Patzcuaro requested that we put TP in a waste can in the bathroom. She said the reason for that was because the sewage system was antiquated and most of the sewage would end up in the lake. This didn’t make much sense to us but we complied. The water in the lake did look kind of murky though, and we decided to pass on eating any of those little dried whitefish they sell down there. Now I’m wondering if she was just trying to avoid pipe clogs at her place. What do you think?

    PS: Your septic tank will be fine. Just use single-ply white TP. The biggest enemy of a septic tank is hair washing. I had a mom and four sisters and we filled up septic tanks all the time. The guys who came to clean it out always told my dad to make us stop washing our hair so much. Dad would say “Yeah, right …”


    1. Loulou: When I moved here 15 years ago, all of our town’s sewage went straight into the lake. As far as I know, that has not changed. Yes, the lake is yucky, particularly on the side that abuts the town. I hear tell it’s not so bad on the other side, but I would not swim in it.

      The whitefish sold in restaurants are farm-raised, I’m told. They do not come from the lake. I’ve eaten whitefish only once, and I was not impressed. Over-rated.

      As for my septic tank, a little investigation has given me the impression that what we have is more correctly called a cesspool. It’s quite basic and is pretty much like cesspools that existed in the United States before the 1930s. As far as the motivation of the B&B owner, I have no idea. If she was Mexican, and I imagine she was, she could have been saying that because that’s what people have been saying for many years.


  12. Well, you’ve already been battered here in the comments section, so I’ll just second Jennifer’s comment. I grew up in 2 houses that both had septic tanks and we didn’t treat them with any particular kid gloves, and they never needed any kind of service.

    In DF, I think pretty much everyone flushes the paper. I can only recall one place in particular, a cafe in an ancient building, that had a sign saying not to flush the paper.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where have a hard time imagining that real toilet paper could ever have caused a problem.


    1. Kim: Having never lived with a septic tank that I know of, I was pretty uninformed. However, due to the sharp comments here, I have been enlightened, which I appreciate.


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