What Causes a Toilet to Explode?

The subject of exploding toilets has fueled urban legends, bogus emails and numerous scientific and amateur experiments. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, “the average person visits the toilet 2,500 times a year.” For the vast majority of people, these visits are without incidence. But while many exploding toilet stories have been proven untrue, there are documented cases of toilet explosions, some of which have resulted in injuries and lawsuits.

Excess Air Pressure

Flammable materials can cause toilets to explode.

In 2011, two toilets exploded at the General Services Administration, or GSA, building in Washington, D.C. The GSA structure, which was built 80 years ago, uses a water-tank storage system to get water to the top floors of the eight-story building. However, this system causes very high levels of pressure, and when air seeped into the pipes, enough pressure was created to cause two of the toilets to explode and injure two GSA employees.

Smoking and Flammable Liquids

In 2010, a New Zealand man smoking in a restroom was the victim of a toilet explosion. The man was smoking in the bathroom at his place of employment. The bathroom was also the storage area for flammable cleaning supplies, and it is believed that the cigarette, in close proximity to the flammable material, produced the toilet explosion. Fortunately, the employee sustained no injuries.

Lighters and Air Freshener

In 2008, a 13-year-old boy in Germany caused his home’s toilet to explode. After spraying air freshener in the bathroom, the boy saw his father’s lighter nearby and decided to play with it. Igniting the lighter caused an explosion that blew the boy off the toilet and out of the bathroom window. In the story, which was reported in the Daily Mail Online, the victim stated, “I woke up outside with my clothes burned off me and smelling like a barbecue.” The boy was rushed to a hospital burn unit to treat injuries to his face, arms and legs.

Sewer Line Pressure

In 2006, a Seattle man was injured by an exploding toilet. The man was examining a faulty toilet at an adult-care facility at the same time that workers for Seattle’s transportation agency were digging underground and pressurized a sewer line. As a result, the toilet exploded, slammed into the man and knocked him to the floor, while spewing raw sewage on him. He sued the transportation agency for an undisclosed amount of money.

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