Flushing Toilets That Color the Water on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: On Shabbos or Yom Tov, is it permitted to flush a toilet which contains a disinfectant tablet that colors the water?

Discussion: There are a number of different types of toilet disinfectants and deodorizers on the market which color the water blue when the toilet is flushed. L’chatchilah, none of them may be used on Shabbos or Yom Tov, as flushing a toilet and thereby coloring the water in the toilet bowl may be prohibited min ha-Torah as a violation of the Shabbos Labor of Coloring. The blue color gives the water in the bowl a more “hygienic” look, so the coloring of the water is beneficial and hence forbidden on Shabbos.33 It is important, therefore, that the disinfectant unit be removed from the tank or bowl before the onset of Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Question: What should one do if he forgot to remove the disinfectant tablet or if he is a guest in a home where such a device is in the toilet?

Discussion: It depends on the type of tablet that has been inserted in the toilet:

If the disinfectant unit is inserted near the top of the rim of the tank, then he may flush the toilet. This is permitted because the direct act of flushing will not color the water since the water will not turn blue until it has risen to the top of the tank; the Coloring is merely an indirect result of the flushing, a gerama, which is permitted under these circumstances.34

However, if the disinfectant unit is in the bottom of the tank or is suspended from the rim of the bowl, then the toilet may not be flushed. Flushing such a toilet will directly color the new water coming in and gerama will not apply. One should make every effort to remove the disinfectant tablet from inside the tank or the bowl, preferably through “indirect movement.” 35 If this is impossible or impractical, and one will be embarrassed to leave the toilet unflushed (kevod ha-beriyos), he may rely on the view of a minority of poskim who argue36 that flushing such a toilet is not a violation of Coloring,37 and he should flush the toilet in an unusual way, e.g., by using his elbow or foot.

33. Shulchan Shelomo 320:31-3. See Peninei ha-Maor, vol. 1, pg. 523.

34. For two reasons: 1. Because of kevod ha-beriyos; 2. Because at this point, the person flushing the toilet certainly has no intention of Coloring the water. While it is still inevitable that it will happen (pesik reisha), when gerama is combined with pesik reisha it is permitted according to many poskim; see Eglei Tal, Zorea 21; Har Tzvi, O.C. 188; Halachos of Shabbos, Zorea, pg. 59, quoting Harav M. Feinstein.

35. “Indirect movement” is explained in the Discussion to chapter 310.

36. 1. The main purpose of the tablet is to disinfect the toilet; the color of the water is merely incidental and unintentional; 2. Coloring water is permitted, as Coloring does not apply to foods or beverages.

37. See Tzitz Eliezer 14:47; Be’er Moshe 8:22; Az Nidberu 12:13.