Is Stool Supposed To Float Or Sink?

You may occasionally notice changes in your stool when you go to the bathroom, and some of those changes may have you questioning how your stool, aka your poop, is supposed to look. What color, shape, size, or consistency should it be? According to MedicalNewsToday, normal bowel movement is typically brown, but there are many factors that go into determining the appearance, texture, and even the odor of stool. Changes in stool, including whether it sinks or floats, can be the result of diet, constipation, stress, and sometimes chronic medical conditions. Each person's stool is unique, but knowing what to be on the lookout for is key to staying on top of your health.

It can take as long as two to five days for the food you eat to leave your body as stool, per Mayo Clinic. Once you consume food, it processes through your stomach and small intestine within approximately eight hours. Then it spends another 36 hours moving through your colon. It's essential to pass stool, but the frequency of bowel movements can vary from person to person (via Healthline). Experts have determined that most people poop between three times each day to three times per week, with about half of the population having one daily bowel movement and just over a quarter of people passing stool twice a day (per Healthline survey). While frequency is important to keep track of, paying attention to the consistency of your stool is sometimes considered to be even more important.

Diet is key

Whether your stool sinks to the bottom of the toilet bowl or floats to the top of the water line can have a number of underlying causes, but is often attributed to diet (per eMedicineHealth). In addition to usually being brown in color, normal bowel movements often result in solid stool that floats to the bottom without sticking to the sides of the toilet. However, don't be alarmed if your stool doesn't sink and instead floats on the surface. Often, eating certain types of foods or experiencing an excess of gas are the reasons why stool may float. If you have a sensitivity to gluten or lactose, you may find yourself experiencing floating bowel movements after consuming foods high in fiber. Additionally, people who follow vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based diets are more prone to consuming a lot of fiber and in turn, may experience frequently floating stools. On the gassy end of things, eating foods filled with lots of insoluble fiber can cause stool to float as a result of both fiber and gas, which creates pockets of trapped air that bring a stool to the water's surface.

Speaking of fiber and air pockets, the two go hand-in-hand, according to MIT Medical. When fiber is consumed, it produces air during the digestion process through bacterial fermentation. This means that the more fiber consumed, the more air will be produced as stool forms, thus leading to the likelihood of stool buoyancy. However, fiber isn't always the culprit.

Odor and oil signals

When your stool floats, pay attention to the appearance of both the actual stool and the water surrounding it. While normal stool generally sinks and the occasional floating stool is simply a sign of eating a lot of fiber, if the floating stool is covered with an oily film or seems to be emitting a shine around it, there's a chance that malabsorption of nutrients is the cause of stool buoyancy (via eMedicineHealth). Floating stool in the toilet bowl may be a sign that your body isn't absorbing nutrients properly, and in this case, you should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to determine which vital nutrients aren't being absorbed.

Mount Sinai elaborates on floating stool caused by malabsorption of nutrients by emphasizing that the odor of stool can be another indicator of nutrient deficiency. If your floating bowel movements are particularly foul in smell, malabsorption may be the reason your stool isn't sinking. The likelihood of malabsorption is increased when a person is in the process of losing weight. And while weight loss can increase the likelihood of malabsorption, floating stool typically isn't caused by an increased presence of fat leaving the body. When stool buoyancy is the result of increased fat, it is usually a side effect of a more serious health condition, like chronic pancreatitis, which may also lead to floating stool in the form of diarrhea, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you suspect something more serious, always consult your doctor.