What It Means When Your Poop Floats

Seeing your poop float might surprise you. But it's usually nothing to worry about. More often than not, it's related to something you had to eat.

Other times, floating poop can be a symptom of an underlying condition. If you're experiencing other symptoms as well, consider talking to your healthcare provider.

Here are the main reasons behind this type of stool (poop), ways to prevent it, and when you should see a healthcare provider.

causes of floating poop
Verywell / Joshua Seong, Verywell

Excessive Gas in the Stool

Your intestines, or bowels, are part of your digestive system. They help your body break down and digest food.

Most of the time, floating stool is the result of something you ate. If you eat a large meal or something that produces gas, the gas mixes with stool in the intestines.

The extra air from the gas makes poop less dense, or packed. This leads it to float when it hits the toilet bowl.

Foods That Produce Gas

Have you noticed you feel gassy after you eat specific foods? That's because certain types of foods can produce gas. Here are some examples:

  • Apples, pears, peaches, and prunes
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Asparagus, artichokes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and onions
  • Beans
  • Fruit juices
  • Apples, pears, peaches, and prunes
  • Honey
  • Sodas and soft drinks
  • Sugar-free candies and gum

Many of these foods contain sugars that can make excess gas, like sorbitol or fructose. For instance, prunes, apples, peaches, and sugar-free foods contain sorbitol. Sodas, honey, and fruit juices are high in fructose.

If your floating stool is a result of gas-producing food, there's some good news. Your poop should return to normal after you eat less of the foods that bother you.

Lactose Intolerance

People with lactose intolerance may have floating poop when they eat dairy products. That's because they have low levels of the enzyme lactase that the body needs to digest lactose (a sugar in milk).

Lactose isn't only in milk—it's also in many other dairy products, like yogurt, ice cream, and some cheeses.

That's why someone with lactose intolerance might become bloated or gassy after eating dairy, which can lead to floating stool.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Along with gas, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have floating stools.

A 2015 study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology examined people with IBS. The researchers concluded that floating stools were a characteristic feature of IBS. In fact, 26% of the adults in the study reported having floating stools.

Recap

Excess gas in your stool can make it to float. Eating foods that contain sugars like sorbitol or fructose can produce excess gas. People with lactose intolerance and IBS might have a similar experience.

Other Causes

Here's a look at several conditions that can lead to floating stools.

Conditions that Cause Malabsorption

Some medical conditions can cause malabsorption, or the inability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Unsurprisingly, malabsorption can lead to floating poop.

Conditions that disturb the lining of your digestive tract can have this effect, such as:

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is when there's inflammation in your pancreas. The condition is usually a result of gallstones or long-term alcohol abuse. It often occurs after acute, or sudden, pancreatitis. It's also linked to diabetes.

While floating stool is common in pancreatitis, you may experience other symptoms as well. Stomach pain, back pain, bloating, and weight loss are all common.

Sclerosing Cholangitis

Sclerosing cholangitis affects the bile ducts in and around your liver. It's closely linked with ulcerative colitis. The condition is marked by inflammation, scarring, and destruction of these bile ducts.

Along with floating stools, symptoms include:

Choledocholithiasis 

Choledocholithiasis is when you have one or more gallstones in the common bile duct.

The condition doesn't provoke any symptoms unless the stone blocks the bile duct. As well as floating stools, you might feel pain in the right upper or middle upper stomach. The pain usually lasts for at least 30 minutes.

Fever, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting can also occur. You may lose your appetite.

Pancreatic Cancer

Although pancreatic cancer isn't common, it's another potential cause for floating stool.

One of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer is jaundice, or yellowing eyes and skin. But that's not all. Jaundice can also be characterized by certain stool changes. It can cause pale or gray stools, as well as greasy, floating stools.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Stools that sometimes float shouldn't alarm you. That said, some types of stool changes may be symptoms of a condition that requires treatment. Steatorrhea, or fatty stool, is often caused by an underlying condition.

Consult your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your bowel habits that last more than two weeks. Tell your healthcare provider if you're having additional symptoms, like:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever

Recap

Talk to your healthcare provider if the changes in your bowel habits last longer than two weeks and if you're having other symptoms, like stomach pain, weight loss, or a fever.

Treatment

Lifestyle Treatment Options

Floating stool due to excess gas is often harmless and goes away without treatment. By now, you know that diet can play a role in the development of floating stools. So, it's possible that adjusting your diet may help with this issue.

For example, some dietitians and healthcare providers recommend that you take out one or two foods from your diet at a time. That way, you can test if those foods contribute to floating stools.

Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you keep a record of the foods you eat and your bowel movements. A record can help your healthcare provider see if there's a pattern or connection between the food you eat and your stools.

Treating the Underlying Condition

If you're not able to absorb fat properly, you may have a condition called steatorrhea that can cause your stool to float. The treatment for steatorrhea depends on the primary condition behind it.

For instance, steatorrhea can be caused by a condition called cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis treatment often involves digestive enzyme supplements similar to those your pancreas normally releases.

Prevention

If a certain food makes gas worse, you might not have to avoid it. You can find enzyme supplements over the counter. These supplements can help you digest certain foods, such as beans and milk. Eating smaller portions can also help.

Many foods that can cause gas also have positive traits. Beans, for instance, have about 10 grams of fiber per cup and are rich in antioxidants.

Rather than avoiding these foods, try:

  • Eating smaller servings
  • Spacing out your intake over the day
  • Taking over-the-counter enzyme supplements (that help your body digest foods like beans)
  • Avoiding large meals (which put extra pressure on the digestive system)

Summary

Most of the time, excessive gas is the reason why your stool is floating. Certain foods you eat can give you gas. The main culprits are lactose in milk products, soluble fiber, or sugars in food. That could be raffinose in beans, fructose in fruit, or sorbitol in prunes.

But certain conditions can also cause excessive gas or malabsorption, which results in your poop floating. Consult your healthcare provider if you're experiencing other symptoms or if your problem doesn't go away.

A Word From Verywell

Having floating poop from time to time is quite common and often food-related. Many times, excessive gas is the issue.

If the problem appears to be regular (or you notice other symptoms), talk to your healthcare provider. You may think it's embarrassing, but your healthcare provider hears about issues like this all the time. They can help identify any underlying conditions that might be causing stool changes.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Bailey J, Carter NJ, Neher JO. FPIN's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulenceAm Fam Physician. 2009;79(12):1098-1100.

  • Ohge H, Levitt MD. Intestinal gas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 16.