Five signs your poop is normal

The more you know about what lands in the toilet, the more you can tell whether or not it’s normal (and if not, what to do about it).


July 21, 2022

Written by:

Dr. Erin Hendriks

Board-Certified Physician

Medically Reviewed by:


November 20, 2023


Maybe it’s not an absolute thrill to discuss, but poop matters, as anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can tell you. The more you know about what lands in the toilet, the more you can tell whether or not it’s normal (and if not, what to do about it). Better, quicker treatment could mean lower pain levels, less bloating, and fewer symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome overall. 

So what is a normal, healthy poop like?

Normal poop has a certain shape and consistency

There are different types of poop, and some variation is to be expected. A regular, normal stool is smooth, long and cylindrical with some flexibility, kind of like a stuffed tube sock. On the widely accepted Bristol Stool Scale, a healthy bowel movement would score a 4. When it’s functioning well, your digestion moves food through the digestive system at an even pace, giving your body time to extract nutrients. Peristalsis, involuntary contractions of the gastrointestinal muscles, is what moves your food along. When this happens as it’s supposed to, the waste products your body is excreting emerge in a smooth, evenly-compacted mass that usually measures between four and eight inches long. 

Poop that scores in the 1-3 range tends to be hard, dry, or lumpy, coming out in little blobs or chunks that are shorter than four inches and often have cracked surfaces. That consistency indicates constipation, meaning food moves so slowly through your gut it loses much of its water content. More fiber, plenty of water, and regular exercise can help with constipation. If most of your bowel movements are hard and pebbly, if it’s tough for you to poop, or if you defecate less than three times a week, you may have IBS-C

If, on the other hand, your poop is more like a Bristol 5 to 7, it’s looser and more watery, ranging from mushy to outright diarrhea. That’s the sign of food that moves through your gut so fast your body doesn’t get a chance to digest it fully. Loose feces and diarrhea might be happening due to food allergies or sensitivities, to a previous or ongoing infection, to imbalances in your gut bacteria, or to involuntary, IBS-related contractions in the intestines that speed food through the digestive tract. If most of your bowel movements are loose, you might have IBS-D.

 Normal poop comes in only certain colors

Though it’s good to eat fruits and vegetables that come in a rainbow of colors, what comes out the other end is usually just plain brown, ranging from light tan to a dark coffee color. Poop is brown because your liver breaks down old red blood cells to make a substance called bilirubin, which is then mixed with bile and excreted into the intestine during digestion.  

If your stool color veers away from brown, you’ll want to consider what might explain the color change. 

  • Red poop or pinkish colored poo could mean that you just ate beets or something containing red food dye (fairly normal) or that there could be blood in your stool from hemorrhoids, cracks in your anus or rectum, or other causes (not normal, get it checked out right away).
  • Yellow poop could indicate something wrong with your liver or gallbladder, or even possibly cancer. Celiac disease or other conditions, including temporary illness, can block the body from thoroughly digesting food, which can give poop a yellowish appearance. Parasites or too much stress can also turn your poop yellow. Or you might simply have eaten a lot of carrots or sweet potatoes.
  • Green poop might indicate chlorophyll, the substance that makes plants green, and can show up if you’re eating your leafy greens, herbs, or even matcha. Once in a while, certain medications can disrupt your normal gut flora, giving your poop unexpected tinges of color. Infections like E. coli can also make you go green, as can IBS.
  • Gray or white can be a sign that bile and bilirubin aren’t being released properly into the small intestine. This can mean  gallbladder, liver, or pancreas trouble. Sometimes, though, poop can also look pale if you’ve been eating high-fat foods. If you see white stool in the bowl, you should check in with your doctor. 
  • Black poop can happen when you take Pepto-Bismol, other medications with bismuth, or iron supplements (or even when you eat black licorice!) Black stool can also mean that blood is entering your digestive system or that there could be issues with your upper gastrointestinal tract, which could be serious. Just like red and white poop, black poop should be checked out right away. 

Certain foods, medications, infections, or medical conditions can change the color of your stool. These are often temporary changes or side effects that aren’t very significant, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on your toilet bowl.

Normal poop behaves a certain way

If your poop is normal, it probably sinks. When stool contains a lot of fat or isn’t fully digested, it might float. When it consists more of the usual contents, which include fiber, shed bacteria, mucus, cast-off cells, and water, it’s more likely to head toward the bottom of the bowl.

If you notice pieces of corn or other undigested plant matter in your poop, that’s usually not a cause for concern, since your body doesn’t digest certain fibers and other food substances. 

A single bowel movement can generally weigh up to about a third of a pound, or about the same as a banana. It’s within the normal range to have a bowel movement every one to three days. Stress or changes in your routine mean you may not go for a while, but that’s not abnormal. 

Normal poop has a certain smell

We get it: poop stinks! But poop that smells particularly odiferous could signal an infection, such as giardia, or an imbalance in the microflora of your gut. Pungent poop is also associated with celiac disease, Crohn’s, and a few other conditions. In these cases, your poop may smell a little putrid, like rot.

Certain allergies, lactose intolerance, meat, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower, among others), and highly processed foods are linked to foul-smelling poop, too. As a rule of thumb, see if cutting out the suspect food type decreases the smell. If your poop keeps smelling unusually bad, consider visiting your physician. 

In general, things that change your normal gastrointestinal bacteria colonies can change how your poop smells, too. These might be stressful situations, a course of antibiotics, or an illness. Usually, your poop returns to its usual smell in a few days.

Normal poop is part of an overall routine

If you’re regular, as they say, you’ll probably notice that you poop around the same time every day, or that your bowel movements follow the same general schedule. Some gassiness and bloating is normal, but abdominal pain, extreme gassiness, persistent bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or unusual bowel movements could be symptoms of IBS, of trouble absorbing your food normally (malabsorption) or other conditions. 

Solid health habits like regular exercise and a balanced eating strategy that features mostly fruits and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean plan or, if you have IBS, a low FODMAP eating plan, can help you have regular, normal poops. Remember to check the toilet every once in a while and try to aim for Bristol Stool Chart #4s. 

If your gut doesn’t seem to want to settle down, try exercises like stretches, yoga, or Pilates, which can help settle your gastrointestinal system. Even long walks can help. You may also want to explore some mind-body exercises like deep breathing. 

How Salvo Health can help you poop like you should

At Salvo Health, our digital healthcare platform and virtual clinic provides you with continuous text-based support and care for your chronic condition. Imagine being able to text a certified physician or health coach to avoid flare-ups or manage your pain. Alongside text-based communication, members receive a customized care plan that can take account of how their symptoms can be managed, no matter what’s going on with your poop. 

Get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health care team, including a certified gastro specialist and board-certified health coach when you join Salvo Health today. 

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Written by:

Dr. Erin Hendriks

Board-Certified Physician