Flushable wipes can clog your pipes and even damage your septic system.
Cities spend millions every year on plumbing problems caused by flushable wipes.
Hiring a plumber to clean your sewer line costs $175 to $400.
Replacing your septic system can cost up to $20,000.
Since labels on “flushable” wipes market them as safe, you should be able to flush them down your toilet, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most flushable wipes contain synthetic materials that make it impossible for your septic or sewer system to break them down.
Are Flushable Wipes Really Flushable?
We’ve all been tempted to toss a baby wipe in the toilet, and how harmful could that be? Technically, you can flush a flushable wipe and it probably won’t immediately clog your toilet. However, chances are that once the flushable wipe makes it to the first curve in your pipes, it’ll get stuck there. Worse yet, flushable wipes tend to build up over time until you have a bigger problem, like having to replace or clean your septic tank.
Why Flushable Wipes Don’t Flush
This isn’t the most cocktail-party-friendly topic, but toilet paper disintegrates in water, allowing it to flow through your plumbing system. Meanwhile, “flushable” wipes contain synthetic materials like plastic or polyester that don’t break down in water or pass through turns in the plumbing system.
Most of us know the dangers of flushing paper towels down the toilet—some of us have even experienced the panic that creeps up when you flush a paper towel and hold your breath to make sure it goes down. Due to the synthetic materials in flushable wipes, they hold together better than paper towels. Over time, because they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper, they will eventually clog your pipes and ultimately cause damage to your plumbing system.
The Larger Problem With Flushable Wipes
When one person uses flushable wipes, they will likely cause plumbing problems, toilet overflows, and septic issues. But if more and more people in a neighborhood start using flushable wipes, it has a larger impact on city sewage equipment.
Sewage pumps have impellers inside them that pump water through the system. Flushable wipes clog the system, get caught on the impellers, and can cause the entire system to shut down. Think of it like taking a ball of string and wrapping it around the blades of a fan; your fan might not stop immediately, but the string will quickly get tangled and cause a big old mess.
Even worse, when flushable wipes come in contact with oils and fats in the sewage system, they can cause huge solid waste clogs known as “fatbergs.” Fatbergs are dangerous and expensive for cities to get rid of. It can take weeks for teams of workers to clean out a large fatberg.
Why Are Wipes Called Flushable If They Aren’t?
As of now, there aren’t any laws requiring companies to prove that their products are flushable. In other words, packaging can say a product like baby wipes or wet wipes is flushable even though there isn’t any proof.
A study conducted at Ryerson University in 2019 tested 101 single-use products, including 23 labeled as flushable. None of the single-wipe products passed a sewer system test.
Even though we know these products create problems for household plumbing and city sewer systems, consumers experience confusion due to marketing promoting products as flushable.
The Cost of Using Flushable Wipes
Hiring a local plumber in a plumbing emergency will typically cost between $45 and $200 per hour, and the average cost to clean a sewer line is usually $175 to $400. But the problem of flushable wipes costs cities millions of dollars every year, and if your septic system breaks because of the wipes, a new septic system costs up to $20,000.
How to Keep Your Pipes Clear
In simple terms, don’t flush anything but toilet paper down your toilet and avoid rinsing fats and oils down your sink. If you think you have a problem, call a local plumber right away to have it fixed before it builds up into a plumbing emergency.