Are Flushable Wipes Really Flushable?

pack of flushable wipes on top of toilet

As plumbers, we get a lot of questions about about flushable wipes: Can you flush disposable wipes? Are flushable wipes good for septic tanks? Are Cottonelle wipes flushable?

Super handy and efficient, many of us have found ourselves reaching for a wipe of some kind or another. Flushable wet wipes have several uses and help simplify life in many ways. However, you may be wondering if these so-called flushable wipes should actually be flushed down the toilet.

Dealing with plumbing issues can be very costly, so paying extra attention to what should and shouldn’t go down the drain will help prevent a potential disaster. Learn what toilets and drains can handle so you don’t find yourself in a sticky (or stinky) situation.

Can Flushable Wipes Damage Your Toilet?

Unfortunately, the term “flushable” is very misleading. While flushable wipes may make it down the toilet and even out of your plumbing system, they are not biodegradable and have the potential to cause a clog somewhere else along the sewer line. To avoid a costly clog, it’s best to stick with only putting toilet paper and human waste in the toilet.

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Do Disposable Wipes Clog Plumbing Systems?

Flushable toilet wipes have the potential to cause enormous damage to your plumbing system. An article from The Washington Post¹ states that if you flush wipes of any kind down the toilet, at some point you will get a clog.

It’s not just about getting down the toilet. It’s about all the other pipes the waste has to travel through to get to its final destination. It may also cause backups for other people who share the same system.

As they travel down sewer pipes to wastewater treatment facilities, wipes get twisted up into ropey wads, creating massive clogging issues for homeowners and utility workers. Some cities have had issues with large masses of solid waste called “fatbergs,” which clog wastewater systems.

These masses are composed of grease fat and oil, and other sanitary products such as flushable wipes. They are extremely unhygienic and expensive to fix. Over 90% of these clogs² are due to wipes that get flushed down the toilet.

RELATED: How to Keep Your Pipes in Good Condition

What Are Flushable Wipes Made Of?

Close up hand throwing toilet paper to the toilet in a white tile bathroom.

Wipes are made from the pulp of materials like wood, then reinforced with artificial fibers such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Most are not biodegradable, and the claims made by wipe manufacturers are very misleading. The journey from the toilet, through the septic system, and on to the treatment plant often does not provide enough time for them to completely decompose.

A standard piece of toilet paper disintegrates within 24 hours. In contrast, regular wipes can take weeks or even months to break down, making them not as biodegradable as some brands claim them to be.

Are Flushable Wipes Bad for the Environment?

Wipes are very bad for the environment as many of them contain non-compostable plastic. When disposed of through the toilet, they can make their way into the waterways and oceans, polluting areas where wildlife may live.

If you must use them, then use them sparingly and stop flushing wipes of any kind down the toilet—they belong only in the garbage can.

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What Should You Do if Flushable Wipes Clog Your Pipes?

You will need to call for professional plumbing service if you’re experiencing a major drainage clog. If you’re lucky, the clog may be near the toilet drain. If it’s further down the line, it can mean accessing the sewage system somewhere outside your home for extensive repairing or replacing.

Incorrect claims and confusing wording from wipe manufacturers have led many people to believe that wipes are safe to flush. However, disposing of non-flushable and even flushable wipes or baby wipes in the toilet can severely damage your sewer system.

To avoid costly repairs and adverse effects on the environment, commit to trashing these convenient cleaners in the garbage where they belong and keep your sewage system running smoothly!

man looking at toilet and alling a plumber

Sources:

¹Carter, T. (26 March 2020). Flushable Wipes are Terrible for Plumbing. The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 January 2022.

²Bowden, E. (22 April 2019). Nightmarish ‘fatbergs’ are clogging New York’s sewers. New York Post. Retrieved 10 January 2022

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