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Are “Flushable” Wipes Really Flushable?

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Jeff Palady
Vice President
Master Plumber

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There’s a lot of controversy these days about so-called “flushable wipes”—essentially wet wipes produced by various companies alongside the claim that they can be flushed down the toilet. Are these wipes truly safe for your plumbing, and if not, what damage can they do?

Let’s cut to the chase. Having seen almost every plumbing problem imaginable over the past two decades in business, we can tell you these “flushable” wipes most definitely are notflushable. If you use them and they haven’t clogged your sewer drains yet, consider yourself lucky. Then stop flushing them.

Why Are They Labeled “Flushable?”

How are these companies legally able to package certain wipes as “flushable?” It’s really a matter of legality and semantics. These wipes are, in fact, made from biodegradable materials, and they will decompose over time—sotechnicallythere’s nothing in them that will harm your pipes. Some companies base their claims on physical testing of what they consider “standard” behavior as to many wipes can be flushed without causing a clog. Here’s the problem: We have no regulatory standard at this time as to what constitutes “flushable,” so there is no official way to prove or disprove the companies’ claims—we can only go by experience. And the experience of hundreds of water companies (and thousands of plumbers) says these wipes don’t degrade fast enough, and they docause clogs on a regular basis as a result.

What Can Happen If You Use Them?

Perhaps you’ve used flushable wipes for years with no apparent problem—and if so, good for you. However, while these wipes can often make it pretty far down your sewer lines, they occasionally get lodged in elbows; there, they may combine with other wipes and debris, causing clogs before they’ve had a chance to decompose. These wipes also contribute to the “fatbergs” that often clog city drain works, and they can even damage wastewater equipment, both at home and at the municipal level. In short, these issues can cost you in a number of ways:

  • The wipes can cause clogs deep in your sewer lines,costing you a plumber’s visit to clear them out.
  • They can ruin sewage pumps and other equipment, leading to more expensive repairs.(One person claims the use of “flushable wipes” cost them $3300 to replace their pump.)
  • They can build up further down the line, causing neighborhood-wide sewage problems.
  • They can create major headaches and cause damage all the way down to the sewage treatment plants, which may cause rate hikes in water and sewage.

Bottom line: We have nothing against “flushable” wipes, or any other type of moistened wipe, for that matter. They can be very convenient and useful for many purposes. But if you use them, do yourself and your plumbing a favor and don’t flush them.

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