Not everything can be flushed down the toilet, even when the label says it’s possible. Just because the packaging indicates a wipe is “flushable” doesn’t mean the wipes won’t harm your plumbing system. Cities across the country are discovering the damage these flushable wipes can cause to sewer lines.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which handles sewage for 1.8 million residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, installed $1 million heavy-duty grinders to shred wipes and other debris before they reach pumps on the way to the treatment plant. But there’s more than your city’s water treatment process at stake. Using disposable wipes in your own home can create severely damaging clogs.
The Problem With ‘Flushable Wipes’
While these personal care napkins are labeled and sold as “flushable,” the material is anything but. The wipes are made from fibrous materials like cellulose from wood pulp, and are sometimes reinforced with polymers for extra strength. These fibers are much thicker than that of toilet paper, and are designed to withstand personal care. Toilet paper, immediately begins to break apart and disintegrate once flushed, but the wipe often stays intact and can become lodged in your pipe or sewer main. So while these wipes are durable, they’re not so ideal for your plumbing.
If both you and your neighbors are using flushable wipes, the cloths begin to accumulate in the local sewer main. Water and waste might backup, eventually creating slow drains or causing sewage to seep out of your drains and into your home. To compound the issue even more, when the flushable wipes become trapped in the sewer line, they collect grease and other debris and can get caught among invasive tree roots that have broken into the pipe.
Future Of Flushable
According to the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, wipes rake in nearly $7 billion in sales annually. While municipalities like New York City are spending big money to educate consumers, you can take some steps of your own to ensure you prolong the life of your plumbing system.
The most logical way to preserve the integrity of your pipes is to avoid using flushable wipes altogether. But for families with potty-training toddlers or those who simply prefer a fresher clean, the wipes aren’t so easy to give up.
If you continue to use the wipes, make sure you buy the correct label. Avoid purchasing the brands that carry a “Do Not Flush” symbol. When you do use the wipes, find an alternative way to dispose of them, such as a diaper pale or trashcan. Continue to have your plumbing system inspected yearly to ensure your pipes are clear of the wipes and any other debris that may cause severe blockages.