What happens when you flush those wipes…and how to fix clogs!
Flushable wipes are common in places like residential bathrooms, healthcare facilities, RVs, and diaper bags all across America.
Why not? After all, it says “flushable” right there on the label and they’re so convenient. Parents use them to help their little ones clean more effectively during potty training, nurses use them for patients in hospitals and elder-care homes, they’re a go-to on camping trips for those midnight trips to the campground bathhouse, and so on. Millions of people coast-to-coast use them instead of traditional toilet paper. In fact, many customers find comfort in choosing “flushable” wipes versus regular wipes because they believe that those wipes are more environmentally-friendly and better for their community’s sewage system.
So, what’s the problem?
Cities nationwide are pulling thousands of tons of wipes from their sewage pipes every year. After choking off your pipes at home, these “icebergs” of wipes move into larger sewage lines where they continue to grow, eventually clogging pipes under city streets and at water treatment plants. Theoretically, you pay for these clogs twice; first as a homeowner when you use over-the-counter or professional methods to unclog your home, then as a taxpayer when the city has to bring in heavy equipment to lift giant, congealed balls of used wipes from main sewer lines.
During the country’s Covid-19 pandemic, more and more cities reported serious upticks in budget, manpower, and equipment to address city sewage clogs that turned out to be “wipe-bergs” stuck inside. Several states started to investigate how to better confront this issue, which included testing various brands and developing rigorous requirements before a company could use the “flushable” label.
One of the organizations that formed during the peak of the Covid-era was the Responsible Flushing Alliance. This non-profit brings together nearly 30 product manufacturers, suppliers, and partner agencies for the purpose of lobbying state legislatures to require “do not flush” labels on all wipes sold that aren’t designed (and proven in testing) to break down entirely after flushing, according to the RFA’s president in an interview with the Washington Post.
The RFA says, currently, at least four states have made it illegal to send non-flushable wipes down the pipes: Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and California. There are bills in the legislative houses of Michigan, Maryland, Maine, and the District of Columbia either stalled in committee or mired in litigation.
In the southeast, both North and South Carolina lawmakers have heard grievances by flushable wipe makers, plumbing companies, and customers, but there are no laws that yet govern what wipes people can flush away.
Testing wipes: the proof is in the pipes
In 2019, researchers at Ryerson’s Urban Water Center at Ryerson University in Ontario, Canada, tested 23 flushable wipes. Only two out of the 23 tested actually dissolved, but only partially. None of the samples completely disintegrated, because they’re usually made out of synthetic materials like plastic and polyester, so they’re more resilient than toilet paper. This means almost any flushable wipe you flush could stay intact all the way to your local water treatment plant.
“What can I use instead?”
This is a great question we get all the time at Ben Franklin Plumbing. Here are some of the most cost-effective and readily-available alternatives to flushable wipes.
- Bidet Dual Cleaning Nozzle – These increasingly-popular bathroom fixtures can provide a personal cleansing option that requires no paper or wipes at all! Some models come with luxurious add-ons such as a heater, a blow dryer, and even a freshening spray!
- Reusable Natural Wipes – Another eco-friendly alternative to flushable wipes is reusable wipes that you can wash and reuse repeatedly.
- Toilet Paper Spray –Simply spray your toilet paper with the cleaning solution and use it as you would a flushable wipe without worrying that your plumbing could suffer
All of these products are easy to find on popular retail sites like Amazon, Walmart or Target.
What’s the bottom line on using “flushable” wipes?
- Wipes may be labeled "flushable," but they don't degrade in the system. Flushing them is like flushing a handkerchief or other item made of cloth.
- Most sewer systems and treatment plants are unable to handle wipes. They gum up the system, clog pipes and pumps, and cost taxpayers and residents a lot of money in additional maintenance costs.
- If you must use wipes, put them in the trash, not the toilet!
- Many homeowners have experienced plumbing problems because of wipes, so you may have expensive maintenance issues at home if you flush them.
When it comes to tackling really troublesome clogs, those caused by wipes and those that are not, we recommend you let the trained, licensed and experienced professionals of Ben Franklin Plumbing do the job. We have the advanced tools and know-how to get to the epicenter of the clog and remove it. You don’t want to risk damaging your pipes and pay more for repairs for what could be a relatively easy fix for us.
If you put “Best Plumbers Near Me” in your search engine, we’re at the top of that list, now let us be at the top of yours! Be it an emergency or routine plumbing service, we’ll respond quickly, quote fairly, and talk to you honestly. Our monthly service and product specials can also save you money!