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Are Flushable Wipes Really Flushable?

Certified Plumbing of Brevard - November 17, 2023 - 0 comments

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There were many things about the COVID-19 pandemic that provided valuable, if somewhat strange, insight into the American psyche; one such story is that of the great toilet paper scarcity following the national lockdown. With over 99% of toilet paper manufactured in the United States (from NC State University), supply simply could not keep up with demand as scores of Americans hoarded rolls of toilet paper in an effort to prepare for–well, we’re not really sure what. Perhaps as a result of the doomsday preparation efforts, a secondary source of tush-wipers hit the spotlight: the so-called flushable wipe. But are flushable wipes really flushable? The answer might surprise you. 

Will Flushable Wipes Clog Your Toilet?

You might be thinking, They’re called “flushable wipes.” Why wouldn’t they be flushable? And that truly is a great question, which we will explore at length. While technically you may be able to get away with tossing a wet wipe down the toilet bowl every now and again, most plumbers agree this is playing with fire. Wet wipes not only have the capacity to clog the average toilet, but also pose serious problems for municipal waste facilities as well.

Why Flushable Wipes Aren’t Flushable

According to a Canadian study of an array of 101 different brands, flushable wipes do not actually disintegrate when introduced to the waste water, contrary to popular belief (via Forbes). In fact, they cause significant issues for municipal sewage systems, especially in highly populated cities like London or New York (from NY Post). These wipes are flushed through the plumbing and dispersed into sewage systems, where they then coagulate with flushed cooking fats, oil-based products, and other flushed wet wipes. This phenomenon creates a conglomerated fatty mass known as a “fatberg” that must then be broken apart with human intervention in order to prevent significant clogs in the sewage system. This dirty job is not only gross and messy, but costs millions of dollars each year (from NY Times).

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When to Use Flushable Wipes–And How to Properly Dispose of Them

This is not to say the average consumer should immediately cease buying wet wipes; however, proper disposal is critical in order to continue using the product appropriately. Wet wipes may be used in the restroom, if that is appealing to the consumer–however, they must be disposed of in the trash, and not flushed down the pipes. It’s important to note that these wipes are not recyclable either–and are simply considered trash after use.

Feel free to use wet wipes whenever you desire– whether changing a diaper or doing your business–but do your part and throw the wipe in the trash when you’re through!

Best Flushable Wipes That Actually Disintegrate

Many wet wipe enthusiasts remain in denial that so-called flushable wipes are not, in fact, flushable. However, there are currently no flushable wipes on the market that currently disintegrate fast enough to avoid creating fatbergs in the sewage system. That is to say, not even flushable baby wipes or biodegradable wipes are technically flushable. 

While there may be some biodegradable wet wipes that advertise themselves as flushable, most wet wipes on the market are made using synthetic materials, plastic, or polyester that will not break down in the pipes fast enough to avoid the infamous fatberg (via Green America Magazine). 

To date, all wet wipes must be disposed of in the trash–and even biodegradable flushable wipes will not break down quickly enough to avoid a fatberg catastrophe. While biodegradable flushable wipes may have fewer harsher ingredients, such as microplastics or chemicals, they will likely still pose problems for your pipes (and your municipal sewage system) if used on a regular basis. Why expose yourself to emergency plumbing fees or pay an inordinate amount of money in taxes to remove clumps of waste from your city infrastructure? Skip the hassle and throw the wipe in the bin! Your reward will be saving money and time down the road, and the confidence that comes with knowing you’ve properly disposed of a favorite product. 

What Can Be Flushed Down the Toilet

Toilets are not all-encompassing disposal units. In fact, there are only four things that should ever go down the toilet. These are known as the “Four P’s” by the plumbing community. These include puke, pee, poop, and toilet paper. You may have noticed the omission of flushable wipes. This is intentional. No matter how robust your toilet or new your plumbing, wet wipes pose a clog hazard when flushed down the toilet–especially over time.

Flushable Wipes: A Marketing Misnomer

By now, you’re likely wondering why on earth flushable wipes are called “flushable” if they are not at all a copacetic thing to flush down the toilet. These wipes are called “flushable” because they physically can be flushed down most toilets–though it is nothing short of a miracle to use these types of products and not encounter at least one clog throughout your life.

Currently, there is limited regulation on which wipes can be called “flushable”–but this is changing. According to Wastewater Digest, U.S. Senators have recently introduced the Wastewater Infrastructure Pollution Prevention and Environmental Safety Act (also known as the WIPPES Act) to help combat the lawlessness of wet wipe regulation. Under this legislation, it will become mandatory for “flushable wipes” to clearly put the phrase “Do Not Flush” on the packaging, to help minimize misuse of the product. But is this measure enough to prevent all improper flushable wipe disposal? Only time will tell. 

Pushback From the Flushable Wipes Industry

It turns out, this battle has been waged for several years, with California pulling ahead as one of the states at the forefront of the war. Organizations like the International Water Services Flushability Group have set forth to create guidelines for what is and isn’t flushable–and are demanding that flushable wipes corporations adhere to their guidelines (via AP News). 

Some argue that the International Water Services Flushability Group does not offer peer-reviewed data, and should thus be discounted–though some flushable wipes businesses refute the concept that their products plug sewers to begin with. However, for municipal sewer workers, the proof is in the fatberg–and for sympathetic citizens, the issue remains clear.

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Clogged Toilet? Certified Plumbing Will Get You Flowing Again

Municipal city workers aren’t the only ones who have to deal with the flushable wipes crisis–in fact, residential and commercial plumbers also have to contend with this confusing (and divisive) conflict. There’s no shame in flushing a so-called “flushable” wipe down the toilet if you don’t know any better. The marketing for this product creates a grey area for the customer, nearly fibbing in the process–and inflates the issue into an even bigger, costlier problem for municipal city sewer workers, legislators, and lawyers alike. If you’ve ever flushed a “flushable” wipe, you are not alone; most Americans who use the product do not know about its contentious backstory. However, this should not be a habit if you hope to avoid costly plumbing bills and increased annual taxes, as each flush is essentially operating on borrowed time. 

If you’ve accidentally flushed a “flushable” wipe, reach out to the experienced team at Certfied Plumbing of Brevard today. We will unclog your pipes and scratch the problem out at its source before it has a chance to cause bigger issues down the line, so you can breathe easy knowing there are plumbing professionals who’ve got your back. We excel under pressure (pun intended) and will get your pipes back on track around the clock for your convenience. Experience the luxury of a savvy team working to optimize your plumbing and rest assured you are doing right by your property and protecting your investment.

Got further questions about flushable wipes? We’ve got the industry experience to answer your queries. 

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