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Can I flush wet wipes?

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

"Flushable" sanitary wipes can cause serious damage to our sewer systems.

Flushable wet wipes have gained immense popularity in recent years, with many people opting for them due to convenience and personal hygiene benefits. While wet wipes may seem like a harmless alternative to traditional toilet paper, they pose a serious risk to our plumbing systems. So, let's discuss the dangers flushable wet wipes pose on our plumbing and provide some practical tips to minimize their impact.

Many wet wipe manufacturers label their products as "flushable," which implies that they can be flushed...right? Wrong. Although some wipes may eventually break down in water, the process takes far longer than that of toilet paper, leading to blockages and major damage to sewer systems.

1. Clogs and Blockages

Side-by-side comparison of toilet paper and sanitary wipes in water.

One of the primary dangers of flushable wet wipes is the likelihood to cause clogs and blockages. Unlike toilet paper, which disintegrates quickly in water, wet wipes are designed to retain their structural integrity for longer. This causes the wipes to accumulate in pipes, leading to blockages that can be costly and challenging to remove.

2. Fatbergs

When flushable wet wipes combine with fats, oils, and grease(also known as FOG) in sewer systems, they can form fatbergs. Fatbergs are massive, solidified masses of congealed waste that can cause significant damage to sewer infrastructure. These can lead to sewage backups, unpleasant odors, and the need for costly repairs. In 2018, Macomb County Public Works broke apart an 11-foot-wide - six feet tall fatberg from the sewer system that wound up costing $100,000 to remove.

A sample of the fatberg removed from the sewer system in Macomb County is now on display at the Michigan Science Center.

3. Environmental Impact

Flushable wet wipes not only pose a threat to plumbing systems but also have negative impacts on the environment. When these wipes make their way into waterways, they can harm aquatic life and contribute to pollution. The production of wet wipes alone consumes valuable resources, such as water, energy, and raw materials, contributing to a larger environmental footprint than traditional toilet paper.

The results of Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) annual beach cleanup found the number of wet wipes more than doubled between 2013 and 2014 in the UK.

4. Strain on Municipal Resources

Dealing with the consequences of flushable wet wipes puts a significant strain on municipal resources. Cleaning and maintaining sewer systems, as well as repairing damage caused by clogs and fatbergs can cost cities and taxpayers millions of dollars each year. This burden could be significantly reduced if consumers were more mindful of how they dispose of wet wipes.

Tips for Minimizing the Impact of Flushable Wet Wipes

To decrease the dangers posed by flushable wet wipes, consider the following tips:

  1. Opt for Toilet Paper: Use toilet paper instead of wet wipes whenever possible. Toilet paper is specifically designed to break down quickly in water, reducing the risk of blockages and other plumbing issues.

  2. Dispose of Wet Wipes Responsibly: If you must use wet wipes, avoid flushing them down the toilet. Instead, dispose of them in the trash to minimize their impact on plumbing systems.

  3. Educate Others: Share your knowledge about the dangers of flushable wet wipes with friends and family. Encourage them to consider the consequences of their disposal habits on plumbing systems and the environment.

Although flushable wet wipes may offer a convenient and seemingly hygienic option, their potential to wreak havoc on plumbing systems is a cause for concern. By choosing alternatives like toilet paper, disposing of wet wipes responsibly, and spreading awareness about their dangers, we can work together to mitigate their impact on our sewer systems and the environment.


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