Flushable toilet wipes have been rising in popularity since the first “disposable, dispersible” wipe was introduced by Kimberley Clark in 2001. Since then, many consumers have refused to go back to the scratchy dry toilet paper of yore, as evidenced by the size of the now multi-billion-dollar industry.
But are flushable wipes bad for our toilets?
Dry Paper Vs. Wet Wipes
It’s just plain truth that wet toilet wipes have to be made of stronger fibers than dry toilet paper in order to serve their purpose. Most “flushable” toilet wipes are made of wood pulp cellulose, whose fibers are spun or woven, treated with chemicals like binders, cleaning solutions, and fragrances etc., and then compressed into sheets.
Wood pulp cellulose is a biodegradable product, and the compressed fibers do eventually unwind while soaking in water. But flushable wipes don’t degrade nearly as quickly as regular toilet paper, which tends to dissolve within 24 hours. This difference in ease of biodegradability is what may cause a lot of trouble for your plumbing.
Pulp In Your Pipes
Flushable toilet wipes may seem to swirl down your toilet drain with alacrity, but the truth of what’s happening is deeper in your plumbing, where the wipes can easily catch on rough or grease-coated surfaces or become part of an already incipient clog.
Owners of older homes should take particular care. Decades-old underground sewage drainage pipes are prone to the invasion of tree roots. These roots burrow their way into the pipes through cracks or corrosion holes. The webbing they make catches fibrous materials and solid items like wet-wipes. Accumulation can cause a major blockage, ending in an ugly and expensive-to-correct sewage back-up.
Further Down The Pipeline
Whether you have a septic tank or are connected to a municipal sewer system, flushable wipes are still big trouble for your plumbing and your pocket.
The accumulation of these products in septic tanks can cause major back-up problems, and may necessitate the expensive prospect of a complete pump-out of the tank. Homeowners with septic tank systems may want to avoid using the wipes altogether. If you are unsure of your clogged toilet call your local plumber for help.
On a grander scale, many municipal sewer systems have noticed that, more and more often, the screens in the pipes that lead to the wastewater treatment plants are clogged with a gray fibrous mass. The clean-up and disposal of this solid material (mostly made up of wipes) costs taxpayers real money. In states like Georgia, Washington, Oregon, and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on new pumps, grinding equipment, and on higher operational and maintenance costs.
If you just can’t give up those lovely flushable wipes, at least consider throwing them in the trash, rather than the toilet. Over time, that’ll save you time, clean-up and trouble.