Is It Okay to Flush Wet Wipes?

Imagine a curious child standing in front of the toilet with a head full of hopes and dreams. The child’s thoughts run wild with all of the possibilities. What can he possibly flush down the toilet and get away with? As experienced plumbers in the Winston-Salem area, we have had our fair share of calls involving non-flushable items. Wet wipes are among them.

Whether you call them wet wipes or baby wipes, we call them trouble. They can cause all sorts of problems for your pipes. Wet wipes are especially dangerous for older homes that haven’t had a plumbing update in decades. The older the home, more problematic wet wipes are.

Ignore the Packaging

It is not uncommon for customers to explain to the plumber that they flushed wet wipes because the packaging said it was okay to do so. Our advice to homeowners is to ignore the packaging. Despite manufacturers claiming that their wipes are safe to flush down the toilet, they aren’t.

Note that manufacturers put their products through multiple cycles of agitation before approving them as flushable. In a lab, agitation may work very well to break wipes down. But your plumbing system doesn’t include an agitator. What goes through your pipes flows either to your septic tank or to a municipal sewer. There it sits to decompose over time.

Wet wipes will eventually break down. The problem is that they don’t break down quickly enough. By contrast, toilet paper is specifically engineered to quickly break down. Just ask any worker in a municipal sewage treatment plant. Unclogging plant filters often requires removing untold numbers of intact baby wipes. Rarely are filters clogged by toilet paper.

What Happens When You Flush Wipes

There is a common misconception that anything flushable is safe for your pipes. It’s not true. Just because a wet wipe disappears when you flush doesn’t mean it continues traveling through your pipes safely. Any number of things could inhibit its progress.

To start with, wet wipes are much heavier than toilet paper. They are also more dense. Also understand that debris collects inside sewage pipes over time. Even a little bit of debris can create a hang point for a wipe passing through. A wipe that gets stuck on debris almost always become a clog.

Just one or two wipes stuck in your pipes could:

  • Significantly reduce outflow.
  • Eventually block the pipe completely.
  • Create pressure that eventually causes the pipe to burst.

These are the kinds of problems that require a professional. Instead of maintaining clear pipes by flushing only toilet paper and waste down the toilet, it may be necessary to pay a plumber by the hour to snake out clogged pipes. If a pipe bursts, paying a professional to replace it won’t be cheap.

Wet Wipes and Septic Systems

Wet wipes are problematic enough for property owners whose homes are hooked to municipal sewer lines. They are even worse for those with septic systems. That’s because everything flushed down the toilet has to be dealt with in the septic tank.

A septic system is designed with a leach field intended to dissipate liquid waste. Some solid waste is also dissipated into the leach field. However, most of it settles to the bottom of the septic tank as sludge. Once the sludge accumulates to a certain level, the tank must be evacuated.

Here’s the problem with wet wipes: they take up space in the septic tank. Every wipe that gets flushed reduces the amount of usable space for sludge. That means a septic tank has to be cleaned out more frequently. In addition, wipes can prevent liquid waste from exiting the tank by clogging the outflow.

A septic tank is fitted with a baffle that prevents non-aerated waste from directly exiting the tank. It only takes one wet wipe stuck between the baffle and the outflow to create an impenetrable clog. The end result is a septic tank that eventually reaches capacity and backs up into the house.

Only Toilet Paper and Waste

In summary, nothing should ever be flushed down the toilet except toilet paper and waste. A home’s pipes are not equipped to handle anything else. Likewise, municipal sewage systems and septic tanks are too easily clogged by products like wet wipes.

In addition to wet wipes, never flush:

  • Paper tissues
  • Tampons or feminine napkins
  • Disposable diaper liners
  • Paper towel
  • Condoms
  • Hair clippings

Even what seems to be the most innocuous of things could easily get hung up in your pipes to create a clog. Take it from us when we say that clogs can lead to significant repair bills if they are severe enough.

If you have flushed non-flushable items in the past and now notice your plumbing isn’t working as freely as it ought to, give us a call. We service homes throughout the Winston-Salem area. We can get your pipes working like new again, thanks to years of experience and all of the latest tools and techniques.

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At Bodenheimer Plumbing Services, Inc., we offer the best in residential and commercial plumbing services with nearly 80 years of experience serving the Triad area. See our list service areas below.

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