Ask the Builder: ‘Flushable’ wipes can cause sewer problems

May 14, 2019

Q: I’m really upset. I’m retired and have limited resources. I just had to spend $3,300 on a new sewage pump that was ruined by flushable wipes. What can you tell me about these products? The label says they are “sewer and septic safe,” whatever that means. Would you use them at your home? What is the best way to protect a home’s sewer pipes so there is no damage or expensive surprises like I had happen to me?

A: You have every right to be upset. Based on the emails I receive from the subscribers to my newsletter and other incoming requests at my website for help, you aren’t alone. In fact, if you do a simple Internet search on the topic, you will discover that thousands of homeowners — and sewage-treatment plant managers — who are up in arms about these products.

The labeling on the product is accurate if you want to split hairs. You can flush these wipes down a toilet. They make it through the curved colon in your toilet and enter the 3-inch drain pipe in your home.

The question is: Are the wipes truly sewer- and septic-safe, and is it a good idea to flush these things down a toilet? In my opinion, absolutely not. The only thing that should go down a toilet is liquid and solid waste from your body and toilet paper. It’s also important to realize the less toilet paper you use each trip to the bathroom, the happier your plumbing system will be.

The flushable wipes controversy is really a common-sense exercise. If you moisten a single sheet of toilet paper and rub it on your skin or a hard surface you’ll discover it rapidly falls apart. This is by design. You want toilet paper to disintegrate as fast as possible into the tiny cellulose fibers used to create it.

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