Wet wipes are in the news this week and the news isn't good. As the world's leading provider of sewer and drain cleaning services, we at Roto-Rooter have become very familiar with the leading causes of sewer and drain clogs. The simple truth from our perspective is that only three things should be flushed down the toilet: urine, solid human waste and toilet paper. If you follow our advice, your chances of experiencing a sewer or drain clog will be greatly reduced.
The problem with wet wipes is not that they won’t flush through the toilet drain. Unless you’re using a handful of wipes, they’ll probably flush just fine. The real trouble begins downstream in the sewer. If your sewer is an older one built our of clay, concrete, Orangeburg or iron pipes, you’re asking for trouble flushing wet wipes, paper towels, tampons, cotton balls and facial scrub pads. Why? Older sewer pipes are very susceptible to tree root intrusion at the pipe joints. Once roots get inside your sewer, they spread out like a spider web and they will begin to catch whatever goes through your sewer. Watch this video to see the kinds of problems sewers experience. Once wet, some toilet paper dissolves in minutes. The thickest brands will disintegrate in 24 hours if submerged in water. Paper towels take a lot longer to dissolve while fibrous wet wipes, tampons and sanitary napkins probably won’t dissolve for days, weeks, months or longer. The end result is you could spend hundreds of dollars having Roto-Rooter remove the clog to prevent sewage from backing-up into your home.
But the big reason wet wipes are in the news this week is because of the trouble they cause even farther downstream at the sewage treatment plant. The fibers can clog up pumps and cause them to overheat or burn up. As you might have guessed, those industrial-grade pumps are expensive and that means taxpayers are picking up the tab every time one goes down.
Are there flushable wet wipes? Probably. Some brands mentioned in the news reports are pulp-based and do not contain the stringy fibers that others do. But most users don’t take the time to read labels so they’re treating all wet wipes as equals and we’re all paying for their mistakes.