Flushable Wipes Continue to Make Headlines

In case you haven’t heard the most recent news about so-called “flushable” wipes, bottom line is that none of them are safe to flush. This is according to the March 29, 2019 study of over 101 wipes advertised as “flushable.” The study was cited in a Forbes magazine article on April 10, 2019.

Since the early 2000s, manufacturers have claimed that their particular brand is safe to flush. And for just as many years, plumbers have been snaking them out of homeowners’ toilets and sewer lines. Municipal workers have also spent hours and sometimes even days hauling out thousands of pounds of “flushable” wipes out of backed-up municipal sewer pipes.

Visuals go a long way to verify the facts. So we’re including a few that have made news in recent months and years.

So-called flushable wipes clog pipes in Wyoming Minnesota Municipal Sewer
“It looks like you’re pulling up ‘Cousin It'” remarked a municipal worker in Wyoming Minnesota. (Photo by Peter Hadfield)

“Are Wet Wipes Wrecking the World’s Sewers”

Headline in The Atlantic magazine in October 2016.

Subhead “The Battle Over What it Means to be ‘Flushable'” And the battle still rages on.

Here’s another attention-grabbing shot from a Charleston paper – The Post and Courier.

It comes from an October 2018 issue calling the mass you see below a “snarl of congealed mass made up of mainly ‘flushable’ wipes’ that weighed thousands of pounds had clogged up a major sewer line. These wipes are costing the municipal sewer system hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup.

Flushable Wipes Sales Still Going Strong

So far, the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” seems to apply to flushable wipes. Because despite the on-going news coverage throughout the years of the damage these wipes continue to cause, they are still widely sold and used. And there doesn’t seem to be much lasting impact on the habits of how people are using them. Yep, they’re still flushing them.

flushable wipes pulled out of sewer line
Abilene, TX photo from “Keep Abilene Flowing

“Flushable Wipes Clog Pipes”

This photo and story was published in January 2018 and mentions there are a number of class action lawsuits currently filed against large retailers and manufacturers due to the major plumbing and clogging issues in sewer lines.

“Unfortunately, many people are finding out the hard way the damage they can do by clogging toilets and plumbing,” writes Abilene’s Water Utilities Manager.

flushable wipes clogged sewer pipes photo
Connecticut Post article used this photo for their headline … h

Wipes Blamed for Big Clogging Problem

This article was published in April 2016 — THREE YEARS ago — Alerting their citizens to the flushable wipe problem.

“People flushing wipes down the toilets are creating costly problems for us,” said Michael D’Alessio, Ansonia, CT Public Works Director.

Watch Consumer Reports Test of Flushable Wipes

Need further convincing that so-called flushable wipes do not break down fast enough? Watch their video that puts them to the test.

“Flushable” Wipes can Wipe Out Your Sewer Line Over Time

So, after looking at these photos that originally appeared in major publications, do you still need an answer to that question? If so, the short answer is NO you should NOT flush so-called “flushable wipes”. The alternative? Sure, go ahead and use them. But instead of flushing them, put them in a lined trash container located nearby.

Just to make it perfectly clear, here is a list of items NOT safe to flush down the toilet:

  • Do NOT flush “flushable” baby wipes or baby wipes of any kind
  • Do NOT “flushable” diaper wipes or diaper wipes of any kind
  • DO NOT “flushable” facial wipes or facial wipes of any kind
  • DO NOT flush paper towels
  • DO NOT flush any type of women’s sanitary products (including tampons)
  • DO NOT flush condoms
  • DO NOT flush hair
  • DO NOT flush cosmetics
  • DO NOT flush creams, oil-based grease-based items

What IS safe to flush down the toilet:

  • the usual biodegradable bodily waste
  • toilet paper

So the nitty gritty on flushable items: Only flush toilet paper and the usual biodegradable stuff of life. That does NOT include hair, women’s sanitary products, condoms, paper towels, cosmetics, or any products even if the marketing on the box states that they’re flushable.

You might get away with using your toilet as a trash can for a while. But eventually those items will clog up your sewer line.

Flushable Wipes Create More Concern in Southern California

In Southern California where our water is in such short supply and everyone has (or should have) water-conservation toilets, dishwashers and washing machines, very little water goes down our drains. That’s a good thing for conserving water.

For your home’s drain pipes and sewer line, however, not enough water goes through the pipes to keep things moving.

That’s somewhat akin to what happens in our bodies when we don’t drink enough water. Yep, constipation in our pipes. Whatever goes down our drains and toilets sit there a lot longer than they did when we had larger-capacity tanks in our toilets.

Larger Lots in Fallbrook, Bonsall, Vista and Temecula have Longer Sewer Pipes within Our Property Lines

It stands to reason that the longer the sewer pipe is within your property line, the greater the risk of a sewer line problem. It’s partly a simple matter of math. The further an object has to travel, the greater the chance it will become ensnared somewhere within the pipe.

After all, think of all the garbage – yes, literally garbage – that goes down the garbage disposal, drains and into your sewer line.

What Lays Dormant Within Your Sewer Lines?

Even though most folks know better, some will still allow grease to go down the drain. Add a few bits of potato or other starchy food particles to your garbage disposal. That starch travels slowly through your drains and meet up at some point with the grease.

When you take a shower, hair goes down the drain too. Those strands of hair may lay inside the sewer line, clinging to the grease and starchy particles. That stuff has turned basically into glue.

Now, add a few so-called flushable wipes to the toilet and flush. Yes, those wipes may flush right down and not clog the toilet.

But guess what? You still don’t know how far down your sewer pipe they’ve gone. Those wipes may just be tangled up within the hair and gluey glob in your sewer line.

If they actually made it through the sewer pipes on your property and connected to the municipal sewer line, think you’re home free? Don’t count on it.

The Impact of Flushable Wipes on Fallbrook Public Utility District’s Sewer

We checked with the Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) about flushable wipes’ impact on our sewer system. “Wipes labeled ‘flushable’ aren’t really safe to flush down the toilet,” said Jack Bebee, general manager for the Fallbrook Public Utility District.

“The thick material is somewhere between a cloth and toilet paper and doesn’t really break down in the sewage pipelines. That could spell disaster. Since the bulky material doesn’t break down in the underground pipes that transport sewage to the district’s sewage treatment plant on Alturas Road, the result could be a clog, eventually causing back-ups and sewer spills. The wipes have been a contributing cause, and perhaps even the main cause, of sewer spills in the past.”

Flushable Wipes – the Tipping Point to Trouble in Sewer Pipes

With our water-saving dishwashers and water-conserving washing machines, very little water gushes through your sewer lines at any one time. The water that flows down our drains into sewer pipes within our property line is often not forceful enough to push any gluey glob all the through property line. And yes, we ARE responsible for any clog within the sewer pipe that is within our property line. (Once it connects to the street, it is usually the municipal sewer’s responsibility.)

Even before these so-called flushable wipes were all the rage, plumbers were routinely called to snake out homeowners’ toilets and sewer lines. Back then, paper towels and feminine hygiene products were the primary culprits. Then baby wipes and cleaning wipes came on the market in the early 2000s. The first ones weren’t labeled “flushable” but still some people still flushed them. Now with the advent of “flushable” wipes, the problem seems to have reached a tipping point.

To add to the anxiety, unless a plumber sends a camera down down your sewer line, you won’t know if or when that tipping point could cause a total sewer backup within your home or building. If that were to happen, raw sewage could back up and come into your tubs, showers and sinks.

Sewer Line Inspection is a Cost-Effective Way to Know What’s in Sewer Pipe

Fortunately, a sewer line inspection is relatively inexpensive. We charge $200 for a typical sewer line inspection, for example. We use an amazing piece of equipment. Basically, it’s a camera that fits on the end of a reel about 100 ft. long. For most people, it’s worth knowing what could be hung up within the sewer pipes.

If you’re considering buying property others have lived in, you’d be wise to include a sewer line inspection as part of your due diligence. Call us for a sewer line inspection: 760-594-1226

If the sewer line inspection does find an issue, it doesn’t mean you should back out of the deal. Just put it on the list of other items to negotiate during the sale. If the house is “bank owned” property, you will still be wise to pay a couple hundred dollars for a sewer line inspection. True, banks rarely fix items for a sale or negotiate the price based on what is found in an inspection. But at least you’ll know in advance what you’re buying in the sewer line.

Forewarned is Forearmed – You’ll know what lies inside and how to prepare

If you discover from the inspection that the house has a fifty or sixty-year old cast iron sewer pipe, you still may decide it’s a good deal. Older homes, like older people, have their own unique charms. Just because they may need some new plumbing later on down the line, you still may fall in love with them.  You’ll just know it would be wise to set aside savings for eventually replacing that old pipe.

Sewer Line Leads to Septic Tank if Not to Municipal Sewer

Of course in rural parts of Fallbrook, Bonsall, Vista, and Temecula many homes are not connected to the municipal sewer line. Instead, the property’s main sewer line leads directly to the septic tank. In those situations, if the so-called flushable wipes make it through the sewer line they end up in the septic tank. With enough liquid in the septic tank, the wipes might dissolve. Since less water goes into the septic tank, however, it’s doubtful the wipes completely disintegrate. Next time your septic tank is due for draining, ask the septic tank technician if any debris such as wipes remained in the septic tank.

Keep in mind that if you’re buying a home with a septic system, you will need to have it pumped out and certified. You’ll want to be there when the technician arrives to do the pumping and certification too. After all, the service tech is there to certify the system and not write up a long list of recommendations or concerns. So be there eye-to-eye and ask the service tech questions. If the service tech finds items such as wipes clogging up the septic tank, chances are there are also wipes or other items waiting in the sewer line that may also clog it up later on.

After all, you never know what others have flushed down their toilets, ground up in garbage disposals, and washed down drains. All kinds of gluey stuff could be waiting to reach the tipping point within their sewer lines. It might be months or even a year or two after you move in that the sewer pipe becomes completely clogged and even rupture if tree roots are also part of the equation.

Property Managers and Condo HOAs Should Budget for Sewer Line Inspections

If you’re a property manager for an apartment complex or condo homeowners association, you could include this article on your website or newsletter.

Be sure to point out that costs of repairs are ultimately passed on to everyone who lives there, even if they are not the ones who flush wipes down the toilet. You might want to point out to the homeowners association or owner of the properties that they’d benefit from yearly sewer inspections.

If you’re the only one to live in your home and never have visitors, you’re probably safe in knowing what goes down your sewer pipes. Otherwise, you’d be wise to get sewer line inspections done periodically.

A sewer line inspection is the only way to know what’s lurking in your sewer pipes and to get a grip on the problem BEFORE it becomes a crisis. It just makes sense financially. Plus it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Call us for sewer line inspection: 760-594-1226

Detecting a Small Clog Early = Smaller Cost and Lower Stress

Health of the sewer lines is similar to health within our bodies. Routine maintenance and early detection is key. If we find a clog early, it takes less time and costs less to snake out a small clog than it will later on if it completely congeals into a solid mass. A major backup creates major financial burden and stress.

If it does make it through YOUR drain pipes and sewer pipe within your property line, it will likely cause a problem in the municipal sewer line. (Feel free to watch the videos produced by our neighbors in Carlsbad below.)

And if you think it’s not your problem once it gets outside your property line, you might want to think longer term.

City of Carlsbad Launched Public Education Campaign Comparing “Flushable” Wipes to Toilet Paper

The City of Carlsbad included this video in 2016 to educate the public, comparing so-called “flushable wipes” to toilet paper. The videos in the series warn the community to “not believe the hype” of using wipes, even those labeled as flushable. 

Think what clogs the municipal sewer systems is not your problem? OK. Think about this. Who eventually pays for the damage? We do! We all pay for maintenance costs of any municipal service. Plus we pay in frustration and stress when our streets get flooded with sewage when municipal sewer pipes back up into streets. . Or worse, spill into buildings.

April 2019 article in Forbes – “Flushable” Wipes Still Not Flushable

“Dispose of Your Flushable Wipes in The Garbage” is the exact Headline

This is the Forbes article pointing to the study called, “Defining Flushability for Sewer Use” dated March 31, 2019. The study is an exhaustive 32-page report that breaks down all kinds of data about what goes down toilets. Feel free to read it. The Forbes article, however, is a much lighter read.

No wipe is flushable according to studies of over 100 so-called flushable wipes

Latest study – dated March 31, 2019 clearly demonstrates ALL wipes currently marketed as “flushable” will still clog sewer lines. Study author Barry Orr, shown here says, ““There are a staggering number of these wipes and they are coming down the pipes all the time,” said Orr. “Many people think that because it says flushable, the government is saying it’s safe to flush. But that’s not the case.”

Orr is a master’s student in environmental applied science and management at Ryerson and a 25-year veteran sewer outreach and control inspector with the city of London, Ontario. 

The Forbes article title summarizes the bottom line of the “Flushability” study.

Essentially, Orr tested 101 wipes labeled as “flushable” by the manufacturer. They tested each of the wipes according to the wastewater industries specifications for toilet and drainline clearance plus disintegration.  “The report findings showed that none of the wipe samples fell apart or dispersed enough to safely pass through the sewer system without a risk of clogging or causing damage to infrastructure.”


Best not to take a chance and flush anything other than the three Ps (pee, poop, and toilet paper). Trust the latest study dated March 31, 2019 that there are currently no wipes on the market that are safe to flush, regardless of what the packaging states.

Conduct your own flushable wipe study

Still not convinced? Conduct your own study. Put the “flushable” wipe in a ceramic bowl of cool water. Then take a piece of toilet paper of the same weight and put it in a similar ceramic bowl of cool water. Swish them in a circular fashion simulating a toilet bowl flush. If the “flushable” wipe disintegrates at the same time as the toilet paper, well, you can breathe a bit easier. Maybe you really won’t have a huge monster clog rapidly approaching a tipping point in your sewer line.

As a plumber, servicing Fallbrook, Bonsall, Temecula, Vista and Oceanside, I’ve seen the impact on sewer line backups on individuals and even on businesses first hand. And it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s an ugly, smelly, costly, stressful mess.

Find out if wipes or other debris are building up in your sewer line

We live where water is a precious resource, so we use it more sparingly than other parts of the country. As a result, a backed up sewer line will likely be centered within our property line where it is our personal responsibility to get it unclogged. Even if it isn’t within our property line, we’ll still ultimately bear the cost being passed on to us if it clogs up municipal lines.

Call us for a sewer line Inspection 760-594-1226

We can inspect your sewer line on a regular basis. You’ll save money in the long run and avoid a costly and stressful crisis.

Think of the sewer line inspection as a colonoscopy for your home or potential home. Except it’s a lot less uncomfortable. The only prepping necessary is making a phone call. Plus it costs a lot less. Then you’ll know if there’s anything in there that could cause painful problems down the line.

After it’s all done, like a colonoscopy, you’ll have greater peace of mind.

by Plumber Dale; aka: Your Home’s Plumbing Doctor