Q: I’m really upset. I am retired and have limited resources. I only had to spend $ 3,300 on a new sewage pump that was destroyed by flushable wipes. What can you tell me about these flushable wipes? The label says they are “sewer and septic safe,” whatever that means. Would you use them in your home? Other neighbors complain of more frequent blockages in their houses. What’s the best way to protect a home’s sewer pipes so there is no damage or expensive surprises like the one that happened to me? – Ed P., Hendersonville, SC
A: You have every right to be upset. You are not alone with the emails I receive. If you do a simple internet search on the subject, you will find that thousands of homeowners like you and sewage plant managers know about these products.
The labeling on the product is correct if you want to split hair. You can flush those wretched cloths down a toilet. You make it through the curved colon in your toilet and into the 3 inch drain pipe in your home. You can also flush plastic army men, plastic dinosaurs, golf balls, keys, sand, gravel, cell phones, underwear, cosmetic bottles, pill bottles, etc. in toilets.
The question is, are the wipes really sewer and septic safe, and is it a good idea to flush all of these things down a toilet? In my opinion absolutely positive NO! I’ve been a master plumber since I was 29, and I can tell you the only thing that should go into a toilet is liquid and solid waste from your body and toilet paper. It’s also important to know that the less toilet paper you use each time you go to the bathroom, the happier your plumbing system will be.
The flushable towel controversy is really a reasonable exercise. If you dampen a single sheet of toilet paper and rub it on your skin or a hard surface, you will find that it will fall apart quickly. This is by design. You want toilet paper to break down into the tiny cellulose fibers that make it up as quickly as possible.
Try the same experiment with a good quality paper towel. You will find that the paper towel has a tendency to hold up and not fall apart. Again, this is by design. The paper towel manufacturer wants you to be able to use it to clean up spilled material and easily clean it up. Never flush paper towels in a toilet.
Finally, perform the same test with a flushable cloth. You will quickly find that they hold together better than paper towels. Can you imagine what happens when there isn’t enough water to carry it through the drain of your home building and outside the buried sewer to your urban sewer? Eventually you will become clogged. In your case, they didn’t disintegrate and burned your sewage pump!
These towels survive the long and arduous journey from home through kilometers of sewer pipes and end up in municipal sewage treatment plants. They clog huge pumps on the plants. The internet is littered with stories of massive clogging in sewers and sewage treatment plants caused by these wipes. Flushable wipes are the scourge of sewers and sewage treatment plants.
I would never use them in my house. If you need to use them at home, we recommend that you dispose of them hygienically in a special trash can, much like you would keep a dirty baby diaper until trash day.
Clogs in plumbing systems in residential areas can also be traced back to the low flow requirements imposed on us by government officials. Years ago the standard toilet used 3½ gallons of water per flush. Toilets now use 1.6 gallons of water per flush. There are tens of millions of people like me who have private water wells who have no problems with water shortages and shouldn’t be forced to use these faucets. There are tens of millions of people hooked up to municipal water systems that draw water from large rivers that have no chance of running dry. You shouldn’t have to suffer either.
In some sanitary systems, this small amount of water often does not have the energy to transport the flushable cloths or normal waste into the municipal sewer. Do you remember that simple formula from high school physics class? Force equals mass times acceleration. Three and a half gallons of water are much more massive than 1.6 gallons of water.
I routinely protect my home’s plumbing system by filling two 5-gallon buckets of water. This water is poured into a toilet on the second floor of my house. My wife helps me flush the toilet. As soon as the water from the tank gets into the bowl, we both pour our water buckets at the same time. We pour as soon as possible, making sure that the water does not run into the bowl. This massive amount of water entering the pipes from above acts like a giant internal pressure washer to keep the drain of my main building clear.
We also only put body waste in our toilets. The other best practice is to keep as much fat out of the lines as possible. I store paper towels that are used to dry hands and these are used to soak up liquid fat from pans and pots. I throw those greasy towels in the trash. Solidified fat is a major cause of clogging in plumbing systems in residential areas.
Subscribe to Tim’s free newsletter and listen to his new podcasts. Go to AsktheBuilder.com.