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Why you probably shouldn’t flush ‘flushable’ wipes

This is the testing setup I used when I accepted the challenge from the Responsible Flushing Alliance to update my May column about flushable wipes. (Tim Carter)
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A few months ago, I wrote a column about how “flushable” wipes clog sewers. I received hundreds of responses from readers who shared their expensive horror stories about how flushable wipes had caused clogs in their homes.

But my favorite response was from a public relations firm representing the Responsible Flushing Alliance. They took umbrage with my column, sending an email to “follow up with you to consider an update to your story."

I responded that I would gladly update my original story but would do it with a video, not words. You can read the letter the group sent to me with all its counterclaims. Go here:

I wanted you, and millions of others, to see in real-world conditions what name-brand flushable wipes look like after you flush them down your toilet. I wanted you to see what condition they were in just before they entered your septic tank or drop down into your city sewer system, where you pass ownership of the problem to all the other taxpayers of your community.

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My original column was inspired by a man who lived in South Carolina. His sewage ejection pump was ruined to the tune of more than $3,000 by “sewer and septic safe” flushable wipes. I’ve been a master plumber since age 29 and have seen the insides of decades-old building drainpipes under concrete slabs. I know how easy it is for drain lines to get clogged with things other than toilet paper.

It’s important to realize I knew that the Responsible Flushing Alliance would challenge my video findings. I asked for its input on the testing protocol methods so the group couldn’t cry foul. It did provide me with some documents outlining how it tests, but at least one thing in its method does not meet any plumbing code I know of. I ignored that part of the protocol and installed my drainpipe as is called for in the Uniform Plumbing Code.

I spent several days getting ready for the test. I purchased a crystal-clear container so you could see what came out of the drainpipe after the toilet flushed. I erected my own pipe scaffolding with a platform 10 feet off the ground, simulating a normal toilet height above a basement building drain. I went to the local home center to buy all the plumbing pipe and fittings. A new 1.6-gallons-per-flush toilet was used for the test. Finally, I prepared a script to follow so the video would be as professional as possible.

You can view my flushable-wipes test video by going to:

I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas about what the results might be, but my decades of experience told me that normal toilet paper would start to degrade quickly as it was jostled around by the turbulence of the flowing water inside the drain line. Because flushable wipes are made more like paper towels, I was fairly confident they’d not suffer too much from the flushing experience.

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My local grocery store stocked three different brands of flushable wipes. I purchased a package of each one for the test. While there, I also bought a roll of cheap single-ply toilet paper as we use a more expensive and durable two-ply paper in our home.

The results of the video test were remarkable. One of the flushable wipes did start to degrade slightly after tumbling through 70 feet of the drainpipe. This is an average length of piping that you might have at your home before your sewage makes it to your septic tank or the city sewer.

The other two flushable wipes sustained no visible damage in the test. You can see in the video that the water from the toilet was crystal clear in the container at the end of the pipe. The two flushable wipes appeared to be in the same condition as when I dropped them into the toilet bowl.

The single-ply toilet paper turned to mush and broke apart into many small and medium-size pieces. Surprisingly, the two-ply toilet paper didn’t fall apart too much. A large wad of it survived the journey through the piping.

I decided to flush a high-quality paper towel down the toilet. It survived the experience with no damage, and the water in the container at the end of the line was also crystal clear. Trust me, never ever flush a paper towel down your toilet!

I urge you to watch my video of the test. This simple video might save you thousands of dollars. Share it with your friends, neighbors and co-workers, too. This is a rare opportunity to show exactly what happens beneath your concrete basement floor or under your lawn.

Finally, if you must use flushable wipes, please don’t flush them. Dispose of them in your home as you would a soiled baby diaper.

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