Are 'flushable' wipes really flushable? What you need to know

17 June 2024 – 5 Minute Read

A person trying to unclog a blocked toilet with a plunger.

In recent years, 'flushable' wipes have become increasingly popular for their convenience and perceived hygiene benefits. But are these wipes as flushable as you think?

When you pick up flushable wipes at the supermarket, you probably think you’re choosing a handy option.

Yet, despite the label, these wipes might not be the practical choice they seem to be. In fact, you might end up hiring a plumber because of them!

Here, with plumbing expert David Doran from Blackstone Plumbing & Heating Ltd, we’ll look into the truth behind 'flushable' wipes.

Take some time to learn about the impacts of flushing these wipes and everything you need to know to protect your plumbing and the environment.

Are flushable wipes a myth?

Many people assume that products labelled as flushable can be safely disposed of by flushing them down the toilet.

That’s seems like a pretty reasonable assumption, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it’s a common misconception.

According to David, “Unlike toilet paper, which is designed to break down quickly in water, most flushable wipes do not disintegrate easily. They remain largely intact and can cause blockages in pipes and sewers.”

This seems dishonest in the most brazen way, so how do wipe manufacturers get away with it? It’s quite simple.

“The term ‘flushable’ is not strictly regulated, so products labelled as such do not necessarily meet the criteria for safe disposal through flushing", explains David.

The bottom line? Manufacturers can label wipes as flushable without making sure they’re fine to flush.

This misleading labelling ensures homeowners and renters are damaging their plumbing systems, and the environment, without knowing.

A person trying to unblock a clogged toilet with a plunger.

What happens when you flush 'flushable' wipes?

When so-called flushable wipes head down your toilet, they often fail to break down in the same way plastic-free toilet paper does.

This can lead to significant plumbing issues, including stubborn clogs and nasty backups (and expensive repairs!).

The decision to purchase some seemingly cheap, seemingly convenient flushable wipes can end up biting you in the rear.

On this, David leaves us in no doubt, “These labels can be misleading, causing consumers to inadvertently harm their plumbing and the environment.”

One major concern is that wet wipes containing plastic can accumulate in your pipes, creating blockages that restrict water flow and, later, sewage backups.

This will result in a not-so-pleasant cleanup situation in your home and some expensive plumbing repairs.

Even if the wipes make it through your household plumbing, they can still cause problems in the larger sewer system.

Failing to break down, the flushable wet wipes stick to the sides of pipes until they create sewer blockages.

They’re major contributors to fatbergs, large masses of congealed fat, wipes, and other debris.

Fatbergs cause blocked drains and sewer lines, leading to environmental damage and costly repairs for water companies.

So, flushing 'flushable' wipes might not just harm your plumbing, but the local plumbing network.

How do flushable wipes affect the environment?

Flushing wipes labelled as flushable also has serious environmental implications.

If they make it through the pipes to wastewater treatment plants, they’re difficult to remove and can put extra strain on the treatment systems.

In many cases, these wipes pass all the way through the treatment process and enter natural waterways, contributing to pollution and harming aquatic life.

This is an ever-increasing concern in the UK, where water quality and cleanliness are already problems.

A person flushing a toilet.

What else shouldn’t you flush down the toilet?

Flushable wipes are only one of the damaging items that should never be flushed down your toilet.

Here are some other common offenders and why they pose problems to plumbing systems.

  • Kitchen roll and paper towels

David tells us, “Kitchen roll is thicker and more absorbent than toilet paper. It doesn't break down easily in water, leading to clogs in your pipes.”

That’s right, kitchen roll must go straight in the bin.

  • Feminine hygiene products

Tampons and pads absorb moisture and don’t break down in water, making them a problem for your pipes.

David notes, “Tampons should be placed in a sanitary disposal bag and thrown in the trash.”

  • Dental floss and hair

To start with, both dental floss and hair don’t biodegrade. They'll stay in your plumbing indefinitely.

Perhaps more worryingly, according to David, they “can wrap around other debris, worsening clogs.”

  • Fats, oil, and grease

These unpleasant substances “solidify and can cause major blockages in pipes.”

When grease, fats, and oils congeal, they become extremely difficult to dislodge.

How to dispose of 'flushable' wipes and other unflushable items

Disposing of flushable wipes and other problematic items properly is simple – when you know what to avoid.

  • Flushable wipes go in your rubbish bin, even when labelled as flushable

  • Feminine hygiene products go in the rubbish bin, not down the toilet

  • Kitchen roll belongs in the rubbish bin rather than the toilet

  • Grease and oils are poured into containers to solidify, then thrown away

  • Dental floss and hair are disposed of in your general rubbish bin

It’s not always convenient to head to your general waste bin, so consider adding a smaller rubbish bin to your bathroom for these items.

That way, you’ll never be in a position where you feel forced to flush them down the toilet.

A person flushing a toilet.

What’s the cost of flushing these unflushable items?

It might not seem like a big deal when you send 'flushable' wipes – and other unflushable items – down the toilet. But it could cost you some serious cash.

You’ll need to hire a plumber to resolve a stubbornly blocked toilet, and that could set you back £100, on average.

The cost of hiring plumbers for this type of work varies by location, access to your plumbing, and the parts and equipment required for the repair.

If your blockage causes an urgent problem – like a sewage backup – you won’t want to wait long for help.

In those cases, you’ll need to hire an emergency plumber and pay a premium for the short notice.

Revealed: The true price of 'flushable' wipes

Remember, the supposed convenience of 'flushable' wipes comes with hidden risks that can lead to serious plumbing problems and costly repairs.

Flushing wet wipes, baby wipes, and even kitchen roll down the toilet consistently results in expensive maintenance issues.

In spite of their labels, these wipes do not break down easily in water and can cause significant blockages given enough time.

By learning the risks of flushing 'flushable' wipes and other common household consumables, you can protect your home, wallet, and the environment.

If you’re concerned about wrongly flushed wipes, blockages, and sewage backups, it’s time to find a local plumber you can trust.

Browse nearby plumbing services or post a free enquiry today, letting interested plumbers contact you by phone or email.

David Doran is a qualified plumber with 20 years of experience helping homeowners with plumbing installations and repairs. Working at Blackstone Plumbing & Heating Ltd, based in Banbury, David has dealt with blockages, leaks, and all manner of plumbing repair issues throughout his career.