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Keep baby wipes out of the pipes

'Flushable' pre-moistened towelettes are causing millions of dollars' worth of problems in city sewer systems. Homeowners are winding up with plumbing bills, too.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 10, 2013 9:34AM

Money on toilet paper roll (Rubberball/Jupiterimages)Whatever British sewer workers are paid, it's not enough. Last month some of them had to deal with a 15-ton "fatberg," a clog made up largely of congealed cooking fat and baby wipes, in a London sewer main.

That's the size of a bus. A double-decker bus. Eeewww.

Just as disposable diapers are now considered a necessity, wet wipes have become essentials in the average parent's  arsenal. But the popularity of these one-time-use items isn't limited to infant backsides.

Soldiers use them in desert climates for personal hygiene and to remove camouflage makeup. Travelers find them handy for freshening up on long trips. Hikers and backpackers carry them on treks where water is scarce.

Antibacterial wipes are available to clean just about every surface, from grimy floors to bathroom mirrors. Special-use wipes are being marketed to women (to help them feel "fresh" -- thanks a lot, Madison Avenue), pet owners, computer users, and those who suffer from hemorrhoids or menopause.


We're hooked on the convenience of these pre-moistened squares. But here's the problem: A lot of them end up down the toilet, and none are flushable.

Well, they flush just fine -- but the cloth-like products don't disintegrate the way toilet paper does. That's where it starts to cost us money.

'Inappropriate' items being flushed
City sewer systems around the United States are reporting expensive repair and maintenance issues resulting from flushed wipes, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. For example:

  • In the past five years the Orange County (Calif.) Sanitation District has spent $2.4 million on new equipment, and more than $300,000 in one year to unclog pumps.
  • Columbus (Ga.) Water Works has spent $550,000 in two years on new equipment and $250,000 per year on additional operating/maintenance costs.
  • The city of Vancouver, Wash., has paid more than $650,000 in five years for new pumps and equipment, and spends more than $100,000 each year on extra maintenance and electricity.
"Simply keeping inappropriate items out of the sewer system could prevent all of these problems and save clean water agencies -- and, ultimately, the public -- a significant amount of money," the NACWA reports.
(Incidentally, it’s not just wipes. Other “inappropriate” items include paper towels, disposable toilet brush heads, cotton swabs, dental floss,  and tampons and tampon applicators. Baby alligators, too.)

Consumer Reports notes that companies currently advertise their wipes with terms like "safe for sewers and septic," or promise that the product will "break up like toilet paper."

However, a "disintegration test" showed that three brands of wipes were still intact after 30 minutes. By comparison, toilet paper began to break down in 8 seconds.

The conclusion: "To avoid taxing your toilet or your septic system, we recommend that you bag the wipes after use and toss them into the trash."

'Every plumber's nightmare'
If you've been flushing them for years with no problem? Then you've been very lucky. But one day you could find yourself with a nice sewage backup in the basement or the bathtub.

The folks at Quality First Plumbing of Denver refer to wipes as "every plumber's nightmare."


"It only takes a few wipes to get hung up … for a major disaster to happen. No matter what the packaging says, flushable wipes are not flushable," the company notes on its Plumbing Help Today blog.

So keep the wipes out of the pipes, unless you like paying plumbers and/or cleaning up after sewage backups. Even a non-bus-sized clog can ruin your day.

More on MSN Money:

Sep 10, 2013 9:40PM
Most wipes used for babies and cleaning the house are not flushable.  If people are being lazy or not reading the package, that's what's causing the problem.
Sep 10, 2013 9:40PM
I had no clue this was a problem until my sewer backed up in May.  I live in an old house and the sewer pipes are known to get tree roots in them.  Adding wipes that don't disintegrate and get caught in the roots, really causes a mess.  Now that I know, I NEVER flush them anymore.  I think it is mostly a matter of educating the public.  I truly had no clue.  
Sep 11, 2013 1:11AM
Any grease drippings in your kitchen should be poured into an empty can set aside in the freezer for the purpose; when the can gets full, immediately throw the grease can in the trash dumpster outside.

Sep 11, 2013 7:00AM
It amazes me what people throw down the toilet.  Common sense will tell you that eventually these items will clog  your toilet, so you can imagine what they can do to the sewage system.  I can't imagine throwing fat down the drain either.  I guess people just don't care and only want convenience.
Sep 10, 2013 10:43PM
Condoms are just a bad on the treatment plant.
Sep 11, 2013 11:23AM
And in case no one has noticed.... all those ads for adult bottom wipes here in the u.s. from England are starting to snowball.  They are trying to push the frenzy onto America.  So, nice wet bottoms, and bankrupt cities trying to come up with more tax money to clean out clogged sewers. 

My septic guy told me that even the 'flushable' kind don't break down fast enough and will cause you problems sooner or later. When I had the tank cleaned, he showed me the ton of wipes that had built up (I have a 2 family house) and had it cleaned just before disaster struck. I am now informed and know better.

Sep 11, 2013 9:11AM
Common sense people !!!!!!!!!!!!!!, and stop being lazy too
Sep 11, 2013 4:53AM
u will find most of these type people who do this kind of thing have a f u kind of demeanor and care little of anyone else,they are a selfist and inconsiderate lot who do nothing to contribute to society as a whole
Sep 11, 2013 11:04AM
There's a new class for the public school systems to start teaching.  Toilet etiquette 101.
Sep 11, 2013 4:54AM
one more thing. or their just stupid.
Sep 10, 2013 4:14PM
Zen master Dogen, wrote in the Shobogenzo, the procedure for cleaning the anus using sand and water.  The sand is completely recyclable by spreading it out in the sun.


Sep 11, 2013 9:50AM
Wonder what's more disgusting. The baby wipes and grease fat, or the 500 pound ball of pubic hair they pulled out of the London sewers a few years back.
Sep 11, 2013 12:26PM

Costco makes a flushable wipe for your toilet needs use those instead

Sep 11, 2013 11:05AM
If you run hot water and add soap to the grease it WILL breakdown and not clog the drains that is just common sense to not use cold water to get rid of grease DUH!!!! Wet wipes can be used also just do not use baby wipes or wipes for the hands. I have not had a clog in 30+ years and I do this all the time. These people just do not want to have to do the work to earn their money they want to kick back and get paid.
Sep 10, 2013 12:02PM
Costco has a Kirkland brand of flushable wipes that we use. They are biodegradable. Product packages usually note whether the wipes are flushable or not. Most baby wipes aren't flushable. I do keep a package of the Kirkland brand in my purse (they're portable) in the event I'm in a public ladies bathroom with no T.P. in the stall. Happens all the time during busy travel months of summer.
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