Flushable Wipes: Should They Really Be Going Down The Drain?

There's One Simple Way To Find Out If You Can Flush Your Wipes

Do Not Flush Logo
You shouldn't flush wipes in general, but seeing this logo on the package means that you should absolutely not flush them. Photo © INDA

What Are Flushable Wipes?

Flushable bathroom wipes are available for use by children and adults. They are a significant convenience, and can be helpful, especially for people with digestive disease, but should these disposable wipes be flushed down a toilet?

Flushable wipes have become very popular in the last few years. They've been a boon for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other digestive problems, especially those that cause diarrhea.

Paper can be very difficult on the perianal skin, and wipes can cut down on the pain and discomfort from wiping. As anyone with a j-pouch or hemorrhoids knows, the skin on the bottom can break down very quickly and is notoriously difficult to heal. For caregivers of small children, disabled persons, and the elderly, wipes are a must-have for quick, efficient, and hygienic clean-up. However, there has been some speculation as to whether these wipes should really be flushed—even if they say "flushable" on the package.

The answer? No, you probably should not be flushing wipes.

What Is Happening To All Those Wipes?

It turns out that disposable wipes are not degrading (breaking down) after being flushed. Flushable wipes wind up going all the way through the system from the toilet to the wastewater treatment plants. When they eventually turn up at the plant, they can get stuck in machinery. In fact, the good folks at your local wastewater treatment plant are having to remove the wipes from the water and send them off to the local landfill (yuck!).

The repairs and the removal process costs time and money to your local government. Ultimately, it's the taxpayers that shoulder the bill for this task.

In addition, wipes are also clogging the plumbing in homes and businesses, prompting more frequent calls to plumbers to deal with the problem. For plumbers, all the extra work has been good for business, but for homeowners, it can be a real headache and an extra cost that most people don't need.

Not All Wipes Are Created Equally

Consumers are also flushing wipes that are not truly flushable. Cleaning wipes, baby wipes, facial wipes—most of these are not flushable, and they wind up going down the toilet anyway. It seems as though there is a lot of confusion as to what can go down the drain, and what can't.

In fact, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the American Public Works Association (APWA) have gotten together to craft a response to this problem. Their recommendations include calling on companies who make wipes to properly label their products when they are truly not flushable. They developed a "Do Not Flush" logo which is very effective in helping consumers to understand which products they should and should not flush.

What Should You Do With Your Wipes?

Even with the recommendations from those agencies in the know, this is still a significant problem and not every manufacturer may be on board with the labeling. So, what should we be doing with wipes instead? Either don't use them, or throw them away in the trash. If they don't clog up your plumbing, they are going to end up in the landfill either way, so you might as well just start the process before it costs more money and causes more problems.

And If You're Truly Concerned About The Waste

Consider forgoing paper wipes altogether. The best ways to get clean without creating waste is the use of a bidet or reusable wipes. Reusable wipes could be in the form of flannel wipes that are created for this purpose, wipes you make yourself, or even just inexpensive face cloths. A covered waste bin lined with a wet bag next to the toilet is used for catching reusable wipes, and the entire bag can be scooped up and put into the washing machine for cleaning. Using cloth can help cut down on skin irritation and promote faster healing.