With the coronavirus leading to a widespread shortage of toilet paper on store shelves across the country, many people have to resort to alternatives like using baby wipes, facial tissue, paper towels, and flushable wipes as a replacement. The problem is that many of these alternatives are being flushed down the toilet, causing a big issue.

Why Is It A Problem

Toilet paper is specifically designed to disintegrate in water at a certain rate, making it safe for sewer systems and sewage pumps. Many alternatives like paper towels, facial tissues and the like take far longer to break down in water, and in the case of paper towels are designed to absorb moisture while staying in one piece. This means that as they move through the piping out of your home and into your sewage system, they can get tangled or stuck on other flushed materials or simply bunch up and block the pipes entirely. This can lead to backed-up sewage, overflowing toilets, or even getting sewage overflow seeping into basements and nearby streams depending on where the clog happens and how severe it is. These overflows not only cause more work for public sanitation departments in order to fix the issue but can also pose a public health issue. Over one million dollars has been spent funding the installation of shredders and other mechanisms in sewage treatment plants to help deal with the increase in non-flushable materials like baby wipes, paper towels, and other debris so it won’t clog the pumps at treatment plants. Service calls to homes where people are working from home or abiding by a self-quarantine have also gone up drastically, most of the issues being due to non-flushable materials being disposed of in the toilet.

What About Flushable Wipes?

While the manufacturers of flushable wipes claim their product is safely flushable and won’t damage sewer systems, utility companies and consumer reports are starting to state otherwise. The main issue with these wipes is that the conditions they are tested under don’t properly mimic how real sewage treatment works. They disintegrate well enough under their testing conditions, but the disintegration process, when introduced to an actual sewage environment, is much slower, resulting in clogged toilets and even damaging sewage treatment measures further down the pipeline. Consumer Reports has even put out a video advising the public on the dangers of flushing wipes that are advertised as ‘flushable’, and how it can affect your home as well as the environment. As a rule of thumb, you should really only flush toilet paper and nothing else. All other disposable wipes s or cleaning supplies should go into the trash.

What Should I Do Instead?

If you are unable to get regular toilet paper you can still use alternatives like paper towels and disposable wipes. The issue isn’t with using these wipes but with flushing them, so as long as they go in the trash you can use whatever alternative you’d like. If you can’t even find disposable wipes though, pick up some white washcloths. Keep a separate hamper in the bathroom and use the washcloths in lieu of toilet paper. Then wash the small load of washcloths on their own with bleach.

If you’re not comfortable keeping a bin of soiled washcloths in your bathroom, you can also shower after you finish doing your business to try to stay clean. While this might increase your water bills a little while in isolation due to the coronavirus, at least you won’t have to pay a plumber to fix clogged toilets. Whatever you decide to do, there are still plenty of alternatives if you can’t find toilet paper.

When using substitutes for personal hygiene, also make sure that the product is safe to use. Using disinfecting wipes designed for cleaning furniture or cleaning surfaces and other general cleaning purposes might not be safe to use for personal hygiene. These kinds of wipes have chemicals that can not only cause your skin to dry out but might contain irritants that can be pretty painful if used on more sensitive parts of the body. Always make sure whatever you are using is safe for personal use. You can find more information on the packaging about the product’s intended uses and any health and safety warnings on the label.

In Closing

Flushing down wipes and other non-flushable cleaning supplies can wreak havoc on your pipes and the sewage treatment system, not only is a risk for your home’s plumbing but can also pose several health risks for the local area. It’s just as easy to throw away these disposable wipes as it is to flush them, so keep a small garbage pail handy in your bathroom for all non-flushable waste. If you experience issues with your toilet or clogged sewer lines contact American Freedom Plumbing for any needed sewer pipe repair.

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