Are Flushable Wipes Really Flushable?

Flushable wipes have become increasingly popular in recent years as a convenient cleaning option for potty training toddlers, caring for seniors, and on-the-go sanitizing. Marketed as an easy disposal solution, flushable wipes are designed to be strong enough to use yet break down after flushing. But are flushable wipes truly flushable? Let’s take a closer look at how these wipes are made, problems they can cause, and if they belong in the toilet or trashcan.

How Are Flushable Wipes Made?

Flushable wipes are manufactured to be disposable through flushing. They go through a bonding process to give them durability when wet but break down when moving through plumbing. The large majority of flushable wipes are made up of rayon and/or wood pulp fibers. They may also contain polyester or polymer-based fibers. These materials allow the wipes to hold together when wiping but slowly disperse when flushed.

Most flushable wipes will pass a “slosh box” test, meaning they disperse after agitation in water. However, passing this test in a lab doesn’t guarantee they will fully dissolve when flushed. The difference lies in the flow and pressure of waste systems compared to standardized testing conditions.

Why You Should Not Flush Wipes

Despite product labels, flushable wipes do not always safely disintegrate when flushed. Their materials can easily snag on imperfections in pipes, combining with fats, oils, and other debris to create obstructions. Over time, this leads to serious blockages in household plumbing and municipal sewer systems.

Even wipes marketed as “septic safe” can accumulate in septic tanks before breaking down. Slow-moving septic systems lack the turbulent flow that facilitates wiping apart. Septic tank filters also easily trap larger wipe fragments.

Flushing wipes, even if labeled flushable, can lead to:

  • Clogged toilets and pipes
  • Backups of raw sewage
  • Costly repairs and maintenance
  • Sewage spills into streets and waterways

Wastewater treatment facilities across the country have urged residents not to flush any type of wipe. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimates non-flushable items cost U.S. utilities over $500 million annually to remove clogs. Wipes snag on imperfections in sewer pipes and accumulate with fats, oils, and greases to create obstructions, sometimes forming massive “fatbergs.”

Are Any Wipes Flushable?

No wipe product, even those marked flushable, is guaranteed to safely break down in sewer systems 100% of the time. Variable conditions in plumbing and sewers make full disintegration difficult. Because of this, no wipes truly meet the criteria to be flushable.

That said, some flushable wipes come closer to being able to disperse during flushing. Tips for identifying these products include:

  • Look for the Fine to Flush logo – This third-party certification means wipes have passed rigorous testing for dispersibility and biodegradability.
  • Avoid “Do Not Flush” logos – These indicate wipes have not passed industry guidelines for flushability.
  • Choose rayon/cellulose-based – These plant-based fibers have higher odds of deteriorating in water. Avoid polyester and plastic polymers.
  • Opt for fragrance-free – Fragrances and moisturizers can coat fibers, preventing breakdown.
  • Check size – Large wipe sheets are more prone to clogging. Mini or compact sizes have better chances of dispersing.

However, because conditions are unpredictable, these tips do not guarantee flushable wipes will dissolve completely. For confidence wipes will not clog pipes, the safest choice is to not flush any type of wipe.

Are “Biodegradable” Wipes Flushable?

Biodegradable refers to the ability of wipes to break down via bacteria or other natural processes, given extended time. It does not mean they will disperse and disintegrate during the flushing process.

Biodegradable wipes are designed to slowly deteriorate in landfills, not instantly dissolve in water. Most require weeks to fully decompose. As a result, biodegradable wipes should also be kept out of the toilet and placed in the trash.

Problems Caused by Flushing Wipes

Despite consumer confusion over labeling, no wet wipe product should go down toilets. Both “flushable” and “non-flushable” wipes can snag on imperfections in plumbing and tangle with other debris to cause obstructions. Problems include:

Clogged Pipes and Toilets

Wipes can easily get lodged in household drains, toilets, and sewer lines. As more debris accumulates, water and waste get blocked and backed up. Symptoms of a clogged toilet or drain include:

  • Toilet overflow
  • Slow flushing
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Bad odors
  • Water pooling around drains

Clogs that cannot be cleared with a plunger or snaking may require a visit from a plumber to remove blockages mechanically or with high-pressure water jets. Repair costs quickly add up.

Raw Sewage Backups

When wipes make their way into municipal sewer lines, they can amass together and totally plug pipes. This not only stops wastewater flow but causes backups of raw sewage into streets and homes.

In 2017, a giant 250 foot long “fatberg” caused up to 8 train cars worth of sewage to flood onto the streets in London. The solidified mass of fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, diapers, and condoms took weeks to dismantle and cost taxpayers over $600,000.

Environmental Harm

Wipes that escape containment within wastewater systems pollute streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. In addition to leaching chemicals, they pose hazards to wildlife who can become entangled or mistake them for food. Wipes also detract from natural aesthetics along shorelines and waterways.

Septic System Warnings

Flushing wipes down the toilet is particularly problematic for homes with septic tanks. Even wipes labeled “septic safe” can cause septic system backups and failures.

How Wipes Damage Septic Tanks

Septic systems rely on anaerobic bacteria to slowly break down waste. Their limited water flow and oxygen circulation hamper full disintegration of thicker wipe materials. Fragments easily get trapped, accumulating into heavy masses that clog pipes and devices.

Common septic system components disrupted by wipes include:

  • Inlet/Outlet Tees: Wipes snag at joints between pipes.
  • Baffles: Fibers cross delineation channels and build up.
  • Filters: Sheets get stuck on screens, restricting wastewater flow.
  • Drain Field: Layers impede water percolation into soil.

Even small amounts of wipes flushed regularly can cause major septic issues over months and years. Some key problems include:

  • Backflow into the home
  • Surface pooling around the tank and drain field
  • Slow draining fixtures
  • Foul sewage odors
  • Expensive repairs and replacement needs

Septic System Do’s and Don’ts

To avoid septic disaster, follow these guidelines for items that should never go down the toilet:

DO NOT Flush:

  • Flushable wipes
  • Baby wipes
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Moist toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Condoms
  • Dental floss
  • Diapers
  • Cat litter

ONLY Flush:

  • Toilet paper
  • Human waste
  • Toilet bowl water

Take extra care to keep all wipes, napkins, and non-toilet paper products out of the toilet. One slip up can destroy a septic system. Instead, toss used wipes and similar items in the trash.

The Safest Wipe Disposal

The mantra from wastewater agencies across America is clear – no wipes in the toilet. No matter how they are labeled or marketed, wipes do not belong in sewers or septic systems. For guaranteed safety:

Trash Non-Flushable Wipes

Wipes marked “Do Not Flush” are obvious no-nos for the toilet. Always toss these, along with baby wipes, disinfecting wipes, and other moist wipes, straight into the trash. Never try to flush them.

Trash Flushable Wipes Too

While some flushable wipes come closer to dispersing than others, none are guaranteed to dissolve completely after flushing. Erring on the side of caution by trashing all wipe products prevents plumbing and sewer problems.

Use a Trash Can with a Lid

Open buckets allow excess moisture and odors from used wipes and other waste. Lined cans with tight lids keep trash discrete and sanitary until taking it out. Consider adding secondary bags or biodegradable dog waste bags inside the main liner as added protection against leaks.

Empty the Trash Frequently

Don’t allow wipes to accumulate over days or a week. Take trash out at least every other day, or daily in bathrooms that see frequent use. This prevents odors from getting out of control.

Know Your Wastewater System

Before moving into a new home, ask what kind of wastewater set-up it has. If on municipal sewer, clogs can create serious backups. For septic systems, extra diligence is needed to keep all wipes and paper out of toilets.

Are Toilet Paper Alternatives Better?

Many consumers understandably want a wipe-type product for bathrooms that is truly sewer and septic safe. Some alternatives to mainstream wipes include:

Toilet Tissue Designed to Flush

Several brands now make thicker, stronger toilet paper designed for flushing. While pricier than standard TP, materials and construction make it suitable for sewers and septic tanks. Popular products include Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare and Angel Soft Flushable Wipes.

Bamboo Toilet Paper

Bamboo TP breaks down easily when wet but is durable enough when dry for use. Brands like Caboo, The Cheeky Panda, and No. 2 offer bamboo-based toilet paper that is soft, eco-friendly, and septic safe.


Installing a bidet provides an automated water stream for rinsing and cleaning. Using plain water achieves hygiene without waste or clogs. Bidet add-on seats, faucet sets, and full units give low-flow posterior washing.

Reusable Cloth

Washcloths, handkerchiefs, and hygiene towels offer reusable family cloth options. When cared for properly, cloth wipes prevent throwaway waste while still being hygienic.

While these toilet paper alternatives avoid plumbing problems, exercise caution with any products resembling wipes. When in doubt, do not flush.

Spreading Public Awareness

Despite efforts by wastewater agencies to spread the word, many consumers remain unaware of wipe hazards. Continuing education remains critical to reducing clogs and overflows.

Product Labeling

Manufacturers must commit to more accurate branding and marking of wipes. Terming wipes “flushable” when evidence shows otherwise misleads buyers. Improved labeling can clarify proper disposal.

Outreach Campaigns

Nonprofits like Toilets Are Not Trashcans and messaging from city utilities better inform the public. Signage in stores, schools, and public restrooms also helps deter flushing.

Building Code Changes

Stricter ordinances prohibiting false advertising of wipes as flushable force manufacturers to alter labeling. Cautionary markings on packaging add further emphasis against flushing.

Septic System Warnings

Home inspectors, real estate agents, and contractors should educate those with septic tanks on wipe dangers. Mandatory septic system education helps protect rural systems.

Mitigation Rebates

Some municipalities provide rebates for adding trash cans or upgrading toilets to low-flow models if residents agree to stop flushing wipes. These incentives reduce clogs proactively.

Ongoing communication, improved product transparency, and public cooperation can curb the harms from flushing wipes. Shared understanding of the risks is the first step.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are wipes labeled “flushable” really flushable?

No. Despite marketing claims, no wet wipe product is guaranteed 100% safe and clearable for plumbing and sewers after flushing. Variable conditions in wastewater systems mean wipes can still clog and cause backups even when labeled flushable.

What’s the difference between flushable and biodegradable wipes?

Flushable refers to ability to disperse when agitated in water. Biodegradable means able to deteriorate over time via microbes, air, moisture, and other natural processes. Biodegradable does not equal flushable. Neither type should be flushed.

Can you flush flushable wipes in a septic tank?

No. Septic systems lack the agitation and flow needed to disintegrate wipes. Even wipes marketed as “septic safe” can get caught in tanks and drain field components. No wipes are proven safe for any kind of onsite system.

How do wipes cause clogs in sewers?

Wipes get snagged on small defects like cracks and joints in sewer pipes. As more debris accumulates, wipes tangle into large obstructive masses. These “fatbergs” block wastewater flow and can cause overflows of raw sewage.

What problems do wipes cause in homes?

Wipes can easily snag and accumulate to clog internal plumbing and fixtures. Symptoms include backed up drains, slow flushing toilets, gurgling sounds, bad odors, and plumbing leaks. Repairing wipe-related clogs is inconvenient and costly.

How can I dispose of bathroom wipes safely?

The only guaranteed way to prevent wipe-related clogs is to keep all types of wipes, even ones labeled flushable, out of the toilet entirely. Always place used wet wipes in the trash instead of flushing them. Use a lidded bin and empty frequently.

Are thicker toilet papers a flushable alternative to wipes?

Some toilet paper brands designed for flushing are engineered to disperse well in wastewater systems. While pricier than standard TP, these products offer increased cleaning without flushability risks. Examples include Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare and Angel Soft flushable toilet paper.

What can cities do to reduce wipe clogs?

Municipalities can run public education campaigns on hazards of flushing wipes. They can also advocate for improved wipe product labeling, introduce building codes prohibiting false advertising, and provide rebates incentivizing proper trash disposal.

The Bottom Line

While marketed as flushable, wet wipe products can clog plumbing and cause serious sewer issues when flushed. Variable conditions prevent wipe fibers from fully disintegrating, leading to obstructive fatbergs. For homes and wastewater systems alike, the safest choice is to keep all wipes out of toilets. Alternatives like bidets or thicker toilet paper can provide cleaning without flushability risks. Proper trash disposal and ongoing public education help eliminate wipe-related clogs. Though convenient, no wipe product is worth paying the price of plumbing repairs or sewage overflows.


In summary, while some flushable wipes come closer to dispersing than others, no wet wipe product breaks down reliably enough to be considered truly flushable. The friction, flow, and pressure within real-world plumbing and sewers differ too much from standardized laboratory tests. When in doubt, the safest choice is to dispose of all pre-moistened wipes, cloths, and paper in the trash rather than flushing them. Wastewater agencies strongly warn that “flushable” wipes should never be flushed. Continued consumer education on proper wipe disposal, along with product labeling improvements and building code changes, can help mitigate clogs and safeguard sewer infrastructure. With increased public awareness, we can reduce the harms caused by flushing wipes incorrectly.