News & Advice

Can I Flush Wipes?


Can I Flush Wet Wipes?

Baby wipes, wet wipes, make-up wipes, moist wipes, cleaning wipes: whatever the application, wipes are wipes. And wipes are responsible for around half of sewer abuse cases in this country. It is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s on the increase. With more and more ‘safe to flush’ wet wipes on the market that purport to be safe to send down the drainage system, people are becoming more comfortable sending wet wipes straight down the drains. However, these claims are misleading. The experts at Lanes Drainage Services UK offer answer to the question of ‘can you flush wet wipes’ and explanation of why these hygiene products cause so much trouble in the drains.

Are wet wipes safe to flush down the toilet?

No. wet wipes aren’t safe to flush and they should never, ever, be put down the toilet. Despite what some manufacturers say, not all wipes labelled ‘flushable’ and ‘biodegradable’ disintegrate once you’ve flushed them into the sewer system. In reality, they can take 500 years to decompose. What this means for the drains is these hardy bits of fabric get caught up in the system with other incorrectly disposed products like cotton swabs, sanitary wear and FOG, where they sit and don’t break down. The more of these wet wipes and other products build up in the sewer system, the more likely it is for blockages and damage to occur.

This long decomposition time isn’t surprising because, besides cotton and rayon fibres, some wipes contain plastic resins like polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene.

Take it from us, the people who spend a huge amount of hours down those same sewers removing the offending items – often by hand.

The broad impact of the wet wipe problem

A Water UK study from the end of 2017 provided an eye-opening look at the impact of wipes and personal care items on UK sewer systems, studying more than 50 sewer blockages and revealing that the majority of the material recovered was made up of “non-flushable wipes”

Baby wipes (which are never marketed as flushable) were the biggest cause, accounting for 78% of the identifiable mass by weight, while surface wipes, cosmetic wipes and feminine hygiene products made up around 20%. In fact, the total amount identified as products designed to be flushed was less than 1%.

With a previous study from the Marine Conservation Society suggesting that the number of wet wipes littering our beaches has shot up by 400% over the last decade or so, it’s clear that this is becoming a huge problem – and it could be damaging our health and our society, as well as our drains and our environment.

For example, it’s been shown that wipes are often mistaken for food by marine life, resulting in microplastic working its way back into our food chain, which could be having as-yet unknown consequences for our bodies. It’s also been estimated that approximately 300,000 sewer blockages are now occurring every year, with wet wipes known to be a major contributor – this is costing the country £100 million annually that could have been better spent on reducing bills or improving public services.


Wet wipes damage your drains

However, you don’t need to look at national figures to get a sense of how this problem is hurting us all – this is a problem that regularly creates major inconvenience and costs for individual homeowners and businesses, and without corrective action, it’s only going to get worse.

While individual wet wipes might seem harmless to flush down the drain, the problem is a cumulative one. A couple of wet wipes every day for years is no small quantity Before you know it, your drain is blocked. The sewer contents are coming back up through your toilet, or even your sink, and suddenly you’re landed with a huge financial headache – not just to pay for the cost of getting the drain unblocked, but also to clean, repair or replace anything that was damaged by the flooding.

Even those who haven’t had to deal with an issue like this in their own home are still likely to be paying for the problem through higher utility bills. Thames Water, which serves 14 million people in London and the Thames Valley, spends £1 million every month clearing nearly 7,000 blockages from 109,000km of sewers. What’s more, each year 7,000 Thames Water customers’ gardens and 1,000 homes are flooded with sewage, with flushed food fat and wet wipes shown to be responsible for about half of these incidents. For United Utilities in the north west, the cost is even higher – a staggering £20 million a year to tackle 53,000 blockages, with only half as many customers as Thames.

Disposing of wet wipes properly

Fortunately, in the last couple of years, awareness of the damage wet wipes can cause has been on the rise, thanks to eye-catching incidents such as the removal of the monster Whitechapel fatberg and campaigns like Lanes Drainage Services UK's Fatberg Fighters initiative. As a result, there have been signs that the tide may be turning.

Responding to pressure from UK water companies, EDANA – the trade association representing the wet-wipes, absorbent hygiene and nonwoven industries – has agreed to bring in a new code of practice to ensure that companies prominently label their wet wipe products with Do Not Flush symbols; subsequent to this, the British government has issued a pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, which could potentially involve a ban on wet wipes.

This may not ultimately come to pass – indeed, a recent Lanes Drainage Services UK survey indicates that 59% of people in Britain would be opposed to a total ban on wet wipes – but it’s still clear evidence that homeowners, businesses, manufacturers and policymakers are all starting to realise the harm that flushing wet wipes can create.

Wet wipe alternatives

In the meantime, you have the power to make a difference. Disposable wet wipes are convenient but there are many great alternatives you can use that are better for your drains and for the environment.

Flannels – the original wet wipe, wash cloths and flannels are still a great way to clean yourself and your home and they can be washed and reused without risking your drain health.
Toilet paper spray – we know how delicate toilet paper can be, but there are great toilet sprays on the market that help to turn your toilet paper into a flush-safe wet wipe.
Sponges – for home cleaning, you can always rely on a trusty sponge. They last much longer than wet wipes and can go in the bin when they are used.
There are many ways we can make drain-conscious and sustainable choices in the home. From swapping out your disposables like wet wipes to taking extra care when disposing of your kitchen waste, you can make a difference with every day actions.

Share the message with your family, friends and colleagues, and don’t ever forget: Bin it. Don’t flush it.

Expert support for blockages from Lanes Drainage Services UK

We’ve all put the wrong things down the drain from time to time. If a blockage has built up in your drainage system, trust the experts to handle it safely and effectively. Lanes Drainage Services UK offer drainage services for domestic and commercial clients, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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