To Flush or Not to Flush?

Homes contain a huge number of consumer products for every possible purpose. We have cleaners for toilets, sinks, floors, windows, furniture, and carpet. We have microfiber cloths, antibacterial wipes, and paper towels for wiping surfaces. This is not to mention laundry soaps, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and the many other products that we use on a daily basis in our homes.

There is no possible way for a person to research each of these products individually, so we tend to trust the packaging when it tells us it’s, “eco-friendly”, “green”, or “Septic Safe”. Unfortunately we rarely get to see the science used to test these products or know what standards products must meet, if any, to be labelled in this fashion.

Using the bathroom has been a human function since the dawn of man. As such, we have continually found ways to make it more and more sanitary. This evolution has brought to the forefront a relatively new product, flushable wipes. Made by countless brands, for various markets, these sanitary wipes seem to be the new “it” bathroom item.

The problem with flushable wipes is that their packaging advises consumers that they are sewer and septic safe. After checking a variety of resources, this claim appears to be exaggerated. Many cities and regional districts are now issuing public announcements asking residents not to use flushable wipes. They have found that the wipes are not breaking down like toilet paper does in the water cycle of the toilet, which is creating huge issues in regional collection facilities. Issues have included: clogged sewer lines, sewer backups, and blocked intakes and filters. In some locations, these issues have resulted in repairs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Seeing the issues with flushable wipes in communities with big pipe allows us to consider the same risk to a home on a private septic system. The wipes are more durable than toilet paper, creating more risk of clogged pipes, building up more solids in septic tanks, potentially plugging filters, and in some cases even escaping the tank and ending up in the treatment field/mound itself. Clearly this is an issue that has the potential to cause huge inconvenience and cost to the homeowner.

The issue of flushing items that should not go into the septic or sewer system is such a problem that the Ontario Clean Water Agency and the Clean Water Foundation have partnered and created a public awareness campaign entitled ‘Don’t Flush’, which incorporates public service announcements on the issue presented by recognizable public figures, public education events and a social media presence.  As well, an article by the same name was published by Water Canada in its November 2014 newsletter.

It is recommended that contractors advise their clients of the potential risks of using any form of sanitary flushable wipe. If they are determined to use such products, discuss the option of disposing of them in a sealed trash container instead of flushing them into their septic system.

Of course wipes are not the only items that should not be flushed into your septic system.  Other items that should not be flushed are:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Solvents
  • Paint
  • Fats, oils & grease
  • Household hazardous waste
  • Condoms
  • Any type of ‘wipe’ – baby wipes, facial wipes, flushable wipes, sanitary wipes, etc.
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Dental floss, cue tips, etc.

The only things that should be flushed into an onsite wastewater system are human waste, household wastewater and toilet paper.