No wipes in the pipes: Guidelines on how to avoid clogging the sewer system

Author: Silvia-Antonia Rus

The COVID-19 outbreak derails regular routines and supplies in drastic ways. One of the ways that it impacts daily life is the limited supply of toilet paper across stores. People are also using more cleaning wipes to make sure that we clean and sanitize our homes to prevent illnesses. These actions can impact septic systems if we are not careful.

Flushing wipes instead of toilet paper may lead to clogs in your pipes and sewage backing up into your house. Wipes and paper towels cannot disintegrate in the plumbing as easily as toilet paper, partially due to the materials that make them strong. Other substances coat personal wipes such as baby wipes or facial tissues that may not be safe for the septic system, especially because they accumulate on pipes. Check out this video by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to see how toilet paper breaks down in water, but wipes don’t.

Repairing these problems can be very expensive. But if you follow these easy steps, you can do your part to protect your family from sewage illnesses and your septic system from possible failures.

  • Only flush toilet paper down the drain. Toilet paper, regardless of type and brand, should be safe to flush into your septic system.
  • Do not flush cleaning wipes, baby wipes, facial tissues, paper towels, or any other types of paper products into your septic system.  Instead, place these products in a trash can.
  • Even wipes labelled as “flushable” or “septic safe” are NOT truly flushable. They belong in the trash can. These wipes usually do not break down and will cause the same problems as other wipes and paper products.
  • Be wise about your water usage. Introducing too much water into the septic system may not allow enough time for the bacteria to break down the waste.Small changes in how you use water may have a great impact on the longevity of your septic system:
    • Turn off the water while brushing teeth or shaving.
    • Do not run the dishwasher and the washing machine at the same time.
    • Spread laundry loads over multiple days. Run full loads to reduce the rounds of laundry.

During these times, it is important to continue following the COVID-19 guidelines, while being mindful of the potential effects of our actions. For instance, remembering to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after flushing helps reduce the transmission of the virus from person-to-surface-to-person.

Cleaning your home frequently and being conscientious about what you flush will create a safer environment for you and your family, our county’s wastewater system, and the broader environment.