They're small. They're disposable. They're used to clean up sh** that usually ends up in the toilet. But are baby wipes flushable? Seems like they should be and it would be awfully convenient, but...well...they're not.
Here's the dealio: Technically, yes, baby wipes are flushable. The problem is that rarely are any wipes or even facial tissues designed to breakdown quickly enough to not disturb plumbing systems. Sometimes even wipes labeled "flushable" aren't truly suitable for your plumbing or sewer system. And what it eventually leads to are plumbing and sewage system nightmares known as "ragging" and "fatbergs."
Okay, you could totally stop reading now and walk away knowing you shouldn't flush baby wipes, but don't you want to know what a fatberg is? You know you do.
Here's how the beast begins.
Phase one of a flushed wipe's afterlife is as follows:
After wipes are flushed, they can get caught up with other items that are currently in your sewer line. Things like thick toilet paper, dental floss, paper towels, cotton swabs, and toilet cleaning pads are all commonly flushed items that contribute to backups and clogs. When these types of items combine with flushed baby wipes, it creates a kind of sewage snowball – blockage known as “ragging.” And no ordinary plunger can help once you've hit this point. You're going to need a plumber. And fast. Cuz you probably have poo water flooding your basement.
Even if you don't personally suffer through a flood of poo, your flushed wipes are contributing to an even bigger problem. The dreaded "fatberg."
Phase two of a flushed wipe's afterlife is ragging to the extreme.
Wipe after wipe makes it through your pipes and your neighbor's pipes and your neighbor's neighbor's pipes and so on and so forth – meeting up and making fast friends in the massive municipal pipelines under your city. They combine with what's being dumped down kitchen sinks and the beast is born. Welcome to the world, fatbergs - monstrous globs of congealed cooking fat held together with the help of wet wipes.
One of the first fatbergs ever discovered was back in 2013 in London: it was roughly the size of a bus and weighed 17 tons. Several years later, another formed beneath the London borough of Whitechapel. Weighing in at 130 tons, the same as 11 double-decker buses, it gained a sort of sewer celebrity status and was given the nickname “Fatty McFatberg.”
And, it's not just the UK. Australia and the US are seeing a rise in these monsters, too. A couple of notable fatbergs in recent US history include one found in September 2017 under the streets of Baltimore, Maryland that caused the spillage of 1.2 million gallons of sewage into nearby Jones Falls. And a fatberg the size of a blue whale discovered in a suburban Michigan sewer this past fall.
Fatbergs can cost taxpayers millions of dollars to clean up. And you can't help but feel atrociously horrible for the poor sewer workers tasked with breaking the beasts up. Ew. Ew. Ew for days.
What's the moral of the story here? Don't feed the fatberg. Put wipes (and grease) in the garbage where they belong.
[Update: We now make flushable wipes designed to break down quickly! Check them out here.]