COVID-19 has seen flushable wet wipes become very popular additions to the average Kiwi shopping list. During the height of the lockdown, and the great toilet paper shortage, wipes were seen as a more than adequate replacement. Meanwhile, anti-bacterial wipes were being bought like never before as people sanitised the surfaces in their homes and businesses with renewed vigour. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining hygiene standards, but there was a downside. Many of these wipes went to the same place as the wipes bought for bathroom purposes – down the toilet.
As an emergency plumber in Auckland, we know all this to be true. One of our most in-demand services was unblocking pipes and drains that had been clogged by wipes. Many of our customers flushed them down the toilet because that’s what the packaging told them to do. But flushable wipes are not so flushable. They don’t break down as toilet paper does; here’s a handy tip, cheap toilet paper might not be too comfortable but it disintegrates within seconds and won’t cause blockages like expensive premium-brand toilet tissue. But back to wipes. They keep their shape and have the potential to make blockages even worse by mixing with oils, fats and hair, and catching on cracks and roots in the pipe network.
They cause issues on a wider scale too. Wet wipes that have been flushed down toilets have been causing havoc at Auckland’s pumping stations, which were breaking down weekly at the height of the lockdown. Normally, local pumping stations usually have problems just once or twice a year.
Will wipes become less of a problem now that lockdown restrictions have eased, and toilet paper is back in good supply? That’s not an easy question to answer. Now that people have started using wipes, they’ve gotten used to them and many continue to apply them to ablution and cleaning purposes around the home. And, when they’ve done using them, they’re flushing them down the toilet where they keep their shape in pipe-clogging form. So it seems that we may have an issue with them for a while yet.
Our advice as emergency plumbers in Auckland with a lot of recent experience with wipes is to not believe everything you read. While the packaging might say you’ve just bought flushable wipes, they are anything but flushable. They might disappear from view once you flush the toilet but that doesn’t mean they won’t do damage elsewhere.