Sanitary wipes have become popular for their convenience and effectiveness. However, they can cause havoc with sewer systems when people flush them down toilets. In addition, antibacterial wipes are associated with increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotic medications. If you currently use antibacterial sanitary wipes and flush them afterward, changing these behaviors would be advantageous.
Problems With Sanitary Wipes
Frequent Use of Antibacterial Agents Can Be Harmful
Frequent use of antibacterial soaps, wipes and other cleansing products may lead to bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. That can make it difficult to treat bacterial infections, as the bacteria are no longer affected by certain antibiotic medications.
Frequent Use of Antibacterial Substances May Be Pointless
Research has found that antibacterial wipes are actually not all that effective in killing bacteria, although the wipes can remove bacteria from surfaces. If someone uses a sanitary wipe to clean a counter and then uses it to clean a sink, the item essentially transfers bacteria from one place to another instead of eliminating it.
Also, consider that the more common infections people try to ward off -- such as colds and seasonal flu -- are viral, not bacterial.
Sanitary Wipes Cause Sewer System Problems
Many sanitary wipes labels claim that the products can be flushed, but that doesn't mean they won't cause problems in the system.
At the residential level, sanitary wipes flushed down a toilet can catch on tree roots that have grown into the sewer pipe in a yard. These pipes are usually constructed from clay or concrete, and tiny cracks allow roots to invade. Some of the wipes do dissolve within a relatively short time, but others don't degrade at all -- even if they are advertised as "flushable." As more of them build up in the pipe, sewer backups can occur.
At the municipal level, these products can clog sewer pipes throughout the city and can even seriously damage equipment at the treatment plant. Workers have to mechanically rake out piles of sanitary wipes that people have flushed into the system.
If you like using sanitary wipes, consider switching to a type that isn't antibacterial. In addition, don't flush them down a toilet. Dispose of them in a wastebasket instead. Wrap them in toilet paper or a small bag if you want to be discreet. That will help you prevent sewer backups and needs for emergency plumbing service.
On a larger scale, it also is a step toward preventing problems in the municipal sewage treatment system and combating antibiotic resistance.
If you have additional questions about what you should and shouldn't flush down the toilet, talk to a plumber in your area.