“Flushable” wipes sound great. In theory, you use them like a baby wipe—just on your own grown-up butt—with no need to toss your poop-smeared wipe it into the garbage can. Just flush, and away it goes. But is this really a good idea? Probably not.
Do ‘flushable’ wipes really dissolve?
The companies that make flushable wipes are adamant that they dissolve after flushing. Cottonnelle has a web page dedicated to this assertion, stating that the wipes are “made for your pipes” and that they “immediately start to break down after flushing.” The page features an endorsement from a wastewater utility saying that the wipes are “compatible with our system.”
But wipes make up a significant portion of the “fatbergs” that clog city sewers. Ordinary non-flushable wipes are certainly among them, but cities including New York are suspicious of the supposedly flushable ones. NYC’s “respect the flush” campaign tells residents to trash all wet wipes, whether they’re labeled “flushable” or not, and although he Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t call out flushable wipes by name, they do say not to flush any type of wipe, only toilet paper. In short: I absolutely would not flush a flushable wipe, no matter what the label says.
It only takes a little bit of reading to see a few flaws in the wipe companies’ protests about being flushable. For example, Cottonelle clearly makes an effort to differentiate themselves from those other brands of so-called flushable wipes, which aren’t nearly as flushable as theirs. This suggests that even the makers of flushable wipes know that the word “flushable” on a label should not be taken at face value.
Then there is the warning that you’ll find in fine print on the back of some of these packages—“For best results, flush only one or two wipes at a time”—suggesting the flushability of those wipes is in fact pretty limited: one or two wipes, of certain brands, under the right conditions, may break down. (Cottonelle tested theirs with a one-hour pre-soak and six minutes of stirring time.)
So even if the wipe manufacturers are right that the wipes are sometimes flushable, that doesn’t mean that flushable wipes are always flushable. Better to stick with what cities and the EPA recommend and only flush the four P’s: poop, pee, puke, and [toilet] paper.
This story was originally published in October 2020 and was updated on March 31, 2021 with new links and to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.