You’ve probably seen wipes and hygiene products that say they are flushable right on the package. It might not actually be a good idea to flush these products, depending on what they are made of. It helps if you have an idea of how septic tanks and sewage treatment plants work.
With a septic tank, the water and solid materials (paper, particles, etc.) go into a holding tank. The heavy sludge will fall to the bottom of the tank, while the lighter paper and floatable items will flake to the top of the tank. The water will be in the center, and it will then exit the tank and go into a leech field. (A leech field is basically pipes with holes and gravel around them.) Whenever you use flushable wipes that aren’t biodegradable, they float to the top of the septic tank and gradually accumulate. They aren’t able to decompose or break down.
I had a client with a cancer patient in the home who was using flushable wipes to clean up as they were going through treatment. It completely stopped up the whole home and backed up into the house, causing a huge mess. When we took the top off the septic tank, we saw thousands of wipes sitting there. Because they couldn’t go anywhere, they had built up and eventually stopped up the system. If they cannot decompose, break down, and sink to the bottom of the tank, they shouldn’t go in there.
If you’re not sure, look on the package of flushable wipes. If they say ‘100% biodegradable’, they are fine to put down the septic tank. Otherwise, if it’s more of a fiber wipe that isn’t biodegradable, I wouldn’t recommend it. I also wouldn’t recommend putting down applicators or hygiene products that aren’t biodegradable simply because they will also gradually build up and stop up the septic tank and inlet.
With a municipal sewage treatment plant, all of the solids, paper, and other materials that cannot break down end up at the plant where they get strained out and hauled away to the garbage. Sometimes they burn them or sanitize them so they are just left with a liquid. Imagine larger areas that have hundreds of thousands of homes. If every home flushes five wipes, it compounds into a very large amount of material that the treatment plant must deal with. Their facilities aren’t designed to deal with these things, so it’s becoming a very big problem in municipalities right now. Toilet paper, on the other hand, breaks down into really small pieces that are nearly invisible. They are able to degrade wherever the liquid ends up.
You should definitely be conscious of how septic tank systems and sewage treatment plants work. If you keep that in mind, you’ll know why it’s not a good idea to flush or put items down the drain if they aren’t completely biodegradable. If you have any questions, contact us online or give us a call at 540-483-9382.