Amid toilet paper frenzy, sewer officials warn: Don’t flush these materials down the toilet

Marc Kovac and Ryan Miller, USA TODAY Network
Published 10:44 a.m. ET March 17, 2020 | Updated 11:01 a.m. ET March 17, 2020

It’s vital to clean surfaces you touch every day amid the coronavirus outbreak. Here are mistakes to avoid.


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sewer officials are urging[1] homebound, toilet paper-strapped residents to think twice before flushing other materials down their commodes.

That goes for paper towels, tissues, napkins and the bane of many sewer systems,[2] supposedly flushable wipes.

“They are not flushable, and they are not biodegradable,” said Stephen Renner, director of the Department of Sanitary Engineering in Franklin County, Ohio. “They wreak havoc in our system. … Please don’t flush those down the toilet.”

Each toilet flush heads from home piping to a community’s pipes, pumps and grinders for eventual treatment.

The system accommodates toilet paper, which is made to disintegrate quickly in water. But wipes, diapers and other materials, which don’t break down as readily, tend to clog pipes.

That could mean sewer backups into the homes of the perpetrators or of others, as clogs form down the line. The latter often require jet cleaning to clear.

Police: Stop calling 911 if you ran out of toilet paper[3]

Renner said his county sewer system is seeing an increase in volume, which was expected given the number of people staying in their homes as part of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s to everybody’s benefit to use toilet paper only,” he said.

While disposable wipes are a convenient and easy-to-use product that serve a variety of helpful purposes, many Americans may be using them incorrectly.

Whether it’s flushing a nonflushable wipe or using antibacterial products to excess, misusing disposable wipes can create costly “fatbergs,” a term used for masses of waste that clog a sewer system.

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