Reasons Why “Flushable” Wipes are a Property’s Worst Nightmare

Flushable Wipes – When they first hit the market they were better and more exciting than sliced bread! I remember how excited I was to reach a whole new level of ‘clean,’ and it didn’t take long for my family to jump on the wipe train almost exclusively. We had a package in every bathroom up until two years ago when I received a string of panicked emergency calls from one of my properties.

One of our tenants was hosting a family gathering and much to the dismay and embarrassment of one of her guests, the toilet stopped flushing and then started to back up. It was the smelliest, most disgusting disaster I have ever witnessed to this day. Raw sewage flooded her first floor along with the first-floor bathroom and adjoining hallways in each of the other five units in that building. Of course, it was freezing weather out and a Saturday night. Families and pets had to be relocated immediately. Emergency plumbers and servpro had to come out along with a representative from the town. After an extensive and costly investigation that took several days, it was discovered that a clump of ‘flushable’ wipes were clogging the main line.

It was explained to us that not all wipes marked flushable meet the standards required to be flushable. Wipes are made from fibrous materials and sometimes reinforced with polymers like viscose. You can read more in-depth about how they are made here. Because they do not break down they cause serious blockages which can cost thousands of dollars worth of damage. Based on this evidence the plumbers recommended to us that only toilet paper be flushed. Every tenant had to put a claim in with their renters insurance and the property took a huge hit as the claim to have everything cleaned and repaired was over one hundred thousand dollars. 

After surviving such a horrible experience, it was easy to convince our current renters to stop flushing wipes all together. Convincing the newcomers on the other hand not such an easy task. What we did was add a rule to the welcome packet and send out email blasts with articles similar to this one here. We have even added a brief recount of the scenario, the damage it did and the cost associated with it to one of our monthly newsletters. It is somewhat of a scare tactic but it works.

There is no sure-fire way to stop all of your residents from purchasing and flushing various types of wipes down the toilet but creating awareness and reminding people several times a year has definitely helped. So-called ‘flushable’ wipes are a nightmare for multifamily communities because several units’ bathrooms all meet and empty into a main pipe. Waste and everything else that gets flushed away meet up and create monstrous blockages in no time. Families are displaced and belongings are ruined. Insurance deductibles have to be paid and sometimes sentimental items are ruined.

Wipes have quickly gone from a luxury to a liability. With all the high-tech advances being introduced daily we tend to think new is best. My experiences have proven to me that there are a lot of instances when we did get it right the first time. Having a good mix of the new with the old seems to work best; and good ole toilet paper is still number one for number two!

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Melissa Pietras

Melissa has been in the administrative/management field for over 20 years. She has managed various types of properties from residential to commercial and currently works in commercial finance. In her free time she enjoys cooking for her family and spending time in her garden.

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