Flushable Wipes? Not So Fast!

A recent story in USA Today brings to light a growing problem: “flushable” wipes are creating clogged sewers. Some manufacturers have brought to market a disposable wipe that they claim is flushable. The problem is that the wipes don’t break down in the sewer system like toilet paper does, and cities are working to cope with an increase in material accumulations in their sewer systems.

Manufacturers of the wipes say that their products do indeed break down, but Consumer Reports disagrees. According to CR, ordinary toilet paper doesn’t last more than a few seconds in water before it begins to disintegrate. Flushable wipes, on the other hand, don’t show any serious breakdowns even after 30 minutes in the sewer system.

Flushable wipe manufacturers are quick to point the finger at other products, like baby wipes, tampons, condoms and diapers, which some consumers will dispose of in the toilet. Unfortunately, these products are a lot less like toilet paper and much more like fabric, so they end up clogging up the works at the pumping stations and in the waste treatment facilities largely in the same condition they were in when they were flushed. These items can hang around indefinitely in septic systems, too.

While some consumers may find the idea of flushing wipes to be convenient, cities and municipal water authorities are spending big bucks to skim out the materials from their pipes and pumping stations. And that translates into higher bills for consumers.

Generally speaking, if it isn’t something you made yourself, and it isn’t toilet paper, you shouldn’t flush it down the toilet. Flushable wipes aren’t likely to clog your fixtures and pipes unless there are other things (like tree roots) that these no-no’s can get hung up on. But industry groups like the National Association of Clean Water Agencies are recommending that consumers treat items other than toilet paper as non-flushable and dispose of them in the trash rather than sending them into the municipal sewer.

If you are having trouble with your home’s sewer connection, or are experiencing sewage backups, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help! Call us at (617) 288-2911 to clear blocked sewer lines anytime of the day or night. We offer 24-hour emergency service and we’re always around to lend a hand!

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Using A Plunger

Plungers don’t come with an owner’s manual, so using them should be intuitive, right? Maybe, but even the most useful tool can be misused to the point of complete ineffectiveness. Plungers are designed to push an obstruction forward through the pipe using air trapped in the plunger. They’re not, contrary to popular belief, designed to bring the obstruction back out of the drain. If you have a sink or drain clog in your Boston home, here are a few tips on choosing and using a plunger.

There are two main designs for plungers; one is classic, the other is modern. Both can clear clogs. The classic plunger design consists of a thick rubber “bell” attached to a wooden handle. The plunger bell is usually coarsely threaded onto the wooden handle. If you select this kind of plunger, make sure the handle and bell connect solidly. The last thing you want is the bell separating from the handle when you need it most!

Look for good quality rubber, too. The bell should have no cracks or stress marks on it, and the handle should be relatively straight and smooth. Buy one plunger for each toilet in your home, and buy a sink plunger (a miniature version of The Classic) and use this only for sinks and tubs.
The modern plunger has a bulb shape to it with a tapered opening toward the bottom of the bell. This kind of plunger is designed to work with modern toilets and has a series of collapsible rings that, when used properly, can supply more force than the classic plunger can.

When your toilet drain becomes partially blocked, and flushing doesn’t cause the bowl to overflow, it’s tempting to flush the toilet again to see if you can dislodge the blockage. Don’t! If the bowl isn’t draining properly, you’re likely to cause a sewage overflow, and then you’ll have a much larger problem to deal with.

To plunge a toilet, place the plunger completely over the drain, making sure that the outside edge of the bell makes a complete seal against the toilet fixture. Push down slowly and pull up quickly several times. You may feel or hear the clog release. Remove the plunger and let the rest of the water in the bowl drain. Once the bowl is empty, flush the toilet again to make sure the drain is completely clear.

To plunge a sink, you may need to remove a built-in stopper. Plunging a bathtub drain usually doesn’t require this step. Depending upon the design of your sink drain, you may be able to release the stopper with a quick twist, or you may need to dismantle the stopper assembly from beneath the sink.

Sinks and bathtubs often have built-in emergency overflow drains. These drains are built into the sink itself at the top of the bowl. In bathtubs, the overflow drains are normally found underneath the lever that controls the bathtub drain. In both cases, these drains feed water directly into the drainpipe. These emergency drains will not allow you to form the good seal you’ll need to plunge a sink drain effectively. To create good suction in a sink or tub, you’ll need to block these drains. A wet towel or washcloth held over the emergency drains often does the trick.

As with a toilet, you’ll want to push the plunger down slowly and pull up quickly. Repeat this motion until the clog releases. You may need to take a break; plunging can be hard work!
Try to clear a clog using a plunger first. Do not attempt to plunge a drain once you’ve added a drain cleaning product to the clog. Drain cleaners, especially those that contain lye, can be highly reactive. These cleaners cause a chemical reaction that generates heat and can spew caustic lye upward and out of the drain. Once you’ve added a drain cleaner, stop plunging until the cleaner breaks through the clog.

Boston Standard Plumbing recommends Bio-Clean for clearing clogged drains. Bio-Clean is a bacterial-enzymatic cleaner that clears a variety of drain clogs. Bio-Clean is 100-percent safe for your plumbing and will not harm your skin if it comes in contact with you.
If you would like more information about Boston Standard Plumbing’s drain cleaning and sewer services, or you would like to try Bio-Clean drain cleaner, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing at 617-288-2911.