Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, toilet paper is in low supply and high demand, forcing Puget Sound residents to turn to personal cleansing wipes.

We’re also seeing citizens use disinfectant wipes and paper towels to clean surfaces in their homes, hoping to stop the spread of this virus.

While all of this is fine, and even encouraged, as we fight a global pandemic, we do have to think of our local sewer systems and the effect these items can have on them.

The issue is that we’re seeing an abnormally large percentage of the population using these products, with many choosing to flush them down their toilets to dispose of them. Wipes and paper towels can quickly clog sewer lines, both personal and municipal, causing severe problems for sewer systems in Western Washington and around the country.

Do your part by throwing your wipes and paper towels in the garbage after use to help prevent even more local problems from arising as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

What’s Causing the Problem?

The reason why we’re seeing blockages in sewer lines is because of how these systems operate.

For the most part, our sewers use gravity and water to remove waste from homes and divert it to the main city sewers. From there, the sewage moves to a treatment plant, where it is cleaned before being released.

When many people flush wipes and paper towels in a short period, it clogs the lines and prevents the system from working as it should.

The reason?

Wipes and paper towels don’t break down as toilet paper does. Toilet paper’s construction allows it to dissolve very quickly, a feature these other products don’t have.

If you’ve ever experienced a clogged toilet due to using too much toilet paper, you know that it leads to wastewater coming back into your fixture, sometimes overflowing. The toilet paper quickly disintegrates, however, allowing you to use a plunger to remove the clog.

The same thing happens in a city sewer line, as they can get a little backed up from time to time, but the toilet paper breaks down quickly, so the issue can be solved.

When dealing with wipes, it takes far longer for them to dissolve. And once thousands of wipes clump together in the sewers, removing the clog takes significant intervention.

Even flushable wipes aren’t safe because they still take longer to decompose than toilet paper.

This sewer issue is happening in Seattle, Tacoma, and throughout Pierce and King counties right now, putting a strain on our sewer systems and pressure on city and state officials, in addition to our plumbers.

Seattle has about 1,421 miles of sewer pipe, while Tacoma has over 700 miles. This is a lot of line to keep clear, and flushing wipes makes the job exponentially more difficult.

Yes, throwing these items in the garbage is an inconvenience, but it’s necessary as we try to keep people safe during this global pandemic.

It Isn’t Just Wipes

In some places, even wipes are in short supply, so we’re seeing people turn to other alternatives.

T-shirts, newspapers, and napkins are also being used instead of toilet paper, all of which put unnecessary pressure on the sewer systems.

In fact, in Redding, California, one neighborhood saw sewage overflow into the streets because of a resident using a shredded t-shirt as toilet paper.

If you don’t have any alternative but to use a t-shirt, do so, but make sure you throw your waste in the garbage. Avoid flushing it down the toilet.

Safety First

We’re clearly living in a challenging time when some supplies are running low, and stress is running high. At the same time, let’s face it, people still need to use the bathroom and will need to wipe.

If you run out of toilet paper and must use an alternative product, make sure you throw it in the garbage when you’re done with it each and every time.

Everyone will have to do their part in the coming months if we have any chance at containing the COVID-19 virus, and by choosing to throw this waste in the garbage, you can protect your family, neighbors, local plumbers, and city workers from possible exposure.

What to Do About Your Clogged Toilet

Now you know not to flush anything but toilet paper, but what’s the protocol if you’ve already flushed some wipes and it’s leading to problems?

Well, the answer is to bring in a plumber, but at this time, you’ll have to be extremely careful about who you trust.

For starters, your plumbing technician should do everything possible to limit your potential exposure to COVID-19, including washing their hands regularly, avoiding shaking hands, using shoe covers and protective gloves, and keeping a safe distance from all residents in the home.

At Hunt’s Services, we’re following all of the advice put forth by the World Health Organization during this pandemic. We’re practicing social distancing and have compiled a list of safety measures for each of our technicians to follow while working on your home.

If you have any questions or are dealing with a plumbing emergency at this time, call Hunt’s Services at 253-533-7500 for assistance.

We’re all in this together, so do your part by not flushing anything but toilet paper and keeping your social distance, so that local service providers and healthcare workers have the resources needed to keep you safe.

Meet the Author
Jason Hunts
Jason Hunts

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