It’s not always common knowledge that baby wipes shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, even if they are listed as flushable. If that happens, does anything dissolve baby wipes in the septic tank or toilet?
There are no chemicals or products that will reliably dissolve baby wipes in your toilet or septic tank. Many baby wipes are made from synthetic polymers chemically bonded together into a durable cloth that take a very long time to naturally break down inside the sewer system. As such, a baby wipe clog will normally require snaking or a professional.
If your toddler is anything like mine, things are always ending up in the most unexpected places. Admittedly, I can usually trace back and figure out the reasoning for why his toothbrush is in the bathroom trash (he was done brushing his teeth and the trash is where things go when he’s done with them) or why he insists on putting all of his clean pajamas in the laundry basket (this is where clothes go when I’m not wearing them). While most of his leaps in logic are cute (laundry) or mildly frustrating (toothbrush), they are usually easy to go fix. But what do you do when he flushes a bunch of baby wipes down the toilet (baby wipes are like toilet tissue, toilet tissue goes down the toilet) and suddenly his little leap in logic has clogged the toilet and created a household disaster?
Does anything dissolve baby wipes?
Have you ever considered cleaning your baby’s bottom with toilet paper? Okay, maybe in a pinch, but not when you have a better option.
That is because baby wipes and toilet paper are designed to perform what is basically the same task, but they fulfill a completely different need. As parents, we need wipes to be both strong and soft, come pre-moistened — either with water or a water-based cleanser — and be cheap enough to go through several at a time. For most of us, biodegradability is not exactly high on our list of priorities.
The same reason that toilet tissue is not good for cleaning or wiping up messes is exactly what makes wipes good at these things. The trade-off though is that wipes do not break down quickly or easily; if they did, you would open a pack of wet wipes and find a pulpy mass instead of a stack of damp cloth-like wipes.
Most wipes are made of a nonwoven fabric, which means it is bonded together using a chemical or heat instead of woven like traditional fabric. This nonwoven wipe fabric both leads to clogging issues in your toilet and pipes — they neither break up in water nor allow it to pass easily through — and mean that chemical uncloggers are generally ineffective.
Most uncloggers work by coating the individual pieces of the clog and either making them slick so the clog will release or eating through the problem, but they tend not to work on wipes, partially due to their size, and partially because there is no weave for the chemical to penetrate and loosen.
If your toilet is completely clogged due to baby wipes, using a chemical drain cleaner could actually do far more harm than good.
Even uncloggers that claim not to damage drains can do so when left sitting in the pipes for too long. If you are not able to clear the clog with the chemical, you will either need to attempt to snake it yourself or call a plumber. Either way, someone will probably have to come into direct contact with the pipe, the clog, or both, and could be directly exposed to the harmful chemical and any reaction it has caused, such as an overheated pipe.
Will bleach dissolve baby wipes?
Although you may see recommendations to use bleach to dissolve toilet clogs, it is not effective in dissolving baby wipes.
Bleach works by combining with the acidic elements (hair, for example) to form water and salt, thus breaking up the clog. Wipes are resistant to this because the nonwoven fabric allows less opportunity for the interaction.
Many of the standard chemical drain openers found in the store contain bleach, and may also have other active agents. Drano Max Gel, for example, includes a caustic chemical and a cleaner to help improve its effectiveness against regular clogs, although it is also ineffective against baby wipe clogs.
Will sulfuric acid dissolve baby wipes?
Sulfuric acid cleaners will dissolve baby wipes, but they must be used with extreme caution. When using sulfuric acid, you must be sure that you are wearing protective gloves and goggles and working in a well-ventilated area because it may react violently when poured into the water and can create dangerous fumes as it works in the pipes. It is also important that you never mix sulfuric acid cleaners with bleach-based cleaners as the reaction creates a potentially deadly gas.
Although some types of sulfuric acid drain cleaners claim to be safe for plastic pipes when used correctly, they can damage stainless steel or galvanized pipes, and most varieties cannot be used with septic systems. Because of these risks, professionals recommend that you do not attempt to use sulfuric acid to unclog your pipes.
How to unblock a toilet full of baby wipes
If your toilet becomes blocked immediately after flushing baby wipes, chances are good that the problem is close by and you have a couple of options.
- If you can see the wipes that are causing the blockage, reach in and grab them. Put on gloves if you need to, but flushing again and trying to force them through the pipes will only make things worse.
- Get out your plunger. (Although most people only have one, there is actually a difference between a sink plunger and a toilet plunger. You need the latter.) Unlike other options, a plunger will not help to remove the clog from your pipes, but it may loosen it enough for it to pass through.
- If you have the storage space, you should consider keeping a toilet snake (here is a good example that also comes with sturdy gloves), also called an augur, around for emergencies as it can often save you from having to call a plumber for a clogged toilet. Follow the manufacturer’s directions to hook and remove the wipes from your pipes.
If none of these options work, you will probably need to call a plumber to have the line professionally cleared.
How to dissolve or get rid of baby wipes in a septic tank
Depending on the location of your home, your wastewater will go through either the local sewage system or into your home’s septic tank. Typically, apartment buildings, neighborhoods, and houses located within the city limits will make use of a central sewage system while houses that are built away from the city are likely to use a septic tank.
Although it is important that you never flush wipes down your toilet no matter where you live, it is possible (if not likely) that you will never see the immediate consequences of doing so if your waste leaves your property and travels through a community water system. However, if you are flushing into a septic system, the wipes will stay with you and accumulate at the bottom of your tank.
You should not use most declogging cleaners in a septic system because they will kill the good bacteria at work there. Although there are some cleaners that are specifically designed for use with septic systems, they are still unlikely to produce serious results once they are diluted in the full tank.
Unfortunately, the only way to get baby wipes out of your septic tank is to contact your plumber and have it pumped, which you are recommended to do every couple of years anyway.
Are any baby wipes flushable?
Companies that market their wipes as “flushable” do so on a technicality.
Yes, these wipes can be flushed down the toilet, at least as long as you are only attempting to flush one or two of them. What happens after they leave the toilet itself and enter your pipes, your sewage or septic system, and your community’s water system is a completely different story.
Although you may not experience a clog the first, second, or hundredth time you send a “flushable” wipe through your sewage system, you are contributing to a problem that will eventually cause hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Help, I accidentally flushed baby wipes down the toilet!
If you (or your toddler) just flushed baby wipes down the toilet, you should check and see if there is an immediate clog. If you have a toilet snake, that would be ideal since it is specially designed to be both flexible enough to wiggle through the toilet drain and pipes, and is covered in a protective outer layer to keep it from damaging your toilet. I actually covered how to use a snake to unclog your toilet in much greater detail recently when I explored how to get a diaper out of the toilet!
Since most families do not keep a toilet snake on hand, you can also use a straightened wire hanger. You will need to go more slowly to avoid damaging your toilet, and it will not reach as far, but it may be helpful if there is a mass of wipes just beyond the mouth of the drain.
Will one baby wipe clog a toilet?
While there is always the possibility of a single wipe clogging your toilet, it is unlikely. If you accidentally flushed one and do not see an immediate issue, don’t panic. If you can fish it out, do so; if you can’t, keep an eye on the issue and try not to do it again.
What do I do if I used to flush baby wipes down the toilet?
If you have previously been taken in by packaging that claimed your baby wipes were flushable but have not yet experienced a clog, be thankful but stay alert. If you have a septic tank, you may want to consider having a professional come out and check it, especially since it should probably be pumped every couple of years. Depending on the size of your tank, it may be a pricy precaution, but it is better than the alternative.