City Of Austin Warns Residents: Don’t Flush Disinfecting Wipes

Mar 23, 2020

Cities across the country are expecting a surge in plumbing problems related to the use of disinfecting wipes to combat COVID-19. In Austin, water utility officials are urging people not to flush wipes and other products that can jam up private plumbing and the wastewater system.

The Environmental Protection Agency says products like Clorox and Lysol disinfecting wipes can be effective in removing the new coronavirus from surfaces. But they also wreak havoc on pipes.

“That has in the past caused us problems in our collection system at the treatment plant screening,” said Jay Porter, division manager for special services at Austin Water. “And it can be very costly on the residents’ plumbing,” 

Porter said the wipes can easily block pipes in your home. They can also clog screens that filter wastewater at city treatment plants.

“The screening is designed for toilet paper, so if you have wipes or stronger paper towels that are not going to disperse in the water, it can clog,” Porter said.

It’s not just disinfecting wipes that gum up the works. So-called flushable wipes, baby wipes and regular paper towels clog drains as well as tampons, pads and dental floss. Even facial tissues can cause problems.

“It can cause sanitary overflows which is bad for the environment,” Porter said. “That can get into the storm system and end up in the lakes.”

It’s a problem that could grow as people become more conscious of cleaning surfaces.

There are options other than wipes to kill the virus on surfaces. Many disinfecting sprays and liquids work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says homemade bleach and water or alcohol and water solutions are also effective as long as they are mixed properly

Got a tip? Email Mose Buchele at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @MoseBuchele

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