Fatbergs, Floss, and Flushed Unflushables

Today, we wanted to take a blog post to discuss something we see all the time: Flushed unflushables.

While not an official plumbing term, “flushed unflushables” is the perfect name for things that people flush down the toilet even though they really shouldn’t.

The biggest culprits are:

  • Baby/wet wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Feminine hygiene items
  • Personal hygiene items (dental floss, cotton balls, makeup removal pads, etc.)

On their own, these things seem small and of little consequence. But when these items meet up in your home’s sewer pipes and Calgary’s sewage processing facilities, they cause some big problems. That’s when people start hitting up the Google machine looking for some top-notch Calgary plumbers like us!

Wet Wipes? Really?

Now, you might be wondering about those baby wipes that claim to be “flushable”.  After all, they say on the package that they’re flushable so surely they must be safe… Right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, that’s a pack of dirty wet lies and they are not safe for your pipes. At all.

The fact is that these wipes don’t break down quickly or easily. As a result, they cause HUGE problems for Calgary’s water treatment plants, Calgary’s plumbers, Calgary’s sewage systems, and the pipes inside our very own homes.

What happens once you flush that baby wipe down the toilet is a sordid tale of grime and grossness, but basically it doesn’t disintegrate nearly as fast or as effectively as toilet paper – not even that thick triple-ply toilet paper.

That means that even though you may have seen the baby wipe physically flush down, it could easily be (and probably is) still lingering somewhere in your pipes. It’s likely just waiting for the next wet wipe to come along so they can buddy up to start forming 1 colossal clump of debris-caked disgustingness.


These clumps can get pretty bad.  In 2013, Britain’s Thames Water Utilities Ltd. removed a 15-ton “fatberg” of fat and grease encrusted wet wipes from London’s sewers.[1]  And while this may seem like a 1-off occurrence, the fact is that fatbergs of various shapes and sizes are floating in sewage systems all over the world.

Fatbergs aren’t just revolting; they’re dangerous. In 2015, typhoon season hit the Philippines as it does every year, but that year it wreaked a lot more havoc than normal.  This havoc was thanks to a nauseatingly large collection of fatbergs in the city of Malabon’s sewers, preventing the typhoon water from emptying into the gutters and sewers, causing some very severe flooding.[2]

Yet while Calgary has one of the best sewage systems in all of Canada, even our pipes can handle only so many fatbergs floating in their flows.  If you flush a wet/baby wipe down your toilet then you’re risking some serious issues further down the line.

Paper Towels: A Threat to Pipes Everywhere.

Though they lack a catchy name, clogs from paper towels are no better than fatbergs. Yet while this may be a no-brainer to many people, to others this may comes as a surprise.

Paper towels are 1-time usage towels, created specifically for cleaning up wet messes. In other words, their biggest purpose is to soak up liquids. Toilets and sewage pipes are full of liquids. In fact, their sole purpose is to transport liquids!

So why would you flush super absorbent paper towels down pipes that are meant to let water flow?

Every time someone flushes paper towel, it soaks up as much water from the toilet bowl and pipes as it can. This makes the paper towel expand and, because they’re designed to stay intact when wet, they won’t begin to disintegrate for quite a while. Just like baby wipes, they sit and wait for more buddies to show up to the party.

A Quick Word on Flushing Feminine Hygiene Products.

Tampons and pads are much like paper towels in the sense that they’re made to be absorbent, strong, and not flushed down the toilet. They’re meant to soak up as much liquid as possible and to take a very long time to start breaking down.  Do not flush them.

The Dental Floss that Binds.

Imagine something going down the toilet that has the power to literally bind together all the flushed wet wipes, paper towels, hygiene products, and “other stuff” that get thrown into Calgary’s toilets each day? Something that seems innocent enough on its own, but is a total scourge when released into the sewage system.

This scourge is dental floss. Not only is it the tie that binds all the other debris in our sewage system, it’s also the indestructible string that gums up the impellers that keep all of Calgary’s waste moving to the processing facilities.

These rotating impellers are crucial to the operations of Calgary’s entire wastewater infrastructure – without them we would have pipes filled with stagnant sewage. Not a very pleasant thought.

Today’s dental floss is designed to be tough and not to shred apart into strands, making it a formidable substance to deal with when trying to remove it from the motor of a flossed-up impeller. In Toronto, this problem has gotten so bad that city crews are sent out weekly to repair gummed up impellers.[3]

5/5 dentists recommend using dental floss, but not one of them recommends flushing it when you’re done.

In the End, We All Pay for Flushed Unflushables.

Ultimately, all Calgarians are stuck with paying for the damage and headaches that flushed unflushables cause. According to the Municipal Enforcement Sewer Use Group (MESUG), around $250 million taxpayer dollars are spent each year removing these unflushables from Canada’s sewer systems.[4]

With all this in mind, here’s a 3-part tip for remembering what not to flush down the toilet:

• Toilets are designed to dispose of only 2 things: Human waste and toilet paper.
• Anything more is tempting fate.
• When in doubt, don’t.

Reading This Too Late?

Did you read this blog post a little too late? Maybe your little one just flushed an unflushable that’s now clogging your pipes? Quicker Rooter Plumbing offers 24/7 emergency plumbing services, you can call us anytime!