(Or ANY septic system for that matter?)
We didn’t expect to find such dramatic differences between brands, but the results from this experiment are really surprising. We used the same procedure that’s commonly used to test toilet paper for RV plumbing compatibility – except on 6 brands of personal wipes. Some worked, some didn’t. You can find the results in the video below:
I had been wondering about these “personal wipes” for a while, and it just took a Saturday with nothing else to do to pull this test together. There’s nothing more than you see to the test – so the results should be repeatable by anyone with too much time on their hands. The most difficult part of the test was locating multiple brands of personal hygiene wipes to test. The test follows the same format as our Toilet Paper Test from some years back.
Each of the brands we tested made some representation about their flushability, suitability, or safety for pipes, septic systems, or RVs. The six brands we tested, and their claims for plumbing safety were:
The closest grocery store to our home is actually a Whole Foods, so we included these as an option. These have the distinction of being the only wipes made from Organic Cotton (?!). They’re also the only wipes that broke the stratospheric 30-cents-per-wipe barrier. On the package, they merely claim to be “Biodegradable”. But if you find the product description on the Whole Foods website (I had to sign up to shop to do this), they claim, “The cotton wipes are flushable, biodegradable and compostable under the correct conditions.”
These seem to be one of the house brands at Wal-Mart, so to leave them out would be a huge omission. The Equate wipes were the most cautious and realistic in their dissolvability claims. They warn on the package “Do not flush if using an RV, Marine, or Aviation system.” The package also said, quite plainly, “Not all systems can accept flushable wipes.” There were a bunch of other instructions about flushing printed on the package as well (which we know most people won’t read). So while we didn’t have a lot of hope the Equate wipes would perform well, we at least gave them very high marks for honesty and transparency.
If we were including the Wal-Mart house brand, it was only fair to include the Target house brand as well. These wipes claimed to have “Advanced Flushable Technology”. While we didn’t know what that meant, they did provide some additional flushing instructions on the package. They advised to “Flush only one cloth at a time.” They also said they were “Not recommended for use with basement pump systems.” We took that to mean they would unsuitable for macerators, which our test did not include. (Unfortunately, because it would have been a great visual for the video.)
These wipes claimed to have “SafeFlush Technology”. That was partly defined for us by the description on the package, which states: “SafeFlush technology ensures that Cottonelle FreshCare Flushable Cleansing Cloths break up after flushing, and are sewer and septic safe. For best results, flush only one or two cloths at a time.” We thought they seemed pretty confident if they were allowing two cloths at once to be flushed, so we had high hopes for these wipes.
Also, my lab assistant thought they smelled the best.
These wipes claimed to be “Safe for sewer and septic systems.” They also allowed for flushing one or two wipes at a time on the package directions, which seemed rather confident. Since the Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper had won our toilet paper test a few years ago (and is still the toilet paper we use in our house), we thought these would break up really well.
I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but I had a feeling that these were going to be the best dissolving wipes of the bunch. Perhaps I had seen a test somewhere else that I can’t recall, or perhaps I was swayed by their website, which claims “Scott® Flushable Wipes uses patented SafeFlush Technology so they start breaking down immediately after flushing making them sewer and septic tank safe.” Regardless of their performance, Stef seems to like their plastic container the best of the bunch. When you unwrap it, the branding and instructions come off, which makes them unobtrusive in your bathroom.
The Testing Procedure
There is really nothing more than you see in the video to our test! We simply placed one of each wipe in a sealed quart jar with two cups of water. We agitated and shook each of the jars equally. We had an additional jar with Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper in it. As I’ve mentioned, this was the winner in our previous toilet paper test. We know from experience that this toilet paper dissolves rapidly, and is completely safe in an RV septic system. We’ve been using this toilet paper at home for years without any problems, and our house was built in 1928.
We had a bit of fun with this, so if you see us in the video going down a slide with one jar, you can rest assured that we made 6 more trips down the slide to ensure that each of the jars received equal treatment. To the best of our ability, we treated each of the jars equally.
We made checks at one hour, three hours, and the next morning at 17 hours. What we found were remarkable differences in the dissolvability of the wipes. Some of them would be completely safe for nearly any plumbing system I can imagine. And some of them would likely still not be broken down in a year’s time.
The Toilet Paper Control Subject
This is what you want to see from any product you’re planning to flush down your toilet. Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper breaks down thoroughly, and I can’t imagine it creating much of a problem no matter how odd your plumbing and/or septic system is. After this won our toilet paper test, we converted to this brand in the house, and we also used it in the RV. We’ve had no problems with it. This is our gold standard for safely flushable products.
The Results – From Best to Worst
At the end of our test, these wipes had broken down almost as much as our toilet paper control subject. True to their claim, they started breaking down almost immediately – with noticeable breakup even at the one hour mark. I would feel pretty safe using these wipes in an RV septic system if there was plenty of water, but you will have to make your own decision about that. As far as home use, these wipes should be A-OK.
These wipes broke up almost as well as the Scott wipes. Although, there were still some larger chunks present even after 17 hours. As far as RV use, you would have to decide based on what you knew about your RV’s plumbing. For example, if you had a straight run of pipe between your black tank and your sewer outlet, these might be safe. If your pipes had several bends in them, you might want to dispose of these separately. For home use though, these would be very acceptable – particularly if your home is hooked up to a municipal sewer system.
I’m going off of memory here, but even at the three hour mark, both of these kinds of wipes seemed to breaking up better than the special “RV/Marine” toilet paper we tried in our toilet paper test. So, if you think the special RV/Marine toilet paper is good enough, you’ll likely be satisfied with these two kinds of wipes in your rig.
But those are, honestly, the only two of the wipes we can recommend at all! After the Cottonelle, things fall off pretty rapidly. The rest didn’t break down as well, and would be absolutely out of the question in an RV. We wouldn’t even recommend them in your home. In fact, we’ve sequestered these wipes away in our own home so that nobody will be tempted to flush them. (We kind of have a lot of leftover wipes right now…)
Up & Up Flushable Cleansing Cloths
These are the next best, but let’s be honest, those are still some pretty big chunks of paper there. Keep in mind, these had been marinating for 17 hours, and they were still more or less whole. I’m not saying they don’t have their place, but their place is probably not in your toilet… of any kind. My recommendation, if you’re going to use these wipes, is to dispose of them separately.
Equate Flushable Wipes
I can’t really fault the Equate wipes for their performance, because they specifically warned they were not to be used in an RV septic system. Clearly, the Equate folks knew what they were talking about. I’d take it a little further and recommend not to flush these wipes in a home toilet either. These were the wipes that claimed to meet the INDA Flushability guidelines. The INDA is an industry association, and if you’re interested, you can actually download the guidelines from this website, which is kind of cool. But after reading them, all I can say is that their tests FG501 – FG507 must be less rigorous than ours. So the INDA Flushability Guidelines are a good start, but they need work.
Charmin FreshMates Flushable Wipes
Yeah, so after 17 hours of saturation and agitation, this was pretty much still a whole wipe. We were very disappointed with the performance of the Charmin FreshMates. We were able to unfold it! My little lab assistant was able to tear it, but with some difficulty. I honestly cannot recommend this wipe for any flushable application. If you like them, and you don’t mind disposing of them separately, they should be fine.
Natracare Intimate Wipes
Frankly, this wipe showed no evidence whatsoever of breaking down, and shouldn’t be flushed down any kind of toilet at all. All of the other wipes had at least some fibers breaking off into the water – this wipe had none of that. My lab assistant was completely unable to tear this wipe – even after 17 hours in the water. To be fair, the flushability claims of this product were vague, so I’m inclined to cut them some slack. Even so, I’m thinking that they’re “biodegradable” in the same way a plastic milk jug is – so we’ll check back in 500 years or so…
For RV Use: Well, I’ve already given it away, but if you are considering using flushable wipes in your RV’s toilet, you’d be best served by sticking with the Scott Flushable Wipes. These dissolved almost as well as the best toilet paper we tested, and even a little better than RV/Marine toilet paper. But even if you use them, you would want to make sure you flushed with plenty of water, and that you didn’t dump your rig just an hour or two after dropping one in. Cottonelle FreshCare wipes came in second place, and might be acceptable if your RV’s plumbing was very simple. But if your RV’s plumbing is rather complex – with bends and turns where things might get hung up – you might want to really think about it before you used any kind of flushable wipe.
For Home Use: Scott Flushable Wipes and Cottonelle FreshCare wipes are the only two that we can recommend for even a home plumbing system. They are the only kinds we’ll allow now at home. We are hooked up to a municipal sewer system. (Our local utilities may have different ideas about what they’d like to see us flush!) If we were on a septic system, we’d likely stick with Scott wipes.
Well, that’s it! Thanks for sticking with it to the end of the post, and happy flushing!