Can You Use Flushable Wipes in the RV Black Tank?


(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.

 

Full Disclosure: Nothing to hide! We purchased all of these wipes ourselves at retail, and had no contact with any manufacturer prior to the test. The methods, results, and conclusions are all our own, and are unsponsored in any way. We are Amazon affiliates, and where product links on this page take you to Amazon, we will receive a small commission if you purchase any of the wipes. (But there are only certain ones we can recommend, so read on!)

The Contestants

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:

Natracare Intimate Wipes

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.”

Equate Flushable Wipes

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.

Up & Up Flushable Cleansing Cloths

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.)

Cottonelle FreshCare Flushable Cleansing Cloths

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.

Charmin FreshMates Flushable Wipes

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.

Scott Flushable Cleansing Cloths

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

Scott Flushable Cleansing Cloths – The Clear Winner!

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.

 

Cottonelle FreshCare Flushable Cleansing Cloths

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…

 

Conclusion

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!



James is a former rocket scientist, a USA Cycling certified coach, and lifelong fitness buff. When he's not driving the RV, or modifying the RV (or - that one time - doing both at once), you can find him racing bicycles, or building furniture, or making music. In his spare time, he works for a large IT company.


    52 thoughts on “Can You Use Flushable Wipes in the RV Black Tank?

    1. Dennis

      Any chance you could perform future vids with a tank filled with the “geo” method materials? I am wondering if it would help break things down.

      Love the vids

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        If I do bust out the clear tank again, the “geo” method is on the list.
        The trouble with that one is – it’s not a standard commercial product. It’s a recipe, and everyone has their own variation.
        If I try it and it doesn’t work, I’m going to get about 6,000 comments like “It didn’t work because you didn’t use *my* recipe.”

        Reply
    2. John

      Want to see what flushing wipes in an RV will do? I’ll send you some of the worst pictures you’ve ever seen – literally.

      An entire RV black water tank filled to capacity with wipes that we’re having to replace the entire septic system including the pipes it’s so backed up with wipes.

      Imagine a tank so filled with wipes that it’s literally top to bottom, side to side full of wipes. NEVER flush ANY TYPE of wipe in an RV Toilet! – And from the packaging found inside the RV, they’re supposedly flushable also!

      So if you want to take the chance, go for it. but at our shop, we have pictures of the stuff horror tales are made of.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Uh… you can hold off on the pictures. I can imagine!
        Flushing the wipes is certainly going to be an “at your own risk” endeavor. We’re just providing the info on how our test came out. Folks will have to make up their own minds.
        (and we have a composting toilet ourselves, so it’s a moot point for us)

        Reply
    3. Carol

      Adorable! Loved this video–made what could have been a rather bland experiment a whole lot of fun. Taking the jars to the playground and trip to the restaurant was inspired!

      Reply
    4. Sue Whitmoyer

      Switching gears. I was wondering which is heavier,RV mirrored sliding doors or accordion doors. I was think of replacing the mirrored sliding to have better access. I curtain won’t keep things from sliding

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        I can’t speak to the exact models you have in mind, but in Das Bus, our bathroom accordion door weighed very little. Mirrored doors would have been heavier.

        Reply
    5. Brendan

      Hey James, Ive been watching your regular videos for awhile but just stumbled on your waste experiments, hilarious and interesting. Subscribed.
      Do you prefer the nature’s head over the black water system? Can you use Blackwater systems in the winter at all?
      Which is worse to deal with? Would you go back to black water?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Some days we prefer the composting toilet, and some days we wish we had a black tank.
        We used to have a black water system, and used it in the winter just fine. We had a tank heater that got the job done.
        We would consider going back to a black tank, because there are often times I can’t use the composting toilet. It would be nice to have a toilet I could always use for something besides #1.
        That said, with the small tanks in a class B, the composting toilet is the right solution for us right now.

        Reply
    6. Barbara Cobler

      James,
      I enjoyed your video. Frankly, I never thought they were safe to flush in a regular toilet. I must say you have a very confident assistant. Better watch out though, she’s steeling your show. Enjoyed your time at the playground, wish my neighborhood had one half as nice.

      Reply
    7. Craig Copeland

      Great experiment and Baby is adorable! I have two questions:

      1. I’ve found that one wipe is far more effective than just two squares of TP in cleaning the bum bum. If you’d used a moretypical amount of TP as your control, would that have effected the results and your opinion?

      2. What do you think about using the Scott or Cottonelle in a cassette toilet?

      Thanks.

      Reply
    8. Janet Shingleton

      I’ll have to test the Scott wipes on sensitive skin. I use Pampers Sensitive, which are not flushable. In the RV I’d prefer flushable if they don’t irritate sensitive skin.
      Thanks to you and your capable assistant (you can definitely tell she’s related to Steph!) for a job well done!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        You’re welcome. Didn’t try Pampers sensitive, obviously.
        You can actually use this test with anything you’re contemplating flushing down your RV toilet.

        Reply
    9. Maggie Graeber

      Joe and I loved this!!! Baby is huge now and a mini Stefany!!!! This was so much fun to watch. Baby was such a big help! We went back to see the toilet paper one again! She is just too adorable. Thank you for the experiment James. You always come up with really good ones!

      Reply
      1. Stefany

        Awww, I love hearing she’s a mini me!!! Too funny you went and looked at the old experiment too. She’s grown a little since then! xoxo

        Reply
    10. Jon Ault

      I’m surprised any of them dissolved enough to be candidates for RV use. I’m going to have to do that test with the brand I use (which weren’t included in your lineup).

      I’m not taking it out to dinner, though.

      Reply
      1. Stefany

        Totally agree, I was surprised any dissolved too. In fact we already had an ending planned for the video, where “Baby” would still be waiting 20 years later, and she’d morph into a full-grown version of herself (played by her mom, lol). So I was sad that they dissolved and we didn’t get to shoot that scene.

        Reply
    11. Ronda

      Great test! and kudos to your assistant. This was an issue we were wondering about before we buy our first RV, and whether we would need a macerator or not Presumably if the Scott’s wipes break up, they could go through a macerator okay?

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Well, **if** the Scott wipes are broken up, then yes, they might pass through a macerator. But in the tank, you’d have no way of knowing if they had completely broken up or not.
        If they’re not broken up, then they’d clog a macerator, and would leave you with a very unpleasant mess to deal with.
        Personally I’m not a fan of macerators. But if I had one, I would forego the wipes altogether.
        If you still want to try the wipes, the Scott wipes would be your best chance.

        Reply
    12. Ray Cellar

      Wipes..? We don’ need no stinkin’ wipes..!

      YES we do, & now thanks to you Lab Rats, we know what’s the bomb..!

      Loved the ‘test’ track parts out at the playground…Baby led the way through the maze of obstacles like a true champion… Yeah, James was ok too..!

      Thanks, it was a fun ‘watch’ as are you’re other videos… All the best…

      Reply
    13. John Lockhart

      James, where were you 15-18 years ago when these wipes hit the market? We used them for a time in the RV back around the “turn of the century”. Let me just say, that you can’t really call yourself an RVer unless you’ve disassembled a “compromised” black tank valve in the front row of a KOA!

      Reply
    14. Stuart S

      Using “just water” was an inspired act. Anything more would have let people claim a diluted (pun intended) test. I fell that the base test of dissolving in water can readily be extrapolated to a sewer, septic or self contained system. It’s not suppose to be rocket science, but it is well founded advice. That should be enough to follow someone’s blog. Thanks for the effort and documentation.

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Thanks, Stuart!
        I figured people would get it eventually.
        Plus, this way, the results are sort of applicable to home use as well.

        Reply
    15. Drew

      James, this was another “common sense” and useful post and video. It ranks up there with your black tank in the back of your truck test about ice cubes. Also the one about tank flushing gizmos…always valuable stuff…thank you!

      Reply
    16. Mike and Audrey

      You were out done! Baby stole the show. Like others said Baby is a Stef clone.
      Yes your test was also helpful and well thought out and we will use the results when we buy those products. Aside from all the technical details Baby was a natural and maybe she could test products for the younger members of the RV family?

      Reply
    17. Andy

      James you should make note in the article that these wipes are not suitable for use in the Vacu flush toilets being installed in many new RVs. They would reek havoc on the duckbill valves

      Reply
    18. Noel Fleming

      Was I supposed to learn something about flushable toilet wipes? Bahaha!

      I was mesmerized by 7 year old “Baby” who oozes Stef’s vibe and mannerisms! ;-).

      Okay, yes, I did appreciate the experiment and know what I might consider putting in our soon to be rig, but the lab assistant should get a raise… or at least double decker pancakes with ice cream!

      Thanks, Dude and Punky!

      Reply
      1. Stefany

        She has my vibes?!!! That doesn’t have me beaming like a cheesy proud grandma or anything (said as I run off to immediately text her parents and brag) xoxo

        Reply
    19. Lachlan McEwan

      James love your youtube channel. Hello from Down Under. ThIs is a great experiment and your assistant is like a mini me version of your wife Steph. I wonder do you use those wipes when out on the bike. Ive been contemplating using them while on my mountain bike. Keep up the channel and your lovely videos,

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        You know, we’ve never brought wipes along on the bike. We’ve used them when we’re done (not the toilet wipes though).
        There are other kinds with peppermint and tea tree oil and such that might actually be refreshing if you’re out all day on the bike.
        At least, we have those kinds here. Don’t know about down under.
        And by the way – Thanks for tuning in from half a world away!

        Reply
    20. Alan

      James — great post! I am a big fan of the blog, and a fellow Travato owner.

      One thing I’ll mention, because it crosses over with work for me: regardless of what you do in your RV, one should never flush a “flushable” wipe into a city sewer system. Not ever. The industry has its own standards on what constitutes flushable. Wastewater utilities spend a lot of money dealing with the consequences.

      Just two examples of many: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article134022739.html

      https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/are-wet-wipes-wrecking-the-worlds-sewers/504098/

      Reply
      1. Stefany

        Thanks for sharing the links! We’ll make sure to take a look at them. Let’s all stay informed and stay responsible! xoxo

        Reply
    21. Larry-in-IL

      Oh, wow, an adorable mini-Stef ! So were you two afraid to abandon custody of the samples for fear of invalidating the experiment? LOL… great job!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Honestly, the experiment would have had fewer variables had we just left the jars on the counter.
        It was just more fun to take them with…

        Reply
    22. Mike

      It may not be YouTube friendly, but I wonder how much more effective the sheets would dissolve when exposed to the natural microbes, enzymes, and acids present in the black tank effluent.

      Reply
      1. Stefany

        Awwww, my twin!!! Can’t wait to tell Punky you said that, she’ll love that! (btw James calls her “Baby’ but my nickname for her has always been Punky. She doesn’t bat an eye at either, lol.)

        Reply
      1. Stefany

        HA! Wow, I never really thought she looked like me! So incredible hearing you and so many others here say she does! #proudandhappygrandma xoxo

        Reply
    23. Richard

      I think the test was still “slightly” inconclusive. I don’t know what you used – if that’s simply water – but I think a more thorough testing should have been done using actual solvents an RV septic tank would use to get the full effect. Nice job though!

      Reply
      1. James - Post author

        Thought about that, and deliberately decided against it for the following reasons:
        1. There’s no way I would have been able to test enough toilet chemicals to make people happy. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that no matter what I did, I would have people chiming in and saying it would have worked if only I had used *their* particular recipe of chemicals. There’s literally no winning at that game, so I chose not to play.
        2. Some people actually use no chemicals in their RV septic systems.
        3. If wipes dissolve in plain water (and two of them did), then they would only dissolve better with the addition of chemicals.

        And after seeing the results, there’s no way I’d believe that the addition of chemicals would make any of the lesser performing wipes RV-suitable.
        Anyone is of course welcome to experiment on their own rig though!

        Reply

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