People have this misconception that everything that goes down the sink is gone forever. Flush this, grind that, and then you turn the water on and it’s history. This is, sadly, not true and a lot of things stay in your aerobic septic system for a long time. Baby wipes, feminine wipes, and feminine pads are the main things we run into. The main issue is how fibrous these products are. If you take a wipe or pad and try to tear it apart, it just won’t happen. They are very tightly woven together and are not paper. The label “flushable” means nothing when it comes to the product breaking down. All “flushable” means is that it will fit down a four-inch pipe. Now, because of this, they stay in the system forever. The issue arises from hundreds and thousands going down the toilet. These add up to cause backups because they form a ball intertwined with each other. This makes them very difficult to pump out with a vacuum truck. When they knot up together, they won’t fit in the hose of the pumper truck, and it sometimes takes hours to clean just one tank. If this happens, your pumper will charge you a lot more as an average clean-out takes 45 min. I have been on jobs with wipes and pads. The tank took 3 hours and a 500-gallon tank needed 2000 gallons of water because you need that much to break up the mess and to back-flush the system trying to get the wipes out. Your clean-out went from 250 for one tank to 700. Because not only do I have to spend extra time I could be doing other jobs, but someone also has to get in the vacuum tank and get the wipes out because they don’t all come out of the vacuum tank either. It’s a big mess when wipes are present. Does this happen on every job where wipes where flushed? No, but some people flush wipes for years and it’s bad.
Condoms are other things that don’t biodegrade. They stay in the system and wrap around pumps; burning them up. They get on diffusers and cause back pressure on aerators. They never go away. They also make for awkward conversations with the customer as we must tell them what we found in the tank because they are not suitable for the system. So, if they have a daughter and dad’s there you can see the “I’m going to kill someone look” come on pretty fast. Plenty of times we have told the husband hey we found condoms in the septic system and they are not good and got back “We don’t use condoms” so that’s always uncomfortable. Extra discomfort because we haven’t gotten paid yet and then ask for the money for the job.
When I pull up to a job I always ask “how long has it been since you had a clean out?”. For my worst job ever, the man said about a year and a half, so I think okay you probably don’t need a cleanout maybe just snake a line. He said the toilets are not flushing and it’s backed up. So, we prep everything, open the access closest to the house and tank, and my guy says we have a problem. He sticks the stir stick in and can’t break through to stir the tank pads. There is no way to tell how many are in the tank due to how they tangle up and the weight of them. You have to guess. Our guy has been with us 20 years and he has seen it all. He does tons of cleanouts; he said it’s bad and it was. The guy’s daughter, who did this before because it happened the last time, also just didn’t want to listen and flushed pads down like it was the thing to do. It took us 4 hours to do one tank and cost the guy 850 dollars for that one tank. That one 500-gallon tank took 2000 gallons of water. That was the first time our guy said it’s too bad and wanted to walk away. I told him we had to finish. He had never said that before and hasn’t since.
It costs city sewer a considerable amount every year to deal with these products and they pass that cost along. From 2005-2017, the cost for city sewer services has gone up 200 percent; mostly due to these products. A city sewer has massive equipment that not much can get in the way of, but in the pipes coming to the plants is where most of the issues happen. So, thirty to forty dollar increases in people’s bills happen every month. You will never get that back even if everyone stopped using wipes, the government never goes down on fees. If you are okay with an increase every four-five years, then keep doing it. If not, then please stop flushing these products.