Many people swear by wet wipes, believing they offer a more thorough clean than traditional toilet paper. But are wet wipes bad for you — specifically, for your bum?
Here's everything you need to know about using wet wipes in the bathroom, including how they can affect the plumbing in both your body and your home.
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So, Are Wet Wipes Bad for You?
While you can wipe your bum with antibacterial wipes from time to time without having to worry, using wet wipes excessively can potentially harm your health. Here's how:
1. They Strip Away Good Bacteria
Wet wipes can make you feel extra clean, but they can be harmful if they completely replace tissue paper.
That's because wet wipes can upset your microbiome by "stripping away the good bacteria in your tush, leaving the bad bacteria, which may cause rashes, irritation and fungal infections," gastroenterologist Victoria Glass, MD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
In other words, while adults can use wet wipes instead of toilet paper every now and then, wiping your butt with them too often can deplete protective microorganisms and pave the way for potential health issues.
2. They Contain Irritants
According to Nancy Chung, MD, a New York City-based gastroenterologist, the skin around your posterior can be sensitive.
Because of this, "it is best to avoid exposing the area to unnecessary fragrances and chemicals," Dr. Chung says.
Unfortunately, many wet wipes contain chemicals, fragrances and perfumes, which Dr. Chung says can lead to itching, irritation and inflammation.
Can You Flush Wet Wipes?
Not only are wet wipes less-than-ideal for your bum health, but they can also potentially cause plumbing problems. Here's why:
1. They Don’t Break Down
Unlike toilet paper, which breaks down in water before and after you flush, wet wipes don't disintegrate well, says Daniel Moore, service manager of Boston Standard plumbing company. That's because they're often made of synthetic materials and plastics that don't break down in water.
"This greatly increases the likelihood that they will get caught in the drain pipes and clog up the system," says Enoch Heise, training coordinator for Legacy Plumbing.
And yes, this rule even applies to "flushable" wet wipes. Indeed, they can also cause blockages and take hours to clear, Moore says.
"We highly advise against putting any wipes into your drainage system, regardless of whether it says flushable or not," Moore adds.
2. They Can Easily Clog Older Plumbing Systems
If you live in a building with an older plumbing system, chances are you'll experience clogging issues. That's because when one wipe gets caught in the drain pipe, "it forms a micro-stoppage that will quickly collect more wipes and waste until the pipe is completely clogged," Heise says.
While it may not seem like your toilet is clogged at first, Heise says to look out for water surrounding the wax seal at the toilet's base. This means that backed-up water is escaping.
Another sign: When your toilet gurgles after flushing or blows out air bubbles. "This is often caused by a partially clogged pipe," Heise says.
Alternatives to Wet Wipes
Instead of relying on flushable wipes to cleanse your backside, try these expert-recommended alternatives instead:
1. Scentless Tissue Paper
Scented wet wipes or toilet paper can cause irritation, so Dr. Glass and Dr. Chung recommend opting for scentless tissue paper instead.
"Avoid any other products that may upset your microbiome," Dr. Glass says, including wipes or paper that contain added fragrances or chemicals.
Bidets — toilet attachments that use a stream of water to clean your posterior — come recommended by Dr. Chung. Not only will they give you a deeper clean without irritating your behind, but bidets are also environmentally-friendly and can save you the cash that you'd otherwise spend on TP, especially if you're using them in the long run.
So, How Bad Is It Really to Use Wet Wipes?
Wet wipes usually aren't bad for you in moderation. But using them regularly can remove good bacteria from your bum and disrupt the balance of your microbiome, potentially leading to infection or irritation, Dr. Glass says.
And if you have sensitive skin, the scents and fragrances added to wipes can cause irritation, itching and inflammation, Dr. Chung says.
To err on the side of caution, it's best to steer clear and use expert-recommended alternatives like scentless tissue paper and bidets instead, which are safer ways to give your bum a deep clean.
"For day-to-day cleaning, less is generally more," Dr. Chung says. "But if you are using wipes specifically because you are having symptoms, such as itching or pain around the anus, then it's best to get checked out by a doctor to make sure that there isn't an underlying problem."
If you’re still unsure of whether to add wet wipes to your cleaning regimen, talk to your doctor about whether it's safe for you.
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.