WET wipes are proving a pain in the backside for water firm engineers, as their increasing popularity is causing blockages of the town’s sewer pipes.

Market data shows the wet wipe market is growing at more than 15 per cent a year – and it’s causing a problem for Thames Water.

Now the company is calling on people to stop flushing them down the toilet.

The wipes do not break down like toilet paper does and they block sewers, adding to the £12m Thames Water spends annually on clearing 80,000 blockages on its 108,000km network across London and the Thames Valley.

In Swindon, a blockage on October 21 in Euclid Street was caused by a build up of fat, while on August 30, a blockage in The Moorings, Kingshill, was caused by a build-up of rags and wet wipes.

Thames Water has teamed up with the entrepreneur behind Freshu, a new anti-bacterial foaming gel which can be used with loo roll without the sewer-blocking consequences.

Nick Sumption, the head of affinity partnerships at Thames Water, said: “We never expected to be discussing this but we have to adapt to the changes in our customers’ behaviour, and research indicates that using wet wipes is a growing phenomenon.

“The problem with wet wipes is they do not break down like loo roll does, and they can cause blockages in our sewers, which can in some cases lead to sewage backing up into people’s homes..

“Freshu is used on normal toilet paper, so it won’t block pipes. Keep the wipes out of the pipes.”

The firm is also warning about food fat, which slips down sinks when warm but sets into hard “fatbergs” when it cools in the sewers.

Wet wipes then stick to the congealed fat, causing more serious blockages.

Freshu is the brainchild of former Oxford University student Dr Daniel Darg, who, in 2009, came up with the idea to moisten loo roll without it disintegrating as an alternative to wet wipes.

His mentor, volunteer chaplain Dr Kenneth Barnes, liked the idea and Freshu Ltd was born.

Dr Barnes, now managing director of Freshu Ltd, said: “We are pleased to join Thames Water in the on-going battle against sewer abuse.

“If used at all pre-moistened wipes should be binned, not flushed, as per Thames Water’s ‘Bin it – don’t block it’ motto. “However, with a bottle of Freshu on hand, why would you need to?

“A squirt of Freshu gives toilet roll all the cleansing firepower of a wipe, but with none of the sewer-blocking risk.”

The water firm is keener than ever for customers not to abuse sewers, having acquired 60 per cent more sewers on October 1 last year following a law change that transferred ownership of privately-owned sections of sewers to the water companies.

Freshu foam can be ordered from the Thames Water website at www.thameswater.co.uk.