By Leo Benedictus, The Guardian

Increasingly fussy bathroom habits are directly to blame for clogged pipes and human waste bubbling up into our streets and homes.

Time was when British bottoms were built to withstand the crinkliest, shiniest toilet paper available, and in some cases even to enjoy it. But there has been a fundamental softening in recent years, seen in a growing preference not only for quilted loo roll, but now for wet wipes. The musician Will.i.Am is one leading exponent of damp bottom-wiping. The consequences for our drains, though, are disastrous.

"If you swill a piece of toilet roll around in some water, it takes seconds for it to disintegrate," explains Simon Evans from Thames Water. "Wet wipes should never be put down drains, because they don't break down – even if the packaging says they are 'biodegradable' or 'flushable'. Only human waste and loo roll should go down our sewers."

Ignoring this advice causes blockages, especially in suburban areas where the pipes are narrowest – anything from 6in to 12in in diameter. And blockages, well, they cause unspeakable things. "It can result in sewage backing up on to streets, into gardens, into parks," says Evans, "and in some cases – around 1,000 a year – we have sewage backing up into people's homes which, believe me, is one of the most vile things that can ever happen to you."

For Will.i.Am and other fussier-bottomed people, a spray called Freshu can be used to moisten the final sheets of toilet paper. "It gives you the same wiping firepower as a wet wipe," Evans says, "but without the sewer-clogging consequences."

© Guardian News and Media 2012