Many supermarkets in the country have reported running out of toilet paper as shoppers buy in bulk as a result of the pandemic.

Wipes, along with other “unflushables” like nappies and sanitary products, don’t break down in pipes like toilet paper and can combine with fats, oils and grease to create fatbergs: huge, solid masses which are difficult to clear and can cause raw sewage to build up and flood homes, businesses and the environment.

With the company, like all businesses, facing the potential for an increase in staff absence in the coming weeks, Thames Water has asked customers to help lighten the workload by being careful what they flush.

Thames Water asks people to only flush toilet paper during coronavirus pandemic

Matt Rimmer, Thames Water’s head of waste networks, said: “We’re carefully planning how we can continue to provide an essential public service and while we encourage everyone to practice good hygiene to protect against COVID-19, wet wipes and kitchen roll can be hugely damaging to our sewers and our customers can really help us by not flushing them down the toilet.

“This will reduce the number of blockages and the risk of flooding to homes, businesses and the environment during what is likely to be a difficult time for many people.

“Fatbergs grow slowly so it’s hard to say if coronavirus has had an impact on our sewers at this stage but, as always, we’d urge everyone to only flush the 3Ps – pee, poo and paper – to help avoid problems in the future.”

On average, Thames Water spends £18 million every year clearing 75,000 blockages from its sewers, unclogging five house blockages and removing 30 tonnes of material from just one of its sewage treatment works every day.

A water company in Australia also recently urged its customers not to flush wet wipes after a 14-tonne fatberg was removed from a sewage works in Morpeth, New South Wales.