Septic Tank Treatment Blog

Effects of Household Cleaners on Your Septic Tank

What Am I Flushing Down My Drain?

Household Cleaners Effects on Septic TankLiving in a fast-paced modern society, you very rarely take the time to read the fine print. You never feel the need to flip the bottle of your favorite cleaning products that you trust to “get the job done”. This leads to problems. Reading each ingredients list and taking the time to research them is crucial to both protecting the environment, and minimizing your effect on it.

This takes us to the crux of the matter - what are you flushing down your drain? Barbara told you that a little bit of bleach monthly keeps those septic pumpers away - is she right? What can you do to keep your environment safe?

To put it bluntly - most household products put your septic system at risk… if you are not maintaining it properly. Your system is plenty capable of diluting and breaking down the household-safe chemicals and compounds that you are draining into you tank. However despite claims of being harmless, the recommended doses of most household products are so often overlooked that it’s near impossible for your septic system to keep up.

So now we are going to take a look at what exactly you are flushing down your drains and field lines, and how they can affect your septic system over time and misuse.

Laundry detergents

Surfactants consist of one of two types of compounds - those made from crude oils, or those from natural fats/oils. Both of these can be safely disposed of down drains when used with an adequate amount of water.

Any cleaning product that aims to break up and clean away soil, grime, or stains from your clothing will more than likely be a surfactant-based product. These are the least harmful of the list, as they are considered generally safe for not only your septic system, but also the groundwater your tank eventually drains into (Read more about groundwater here.

Eventually these compounds are absorbed by the soil that makes up your leach fields. They typically have a positive (or in some cases, no-) effect on the natural processes that purify your groundwater. And, in those cases where they do not drain completely - surfactant based products can be pumped from the bottom of your tank.

Dish soaps, pine cleaners, bleach, etc.

These are probably the most overlooked of the bunch. Disinfectant products consist of antimicrobial substances that are used to break down and kill germs and bacteria. Which, with a working knowledge of what a septic tank is and how it works (Learn how septic tanks works here., you can easily see how products like these would be harmful to your system.

Even though disinfectants are harmless on their own, they can cause problems in your septic system when used in conjunction with each other. And because of this, it is important to make note of which products you are using, and the quantities you are using it in.  

In order to maintain a strict standard of effectiveness, all disinfectants must be specially tested and approved by the EPA. In fact - the easiest way to distinguish a product as a disinfectant is by looking for their specified EPA registration number.

Drain Cleaners
DrainO, Liquid Plumr, etc.

Drain cleaners make up some of the most destructive substances on the list. They usually consist of corrosive chemicals like sodium hydroxide, and different strong acids such as sulfuric and hydrochloric acids.

While drain cleaners are efficient at clearing blocked and clogged lines - they are also proven to corrode the very pipes you are aiming to fix. Likewise, the moment you dump these chemicals down your sinks and drains, you are actively killing off the natural bacteria that makes up the environment keeping your septic tank running.

Put plainly - drain cleaners should not be used unless in dire situations, and subsequently followed up with proper septic maintenance.

Heavy Metals
Paints, household cleaners, personal care products, household plumbing

Any material or product that contains heavy metals should never be dumped down your drain. These products typically end up settling down to the bottom of your tank as sludge, and are very rarely capable of being adequately broken down. Groundwater contamination is a common problem of those who do flush high concentrations of these products down their drains - as the effluent the drains from your tank is teeming with heavy metals.

The leading cause of heavy metal buildup is actually your household plumbing. Two of the major metals found in your tanks are copper from the piping, and lead from that which is used to solder those pipes. Another major source of contamination is personal health care products (cosmetics and shampoos etc.). Additionally some paints, especially lead-based paint, are so highly concentrated in heavy metals that they should never be disposed of down drains.

Gasoline/fuel, nail polish, degreaser, craft glues etc.

A solvent is any substance that dissolves another substance. Most of these products are made from petroleum/crude oils, and can be dangerous if disposed of incorrectly.

Most solvents are hydrophobic, meaning that they do not mix with water at all and are most definitely not going to break down in your septic tank. Flushing or disposing any of these products down the drain is ill-advised. Doing so is dangerous and will likely end up draining into your leach fields and contaminating your underlying groundwater as a result.

So what now?

That all relies on your willingness to change up your normal routine, as well as your dedication to the continued maintenance of your septic system. There are ways to keep a clean home without causing problems for yourself. And, the sure and tested way of making sure that your septic system works properly is through proper maintenance.

Next week we will be posting a discussion on the natural, harmless substitutions for your regularly used products, and also what you can be doing to otherwise maintain your septic system.

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