A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about what the best toilet paper for septic systems is and today I’ll be talking about what we do to keep our system running like it should be.
Many people don’t give much thought to their septic system until it demands their attention. When this happens, it’s usually because it has broken down or backed up. This is the wrong time to think about septic system care because by then, it will be too late and you could end up with some pretty costly repair bills.
What Is A Septic System Anyway?
Let’s kick this “fun” topic off by talking about what a septic system actual is and how it is supposed to work. When you flush your toilet, the water and solids flow to a large underground tank that is usually buried several feet from your house. This is affectionately known as the “septic tank” and it’s where the bulk of the solids that you flush down your toilet accumulate.
It’s important that you understand that in order for the “smelly stuff” and the toilet paper that gets flushed down the toilet to dissolve properly, a certain amount of bacteria needs to be present in the tank. Keep in mind that once you flush something down your toilet, if you’re on a septic system, it doesn’t just magically go away. If your system is functioning properly, it makes a short journey to your septic tank. This tank’s main job is to serve as a holding tank for the solids that you flush down your toilet. While the solids are in your tank they should dissolve somewhat but they don’t completely disappear. Over time, these solids will accumulate in the tank and then it will need to be pumped.
What Can You Flush Into A Septic Tank?
If you flush things like diapers, baby wipes, feminine hygiene napkins, paper towels, grease and oil, or other items down your toilet, they won’t dissolve and they will slowly accumulate in the tank until they may eventually cause a backup. In a healthy septic system, the feces and toilet paper is flushed down the toilet dissolve to a certain degree and the remaining water is leeched into the ground through a long series of underground pipes known as a drainfield.
The list of things that should not be flushed is much longer than the list of things that can be flushed so I’ll just list the types of things that are safe for septic systems. As a general rule, the only things that should be flushed down a toilet that is connected to a septic system are toilet paper, human waste, septic system safe cleaning products, and water.
I should point out that you don’t want to go draining your hot tub or water bed into your septic tank. This can cause an overload and a backup in your system and unbalance the entire system which will affect its ability to dissolve solids properly. I also just recently read that doing multiple loads of laundry back to back may cause more water to enter your system’s drainfield than can be naturally absorbed by the surrounding soil. It said that this could cause your system to back up. The article that I read suggested spacing the loads of laundry that you do throughout the day instead of doing them all at once.
A lot of chemicals, including many cleaning products can be harmful to these systems. Not only are they bad for the system, they also aren’t filtered by a waste water treatment plant. This means that they go straight into the ground water which may be harmful to the environment.
What About Septic System Treatment Products?
At our home we use a product called RID-X®. We flush it down the toilet once a month right before we go to bed. This is supposed to build up the bacteria levels that are in the septic tank which should help the system do a better job of dissolving solids.
Remember that that even well maintained septic tanks need to be pumped from time to time. If you don’t have your tank pumped when it should be pumped, it may be possible for solids to flow into your drainfield and clog it up. This could end up resulting in some very expensive repair bills that no one wants to get stuck with. Exactly how often they should be pumped depends on factors such as the overall health of your system, the size of the holding tank, how much waste water is flushed into the system, and how many people are living in the home and using the toilets.
We actually just had our septic tank replaced. Our old tank was a 33 year old metal tank that was starting to rust. I asked the man who came to pump the tank how often we should have it pumped and he said that the state of Oregon recommends that septic tanks be pumped every two years but the pumping company recommend every five years. You’re particular circumstances will determine how often your tank should be pumped.
One last thing, the next time you go shopping for cleaning products, do your septic system a favor and read the labels to make sure that the products you will be flushing down your toilet and drains aren’t going to harm the delicate balance of bacteria or the environment.
For those of you who have always wondered what kind of toilet paper you should be using in your septic system, take a minute and read my article called: Best Toilet Paper For Septic Systems.