Septic tanks are actually more common than most people think. Anyone who has ever relied on a septic system knows that there are certain things that should never go down the drain or flushed. But clogs can happen even with the most careful of households.
Most people grab the bottle of Drano or Liquid Plumber without thinking much of it. However, if you pour down certain types of materials down your drain, this can be very damaging to your septic system. It is normal for people who have septic tanks to ask whether they can pour down Drano or other drain cleaners down their drains. The answer to that is not that simple.
Manufacturers of drain cleaners claim that it is safe however, many people, especially plumbers disagree with this. Bleach, aluminum, and salt are all found in these products. These chemicals remove obstructions, but they also harm your beneficial bacteria and cause other issues.
How Does a Septic System Work?
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.
A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.
The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.
Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (e.g., peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil.
How Does Drano Work?
Now that we have covered the basics of your septic system, let’s talk about where Drano/Liquid Plumber fits into the mix and figure out if it is safe for a septic system.
In essence, any drain-cleaning chemical operates the same way: create a chemical reaction powerful (and toxic) enough to remove whatever is causing the blockage. This theory is pretty sound and drain cleaners are really good at eating away whatever is stopping up those pipes.
So then, what is the bad news?
So Can I Use Drano in My Septic System?
Unfortunately, the bad news we have is really bad news. If you have a septic system, products like Drano and Liquid Plumber are probably not the best. Some strong chemicals indeed provide a deep cleaning of the tank and any substance to flow at ease. However, many disadvantages come with the easy solution. They will destroy the bacteria in your septic tank, which is essential for decomposing the waste. The bacteria need to be in balance or waste will start building up. In addition to damaging bacteria, chemicals like Drano will cause permanent damage to your toilet and pipes.
Those delicate bacteria work to break down waste and chemical drain openers, are extremely toxic. These chemicals are capable of not only decreasing the population of those bacteria but sterilizing it completely. This can lead to an entire host of problems, the least of which is your septic system backing black water up through your pipes and into your home.
Additionally, when your leach field becomes sterile, the solution is not as simple as just flushing new bacteria down the drain. Rather, you have to call professionals in and, in extreme cases, the entire leach field may have to be dug up and replaced.
What Should You Not Flush or Pour Down The Drain?
There are some specific items that you can’t drain in the sink or flush.
Some of these items include:
- Cooking grease or oil
- Non-flushable wipes, such as baby wipes or other wet wipes
- Photographic solutions
- Feminine hygiene products
- Dental floss
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee grounds
- Cat litter
- Paper towels
- Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners
The Good Side of Chemicals
These products do actually work in some cases. The chemical reaction caused by the lye and sodium chloride, and the fine aluminum powder can actually eat through some pretty tough stuff.
The Bad Side of Chemicals
The chemical reaction is powerful enough to have unintended side effects, leading to costly consequences, including but not limited to:
- Damaged toilets
- Damaged pipes
- Glue eaten out of joints in piping
This toxic recipe, once it has drained into your septic tank, begins wreaking all kinds of havoc in the delicate ecosystem inside your septic system.
Your septic system is actually a complex system which utilizes healthy bacteria to break down organic household wastewater, and releases the treated water through the soil. Introducing drain cleaning chemicals into your septic tank is like using bleach in your washing machine or spraying gasoline on your yard for fertilizer. It is a really bad idea.
While drain cleaners may seem like a great way to fix a clogged line, they likely will end up costing you money in the long run.
Do Not Trust “Plumbing Safe” Labels
Just because a chemical drain cleaner like Drano is labeled “plumbing safe” does not automatically mean it is septic safe. Harsh chemicals can affect your septic system’s health, so it is important to monitor what you send down the drains.
Chemical drain cleaners can be dangerous to use, highly poisonous, and so caustic that they can cause skin burns. Even worse, they’re not always effective, leaving you with a sink full of toxic chemical water that’s stopped up by the same clog you started with. By contrast, a homemade drain cleaner can be perfectly safe, not to mention inexpensive. To be clear, a homemade cleaner is not more effective than a commercial cleaner. Truth is, you do not always need the strength of a chemical drain cleaner. A slow drain often can be cleared with a homemade drain cleaner concoction consisting of boiling water and a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar. If you have ever made a model volcano erupt with this household concoction, you have an idea of why it works on drains.
Before you resort to a chemical drain cleaner, try mixing up a batch of 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar. Pour that down the clogged drain and follow it with 2 cups of boiling water; this can clear a blockage easily and inexpensively.
HAVE QUESTIONS? CONTACT WEST COAST SANITATION
One or two careful uses of a chemical like Drano will likely not do much harm to your septic system, but if your pipes are prone to clogging, you need to consider hiring a professional plumber that can auger any backed-up pipes without putting your septic system at risk.
Using the right drain clearing products for your septic system is the best thing you can do. Not only does it extend the life of your system, but it protects the environment and your health as well.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you do not have time to deal with septic problems. One of the ways you can maintain this balance and keep your septic system working like it should is to have your tank pumped regularly. Please give us a call at (951) 780-5922 right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.