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Household septic systems are something you probably do not think about until there is a problem. Unfortunately, when there is a problem, it is usually an expensive and messy one. If you are one of the more than 25 percent of the homes in the United States that uses a septic system to process household plumbing waste, you need to know how to keep the system healthy. There are certain steps you should take such as regularly scheduled pumping every three to five years to reduce sludge buildup and the installation of low-flow water fixtures and laundry appliances to reduce wastewater input to the system.

But what about the laundry detergents and cleaning products you use around the house every week? Are they safe for the septic system?

Choose Septic Friendly Cleaning Products

The clearest indicator that a product is safe for use with septic systems is a label stating that it is safe to use in such homes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives each potentially dangerous chemical a registration number. This indicates that the product is safe for home and septic use. Many common household products contain these labels. Any biodegradable or environmentally friendly product is also perfectly safe for use in septic systems.

Septic Safe Labels

The clearest indicator that a product is safe for use with septic systems is a label stating that it is safe to use in such homes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives each potentially dangerous chemical a registration number. This indicates that the product is safe for home and septic use. Many common household products contain these labels. Any biodegradable or environmentally friendly product is also perfectly safe for use in septic systems.

Household Bleach

Products containing bleach are safe for use with septic systems in small amounts. Bleach kills bacteria, but when diluted with water, as in most household applications, it is not powerful enough to kill all the bacteria inside the tank. However, it is important not to use bleach excessively because a high concentration of bleach will damage the septic system. When possible, use alternatives to bleach to protect the helpful bacteria in the tank. You can use Borax in place of bleach for a safer option.

All-Purpose Cleaners

Mild detergents, like laundry detergents and any others that can be used without gloves, are generally safe for use in septic systems. Phosphate-free detergents that are low-sudsing are best. You can also use natural detergents. Other all-purpose surface cleaners are also safe. These cleaners do not contain the harsh chemicals that can damage septic lines or the bacteria inside of the tank. Look for cleaners that are non-toxic, biodegradable and non-chlorine for the safest use.

Ammonia Cleaner

Cleaning products containing ammonia, as well as pure ammonia, are safe for use in septic systems, in small amounts. Ammonia does not kill bacteria in septic tanks. Do not mix chemicals, such as bleach, with ammonia.

Water-Based Cleaners

Almost any water-based cleaner, such as water-based carpet cleaners, tub and toilet cleaners, and disinfectants are safe for septic use. Water should be the first ingredient on the label for classification as a water-based cleaner. Water-based cleaners do not contain harsh solvents that can damage the delicate septic system.

Septic-Safe Drain Cleaner

Liquid and crystal cleaners do cut through grease and clogs. However, they also contain harmful chemicals, including sodium hydroxide, lye, sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid. When used in heavy quantities or intense concentrations, they can cause metal pipe corrosion and can destroy beneficial bacteria throughout the septic system.

 

Products To Avoid Putting In Your Septic System

It is not just the septic tank cleaning chemicals that you should be concerned about. You should also be careful not to allow the following products and compounds from entering your home’s septic system.

  • Water Softeners: When you use water softeners, they can cause harm to the bacteria in the septic tank. They can cause release of higher concentrations of waste into the surroundings.
  • Oil-Based Products: Gasoline, solvents, paint thinners, and insecticides can poison the septic system and affect the water supply too.
  • Bath Oils: You may feel great using bath oils, but they are not good for your home’s septic system. They can cause clogging and create a coating on the waste. This prevents the waste from breaking down, rendering the system ineffective.
  • Grease: Grease from foods like bacon can build-up in the tank. This can result in the pipes getting clogged.
  • Drain Cleaners: Homeowners often use drain cleaners to unclog the drain. However, if you are not using safe materials they can destroy the bacteria in the septic tank. Avoid the use of caustic cleaners. It will be better to stick to boiling water or a sewer snake.
  • Medicines: Do not ever flush leftover medications. Pharmaceuticals can destroy the bacterial balance in your septic system, causing septic failure. They also contribute to the proliferation of “super-bugs”, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose a health risk to us all.
  • Antibacterial Soaps: Antibacterial hand soaps and any product claiming to be antibacterial should be avoided, not only because of the obvious harm they could do to the bacterial colony your septic system needs to function, but they are now being linked to the development of antibiotic resistant “super-bugs”.
  • Automatic Toilet Cleaners: Not only do the antibacterial chemicals in automatic toilet cleaners kill the bacteria in your toilet, they also kill the bacteria in your septic tank. If you use these toilet cleaners, you may find yourself ending up with a septic tank full of blue water and a lot of dead bacteria. Cleaning the toilet instead with a combination of baking soda and white vinegar will give you equally effective frothy results that are nontoxic.
  • Dishwasher Detergents: Dishwasher detergent is more likely to contain phosphates and surfactants than laundry detergents; these are deadly to the bacteria in your septic tank. These chemicals can also pass through your septic tank to the drain field and eventually enter the soil, leaching into ground water and putting you at risk for contaminated drinking water. Look for and use Phosphate Free detergent.

Other Unsafe Septic Items – Things not to flush include

  • Disposable diapers
  • Sanitary napkins or tampons
  • Paper towels or bandages
  • Dental floss
  • Condoms
  • Hair
  • Cigarette butts
  • Coffee grounds
  • Kitty litter

 

Care with Laundry Detergents

A large part of the volume in your septic system may come from your laundry. Most of the laundry detergents that you find at your local grocery store probably contain some environmental contaminant.

 

  • Liquid Fabric Softener

Check the ingredients carefully; most major brands of liquid fabric softener are petroleum based. They coat your clothes and release oil into your septic tank. As an alternative, you can use plant-based fabric softeners, or simply pour ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar into the wash.

  • Powdered Laundry Detergent

Powdered detergent contains clay as a filler, and sodium and other extenders that dam up the drainfield. When choosing a liquid laundry detergent, look for no phosphates and low levels of surfactants. Biodegradable liquid detergents are best.

  • Look for Low Suds or Biodegradable:

Surfactants are foaming agents and are in all soaps and detergents. They reduce the surface tension of fluids allowing them fluid to flow more easily between solids, freeing dirt from surfaces. They unfortunately affect cell membranes and microorganisms and will damage the bacteria colony in your septic system. Luckily, they degrade quickly and don’t pose a severe threat to ground water.

 

Avoid or Reduce Disinfectant Use

Another essential piece of septic tank information is to take care with choosing the cleaners and chemicals you use around your home. Your septic tank depends on ‘friendly’ bacteria to function properly, and the problem is that many disinfectants, bleaches and household cleaners are specifically designed to kill bacteria. To avoid septic tank problems, use organic and biodegradable household products wherever possible. Never put drain cleaners into the system – just a small quantity of these harsh chemicals can wreak havoc on the bacteria and cause septic tank problems.

 

Contact Us

Within your septic system, maintaining the balance between anaerobic and aerobic bacteria is extremely important. 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.

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