Bacteria within septic tanks work to break down the tank’s contents and slow the build-up of septic material. As the contents accumulate faster than the bacteria can break them down, the septic composition naturally separates into layers based on density and buoyancy. The top layer being the least dense is also the most buoyant. This top layer of fluid can drain through the lateral line system to the leach field where it can be filtered by the soil.
What products can be broken down by my septic tank?
Your septic system relies on bacteria to break down tank contents and slow the build-up of septic material. With that being said, the best thing you can do for your tank is to use natural and biodegradable products to foster the bacteria’s ability to break down septic sludge and reduce the frequency of septic pumping.
Toilet papers are inherently biodegradable, but not all toilet papers degrade at the same rate. Most toilet papers are made with a mixture of hardwoods and softwoods that will decompose or breakdown over time. Though depending on the paper’s materials, other contents in the tank, and the “environmental” factors in your tank, toilet paper can go from breaking down in a few months, to maintaining its structural integrity for more than a year. Biodegradable toilet papers, on the other hand, are made of materials like bamboo, hemp, and sugar cane paper. These materials break down much more easily when exposed to bacteria in septic tanks and have the added benefit of being made of renewable resources.
Many cleaning products feature harsh chemicals that can be both dangerous for you, if fumes are inhaled or if they come into contact with your skin, as well as for your septic systems bacteria. Eco-friendly cleaners from brands like Seventh Generation, Green Works, ECOS, and Fresh Wave, work to clean without posing a potential health risk to you or your septic system. Opt for eco-friendly and biodegradable alternatives for all your cleaning needs including odor removers, kitchen and bathroom cleaners, dish and fabric washing detergents, and all-purpose cleaners.
Food from garbage disposals can enter your septic system and be broken down but should be limited. Your septic tank should not be used as a compost bin. Foods and food waste that can clog your drains like pasta, fruit and vegetable peels and husks, fat grease, and coffee grounds are also not safe for your septic system and should instead be thrown away or composted.
What should never go in your septic tank?
Non-biodegradable products should never enter your plumbing and will not break down in your septic tank. They pose a potential to create blockages in your lines and are unable to be broken down by bacteria. This includes paper towels, cat litter, tissues, cigarette butts, disposable diapers, and personal sanitary products (yes, even the ones labeled as “flushable”).
Grease does not break down and can harm the bacteria in your septic tank if it makes it that far; more likely than not, it will expand and clog your plumbing long before it even reaches your septic tank.
Chemicals and toxic fluids
Bleach-based cleaning products, gasoline, oil, paint-thinners, and solvents WILL kill bacteria in your septic tank working to break down septic sludge. Without naturally occurring bacteria to aid in the breakdown of septic matter, your tank can quickly fill and begin to smell, and that will not be the worst of your problems. If your tank fills too quickly, it can lead to overflow which could pose a potential for groundwater contamination.
Products featuring terms like “all-natural” and “biodegradable.” might sound like hokey marketing and almost always cost more, but the fact is, there are materials that bacteria can break down more quickly. In the end, when caring for your septic tank, and in the interest of not having to call for septic pumping more often than you must, using products that break down easily are the best for your septic system and ultimately save you from over-frequent pumping.
Using septic safe products will preserve the integrity of your septic system’s processes which work to slow build-up, but do not take place of professional pumping. If your septic tank is due for cleaning, don’t wait. Call to schedule septic pumping service with a septic tank professional you can trust.
A1 Septic Tank Services, Inc. is a family-owned and operated business. For over 65 years we have been providing the greater San Francisco Bay Area with fast and dependable septic and non-hazardous pumping services.