Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic Tank #6 – Oils and Solvents

6. Bath Oils and Solvents

Putting a bit of baby oil in your bathtub may leave your skin feeling ultra-soft when you get out, but it’s not such a great option for your septic tank. Once it washes into your septic tank the oil forms a layer of scum that coats the floating waste. The bacteria are then unable to penetrate the oil, preventing it from breaking down the waste. The oil flows throughout your system coating everything, reaching the soil in the drain field clogging it.

Never flush paints, solvents, pesticides, oils, or anything inorganic as they will kill the bacteria or clog the lines.

Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic Tank #5 – Drain Cleaners

Drain cleaners are a no-no for all homeowners, even ones who don’t have septic systems. Not only can chemical drain cleaners kill the good bacteria in your septic tank, they can also eat away at your pipes! The caustic soda or lye used in them is a powerful oxidizer and can cause severe burns. If your drains are clogged, you’d be much better off paying a little more to hire a plumber to unclog them than using a chemical drain cleaner. If trouble arises, you’ll end up paying a lot more for the damage than you would have if you had hired a professional.  Or try this homemade solution to clear your drain and pipes without harm.

DIY Drain Cleaner:

Pour 1/2 cup baking soda, followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar, down drain, and cover with a plug or rag. The mixture will work to break down any fats into salt and harmless gas. Flush with boiling water.

Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic Tank #4 – Some Dishwasher Detergents

Dishwasher detergent is more likely to contain phosphates and surfactants than laundry detergents. Unlike in laundry machines, there is no agitation in dishwashers. Dishwashers work by spraying water containing detergents with chemicals that will dissolve and break down the food residue stuck to the dishes. If these chemicals somehow make it through your septic tank without killing the bacteria, they can eventually enter the soil around your tank, leaching into ground water and putting you at risk for contaminated drinking water.

Look for Phosphate Free dishwasher detergents.

Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic Tank #3 – Antibacterial Soaps and Automatic Toilet Cleaners

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 “superbugs” that are antibiotic resistant and pose a health risk to us all. Good old soap and water works fine.

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.

Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic Tank #2 – Some Laundry Products

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. Thankfully nutrient polluters such as phosphates and nitrates are finally being eliminated from the detergents we use as they promote the growth of choking algae and weeds in our ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers.

Say NO to:

Surfactants – these 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.

Chlorine bleach – bleach is highly toxic and should be avoided or used in limited amounts when needed, unfortunately chlorine bleach is used in many cleaners and disinfectants.

Say YES to:

Oxygen based bleaches – for laundering

White vinegar – for disinfecting

Baking soda – brightens colors and whites, softens fabrics, eliminates odors

Seek out concentrated laundry detergents with labels that say:

  • Biodegradable
  • Low Suds
  • No Phosphorous
  • No Nitrogen
  • Chlorine Free

Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic Tank #1 – Medications

When you have leftover medications on hand it can be tempting to flush them away. DON’T.

Pharmaceuticals can destroy the bacterial balance in your septic system, causing septic failure.  They also contribute to the proliferation of “superbugs”, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose a health risk to us all.

Improperly disposed medications contaminate groundwater, endangering the environment and, closer to home, your own drinking water.  This is a widespread problem — researchers have found traces of pharmaceutical drugs in the drinking water supplies of 40 million Americans. Pharmaceuticals were found in 80% of rivers and streams sampled in a nationwide study in 2000.

To safely dispose of medications:

  • Find a medicine take-back program in your area. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events, setting up collection sites in communities nationwide for safe disposal of prescription drugs. Your local police department may also sponsor a medicine take-back program. If you can’t find a medicine takeback program, contact your local waste management authorities to learn about medication disposal options and guidelines for your area.
  • If you cannot find a takeback program, you may have to dispose of unwanted medications in the trash – but be sure to do it safely to prevent accidental poisoning or environmental contamination. The FDA recommends taking medications out of their original containers, mixing them with an “undesirable substance” (such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds), putting the mixture in a Ziploc bag or a container with a lid, then throwing the whole package in the trash.


The Top 6 Things to Avoid Putting in Your Septic System

Caring for Your Septic System

If you have a septic system in your home, you need to be very careful about what household products you use. Septic systems rely on bacteria to break down wastes and solids, but these bacteria need a specific environment to survive. For example, if you put the wrong kind of detergent in your washing machine or you use the wrong drain cleaner, you can end up killing the bacteria, rendering your septic system ineffective. This can lead to overflows, clogs, flooded drain fields and even groundwater contamination. It’s important to protect your septic system by avoiding harmful household products.

Here are the Top 6 items that you should NEVER put into your septic system.

1. Some Toilet Paper, “Flushable Wipes” and other Clogging Hazards

2. Some Laundry Products

3. Antibacterial Soaps and Automatic Toilet Cleaners

4. Some Dishwasher Detergents

5. Drain Cleaners

6. Oils and Solvents