Septic Tanks: What not to do

Septic tanks are a smaller, simpler version of a sewer; a waste water recycling system privately used and maintained by the individual homeowner rather than the local government. If you live in a house with a septic tank then regular upkeep will be required in order to keep things running smoothly. But in order to make the most of your system and keep maintenance to a predictable schedule there are a few things you should avoid doing.  

1. Avoid non-biodegradable materials

Septic tanks work by filtering waste into three layers. The top layer of grease and fat known as scum, the second layer of waste water known as effluent and the bottom layer of solids known as sludge. Sludge or 'bio-solids' are gradually broken down by the bacteria living within the septic tank ecosystem. Sludge is also the component that needs to be professionally drained every couple of years or so. If the sludge cannot break down fast enough your tank will fill up too quickly and require more frequent drainage in order to prevent the system from backing up. This is why it is not recommended that any materials other than organic waste or a suitably degradable toilet tissue be flushed into the system. If non biodegradable items end up in your septic tank then the bacteria will be unable to break them down and the tank will fill up too quickly.

2. Avoid overloading on chemicals or grease

Because a septic tank is a living ecosystem it can easily be disrupted and thrown off balance if adequate care is not taken. While most household cleaners are safe to use with a septic tank using any of the chemicals in excessive amounts could kill off the bacteria necessary to help degrade the septic sludge. Certain types of high grade cleaners and other chemicals are not suitable for washing down the drain (for example cleaning water from latex paint brushes) and should be avoided. Large amounts of grease and fat should also be kept out of the drainage system if possible as they can quickly clog up the pipes.

3. Avoid obstructing the area around the septic tank 

Septic tanks are installed underground in a location that is generally accessible but out of the way. It is necessary for a septic tank to be accessible in order to run maintenance on the system, however it is important that the area remains mostly undisturbed. Septic tanks should not be installed in an area where they will be driven over. This is because regularly driving over an area compacts the soil and in the case of septic tanks this may prevent adequate drainage from occurring.