A Septic system is essentially a processing tank for human waste where the waste is broken down into three component parts gases, water and solids. It is a natural process done by anaerobic bacteria. The water, which also contains some components that cannot be broken down by bacteria, passes through to the drainage field and the gas is released through vents. The processed solids, also referred to as sludge, sink to the bottom of the septic tank and have to be periodically remove via septic tank pumping. Septic system problems are not commonly associated with septic tanks that receive only human waste.
The bacterial processes that breaks down the effluent takes time and often there is more than just human waste added to septic tanks. For example, if you have a garburetor in your kitchen you will be introducing plant matter and eggshells and other organic matter into septic system. In addition, your septic tank may be receiving run-off from washing machines which includes lint, detergents, soaps and bleaches. Your septic tank might even be receiving anything that can be flushed down a toilet; for example, your daughter’s goldfish that passed away a few years ago paint and paint thinner from when you redecorated your living room and even gasoline because you have no place else to put it.
If you are experiencing problems with your septic tanks there is probably something entering the system that should not be. When you sit down and think about what is actually going into your septic tank it is pretty easy to figure out what may be causing your septic system problems. Below is a list of common problems that you can skim through to see if any of these problems may be affecting you.
- If there is a lot of water entering your septic systems from baths or showers then the bacteria may not have enough time to break down the solid waste before the water level rises and causes the solid waste to exit into the drainage fields. Solid waste is not supposed to go into the drainage field and it can cause a clog which will have to be removed at great expense.
- Bacteria cannot break down everything; for example, plastic, styrofoam and other non-biodegradable products will not be touched by the bacteria. These materials either sink to the bottom of your septic tank or float on the surface and they remain there forever until they are removed via a septic tank pumping. Depending on the volume of these products in your septic system, the water levels may be raised prematurely causing solid matter to exit into the drainage field.
- Most powdered detergents contain lot of phosphates and phosphates encourage algal growth. If the algae is growing in your septic tank than they can be easily pumped out, but if the algae is growing in one of the pipes to the septic tank or the pipe from the septic tank to the drainage field you may have a lot more trouble getting rid of them.
- Chemicals like paint thinners, solvents, gasoline, and other toxic substances can cause problems in your septic system. They can kill the bacteria, slowing down the processing of effluent and they can pass through your septic system and exit into the drainage fields. Those toxic substances then go into the surrounding soil where they can harm plant life and they can even seep into the groundwater.
Solving a Septic System Problem
You can start by reducing the amount of water that goes into septic system allowing the bacteria enough time to process the effluent. For instance, you can spread the family laundry over a few days rather than spending the whole day washing and flooding your septic tank. You can also reduce the length of your showers, turn water off while you are brushing your teeth, and install low flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets. Here are some more tips for you:
- In your dishwashers and washing machines you can use gel soaps instead of powder detergents. Powder detergents contain phosphates and gel soaps do not.
- Try to avoid putting kitchen wastes into the septic system. This includes grease and oil from cooking and organic matter entering through the use of a garburetor. You would be much better off putting the organic kitchen waste into a composter because vegetation breaks down differently than human waste.
- Do not put any non-biodegradable products into the septic system! This includes Q-tips, diapers, paper towels, cigarette butts, plastic, you get the idea.
- Never use your septic system as a holding tank for toxic chemicals. Keep them out of the system because they will not be broken down and they will just contaminate the soil where you live.
- Be careful when purchasing a septic tank cleaner because some commercial cleaners contain toxic materials such as lye. Lye is very bad for the environment.
The best thing you can do to reduce septic system problems or eliminate them completely is to have your septic tank regularly pumped out. The frequency of pumping depends on how many people live in your house and on the size of the septic tank. The best thing to do if you are not sure if your septic tank needs to be pumped out is to have someone who knows what they are doing come to your house and check the system over. They may also be able to detect potential septic system problems before they get out of hand.
There are over 20 million septic tanks in the US, so septic tanks are big business. You should have no trouble finding someone in your town who can deal with them properly.
A Final Note
Septic tank problems are one of those things in life that just creep up on you. When your septic tank is working fine you never even think about it. But when you are experiencing problems with your septic system, your entire daily routine can be turned upside down. The septic tank pumping services get emergency phone calls every day from people who have had their septic tank problems sneak up on them. This means that the septic pumping service probably will not be able to come to you right away and you may have to spend a few days without the luxury of your septic system. If you want to think about what that experience would be like, think about not being able to use or running water in your home. Imagine that you cannot use the shower, you cannot use the toilets, you cannot take a bath, you cannot clean your produce, you cannot wash your hands, you cannot do so many things that we take for granted. Take it from me, living with a failed septic system is no fun at all. I recommend that you take all the steps you can to avoid septic system problems in the future BEFORE they surprise you one morning.