What not to put into a septic system
A septic system that's working right shouldn't need a lot of maintenance – unless you're putting stuff into it that you shouldn't.
There are three basic layers in a septic system. Fats, grease, and oil float on the top. The middle layer is mostly clear, partially-treated water, and the bottom layer is for the solids. If too many solids go in, you'll have to pump the system a lot more often, which is expensive.
Soil Management Specialist DeAnn Presley at Kansas State University says there are two categories of items that can wreak havoc in a septic system. Presley calls them "cloggers" and "killers". Obviously hair clogs the pipes, and some people make interesting choices about what to flush.
"A disposable diaper would be a clogger, as well as cat litter," Presley says. "There are flushable types of cat litter and flushable types of baby wipes, but I would not actually flush anything, even if it said it was flushable, besides toilet paper. That goes for feminine hygiene products, too. Nothing besides toilet paper and human waste should be flushed down the toilet."
The septic system also depends on beneficial bacteria and microorganisms to break down the waste. They can't do their job if you pour too many "killers" down the drain.
"Standard household chemicals or a tremendous amount of bleach is a bad idea because that can mess up the biological activity," Presley says. "But your septic system will come back from some of those products. Biological activity comes back very quickly; bacteria can reproduce very quickly. So although you might sterilize your system for awhile, that activity will come back."
Many of these chemicals could also contaminate nearby groundwater.
Presley says to discard harsh chemicals through a local household hazardous waste program, and put food waste in a compost pile.
Radio interview source: DeAnn Presley, Soil Management Specialist, Kansas State University
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