Given the unpleasant nature of household effluent, most people prefer not to think about what’s going on inside their septic tank. However a policy of 'Out of sight, Out of mind' can lead to serious problems. For this reason we have produced this seven-point guide to help you avoid complications.
Septic tanks are fitted to properties that, for one reason or another, are not connected to the main sewerage system. They deal with the vast majority of household waste in a safe and hygienic manner via two distinct, natural treatment processes.
Bacterial Digestion: Each septic tank sustains a population of beneficial microbes that feeds on organic matter found in your household waste stream, such as human excrement. These compounds are broken down at a molecular level and converted into nothing more than gas and water.
Natural Filtration: Meanwhile the force of gravity draws all inorganic compounds, such as solids and minerals, which cannot be digested by bacteria, to the bottom of the tank, removing them from the wastewater and depositing them as a layer of sludge.
What remains of your household waste after it goes through the septic tank is then safely returned to the local water system through an outlet known as the “leach-field” or “soak-away”.
Whilst modern septic tanks are incredibly efficient at what they do, they're not all the same. Each individual system is designed for a certain size or type of property: a two-bedroom house, a block of apartments and so on. Homeowners should be aware of the working capacity of their tank.
This is a crucial point: if you overburden your septic tank, that is, if you regularly flush more water into the system than it is designed to treat, you run the risk of encountering serious complications.
After all, both treatment processes - the digestion of organic matter by bacteria and the filtration of untreatable elements – do not occur over night. Your household effluent needs to be allowed time to dwell inside the tank so that it can be made safe. If the outflow from your home continually exceeds your tank’s capacity, you run the risk of flushing the system through, meaning partially or totally untreated effluent may begin to flood into your soak-away.
In the short term this can result in a putrid smell emanating from around your tank; in the long term, the nearby area may become waterlogged with sewage. Furthermore, if you do overburden your septic tank in this way, you may unwittingly find yourself in breach of local environmental legislation, which could result in fines or other penalties.
Minimizing water usage is key to managing a successful septic tank because it helps to ensure that the natural processes by which waste is treated are afforded enough time to be properly and thoroughly carried out.
Of course, there are many easy and well-known ways to restrict water use in the home. Making sure that your dishwasher or washing machine is full before it is switched on will help you look after your septic tank – not to mention your wallet. The same applies to taking baths and showers: the less water you use, the less likely it is that your septic tank will encounter problems.
You will also find that there are many water-saving devices that can be fitted to your property, such as dual-flush toilets and economical showerheads, which, for a small investment, can be extremely beneficial.
Key to the inner workings of your septic tank are the beneficial microbes that process and remove organic waste. This invisible community must be protected if you are to avoid bad smells, blockages and other complications. Household cleaning products, anti-bacterial by their very nature, therefore pose a unique threat to septic tanks.
Laundry detergents are an unavoidable fact of life; but there are some ways in which the their impact on your septic tank can be minimised. For example, you should opt for liquid products over powder, as these can be broken down more easily. Similarly in-machine balls that dispense the liquid detergent within the wash are also more effective. With regards to dosage, follow the product's instructions. Homeowners in hard water areas may have to increase the amount they are using, although this should be indicated on the packaging. Other than that, our general advice regarding laundary is to make sure the washing machine is always run on a full load. Also, avoid washing two or three loads on the same day; instead spread your laundary out over the course of the week to avoid over-burdening the bacteria in your tank.
If you operate a dishwasher, the chemical cleaners can be particularly damaging to your treatment plant, which is why it is important to stick to the product guidelines regarding dosage. Also, keep the salt dispenser topped up, as this will soften the water and increase the system's efficiency.
Other chemical cleaners should be used sparingly and always according to the instructions on the bottle. Where possible, eco-friendly or biodegradable cleaners should be used instead of harsh chemicals. Also, it is a good idea to avoid spring cleaning or doing all of your household chores on one day; again, this can flood the tank with anti-bacterial agents and upset its workings.
Whilst introducing the wrong type of products into a septic tank can destroy its vital bacteria community, additives are available that can help to foster, develop and replenish it.
Our Sea Sure solution, for example, acts like an energy drink for the bacteria in your septic tank, enhancing their natural digestive processes. Similarly, regular application of our BioBoost Tablets – which contain billions of dried spores - help to prevent any serious decline in overall microbe numbers.
It is sensible to have a regular treatment programme in place in order to offset any losses the bacteria community suffers as a result of chemicals getting into the system. Furthermore, wastewater treatment is essentially a 'numbers game' so the more microbes you get working in your tank, the better its all-round performance.
Septic tank owners need to be aware of those products that are to be expressly avoided. These include, cooking oil and melted fat; medicines; dairy waste; motor oil; anti-freeze; chemical garden fertilisers; paints; solvents; glue and swimming pool water. Besides this, organic food waste, such as vegetable peelings, should be composted instead of being washed down the drain. Non-degradable products, such as santiary towels, tampons, nappies, baby wipes, cotton wool, and incontinence pads, should also be disposed of separately.
Besides these obvious candidates, there are other seemingly harmless products and items that septic tank owners should avoid flushing into their systems. After all, bacteria can only digest certain things; anything they can’t remove will either quickly build up at the bottom of the tank or risk causing blockages.
Septic tank owners should make sure that the toilet paper they are using is of a high quality, biodegradable type. Coarser alternatives, along with paper towels, will not break down fully within the tank and will quickly build up. Sanitary towels and nappies should be avoided for the same reason.
Bath salts are another understated problem for septic tanks. They cannot be treated by bacteria and because of their size can block up the small openings in your soak-away. Whilst one bath using salts is not going to cause too many issues, regular use will – so be warned!
Coffee grounds, despite being commonly flushed down the drain, are incredibly difficult for bacteria to break down. It is therefore better to gather up your grounds and spread them on your flowerbeds: they will help feed your plants and keep cats away!