Home Repairs and Your Septic System: What Not to Flush Down the Drain

Home Improvements
Home Improvements

Spring is traditionally a prime time for home improvement projects. This year, with so much extra time on our hands and not much else to do, many homeowners are getting an early start on diving deep into projects around the house. Home improvement projects, fun as they may be, create a significant amount of “liquid waste” – everything from crud and grime to paint and joint compound. While some of these projects can be safely cleaned up and washed down the drain into public sewage treatment systems, most of them should never be flushed into your septic system. Be sure to avoid these common pitfalls when it comes to your springtime home improvement projects and avoid flushing these deadly items into your septic system.

Latex and Oil-Based Paint & Your Septic System

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When it comes to household painting projects, most people use oil-based or latex (water-based) paints. Oil-based paint, often used to seal in water stains and odors, requires the use of solvents to clean up once the job is done. Most people are aware that these solvents, along with the oil-based paint, are not safe to be poured down the drain (even those leading to a public wastewater treatment facility). Latex paint has long been regarded as the eco-friendly, water-based alternative that is not only better for the environment but also a breeze to clean up. Painting equipment – and the errant splatter – is easily washed clean with plenty of water. Once latex paint dries, it is easy to peel off of most surfaces. However, latex paint presents many problems for your septic system. Composed largely of synthetic polymers and resins, latex paint does not break down in your septic tank. Instead it forms a gooey layer of sludge that may lead to blockages. Additionally, the chemicals within latex paint, which includes ethylene glycol, can prove deadly for the bacteria in your septic tank that work to break down the solids in your system.

So how are septic owners supposed to clean up after adorning their walls in Sherwin-William’s Color of the Year? Our best advice is to do paint cleanup outside, far away from your septic system. Leave latex paint cans open until the paint is dried and then put them out with your weekly garbage. Brushes, rollers, and trays can be easily cleaned with soapy water, and the amounts of water required to clean up latex paint will provide enough dilution to make it safe to do outside, away from your septic tank or drain field. Oil-based paints require thinners. Pour paint thinner into a jar big enough to handle the swishing from a brush cleaning. Once cleanup is complete, the paint will settle to the bottom of the jar. You will then be able to pour off the thinner into another container before disposing of the paint residue in your garbage or hazardous waste. We always recommend contacting your refuse company for information on the proper disposal of paint.

Joint Compound’s Effect on Your Septic System

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Cleanup from drywall projects poses several serious threats to your septic system, in cleaning not only the tools caked with joint compound, but also the rags containing dust from sanding the compound down. For many homeowners and remodelers, the first impulse after finishing a drywall project is to head to the utility sink to clean their tools or rinse rags before tossing them into the washing machine. However, even though joint compound may appear to dissolve and wash away, it creates several issues once it reaches your septic tank.

First, the chemistry involved poses a significant threat to the bacteria within your septic tank. Joint compound, or the mud covering the tape between drywall panels, is largely composed of ground limestone and talcum powder, both of which are highly alkaline. The pH of joint compound is in a range from 7.5 to 9. The pH of a healthy, properly functioning septic tank is 6.5-7.5. If the pH rises above 7.5, the bacteria within the septic tank will begin to die off. Because the alkalinity of joint compound is outside the pH range of a healthy septic system, flushing it down the drain may result in a chemical imbalance that kills off your system’s bacteria.

Though it becomes diluted when washed down the drain, the solids in joint compound do not break down within the septic tank. While the limestone will eventually sink to the bottom, it will form an impenetrable sludge. The talcum powder, however, will have a much more difficult time sinking and will instead become suspended in the greywater that eventually finds its way out into the drainfield. Once there, the powder can easily clog the drainfield, leading to a catastrophic whole-system failure.

To safely clean up after a drywall project, shake as much dust as possible from your rags into the garbage. Rinse and clean rags and caked tools outside, in a bucket filled with soapy water, far away from your septic tank and drain field.

Household Disinfectants & Your Septic System’s Bacterium

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As soon as it’s warm enough to open our windows, we all seem to break out our bottles of Lysol and bleach to get to work on disinfecting every square inch of our homes. With our spring cleanings colliding with the Covid-19 pandemic this year, we know many homeowners are doing everything they can to thoroughly sanitize every surface. We can certainly understand, but it is important to remember that any product that promises to kill bacteria in our homes will also kill the bacteria within our septic tanks. Septic systems can withstand moderate use of some chemical cleaning products, but we always recommend using cleaners that are “septic friendly.” These will be the cleaners that are labeled biodegradable, phosphate-free, and environmentally friendly. Cleaners with citrus, vegetable, pine oil or seed-based components listed as the primary active ingredients will not only tackle the grit, grime, and illnesses lingering around your home, but they will also keep your septic system functioning properly. If you must use bleach, we recommend using a moderate dilution. The recommended dilution for sanitizing cooking surfaces is 1 tablespoon to 1 gallon of water.

Have you flushed liquid waste from your home improvement projects down the drain? We can help! Schedule your maintenance visit today!

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