More than 21 million households in the United States rely on septic systems to remove and treat household wastewater. Touted as the eco-friendly alternative to the chemically-laden waste treatment facilities used by many cities, septic systems work to naturally purify wastewater. And while a properly functioning system requires little more than routine cleanings every 2-4 years, some homeowners strive to make their septic systems more efficient by using additives, like Rid-X, to give the bacteria in their tanks a little boost. But beware! Those expensive additives not only interfere with your system’s treatment process, but they also put your entire septic system at risk of catastrophic failure.
Septic Systems 101
Before we can tackle the reasons why additives, like Rid-X, are bad for your septic system, we need to first generally understand how septic systems work. In a properly functioning septic system, wastewater from your house empties into the septic tank, where solids settle to the bottom, allowing liquids to rise to the top before exiting through the outlet baffle and filtering through the drain field to be purified and reabsorbed into the water table. The bacteria found in human waste works to decompose the solids in your septic tank, allowing them to settle into a layer of sludge. This layer of sludge needs to be pumped out of your system every 2-4 years. The bacteria in your septic system efficiently breaks down solids and slows the accumulation of sludge so long as a properly balanced environment is maintained.
How additives, like Rid-x, interfere with your septic system’s eco-system
Too much of a good thing can be bad. There are a lot of tips and products for homeowners looking to enhance the bacteria in their septic systems, from commercial additives like Rid-X to more outlandish ideas that include packets of yeast and raw liver! But in a properly functioning bacterial environment, these additives have little positive effect and can actually cause enough damage to ruin your entire septic system.
So what’s the problem with additives like Rid-X? According to the EPA and the Ohio Department of Health, not only are additives like Rid-X not recommended, but they actually have a detrimental and potentially hazardous effect on your septic system’s waste treatment process. Rid-X contains a much stronger form of enzymes than the natural bacteria found in a healthy septic system and, as a result, solids are broken down further than they normally would be. You might think a more effective breakdown of these solids would be a good thing, that it would allow you more time between septic cleanings. However, these particles are so small they don’t settle to the bottom of your septic tank and instead make their way through the outlet baffle and into your drain field. Soon thereafter, the drain field will become clogged and need to be replaced. And when the average cost to replace a septic system is $13,000 but can range upwards of $25,000, you may want to think twice before dumping potentially system-killing additives into your septic system.
Better methods for maintaining bacteria in your septic system
The best thing you can do to make sure your septic system is working the best it can is to keep a close eye on what you pour down the drain. Never treat your toilet or your sinks like a garbage can!
- Avoid putting harsh chemicals – bleach, paint thinners, pesticides, gasoline, antifreeze, etc. – into your system as they can destroy the bacteria that works to keep your system functioning properly.
- Garbage disposals are not recommended for a home that has a septic system because they flood the system with organic solids that the bacteria in the septic tank is not equipped to tackle.
- Never flush inorganic materials, like feminine hygiene products, kitty litter, cigarette butts, or paper towels. They clog your septic tank with non-biodegradable solids.
- Be aware of how much water you’re putting into your system and conserve wherever you possibly can. Combine loads of laundry when you can and only run your dishwasher when it’s full. Flooding your septic system with grey water (water from the washing machine, dishwasher, bathtubs, and showers) will interfere with the bacterial composition in your septic tank and saturate your drain field to the point of exhaustion.