Can a Septic System Have Too Many Bacteria?

Bacteria in your Septic System too  much of a good thing?

Most of the resources across the web (and within our own site) that discuss septic bacteria are focused on the ways to keep the bacteria within the system alive. With all of this talk about protecting septic bacteria, many people have gotten the idea that if having some bacteria is a good thing, having more must be better. Sometimes people add things to their system (often additives like Rid-X) to increase the bacteria within the tank, which can cause significant damage. As surprising as it may be, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. This article will explore the role bacteria play within your system and discuss what problems can arise when a system has too much septic bacteria.

The Role of Bacteria in Your Septic System

People are often surprised to learn that septic systems do not rely on chemicals to treat household wastewater. Instead, your septic system relies on a balanced ecosystem of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria cultivated within your system to break down solids and purify your home’s wastewater.

The Types of Bacteria in Your Septic System

While there are several different types of bacteria that live within your septic system, most can be classified as either aerobic or anaerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria need an oxygen-rich environment to survive and flourish. These bacteria are the more active of the two and are more efficient at breaking down the solids within your tank. But they are also more sensitive to environmental changes. Aerobic bacteria live in the upper, more turbulent and oxygen-rich waters of your septic tank, where they break down the layer of scum and any solids that may be suspended in the effluent.

Anaerobic bacteria, on the other hand, are happiest in oxygen-free (or depleted) environments. These are much slower, less efficient, but much hardier bacteria. These bacteria are found in the lower, oxygen-depleted area of your tank, where they work on breaking down the layer of sludge at the bottom of your tank. Working together with microbes in the soil, anaerobic bacteria also create a biomat around the drainfield pipes. This biomat helps purify the effluent as it passes through to reach the surrounding soil.

Together these bacteria work to break down as much as half the solid waste in your septic tank. This keeps your system functioning properly and reduces how frequently you need to have your septic tank pumped. Of course, your septic system still requires regular maintenance between tank pumpings.

Is Too Much Bacteria Harmful to My System?

In some cases, yes. Too much of a good thing can cause problems. A septic system relies on the correct balance of bacteria to do its job. An overpopulation of bacteria can deplete the oxygen in the septic tank and turn the environment septic. But wait, you might be thinking, isn’t a septic system supposed to be…septic? A septic, septic system is one in which the ecosystem within the tank is out of balance. The environment becomes too aerobic or anaerobic, and the bacteria begin dying off. As you know, damage to the ecosystem within your septic system can cause solids to build up in the tank, which can force them to backup into your home or flow out into the drainfield. Either scenario spells disaster.

How a Septic System Gets Overpopulated with Bacteria

Most properly functioning septic systems will naturally find an equilibrium, creating a harmonious balance of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria within the tank. The beauty of septic systems is they rely entirely on natural processes to cultivate an ecosystem that will effectively and efficiently treat household wastewater. It’s when we get in the way of this natural process that things start to go wrong. More often than not, the chemicals we flush into our system—household cleaners, excess lawn treatment chemicals, etc.—damage the bacterial environment.

Very often, well-intentioned septic owners who want to counteract the damage they may have caused by flushing these chemicals introduce more additives designed to encourage bacterial growth. People rely on products like Rid-X to enhance their septic bacteria and make their systems more efficient. However, the bacteria found within these additives is much more aggressive and active than the naturally occurring bacteria found within the septic tank. Products like Rid-X flood the system with overactive bacteria that are like killer bees taking over a honeybee hive. These products often claim they will not harm the bacterial environment of the septic system. However, the EPA and the Ohio Department of Health do not recommend their use and, in fact, warn that they may interfere with the treatment process and ultimately contribute to groundwater contamination.

Maintaining a Healthy Septic Ecosystem

The best way to maintain a healthy ecosystem within your septic tank is to be careful about what you flush into your system. Remember, your septic system is intended to treat your household wastewater, not act as catchall for food, garbage, or excess chemicals. Septic systems are designed to treat human waste, toilet paper, and greywater. Anything else has the potential to interfere with your system’s bacterial environment and may inhibit proper functioning (possibly leading to an expensive repair or catastrophic failure).

There is no substitute for regular maintenance to ensure your system is functioning correctly with a healthy bacterial environment. In Ohio, systems must be enrolled in a routine operation and maintenance plan that ensures they are regularly inspected and maintained.

Trust Supeck Septic with Your Septic Service Needs!

Supeck Septic has been Northeast Ohio’s trusted septic provider since 1968. We offer routine and emergency service on all types and models of septic systems, no matter the age or complexity. Contact us today to schedule your service visit!

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