How Microbeads and Micro-Exfoliants Tank Your Septic System

micro-exfoliants in cream

Perhaps one of the most surprising of the septic “dirty dozen” are microbeads and micro-exfoliants. After all, how much harm could those tiny little beads do? It turns out, quite a lot. Read on to learn more about how microbeads and micro-exfoliants can tank your septic system and to discover some septic-safe alternatives that are still great for your skin.

micro-exfoliants in cream

How the Primary Treatment System Separates Wastewater

To understand the dangers microbeads and micro-exfoliants pose for your septic system, it helps to understand how your primary treatment system works to separate your household wastewater and why. The first phase of purifying your home’s wastewater begins by allowing it to settle into three natural layers. Solids sink to the bottom to form the layer of sludge while the floating solids (oils and such) rise to the surface to form the layer of scum. In between these two is relatively clear effluent, which flows through the baffles out into the secondary treatment system to complete the purification process.

The Problem with Suspended Solids

Person applies micro-exfoliant on their skin.

Solids suspended in the effluent between these two layers poses a major risk for your septic system. These solids are small or light enough that they do not sink, but heavy enough that they do not rise to the surface either. They hang around in the effluent until they flow out to the secondary treatment system, where they have the potential to create clogs that prevent the effluent from being properly purified. If these suspended solids are organic, they will eventually break down. They still have the potential to create a clog, but at a pretty low risk. But, on the other hand, if these suspended solids are non-organic (or not easily biodegradable), they can plug the soil pores, which permanently reduces the soil’s ability to receive and properly treat effluent.

How Microbeads and Micro-Exfoliants Behave in Your Septic System

Microbeads are often made of plastic, though more recently other micro-exfoliants have been introduced as “environmentally friendly” alternatives. These micro-exfoliants are typically lighter and less dense than water, which allows them to become suspended in the effluent within your primary treatment system. Typically made of plastic, microbeads are inorganic and do not break down but instead collect within the soil’s pores and create clogs that permanently impact the soil’s ability to purify effluent.

Since the passage of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, plastic microbeads smaller than 5 mm (the size of a pencil eraser) are prohibited from being included in any product intended to exfoliate or cleanse any part of the body. While this is wonderful news for our waterways and marine life, other micro-exfoliants have made their way into toiletries than can have just as deadly an effect on your septic system. These include oats, walnut shells, coffee beans, stone fruit pits (like peaches), and volcanic rock. Because these micro-exfoliants are organic, most people believe they will not harm their septic system. But the reality is, most of these are still able to become suspended solids. Though they are organic, they do not break down quickly enough to prevent clogs within your secondary treatment system.

Safe Alternatives that Are Still Great for Your Skin

alternative safe beauty products for septic tank users

We understand the allure of exfoliation—youthful, glowing skin looks good on anybody. Finding an exfoliating scrub or wash that is not only good for your skin but also safe for your septic system can be a bit of a challenge. After all, many of these products not only contain microbeads and micro-exfoliants that can be deadly, but they are also oil-based, which poses an entirely different set of problems for your system. We recommend sugar or salt scrubs that are great for your skin while being safe for your septic system. Salt and sugar both easily dissolve in water and do not pose a threat to the bacteria within your system.

Trust Supeck Septic with Your Septic Service Needs

As Northeast Ohio’s largest septic provider, we pride ourselves on providing exceptional routine and emergency septic care. We are a licensed O&M Service Provider for all systems currently used in Ohio. Contact us today to schedule your next service visit!

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