The Septic “Dirty Dozen”

Septic Dirty Dozen

When it comes to septic care and maintenance, there are several things that should never be flushed into your system. Keeping these Septic “Dirty Dozen” out of your system will extend the life of your septic system and save you a lot of headaches (and catastrophes) along the way.

1. Non-flushable “Flushables”

Human waste and septic-safe toilet paper are the only solids you should be flushing into your septic system. Even some products claiming to be safe for your septic system, like “flushable” wipes, do not break down in your primary treatment system and only add to the layer of solids or get tangled up in your system’s components. Remember, your septic system is not a trash can for things like feminine hygiene products, sanitizing wipes, tissues, dental floss, or cigarette butts!

2. Pharmaceuticals

We are always cautioned to dispose of unused prescription medicine, and one often trusted method for doing so is flushing certain unused portions down the toilet. While many medicines can be safely flushed without causing harm, certain medications, including antibiotics, contaminate the environment or kill off the bacteria that work to break down the solids and eliminate contaminants in your household wastewater. Afterall, antibiotics are designed to kill harmful bacteria infecting our bodies—they operate the same way in your septic system. Rather than risking environmental contamination by flushing the wrong medicines, we recommend always following EPA guidelines and disposing of expired and unused medication by taking it to approved disposal sites.

3. Certain Toiletries

We are all for self-care, but when it comes to choosing toiletries for your spa day, you want to be careful to avoid those that can damage your septic system. Moisturizing products, particularly those that contain added butters and oils, can add significantly to the layer of fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) in your system. Exfoliating toiletries, like face and body scrubs, contain solids that will not break down in your system and will only add to the layer of solids in your primary treatment system. Finally, anti-bacterial toiletries can destroy the bacterial environment in your system that is essential for breaking down and treating your household wastewater.

4. Fats, Oils, & Greases (FOGs)

Even if they flow down your pipes in liquid form, household FOGs can cause significant clogs deep within your home’s plumbing or septic system. Overtime, these greases cool and cling to the sides of your home’s plumbing, eventually creating clogs in your pipes that can require professional help to clear. Not only that, but FOGs add to the layer of scum floating on the surface of the greywater in your primary treatment system. If this layer becomes too thick, it can flow out to your secondary treatment system, where it has the potential to cause catastrophic system failure.

5. Certain Household Cleaners

Disinfecting household cleaners can be deadly for the bacteria in your septic system, which work to break down the solids and eliminate contaminants in your household wastewater. Consider using bleach in strict moderation or finding septic-safe alternatives like borax, vinegar, and even lemon juice. 

6. Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners are a slurry of oils and chemicals that, though they leave your clothes smelling fresh and feeling soft, can have devastating effects on your septic system. Not only do the chemicals within fabric softener interfere with the bacterial environment of your system, but softeners also contain high concentrations of nitrogen, which can find its way into the groundwater. Fabric softeners are also petroleum-based (i.e., oil-based) products, which will collect on the surface of the greywater, adding to the layer of scum in your primary treatment system.

7. Chemicals & Solvents

When it comes to clearing clogs in your pipes, never resort to clog-busting agents like Drano. These chemicals can damage your plumbing, and they can obliterate the bacteria in your septic system. Find septic-safe methods for clearing clogged drains instead. Other solvents to keep far away from your septic system include paint thinners, mineral spirits, acetone, rubbing alcohol, and the like. Not only are these toxic for your system, but you don’t want to run the risk of contaminating the groundwater and causing environmental harm. Always dispose of these types of solvents according to your local waste department’s guidelines.

8. Home Renovation Waste

When cleaning up after a home renovation project, you need to be careful to avoid flushing things like paint, joint compound, and any other cleaners or solvents used for things like dissolving wallpaper glue or cutting nasty grease buildup on the kitchen cabinets. As with many of the “Dirty Dozen,” these items add to the layer of solids in your primary treatment system. The chemicals they contain also upset the pH and bacterial balance within your system. Always clean paint brushes and rollers in a bucket that can be dumped outside where it will flow away from your septic system and any nearby waterways.

9. Chemical Lawn Treatments

When correctly applied to the surface of your lawn, chemical lawn treatments do not pose a threat to your septic system or the environment. However, over-application can run off into nearby waterways, which contributes to algae growth and threatens our water supply. Even worse than over-application is flushing unused portions of these chemicals into the septic system, where they can destroy the bacteria within your system or create clogs within the inlet and outlet baffles of your primary treatment system.

10. Motor Oils & Chemicals

As with many of the other chemicals included in the Septic “Dirty Dozen,” motor oils and chemicals can tear through your septic system and destroy the bacteria that work so hard to breakdown solids and eliminate contaminants within your household wastewater. Even worse, flushing these chemicals down your drains can seriously impact the environment, contaminating nearby soil, groundwater, and waterways to make them uninhabitable by surrounding wildlife.

11. Kitty Litter & Animal Waste

Most popular litters are clay-based and designed to clump together as they absorb liquid. Flushing litter and animal waste down your toilets can cause massive clogs within your home’s plumbing and septic system, particularly the inlet baffle leading to your primary treatment system. Litter that finds its way to your septic system collects underneath the inlet pipe, never breaking down and only adding to the layer of solids that collect in the bottom of your primary treatment system. In addition to the functional problems kitty litter poses for your septic system, it also poses an environmental threat of contaminating the groundwater and nearby waterways with Toxoplasma gondii, which cannot be neutralized in the septic system (nor public waste facilities) and can cause toxoplasmosis.

12. Septic Additives

Septic additives, like Rid-X, are marketed as products that increase your septic system’s efficiency by reducing the solids that build up in your primary treatment system. These additives are flushed down the system—sometimes monthly—to introduce more bacteria that will breakdown the solids within the septic system. The problem with these additives is that they upset the balance of bacteria within your system by introducing much more aggressive and active bacteria than those already naturally present within your system. Why is this bad? The result is solids that are broken down further than they normally would be, allowing more solids to become suspended in the effluent and flow out to the secondary treatment system. Septic systems are designed to have relatively clear effluent flowing to the secondary treatment system, so any solids that make their way out will not be properly treated and may even cause catastrophic clogs that can ruin your entire system.

Trust Supeck Septic for Routine and Emergency Septic Care

Have you flushed any of the Septic “Dirty Dozen” into your system? It may be time for a service visit to make sure your system is operating as it should. Supeck Septic is Northeast Ohio’s most trusted septic provider and is licensed to provide routine and emergency care for all septic systems currently in use in Ohio. Keep your system running smoothly by calling us today to schedule your next visit!