Why Paper Matters with Your Septic System

Paper Matters

Very often, people think all paper products are created equal when it comes to their septic system. They may know not to flush things like kitty litter or dental floss but think as long as they’re only flushing paper products, they’re in the clear. Nothing could be further from the truth! In some cases, products will collect in your septic tank and lead to an over accumulation of solids. In other cases, these paper products can cause severe clogs in the plumbing or in the baffles in your tank. Even in cases when some products claim to be “flushable,” they can wreak havoc on your septic system in catastrophic ways. Here are some of the most common paper perils and why we recommend against using them with septic systems.

Over-Plied and Overly Plush Toilet Paper

While all toilet papers labeled “septic safe” are supposed to eventually break down in your septic tank, the multi-ply, overly plush versions will take longer, putting more strain on the bacteria in your tank and adding significantly to the layer of sludge. The quicker your sludge layer accumulates, the more frequently your tank will need to be pumped or you will risk your septic backing up into your home. We are always able to tell when a customer uses a multi-plied, overly plush toilet paper when we open the tank and see what look like little cotton balls accumulated in the tank. The most “septic safe” toilet papers, from our perspective, are those that are single-ply, recycled or biodegradable. However, if you find it too much to give up the plush comfort of a quilted paper square, we recommend picking your favorite 3 or 4 toilet papers and submitting them to the Toilet Tissue Test. Whichever performs the best should be your winner.

Colored Toilet Paper

More than 40 years ago, an entirely coordinated bathroom became all the rage. Everything, right down to the pastel color of the toilet paper, was supposed to be perfectly matched. Not long thereafter, research began showing the dyes in these colored toilet papers were leading to skin irritation and, worse, causing cancer in laboratory rats. So the fad died out, and we were left with bland, white toilet paper. That is, until very recently. Owing perhaps to some celebrities’ obsession with their colored toilet paper, the toilet paper market is suddenly flush with vibrant colors once again. While we cannot necessarily deny the appeal of a well-coordinated bathroom, we must recommend against the use of colored toilet paper due to the dyes that have a negative effect on the biological environment of your home’s septic system.

Other Paper Products

Other paper products that are decidedly unwelcome in your home’s septic system include paper towels, tissues, and makeup removal wipes. Often people think that facial tissues are very similar to toilet paper. After all, they are tissue, what can it hurt to flush them down the toilet? Well, facial tissues are not designed to dissolve in water. In fact, they are designed to withstand the pressure that comes with blowing your nose. They may dissolve, eventually, but at a significantly slower rate than toilet paper. If facial tissue poses problems for your septic, imagine how much worse paper towels are! Paper towels are designed to withstand even the worst messes in your home. They’re advertised as being able to hold up quarters, even when the towel is wet. Paper towels do not break down in water, which means they will never break down in your septic system. Makeup removal wipes are an even further step in the wrong direction. These wipes largely resemble baby wipes, with added chemicals for removing even the most stubborn waterproof makeup. Not only will these potentially clog your pipes and never break down in your septic tank, their chemicals will have a significant negative impact on your system’s bacterial environment.

The “Unflushables”

While we strongly recommend against flushing the products listed above, none of these are as potentially devastating to your septic system as “flushable” wipes. Though marketed to be safe for your septic system and sewers alike, these products have been the culprit in several catastrophic septic failures and sewage blockages alike. No matter how long they sit in water, these wipes never dissolve. They take up significant room in your septic tank, causing the layer of sludge to rise much quicker than you may expect, which in turn causes a system backup into your home or solids to be forced into the drain field. Solids in the drain field is the fastest route to catastrophic system failure. If you must use these non-flushable “flushable” wipes, we advise you to dispose of them in a garbage can rather than flushing them down the toilet.

Have you flushed some of these paper perils into your septic system? You may need to have your tank pumped earlier than you think. Give us a call today to schedule a routine maintenance visit!