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Care and Feeding of Your Septic System

*A “starter” is not needed for bacterial action to begin in a septic tank. Many bacteria are present in the materials deposited into the tank and will thrive under the growth conditions present.

*Additives should not be used, since they are of no benefit and some may do great harm. Additives that cause the accumulated sludge in the tank bottom to increase in volume will result in the sludge being flushed out into the drainfield, plugging soil pores. Other additives, particularly degreasers, may be carcinogens (cancer causing) or suspected carcinogens that will flow directly into the ground water along with the treated sewage.

*Discharge all sewage wastes from the home into the septic tank. Don’t run laundry wastes directly into the drainfield, since soap or detergent scums will quickly clog the soil pores, causing failure.

*Normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, toilet bowl deodorizers, and other household chemicals can be used and won’t harm the bacterial action in the septic tank. Do not use excessive amounts of any household chemicals.

*Detergents can cause problems with septic systems. It is difficult to estimate the amount of cleaning power required for a load of laundry, so people usually use too much. Be wary of inexpensive washing products, which may contain excessive quantities of filler or carrier, some of which can be extremely detrimental to the sewage system. The best solution is to use liquid laundry detergents, since they are less likely to have carriers of fillers, that are less detrimental to a septic system.

*Determine how much water your automatic washer uses per cycle. Front-loading washers and suds savers typically use less water than top-loading machines. If your sewage system is approaching its maximum capacity, try to spread the washing out during the week to avoid overloading the sewage system on a single day.

*Baths and showers can use appreciable amounts of water. Shower heads that limit the flow rate to 2 gallons of water per minute are available. Filling the tub not quite so full and limiting the length of showers could result in appreciable water savings.

*Keep a container of drinking water in the refrigerator. Then it will not be necessary to run the faucet for a period of time to obtain cold water.

*Water softener recharge wastes will not harm septic tank action, but the additional water must be treated and disposed of by the solid treatment system. If the softener wastewater creates an overload to the sewage system, the wastewater can be discharged to the ground surface, since it contains no pathogens. The wastewater should be discharged in a location where it does not cause a nuisance or damage valuable vegetation.

*Use a good quality toilet tissue that breaks up easily when wet. To determine suitable quality toilet tissue place a portion in a fruit jar half full of water. Shake the jar and if the tissue breaks up easily, the product is suitable. High wet-strength toilet tissues are less desirable. The color of the toilet tissue has no affect on the septic system.

*Each septic system has a certain capacity. When this capacity is reached or exceeded, there will be problems with the system accepting as much sewage as you want to discharge into it. When the sewage system approaches its daily capacity, be conservative with your use of water. Each gallon of water that flows into the drain must be treated and disposed. Repair all leaky plumbing fixtures and, if possible, reduce the amount of water used for bathing, doing laundry, and flushing the toilet.

*Reducing toilet waste is the single most effective way to reduce sewage flows. The flush toilet accounts for about 40 percent of sewage wastes from an average home. Many flush toilets use 5 to 6 gallons per flush. Flush toilets that use less than a quart of water per flush are available.

*Routinely check the toilet float valve to be sure it isn’t sticking and the water isn’t running continuously. Be sure the toilet is not flushed unnecessarily. Don’t use the toilet to dispose of household cleaning water or cigarette butts.

*Don’t deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels, disposable diapers, facial tissues, cigarette butts, and similar nondecomposable materials into the house sewer. None of these materials will decompose, and they will cause a rapid accumulation of solids in the septic tank.

*Avoid dumping grease down the drain. It may plug sewer pipes or build up in the septic tank and plug the inlet. Keep a separate container for waste grease and throw it out with the trash.

*Remove the sludge and scum by pumping every 1 to 3 years for a 1,000-gallon tank serving a 3-bedroom home having 4 occupants and with no garbage disposal.

*When your septic tank is cleaned, you should remove the manhole cover or the tank cover to facilitate cleaning and to be sure that all solids have been pumped out. A septic tank cannot be cleaned adequately by pumping out liquids through a 4-inch inspection pipe. This process usually results in the scum layer plugging the outlet baffle. So be sure that the tank is open when you have it cleaned. At this time, the baffles also can be inspected and replaced if necessary.

*If you must use a garbage disposal, you will need to remove septic tank solids every year or more often. Ground garbage frequently will find its way out of the septic tank and clog the soil treatment system. It is better to compost, incinerate, or throw out garbage with the trash.

*We at LaRoche’s A-1 Services have a computerized maintenance scheduling service in effect so we can keep accurate records for you and also remind you by phone or postcard that it’s time to have your tank routinely pumped.

Never go down into a septic tank. The gases present may poison you. Only trained professionals should enter a septic tank.

The information contained here comes from LaRoche’s A-1 Services and the On-Site Sewage Treatment Manual produced by the Agricultural Extension Service of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.