A septic safe wastewater treatment system is an environmentally friendly choice for homeowners and sometimes the only choice for a cottage or rural homes that are outside of the municipal sewage system. It also means that what you wash down the drain is even more important, and this includes your cleaners. Read on to learn about septic systems and how your cleaning products can affect them.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “SEPTIC SAFE”?
If you’re raised in a city, chances are you have little knowledge of Septic Systems. To answer all the questions you’ve never had, Septic Systems are an alternative drainage system for rural homes without centralized sewage piping. They bring waste and water from a home into a specialty septic tank that uses bacteria to separate waste from water. These tanks use perforated pipes which then release the water into a patch of soil called a drain field. The drain field then naturally cleans the water using different layers of rock and allows it to return to the groundwater systems.
Septic Systems are a closed-loop system and contribute to the efforts of the Zero Waste Movement. Learn how you can shrink your own footprint and begin a Zero Waste journey.
WHY PEOPLE CHOOSE SEPTIC SYSTEMS
The advantage of a septic tank is that they are far cheaper and durable than sewage pipes. Because it is a closed system that requires no external energy, it does not generate a monthly bill and can last for decades without needing replacement.
Environmentally, septic systems create a positive contribution to the health and wellness of the local ecosystem. When the water is being pushed through the drain field it helps nourish local bacteria and microorganisms which in turn stimulates plant and bacteria growth. This nourishment leads to a supply of food for local birds, insects, and larger animals.
Because of this, if products that contain toxins are introduced to these systems, it can have major repercussions not just for the mechanisms of the tank, but for the entire ecosystem. Septic systems are not designed to protect groundwater from the chemicals found in certain household products and may pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. If these products are introduced to a septic system, it can kill the bacteria within the tank which will stop water separation, and worse, could poison the surrounding waterways.
When choosing new appliances, select those, that are best for septic systems, like high-efficiency toilets or HE energy star washing machines. The amount of he laundry detergent you use in those HE washers is also important. Make sure to use a natural laundry detergent that is formulated for both HE and standard machines, either unscented or scented with small amounts of essential oils.
There are many natural options for say, disinfectants, that exist which will not harm a septic system. For some of the stronger natural disinfectants such as Hydrogen Peroxide and Thyme Oil, their strength will still require them to be diluted with water before being introduced to the system.
HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS TO AVOID
- Water Softeners can harm the bacteria within the septic tank and release greater concentrations of waste and grease into the drain field
Oil, gasoline, paint thinners, solvents, photographic chemicals, weed or insect killers
- These materials will poison Septic Systems and threaten the water supply
- Thick cooking grease, like from bacon, can solidify in the tank and clog incoming and outgoing pipes
- While these oils feel great, they can clog the drain field and coat the waste within the tank making it unable to break down
- Most kitty litter is clay-based and can clog pipes
CLEANING PRODUCTS TO AVOID
Antibacterial cleaners and disinfectants
- Antibacterial and disinfecting products are not necessary for most domestic situations (they were designed to sterilize hospitals) and will kill beneficial bacteria that help your septic tank function.
- Too much bleach can kill or disrupt the bacteria within a septic tank. It is also toxic to aquatic life. If your septic tank is located close to a natural water system, there is a high chance that bleach from your wastewater is being directly released into the groundwater through your septic system.
Chemical Drain Cleaners
- Unclogging the drain with these materials will kill the bacteria in the tank and necessitate costly repairs
Products containing methylisothiazolinone
- Methylisothiazolinone is a synthetic chemical used in consumer products for its antimicrobial properties. It is most often applied to cleaning products as a synthetic preservative. Not only is it a common allergen, but several studies have shown that it is also toxic to aquatic life.
SEPTIC SAFE CLEANING PRODUCTS
- Remember that your septic tank does not filter for chemicals or toxins and that it goes directly back into the natural environment. This is why it is important to use natural cleaners that won't add to the growing number of synthetic chemicals negatively impacting our natural surrounds.
- You should only use products that are made with biodegradable ingredients that will break down in a natural environment, as opposed to persistent synthetic chemicals which can build up. Ask questions - are your cleaning products, including those used daily, like dishwasher detergents really non-toxic and fully biodegradable.
- To ensure that the products that pass through your septic system and into the environment won't have a negative impact, it is important to look for verification from a third party such as Ecocert or The Environmental Working Group. This way you can be sure that the products you choose are actually better for the environment and aren't simply making unsubstantiated "green" claims for branding. Look at the Environmental Working Group's Healthy Cleaning Guide's ranking to choose products that are best for your septic system.
SEPTIC SAFE CLEANING PRODUCTS LIST
Septic systems are delicate. Just two gallons of chlorine bleach can kill off the functioning bacteria in a 1,000-gallon septic tank.
While a small amount of the wrong chemicals can wreak havoc on your system, most all-natural cleaners are septic safe. Use non-chlorine, non-ammonia, non-antibacterial, non-toxic, and biodegradable, natural cleaning products to help keep your septic system in working order.
The following natural, everyday products are safe to clean and disinfect your home with:
- Distilled white vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Baking soda
SEPTIC SAFE BATHROOM CLEANERS
It’s simple to use all-natural cleaning products in most areas of your home, but the one room in your home where chemical cleaners are often a given is the bathroom. Having a clean bathroom is important for your health, but disinfecting your shower, tub, and other surfaces don’t require harsh chemicals.
Here are a few effective natural bathroom cleaners that are septic safe:
- White Vinegar - The natural enzymes will break down soap scum and odors.
- Baking soda - The rough texture is perfect for making bathroom fixtures shine.
- Borax - mix ½ cup with water for superior disinfecting strength on surfaces.
TOILET CLEANERS SAFE FOR SEPTIC SYSTEMS
The toilet is a notoriously dirty place. It can be tempting to use heavy-duty cleaners to make sure germs are demolished.
Many toilet bowl cleaners contain bleach and some are even made with hydrochloric acid. But natural, plant-based cleaners are tough enough to clean your toilet and are safest for your septic system’s health and the health of your family.
Avoid using cleaners that contain toxic bleach, ammonia, phosphates, or petroleum-based chemicals, which can harm your septic. Instead, use proven natural cleaners.
Here is a list of natural, septic-safe cleaners for your toilet:
- Baking soda - An inexpensive and effective scouring agent. Pour half a small box of baking soda into the toilet bowl and let it sit overnight. In the morning, flush the mixture before scrubbing with a toilet brush.
- White Vinegar - The acidity of household vinegar is helpful for breaking down hard water stains in the toilet bowl. Pour a cup of vinegar into the bowl and let sit overnight, then scrub in the morning. Just don’t use vinegar and baking soda together, as they’ll cancel each other out and become ineffective.
SEPTIC SAFE CLEANING
Natural cleaning products for the most part are safe for septic systems. When looking at products for use in Septic Systems, it's best to take the guesswork out of it. Products that are safe for Septic Systems state “Septic Safe” on their labels. These products are usually natural and biodegradable, and they will properly break down within the tank without affecting the bacteria.
One of the biggest culprits for endangering Septic Systems are household and cleaning products. The natural DIY road is a safe one, and you can even look at some of our resources, like how to clean areas of your home with your own natural cleaning products, like the bathroom.
Using products that are safe for septic tanks is about being responsible for what you put in the water and in the earth. Be especially careful with products that you use on a regular basis, like laundry detergent and dish soap. Use septic-safe products, even if you currently do have centralized sewage.
SEPTIC SAFE CLEANERS: FAQ
There is conflicting information out there about what’s safe for septic systems and what could be harmful. Here, we clear the air on some common septic cleaner questions:
1. IS VINEGAR SAFE FOR SEPTIC SYSTEMS?
Vinegar is entirely safe for septic systems and will not cause them harm. White vinegar and apple cider vinegar are excellent cleaning products to use all across your home; laundry, kitchen, bathroom, and more. It’s non-toxic and 100% natural, so vinegar of all sorts is safe for your septic and your family.
2. WHAT DRAIN CLEANERS ARE SAFE FOR SEPTIC SYSTEMS?
Drain cleaners are notoriously harsh out of necessity. It can take a lot of power to break through build-up in pipes. But only certain drain cleaners, used sparingly, are safe for septic systems. Foaming, solid, and crystal drain cleaners can damage the system and shouldn’t be used. Use septic-safe liquid drain cleaner sparingly to avoid causing damage to the system. Try using non-chemical methods like a pipe snake to unclog persistent drain problems safely.
SAFE SEPTIC CLEANING WITH ASPENCLEAN
AspenClean has taken the plunge to be 100% septic safe in all their laundry detergents and cleaning products and uses the same natural, biodegradable, and environmentally friendly cleaning products in their professional cleaning service. By using their natural laundry detergents, dish soaps, as well as their house cleaning services and products, you can be certain that your home will receive a high-quality clean without damaging your septic system.