Some of us have no idea what they are and the rest of us vary between fear and annoyance when the subject comes up. In reality, septic systems are wonderful things. They provide a clean, sanitary and relatively easy living experience for those of us who don’t live in the city.
What is a septic system?
If you live in the city, all of your toilets, sinks, vents, and so on are connected together. All the waste water whether its from the toilet or the sink is transported through sewer tunnels or other means to a sewage treatment facility. This means it’s a community based system where the maintenance and treatment is on a large scale. As long as you aren’t clogging your toilet, everything is maintained by your city and your taxes go to the upkeep. The details of how the waste water is treated and where it goes after that is largely not something you are probably informed about.
A septic system is usually a single home system that functions as a replacement for your city sewer system. It is usually a tank that is buried near your home and all your waste is flushed to that tank. In the tank is microbes and bacteria that break down the waste products. The waste slowly breaks down and the water drains out into the ground.
It terms of sustainability, its wonderful! Its basically an anerobic composter for waste.
So, why would it be annoying and fearful? Because there are rules.
You can’t treat your septic system the same way you would treat the city sewer. You have to be cautious about what chemicals you use and what you flush. If the septic can’t process and break down the waste or you accidently kill the microbes, the process screeches to a halt and things get smelly fast. The waste stops breaking down, the septic may not drain or you may start seeing backups in the septic into your house.
Yes, it is scary. You have every right to be scared because your taxes don’t go to septic maintenance. Any septic issues you have will be your personal responsibility, and they can get extremely expensive and messy.
So, if you’re looking at a house that has a septic should you run the other way. No. You should not. Septic’s are wonder and sustainable solutions to dealing with waste. You just need to be educated and know how to properly care for your septic. I’ve grown up in multiple houses with septic systems and have never (knock on wood) experienced septic issues. In several cases, the septic was many years old with no issues.
How do I keep a septic system healthy?
Honestly, once a septic is well established, I think it’s more about what not to do than anything else. Here’s the short list:
- Always check the packaging of any toilet paper, etc to confirm they are septic safe.
- Never flush wipes. I don’t care if it says septic safe, don’t’ do it.
- Nothing goes down the drain that isn’t toilet paper or waste. Everything that goes into your septic needs to be easily compostable. If you put things into the septic that wont break down, eventually they will add up to a problem.
- Take care with your cleaning products. Avoid using cleaning products that are not septic safe.
- Here’s the big one. It gets its own line item. BE CAREFUL with BLEACH! Bleach is meant to kill things, that is it’s intended purpose. If you use excessive bleach, you will kill off the microbes and bacteria that break down the septic waste.
Are sustainable products septic safe?
I often see the question raised whether sustainable products are septic safe.
Well, I would hope so. If they aren’t, then I’d question the “Sustainability” label. Regardless, don’t make assumptions. Always check the label and if it doesn’t list the product as septic safe, I would be very cautious about using it in significant quantities. Keep in mind, sustainable and septic safe aren’t always mutually exclusive. There are products hath are deemed septic safe that are arguably not sustainable and environmentally safe options.
I know it seems confusing. Hopefully to clarify things, consider these priorities when evaluating products for your septic system.
1st priority – Is the product septic safe? Will this product break down properly? Will this product disrupt the balance of microbes? If the product passes this test, then ask yourself it the product meets your environmental and ethical requirements.
What about homemade cleaners? Are they septic safe?
I love this question, because I love homemade cleaners. I love them for a so many reasons.
- They’re cheap, easy to make and you know exactly what’s in them.
- With just a few ingredients, you can make just about any cleaner you will need around the house.
- You can buy the ingredients in bulk.
- You cause reuse empty containers from around the house to refill
- They can make wonderful additions to gift baskets, house warmings and Christmas gifts
I absolutely love homemade cleaners. i always have bulk ingredients in the house incase I need to whip up something I would normally purchase. Check out our article on DIY Household Cleaners to see the best and most commo