It’s Not a Garbage Disposal

Share these Answer Man rules for septic system care with your customers and you’ll spend less time responding to weekend emergency calls

Q. When I install a septic system, I tell my customers how to use it properly. The trouble is they don’t listen to me. They have problems and call me back, then I find out they have been doing what I told them not to do. Would you write a list of things that a septic system owner should do and shouldn’t do? Maybe if I show them your column in Pumper, they will listen to you.

A. I guess it is true that a man is not a prophet in his hometown! I would suspect what you have been telling them comes from your years of experience with septic systems and the problems you have observed. Hopefully they will pay more attention to what I write, which will be directed to new at homeowners new to septic systems:

1. It’s not a garbage disposal system.

If you are new homeowners enjoying country living and using your own sewage treatment system, you have to realize the septic system is not a garbage disposal system. What you may have been throwing in the toilet or putting in the sink garbage disposal with your city sewage system may be wrong for your septic system.

I have heard the statement, “Do not put anything in the toilet unless you have eaten it first!” While this doesn’t apply to toilet paper, it does apply to everything else that goes in the toilet. Things like cigarette butts, sanitary napkins, condoms, paper towels, cleansing tissue, antiseptic solutions, extra prescription medicine, or whatever else can be flushed, must not be deposited in the toilet. In the septic tank, these materials will cause damage to the system.

The same is true for kitchen wastes, such as cooking fats, coffee grounds, eggshells, lettuce leaves or anything else that would wash down or that a garbage disposal could grind up and put in the sewer. My recommendation is a home with a septic system should not have a garbage disposal installed in the kitchen sink. Studies have shown the quality of the septic tank effluent is poorer when a garbage disposal is used. It is the quality of the septic tank effluent that determines the life of the septic system.

2. Be careful with water use.

This doesn’t mean you need to have less cleanliness. But there may need to be some small changes made to your lifestyle so water is not wasted. All the water used in the household ends up in the sewage treatment system. This sewage water must be treated and absorbed by the system.

A shower lasting 30 minutes with a flow of five gallons per minute uses 150 gallons of water. A shower lasting that long is not needed to get clean. Low-flow shower heads using one gallon per minute can give the feeling of a five-gallon-per-minute flow. Shortening shower time would also decrease the amount of water used. Low water use flush toilets are now required in most states.

Keep a container of water in the refrigerator for drinking. This water is always cold and one does not need to run the faucet for a long time to get a drink of cold water.

Wash only full loads of laundry. Washing out just a few pieces of clothing takes as much water as a full load.

There will be many other common sense things you can do that will not waste water, but will not affect your standard of living. Your onsite sewage treatment system is designed for a limited number of gallons per day. If too much water is used, the system will have problems. How does one know if too much water is being used?

The answer is simple: Install a meter to measure the water used inside the home. The water meter does not need to be of the quality used by a city. A meter with a plus or minus one percent accuracy is adequate and modestly priced. The installation can quickly be done by a plumber.

3. Establish a maintenance schedule.

As new country dwellers, you must realize you are now managers of your own sewage treatment and water supply systems. Both require care and maintenance. You must learn what needs to be done and how often. However, jobs such as cleaning the septic tank should be done only by qualified professionals.

How often should the septic tank be cleaned? I suggest for a new system, the septic tank be opened for inspection after the first year of use. A professional can tell if the tank is doing its job or if there appears to be any problems. If the tank is fine, close it and use the system. Have the solids removed every three years. Some local sanitary codes require the removal of septic tank solids every three years, so check with your local health or zoning office.

Inspection pipes should be installed in the soil absorption system. The purpose is to measure the amount of liquid in that system. Measure the liquid level periodically, perhaps every six months or so. If the soil absorption system shows it’s full of liquid, your septic system is at full capacity. Your system may fail because of excessive water use. Check your water meter readings to see if more is being used than the system was designed for.

If you just want to enjoy the country living and are not really interested in maintaining your onsite sewage treatment system, obtain a service contract specializing in maintenance. There will be a cost involved, but the peace of mind may be well worth the small cost.

4. Here are some additional hints:

Don’t use cheap laundry detergents. Use a liquid laundry detergent as any “filler” will be water. Try not to use excessive amounts of laundry detergent. Use only enough to get the clothes clean.

Use unscented toilet paper. Check the toilet paper for breakdown by placing a wad of the paper in a fruit jar with water. Shake the jar, and if the toilet paper breaks up, it is suitable. If the toilet paper does not break up, do not use that kind of paper. The color of the toilet paper does not matter and may be selected to match bathroom decor.

Do not use additives advertising that you will never need to pump your septic tank. The purpose of the septic tank is to trap solids, which must be removed by pumping.

Finally, listen to your onsite sewage treatment professional. They know what you should do to keep your onsite system working properly. Good luck and enjoy your country living.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.