Don’t Add Septic Chemical Treatments To Your Septic System, Here’s Why:

Septic tank additives (C) Daniel FriedmanSeptic Tank & Drainfield Treatments & Chemicals vs Septic Tank Pumping – expert advice

  • SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALSCONTENTS: Septic System Treatments are NOT recommended and may be illegal; Septic tank additives, septic drainfield restorers, Septic system chemicals, septic tank treatments, septic tank bacteria, yeast in septic tanks. Authoritative citations explain that septic tank pumping is what’s needed to maintain & preserve the working septic tank and drainfield or soakaway bed, not Septic tank additives: position of septic experts, Canadian & US Government Agencies
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the need for and use of septic system treatments, chemicals, additives, restorers
  • REFERENCES
Septic tank maintenance:

This article discusses the need, choices, and use of septic chemicals or bacterial or other septic tank additives, septic system restorers, and septic tank treatments for septic systems. We cite expert sources all of whom advise against the use of septic treatments, additives, restorers and the like.

Should you add septic treatment chemicals, nutrients, cleaners, bacteria, yeast, root killers, septic drainfield dec loggers to septic systems? Generally, no. Why not? What causes septic system failures?

SEPTIC PRODUCTS FOR SALE – Alternative Onsite Waste Disposal (Septic System) Materials & Products

Septic treatment chemicals (C) Daniel FriedmanWhat do experts say about septic chemicals and septic treatments? Why do people use them?

Bottom line on septic treatments

Septic tank treatments and additives are not necessary, some can contaminate the environment, others can destroy a septic drainfield or soakbed, none will repair a failed drainfield, and such products are at best usless and at worst harmful. This is the view of all of the septic system authorities we’ve found and are the views of most engineers and sanitation professionals. Those expert sources are cited here.

 

Types of septic system treatments and restorers, their use and effects are addressed here. Our page top photograph shows a collection of septic system additives, chemicals, cleaners, root killers, etc. for sale at a building supply store.

InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public – we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website.

Article Series Contents

Despite that compelling evidence people still buy and use septic treatments or restorers. So did I – previously. Why? Because repairing a failing or failed septic system drainfield or soakaway bed is expensive the temptation to try a magic bullet is nearly overwhelming. Those bullets, generally, are going to shoot us in the foot.

Are Septic Tank Additives or Treatments Useful or Not? – Septic System Additives and Chemicals – are they needed?

Roebic septic tank treatment for sale at a building supply store (C) InspectApedia.comSeptic Additive Companies are Asked for Independent Supporting Research

Many septic treatment producers and distributors contact us with suggested products. We ask for independent, peer-reviewed, professional research supporting each suggested product. Such support is particularly needed for two reasons:

  1. Magic Septic System Cure Industry: The high cost of replacing a failed septic absorption field or seepage pit system naturally breeds an industry of “magic bullets” that are questionable (see the citations which follow) and sometimes actually harmful to the septic system and/or the environment.
  2. Illegal Septic System Treatments: Because of the lack of demonstrated effectiveness, and perhaps more important, because some septic additives or cleaners are dangerous or can cause serious ground water contamination they are illegal in many jurisdictions.

Septic tank additives or “rejuvenators” are not needed in your septic tank, whether the additives are chemically-based (organic or inorganic compounds that claim to break up sludge or scum or to unclog drainfields), or biologically-based septic additives (septic tank yeast cultures, septic tank bacteria, starter bacteria, or septic tank enzymes).

Watch out: While many septic and drainfield or soakaway bed treatments are relatively harmless combinations of bacteria and enzymes, some septic tank or septic drainfield additives such as yeast or harsh chemicals can actually damage the septic system and may also be environmental contaminants.

Even yeast, which one might think is harmless, can cause frothing and excessive activity in the septic tank, preventing normal settling of solids and coagulation of greases. This agitation forces solid waste into the drainfield and by clogging the soil, shortens its life. Other septic chemicals intended to kill tree roots or unclog clogged leachfield soils can contaminate the environment.

Can Some Conditions Kill Off Needed Septic Tank Bacteria? Do we need a septic tank “starter bacteria”?

If other conditions at a property have resulted in killing-off the (needed) septic tank bacteria (such as adding unusually large amounts of bleach, disinfectants, or antibiotics to a septic tank) some folks sell bacterial “starters” to “rejuvenate” the septic tank. This makes little sense for the following reasons:

  1. Calculations of “septic tank die-off” which demonstrate that about 2 gallons of bleach is likely to harm septic tank bacteria have been based on a “static septic system”, a fixed septic tank volume into which no new wastewater, sewage, and their diluting and re inoculating effect have been considered.You will see in the Ontario ministry statement 3(f)(ii)[below] that small amounts of bleach, drain cleaners, lye, etc. such as the quantities expected in normal household use will not harm a functioning septic system.
  2. If you don’t correct the conditions that have caused a bacterial die-off in the septic tank, no amount of starter or booster is going to make any difference. For example, large quantities of antibiotics entering a septic system at a nursing home will continue to risk harm to the septic tank ecology.
  3. Adding to a septic tank products such as enzymes which claim to break down grease risk destroying the floating scum layer in the septic tank, forcing unwanted oils and debris into the leach field. in the Ontario ministry statement 3(f)(iii) [below] you will note that enzyme treatments have not been found effective nor useful in septic systems.
  4. As soon as you stop putting inappropriate bleach, disinfectant, or antibiotics into the septic system and after the first time someone uses a toilet, the septic tank has been re inoculated with what it needs.However the release of chemicals from a septic system to the environment can be a serious problem in some locations, especially if larger volume industrial processes or larger facilities such as nursing homes are the chemical source, or if a well-meaning property owner pours large quantities of some treatments, chemicals, yeast, bleach, some root killers, or other “additives” into the septic system.
  5. Forcing hydrogen peroxide or other chemicals into drainfield or leach field soils can damage the soil and contaminate the environment.

Septic Tank PUMPING PREVENTS FAILURES – Authoritative Citations on Septic Tank Pumping, Failure Prevention, Additives

Pumping the septic tank regularly is the main thing that can and should be done to extend the life of your septic system.

See SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE for details on deciding how often the septic tank should be cleaned.

Details of a thorough septic tank pumpout, cleaning, and inspection are found beginning
at SEPTIC TANK PUMPING PROCEDURE.

In general, septic system chemicals are not needed and are not recommended: Chemicals and other additives promoted to keep a septic system “healthy” or “free-flowing” or “nourished” are generally not required nor recommended by expert sources. The following references support this statement:

  • Canada: The function of a septic tank is not improved by the addition of disinfectants or other chemicals. … sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide … may result in sludge bulking and a large increase in alkalinity, and may interfere with digestion. The resulting effluent may severely damage the soil structure and cause accelerated clogging…
    See CANADA PROHIBITS ADDITIVES and see this statement by the ONTARIO MINISTRY
  • Penn State College of Agriculture – Cooperative Extension,Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 “Septic Tank Pumping,” by Paul D. Robillard and Kelli S. Martin – last line of second paragraph “Biological and chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate decomposition.”
  • Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 “Preventing Septic System Failures,” by Paul D. Robillard and Kelli S. Martin – page 2, Maintenance Failures, paragraph two, “Chemical or biological additives are not a substitute for pumping.
  • Soil Science Facts, Septic Tank Systems,” Michael T. Hoover, Dept. of Soil Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, SS 86-4, “Are Septic-Tank Cleaners Necessary?” “No. These products include biologically based materials (bacteria, enzymes, and yeast), inorganic chemicals (acids and bases), or organic chemicals (including solvents). They do not reduce the need for regular pumping of the septic tank. Some of these products contain organic chemicals and may even damage the drainfield or contaminate the groundwater and nearby wells.
  • Florida ASHI Seminar, Kissimmee FL, 10/10/93, “Septic Tank News & Views,” cites Florida building code 10D-6.050 Maintenance, paragraph (4) “Organic chemical solvents shall not be advertised, sold, or used in the state for the purpose of degreasing or de clogging onsite sewage disposal systems.(4)(a) All organic chemical solvents known to have been used as decloggers or degreasers of onsite sewage disposal systems or those which have a likelihood of being used in such a manner shall be labeled on the front of each product container with the following language: ‘Florida Statute 381.0065 (13) prohibits the advertisement, sale or use of organic chemical solvents for the purpose of degreasing or de clogging onsite sewage systems in the state.‘ … ” and

    (4)(b) continues, “Persons who use organic chemical solvents for degreasing or declogging onsite sewage disposal systems shall be subject to revocation of their septage disposal service permits and shall be subject to other applicable penalties as described in Chapter 381, or 489 Part III,F.S.” These law changes were effective in Florida march 17, 1992.

  • National Environmental Services Center: While many products on the market claim to help septic systems work better, the truth is there is no magic potion to cure an ailing system. In fact, most engineers and sanitation professionals believe that commercial septic system additives are, at best, useless, and at worst, harmful to a system.
    See NESC on ADDITIVES
  • Septic Tank Maintenance,” K. Mancl and J.A. Moore, Oregon State University Extension Service, Extension Circular 1343/January 1990. “Biological and chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate settling or decomposition.”
  • US EPA Statement on Septic Tank Additives: Because of the presence of significant numbers and types of bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, and other fungi and microorganisms in typical residential and commercial wastewaters, the use of septic system additives containing these or any other ingredients is not recommended. The benefits of consumer products sold as septic system cleaners, degraders, decomposers, deodorizers, organic digesters, or enhancers are not significant or have not been demonstrated conclusively, depending on the product. Some of these products can actually interfere with treatment processes, affect biological decomposition of wastes, contribute to system clogging, and contaminate ground water.
    See US EPA on ADDITIVES

The view that chemical and other additives are not necessary, and in some jurisdictions are illegal, was held by information we collected from every U.S. state as well as Canadian sources.

CANADA PROHIBITS Septic Tank ADDITIVES – Canadian citations on Septic Tank Additives – prohibited

Roebic root killer treatment for sale at a building supply store (C) InspectAPediaOur Canadian sources have offered the most detailed explanation of these issues. (Thanks to Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, Ontario, for providing this information.)

See “Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems,” Referring to Ontario Regulation 374/81 under part VII of the Environmental Protection Act, ISBN 0-7743-7303-2.

ONTARIO MINISTRY – Ontario, Canada, Ministry of the Environment, “9.4.1 Class 4 Sewage Systems, Construction, Operation, and Maintenance,” May 1982.

  • Paragraph 3(f)(i) Chemical [disinfectants & cleaners added to the septic tank]: “The function of a septic tank is not improved by the addition of disinfectants or other chemicals. In general, the additary products which are claimed to “clean” septic tanks contain sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide as the active agent. Such compounds may result in sludge bulking and a large increase in alkalinity, and may interfere with digestion. The resulting effluent may severely damage the soil structure and cause accelerated clogging, even though some temporary relief may be experienced immediately after application of the product.”
  • 3(f)(ii) [Small amounts of bleach or caustics in the septic tank]: Frequently however, the harmful effects of ordinary household chemicals are overemphasized. Small amounts of chlorine bleaches, added ahead of the tank, may be used for odor control and will have no adverse effects.Small quantities of lye or caustics normally used in the home, added to plumbing fixtures, are not objectionable as far as operation of the tank is concerned. If the septic tanks are as large as required by regulation, dilution of lye or caustics in the tank will be enough to overcome any harmful effects that might otherwise occur.
  • 3(f)(iii) [Septic tank enzymes] Some 1200 products, many containing enzymes, have been placed on the market for use in septic tanks, and extravagant claims have been made for some of them.As far as is known, none [of the septic tank enzyme additives] has been proved advantageous in properly controlled tests.
  • 3(f)(iv) Soaps, detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, or other material as normally used in the household will have no appreciable adverse effect on the system. However, as both the soil and essential organisms might be susceptible to large doses of chemicals and other disinfectants, moderation should be the rule.Advice of responsible officials should be sought before chemicals arising from a hobby or home industry are discharged into the system.
  • 3(f)(v) [Porox or Hydrogen Peroxide septic drainfield treatments]: Adsorption trenches or filters can become clogged due to the plugging of the voids in the stone layer with soil particles, or due to the build-up at the soil/sewage interface of a black, slimy deposit composed of organic wastes, bacteria, inorganic precipitates and other debris, occurring due to the age of a system or to its overloading with solids.A combination of these causes may also occur. Where a slimy deposit is causing or contributing to clogging, rejuvenation of the soil/sewage interface may be accomplished by removing any stagnant water from the system and injecting a strong solution of hydrogen peroxide. This form of chemical restoration was developed and patented (1977) by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and the process named POROX. Applications using hydrogen peroxide to restore leaching beds must be licensed by WARF.Because of the dangers of handling this strong oxidant, this treatment should be done by professionals. Confirmation that slimy deposits are clogging the field can be determined by measuring the liquid level in one or more absorption trenches and comparing it to the level of ground water in an augured hole located a few feet from the bed perimeter.

    Inspection of the trenches by exposing portions at two or more dispersed points in the leaching bed will indicate whether the clogging is general in all distribution lines and if the voids in the stone are filled or partly filled with soil.

    If the voids are filled POROX™ treatment would not have as lasting an effect. If judged suited to rejuvenation by POROX™, it is important that the septic tank be pumped and that all static liquid is removed from the absorption trenches prior to the treatment.

Biological and chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate decomposition in conventional residential septic systems. In some jurisdictions such septic tank products, cleaners, root killers, grease dissolvers, etc. are prohibited by building codes, as the municipality is concerned for chemical pollution of groundwater and aquifers. Other products may actually harm the septic system. Some of my clients who added yeast to their septic tank regularly discovered that the yeast caused so much frothing in their septic tank that solids were forced into the leach field rather than settling to the tank bottom.

Opinions about what ought to be added to septic tanks to keep them “healthy” range from obscure possibility to ridiculous. At a class on this topic in Ontario an inspector insisted that a bacterial inoculation was needed in the septic tank whenever it was pumped. Nonsense.

There is plenty of bacteria left in the tank and entering it when it’s used. Another inspector said he tossed a cat into the septic tank after cleaning. Although it was difficult to take such a comment seriously, he insisted that he was not kidding. Popular delusions and the madness of crowds has infected the onsite waste disposal topic as badly as the Dutch tulip craze affected gardeners.

National Environmental Services Center (NESC) Statement on Septic Tank Treatments

Additives/System Cleaners

While many products on the market claim to help septic systems work better, the truth is there is no magic potion to cure an ailing system. In fact, most engineers and sanitation professionals believe that commercial septic system additives are, at best, useless, and at worst, harmful to a system.

There are two types of septic system additives: biological (like bacteria, enzymes, and yeast) and chemical. The biological additives are harmless but some chemical additives can potentially harm the soil in the drainfield and contaminate the groundwater.

While there hasn’t been extensive study on the effectiveness of these products, the general consensus among septic system experts is that septic system additives are an unnecessary evil.

Be aware that the extended use of strong pharmaceuticals and personal care products may harm the working bacteria population in the tank. The total effects are unknown at this time. – NESC Pipeline – Fall 2004, Vol. 15 No. 4.

US EPA Statement on Septic Tank Additives

Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Special Issues Fact Sheet 1 EPA 625/R-00/008

Description of Septic Tank Additive Products

Because of the presence of significant numbers and types of bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, and other fungi and microorganisms in typical residential and commercial wastewaters, the use of septic system additives containing these or any other ingredients is not recommended.

The benefits of consumer products sold as septic system cleaners, degraders, decomposers, deodorizers, organic digesters, or enhancers are not significant or have not been demonstrated conclusively, depending on the product.

Some of these products can actually interfere with treatment processes, affect biological decomposition of wastes, contribute to system clogging, and contaminate ground water. The septic tank/soil absorption field system is the most commonly used onsite wastewater treatment system in the United States. It is relatively low in cost, has no moving parts, and requires little maintenance.

Septic tanks have a number of important functions, including:

  • Remove oils, grease and settleable solids. The septic tank is designed to provide quiescent conditions over a sufficient time period to allow settleable solids to sink to the bottom of the tank and floatable solids, oils, and grease to rise to the surface. The result is a middle layer of partially clarified effluent that exits the tank to the soil absorption field.
  • Store settleable and floatable material. Tanks are generously sized according to projected wastewater flow and composition to accumulate sludge and scum at the bottom and top of the tank, respectively. Tanks require pumping at infrequent intervals (e.g., 1 to 7 years), depending on sludge and scum accumulation rates.
  • Digest/decompose organic matter. In an anaerobic environment, facultative and anaerobic bacteria can reduce retained organic molecules to soluble compounds and gases, including H2, CO2, NH3, H2S, and CH4. This digestion can significantly reduce sludge volume in warm climates.

Types of septic tank or septic system additives and effects on treatment processes

This topic has moved to SEPTIC ADDITIVE TYPES

There are three general types of commonly marketed septic system additives:

  • Inorganic compounds, usually strong acids or alkalis, are promoted for their ability to open clogged drains. Product ingredients (e.g., sulfuric acid, lye) are similar to those used in popular commercial drain cleaners. These products can adversely affect biological decomposition processes in the treatment system and cause structural damage to pipes, septic tanks, and other treatment system components.Hydrogen peroxide, once promoted as an infiltration field re conditioner, has been found to actually degrade soil structure and compromise long-term viability of soil treatment potential. Its use to unclog failed infiltration fields is no longer recommended.
  • Organic solvents, often chlorinated hydrocarbons (e.g., methylene chloride, trichloroethylene) commonly used as degreasers and marketed for their ability to break down oils and grease. Organic solvents represent significant risks to ground water and wastewater treatment processes. These products can destroy resident populations of decomposer and other helpful microorganisms in the treatment system.Use of products containing organic solvents in onsite treatment systems is banned in many states. Introduction of organic solvents into onsite systems located in states that ban the use of these products may trigger liability issues if ground water becomes contaminated.
  • Biological additives, like bacteria and extra cellular enzymes mixed with surfactants or nutrient solutions, which mirror but do not appear to significantly enhance normal biological decomposition processes in the septic tank. Some biological additives have been found to degrade or dissipate septic tank scum and sludge.
  • See Yeast in the Septic Tank?

Baking Soda in the Septic Tank?

This discussion has moved to BAKING SODA

Odor Control For Septic Systems

This topic is now at ODOR CONTROL

Phosphorous Removal For Septic

Please see the new page for this topic at PHOSPHOROUS REMOVERS

Yeast Treatments for Septic Tanks

Yeast in septic systems and tanks is now discussed at YEAST in the SEPTIC TANK

Porosity Restorers for Septic Fields

This discussion is now at POROSITY RESTORERS

So What Should I Put into the Septic Tank?

  1. Normal human waste and wastewater
  2. Toilet Paper

Reader opinions on toilet paper and septic filters or lint traps

Do not put toilet paper or any other material except human waste in the toilet. Place garbage can in bathroom and place paper in the can. Dispose of paper with other household garbage. Will extend life between pumpings by years. Randy Green, 10/30/12

You can extend the life of your septic system by removing enough non-biodegradeable clothing fibers to carpet your living room each year by adding highly-technical lint traps that filter all the fibers from the washing machine discharge line. It is these non-settleable, drain field plugging fibers that you find adorning the landscape with spider web like features whenever you run into someone who has recycled his gray water for lawn and garden watering. – Sweetfilter 11/1/11

Reply: What’s the difference in effect between toilet paper and fabric fibers in the septic system?

Randy, indeed in some countries it is common practice to keep a small, plastic lined waste container next to the toilet, into which used toilet paper and other wastes other than urine or excrement are deposited. I expect that keeping paper out of the septic system gives some added relief in areas where the system is of very limited capacity and perhaps where the water volume is lower than common in North America too.

Toilet paper settlement test (C) Daniel FriedmanBut in normal use with a conventional septic system such as designs commonly used in the North America that does not appear to be necessary and I have not found an authoritative source that recommends it. If you or other readers come across such a reference be sure to let us know so that we can post it for others.

On the other hand, I agree completely with Sweetfilter that a septic filter that keeps cloth fibers and similar debris out of the septic system or even out of a drywell used to dispose of laundry wastewater and similar graywater is a great idea and will reduce soil clogging and extend the system life.

See FILTERS SEPTIC & GREYWATER for details.

What’s the difference in effect between toilet paper and fabric fibers in the septic system? Toilet tissue is claimed to break down into small enough biodegradable fragments that it does not add significantly to soil clogging in the drainfield. Illustrated in our photo (above left), we are running an ongoing test of RV toilet tissue and other tissues to see how they dissolve or break down in plain water and ultimately in water that contains the appropriate septic tank bacteria.

See TOILET TISSUE CHOICES and TOILET TISSUE TEST.

Use of Recycled Paper – Based Toilet Paper, US EPA Recommendation, vs. Septic Tank Enzymes

See TOILET TISSUE CHOICES where we address the EPA recommendation for recycled-paper content in toilet tissue. The EPA also provides a search engine to find suppliers.

To Maximize the Life of Your Septic Tank and Drainfield You May

  • See SEPTIC LIFE MAXIMIZING STEPS for a list of septic and drainfield life-extending tips that includes the importance of septic tank inspection and pumping, things to keep out of the septic tank, efficient use of water to minimize wastewater volume, what to plant over the drainfield, keeping other water away from the drainfield, keeping vehicles and livestock and trees off of the drainfield.
  • Inspect the system for safe conditions, safe tank covers
  • Pump the septic tank on schedule –
    see SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE
  • Improve the septic system: adding a greywater system, separate drywell, adding a septic tank inlet or outlet filter (SEPTIC FILTERS), or adding an aerator to convert the conventional septic tank to an aerobic design will increase the level of effluent treatment and extend drainfield life.
    See SEPTIC SYSTEM DESIGN ALTERNATIVES.

Watch out: adding a septic tank aerator with incomplete design can push solids into and destroy the drainfield. Aerobic septic tanks use multiple chambers to avoid this problem; a retrofit design would typically include an outlet tee filter or separate filtering chamber that, if omitted or not properly maintained is likely to lead to sewage backups or septic system failure.

We make no specific representation about the efficacy of any of the particular products shown in the page top photo, butexpert sources quoted in this article should be read carefully by any property owner considering adding a chemical, enzyme, or other product claimed to treat their septic tank or drainfield.

Comments and suggestions for content and citations of unbiased expert authority are welcome. Citation of this article by reference to this website and brief quotation for the sole purpose of review are permitted. Use of this information at other websites, in books or pamphlets for sale is reserved to the author. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing – reviewers are listed at “References.”

  • Arcan Enterprises, Scotch Plains NJ, septic field hydrogen peroxide treatment system. Arcan reports that their system can be applied by homeowners. 888-35ARCAN 908-322-0468 in New Jersey. E-mail: arcan@worldnet.net
    [Check with your local health department for advice and any local regulations before using this or any other septic system cleaner or additive.]
  • Biocycle Wastewater Treatment a BioCycle Unit, Tertiary Polishing Filter and Monitoring System.- Ireland
  • See SEPTIC DRAINFIELD RESTORERS?
  • Product Submissions Are Invited – for septic maintenance and repair or alternative septic system products to be considered for listing, please include supporting research and product literature. There is no listing fee. We do ask for supporting literature including studies of septic system treatment product use and product effectiveness. Contact Us – please use email.

Source, and credit to:

InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public – we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website.

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