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Can You Use a Garbage Disposal with a Septic Tank?

Garbage Disposal Topside

If you’re a homeowner with a septic tank, you may be wondering if you can have a garbage disposal as well. While it’s possible to install a garbage disposal in a home with a septic system, it’s not recommended. Why? There are extra costs, maintenance, and possible repairs to your system when garbage disposals are in use. If you choose to use a disposal, follow these tips to minimize problems with your septic system in the future.

Why a Garbage Disposal isn’t the Best Option

Out of sight, out of mind, unless of course, you have a septic system. That’s because everything that is dumped down your drains or flushed down your toilet ends up in your septic tank. Once inside the tank, wastewater solids, or sludge, sink to the bottom. Then bacteria gets to work breaking down the organic matter inside.

When you install a garbage disposal in your sink, you end up disposing of significantly more food waste into your septic tank. While the disposal does break down the size of the food first, the bacteria inside the tank must still work to digest it. If the tank becomes overloaded with food waste, the sludge level rises. Not only does this decrease the capacity of your tank, it could also cause solid material to make its way to the outlet pipe, where it could clog the drain pipes.

Anyone that owns a septic tank can expect to have it pumped every three to five years, but when a garbage disposal is in use, you’ll likely need to pump your tank more frequently to avoid damage to your system. In fact, you can expect to have your septic tank pumped twice as much as homes that are not using a garbage disposal.

Helpful Tips for Using a Garbage Disposal with a Septic System

Sometimes, homeowners find the convenience of a garbage disposal outweighs the downsides. If you ultimately decide to install a garbage disposal, there are some things you can do to help your entire septic system run more smoothly.

Limit What Goes Down the Drain

Not all foods and waste should make their way into your septic tank. When considering which food and waste to dispose of in your sink, stick to soft foods and non-dairy liquids that can be more easily broken down inside the tank, like the flesh of soft fruits and vegetables, ice cubes, and biodegradable dish soaps.

Avoid fruit pits, tough skinned vegetables, and onion skins. Eggshells, nuts, meat, and bones are difficult for the bacteria in your tank to digest, as well. Surprisingly, soft foods like rice, pasta, and oats should also be avoided, because they can expand in water and lead to clogged pipes. Non-organic items like paper towels should never make their way into a septic system either.

Consider using a simple sink strainer that sits down in the sink. These strainers are extremely inexpensive and easy to clean out. This will prevent most foods and wastes of a larger size from making it down the drain. 

Use Cold Water

Food waste is more likely to clog your drain or pipes when warm water is used. Instead, flush your drain pipes with cool water before you turn on your garbage disposal. Then continue to run cold water down the drain until all food waste has passed through the disposal.

Keep Up with Routine Maintenance

This is critical for all septic systems, but especially if you also use a garbage disposal. Be sure to have your tank inspected regularly, and schedule more frequent pumpings to ensure the sludge level in your tank doesn’t rise to unsafe levels. You may also want to consider adding a monthly bacteria-based product. The addition of healthy bacteria will speed up the breakdown of sludge and waste, which will help your septic tank run more efficiently and may reduce the frequency of septic tank pumping as well.

Garbage Disposal Alternatives

Whether you are looking to reduce your garbage disposal use or you have opted not to use one at all, you may be looking at convenient alternatives. First, consider adding a drain strainer to your sink. This is the best way to collect food particles before they make their way down the drain and eventually into your septic tank. As noted above, these can be used with or without a garbage disposal.

You can certainly slip your food waste into the regular trash can, but you may also want to consider composting it. This environmentally friendly option turns fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, and other food waste into nutrient rich composting soil for your lawn or garden. You can purchase a composting bin for your yard, or for ultimate convenience, you can choose a countertop composter that stays in your kitchen.

Considering a Garbage Disposal with Your Septic Tank?

While it’s possible to use a garbage disposal if you have a septic tank, most homeowners choose not to do so. Why? Because more food waste in the septic tank can lead to more problems with the septic system. Instead of dumping food waste down the drain, consider composting it. However, if you do choose to install a garbage disposal, stick to soft fruits and vegetables without peels, flush your drains with cold water, and perform regular maintenance. Consider using a bacteria-based product, as well, to help the waste inside the tank break down more quickly. These tips will help keep your septic system functioning properly for years to come.

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