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What Cleaning Products are Safe for Septic Tanks?

Water Running Down a Drain

If you own a home with a septic system, you’re well aware of the objects that shouldn’t go down the drain. Paper towels, for instance, won’t break down and could easily clog your pipes, and pouring grease down the drain could have similar results. Did you know, though, that cleaning products, from laundry detergents to toilet bowl cleaners, could also damage your septic tank and leach field? Knowing which cleaning products to use—and which ones to avoid—is essential for maintaining your septic system.

Types of Cleaning Products to Avoid

The sludge inside your septic tank should be broken down before it makes its way through the outlet pipe and into the leach field. To do this, the septic system is designed to utilize bacteria within the tank. Unfortunately, many cleaners that may be safe to use in other households will destroy bacteria in your tank, making it difficult for waste to break down and increasing the likelihood of clogs.

Bleach, for instance, is a disinfectant, which means it’s designed to kill bacteria. That may sound ideal for scrubbing a dirty toilet, but once it’s flushed down, the bleach will begin to kill off the good bacteria in your tank. Ammonia is another popular cleaner that is not recommended for use in homes with septic tanks.

Drain cleaner is another culprit for killing off good bacteria. While it can be frustrating to deal with a clogged drain, reaching for a powerful drain cleaner could cause more frustration once it reaches your septic tank. In addition to throwing off the natural balance within the tank, foaming cleaners can actually do damage to the tank itself as well. One good rule of thumb is that if you need to wear gloves to handle the product, it probably isn’t safe for your septic system.

Types of Cleaning Products to Use

If you’re wondering about the safety of a particular store-bought cleaner, check the labeling. Most septic-safe cleaners include a logo to indicate they can be used in homes with septic systems, though even if something is considered safe, it still may not be the best choice. Instead, take a look at the ingredients list. If the first thing listed is water, it’s likely safe to use. Many disinfectants, bathroom cleaners, and even laundry detergents are now water-based.

You may actually have several septic-safe cleaners in your home, without needing to go to the store. Natural cleaners are not only good for the environment, they are effective and safe for your septic system as well. You’ve probably heard of using white vinegar and baking soda, but lemon juice, salt, and even borax have natural cleaning properties that won’t kill off the good bacteria in your septic tank.

Fortunately, there is another option that isn’t just safe for septic tanks, but beneficial too. Bacteria-based cleaning products introduce more good bacteria into your septic tank. Once inside, the bacteria get to work to completely digest fats, oils, and greases, or FOG, inside the tank. Think of it as a probiotic for your septic tank, as it helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the tank and keeps the system functioning properly.

Why it’s Important to Select Septic Safe Cleaning Products

Solid waste, including FOG, creates a layer of sludge that floats at the top of the tank. When there aren’t enough good bacteria to completely digest this layer of sludge, it could make its way into the outlet pipe that leads to your leach field, clogging the pipe and causing damage to the entire system. You’ll also need to pump your septic tank more frequently to remove the growing sludge layer.

One more reason to consider the cleaning products you use is the environmental impact. Everything that is flushed or poured down the drain will make its way to your tank, and then eventually to your leach field and yard. The tank will not filter out chemicals and toxins, so those, too, will filter into your yard, which may be a concern for your family and pets. On the contrary, natural and bacteria-based cleaning products are safe for everyone.

Don’t Damage Your Septic Tank with the Wrong Cleaners

As you select septic-safe toilet paper and avoid dumping coffee grounds down the drain, consider your cleaning products as well. Harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia will kill off important bacteria and allow sludge to build up in your tank. They’ll also eventually leach into your yard. Instead, purchase water-based cleaners, or, better yet, make your own from natural products. Then, add good bacteria to your tank by using a bacteria-based product. They will then safely begin to break down the solid waste and FOG inside the tank, which will reduce the likelihood of clogs and may even allow you to pump your tank less frequently. Opting for safe cleaning products will help your septic system operate properly for years to come.

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