Septic tanks are a necessity in rural areas where sewers are not widely available. However, as many home owners know, septic tank back ups and failures can be expensive messes to clean up. As a result, the septic tank additives industry does good business with septic tank owners seeking a cheaper way to keep their underground septic systems working properly.
Unfortunately, where there are an abundance of septic tank treatment products available. It is not very clear, however, that any of these provide any benefit. In some cases, the additives can make the septic tank problems worse. Septic tank additives come in three categories: inorganic chemicals, biological agents, and organic solvents. Each, in theory, eat up sewage gunk that most people associate with a plugged tank. However, they also have other side-effects.
Organic septic tank additives are added into the tank system by simply flushing them or draining the material down the home plumbing. While functioning as a solvent, this type of additive has unwanted side effects of leaching into groundwater and degrading the soil in drainfields. Septic systems need drainfields and nearby soil to act as a sponge, catching organic matter and filtering and cleaning water. When the soil gets broken down by the additive, its intended function fails and nearby groundwater becomes contaminated with waste as well as solvent run-off.
Biological septic tank additives are probably the most common and familiar type of septic treatment. Touted as being made up of naturally-occurring anaerobic bacteria, the additive also gets introduced into the septic tank via a toilet or drain. The anaerobic bacteria, in theory, are supposed to eat up all of the septic sludge, freeing the system from blockages and returning flow to the system. In reality, while anaerobic bacteria can work, they are susceptible to household chemicals which commonly occur with sanitary cleaning. As a result, the anaerobic bacteria only provides benefits for as long as it stays alive. Additionally, anaerobic bacteria growth generates gas, which makes sludge rise and float in a tank. That in turn also causes blockages as the waste moves through the system into the drainfield.
Inorganic solvents involve very harsh chemicals that can damage both the septic tank structure as well as the surrounding soil. While such chemicals are very good for breaking up waste oil and oil-based sludge, the same corrosive factor can break down lining and joints in old septic tanks and septic systems. Eventually, continued use of such chemicals, typically involving acids, can then leak into the surrounding soil and water table.
Instead of septic tank additives, most septic systems experts recommend just pumping out a septic tank every two to five years. This cost is probably the same or less than the cost of regularly buying and dumping additives into the septic system.
Additionally, homeowners can save themselves an expensive septic tank repair bill by also keep non-wastewater material out of the plumbing. This can include trash, cigarettes, sanitary materials, plastics, diapers, and any other material that doesn’t break down quickly. All of these kinds of items work their way into septic tanks and drain lines, eventually leading to back-ups as they trap more material and sludge.