Almost everyone has had to deal with hair clogging sinks, drains and septic system or sewer pipes at sometime in their life. It can be messy affair, take time and, in general, be a disgusting event to resolve. Why does hair cause so many septic tank problems when it goes down a drain?
The answer lies in what hair is made of. Hair is made of tough strands of proteins, similar to the material fingernails are made of. For a many reasons, these types of proteins do not brake down easily by the bacteria as organic waste does. The average hold time in a septic tank for most septic systems is 24-48 which is inadequate to brake down these complex proteins.
Because of this, hair is not broken down for months within septic tank, pipes, and the septic system drainfield. Because of the complex nature, hair will not deteriorate for hundreds of years in a suitable environment. There are many of human remains being exhumed after hundreds of years and the body hair is present.
If a septic tank has a filter in the outlet baffle, hair will become trapped and is removed from the system during the periodic maintenance cleanings. If the septic tank has been sized correctly for the household and there is adequate hold time for the wastewater, the hair will settle and become part of the sludge layer at the bottom of the septic tank. It is pumped out with the rest of the sludge during the periodic septic tank pumping performed every two or three years. If there is no filter or the hold time is not adequate, the hair is free to flow throughout the system until it eventually reaches the drainfield (if it doesn’t cause a clog on its way there).
Clogs occur when hair encounters an obstruction and accumulates, forming a filter and trapping objects and organic waste flowing past. What starts as a couple of strands wedged in a pipe joint or trapped in a bend in the piping eventually will grow to a full blown clog over time. Slow flowing drains and backups are usually the consequence.
The best way to deal with these clogs is to try to mechanically dislodge them, using a snake or disassembling the piping to remove the clog. Many homeowners, however, will try to deal with these clogs by using chemicals to dissolve the hair. As had been cited many times in other blogs on this site, these chemicals are, in general, bad news. They may dissolve the clog but can also damage the bacterial environment in the septic tank, causing even more problems. Some of these chemicals may eventually make their way into the ground water table.
The best way to avoid septic tank problems attributed to hair is to prevent it from entering the system in the first place. Use screens and filters in sink and tub drains; humans constantly shed hair along with skin. Preventing some of this from getting into the system only reduces the chances you will have problems. Buy an Aero-Stream effluent filter. These filters do a superior job at collecting hair so it doesn’t clog the drainfield.