The Absolute Truth About Septic Tank Additives: They Don’t Work
Septic Tank Additives
Many property owners in the United States must use on-site wastewater treatment systems, or septic systems, to treat organic wastewater created on their property. Estimates are that somewhere between one-quarter to one-third of all wastewater is treated by property owners with septic systems.
Since these systems are buried, they are often not thought about. But when problems happen, homeowners recall this expensive asset. Therefore, it is only natural for these property owners to want to maintain their septic system and keep it working well for as long as possible. Unfortunately, they fall for the hype from television commercials for sellers of additives for septic systems who claim that their products will renew and keep septic systems working and extend the pumping frequency of the septic tank.
These assertions, however, are absolutely untrue! In fact, studies conducted by the Kansas State University and Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service found the opposite to be true. DeAnn Presley, K-State Research and Extension soil management specialist said:
“This research has found no benefit in septic tank function to using any type of septic system additives. In fact, some additives potentially could be detrimental to the function or components of the septic system or to groundwater quality.”1
Presley further added:
“One research study, for example, found that the use of a biological additive caused the solid sludge layer at the bottom of the septic tank to decompose too rapidly. This led to rapid gas production.”2
The county and city of Peoria, Illinois, alert consumers that the use of septic tank additives is not warranted. They say:
“…………..don’t use septic tank additives (these do not help and sometimes can be harmful to your system.)”3
You could spend days searching the Internet and never find a single scientific study that concludes that any septic tank additive works. The reason, despite manufacturers’ and sellers’ claims, is that there simply isn’t any research that proves the effectiveness of these additives. Most research has, in fact, suggested just the opposite; septic tank additives are harmful to septic tank systems.
Some scam artists urge that bacteria or enzymes be added to new or recently pumped septic tanks. They claim that bacteria are needed to help dissolve the waste. Wrong! Human waste supplies the septic tank with ample quantities of bacteria for the septic tank to break down waste efficiently.
Research by two universities, however, does prove that aeration of the water in a septic tank changes the bacterial environment from anaerobic to aerobic, allowing up to 40 times more active bacteria to consume and break down organic waste in the septic tank and the drainfield. Studies from Purdue University4 and Baylor University5 concluded that the addition of an aeration system to a septic tank improved the overall system operation and prevented early septic system failures.
So, don’t be taken in by scam artists who offer nothing but empty promises. Only controlled aeration of a septic tank can convert the system from an anaerobic to an aerobic environment. This conversion has shown to be a valuable tool in the treatment of wastewater by septic tank systems and reviving failed or failing septic systems. Aero-Stream’s controlled aeration process will restore your septic system to its’ original condition Guaranteed!
I have to agree with the conclusion that septic tank additives are not necessary,however the introduction of aeration into a septic tank can cause other problems. These problems are as follows: premature clogging of effluent filters due to the rapid growth of bacteria wanting to attach to any surface available. Premature breakdown of the concrete due to corrosive gases.
It is always best to let the septic tank function as intended and add another component specifically designed to treat the wastewater in controlled conditions.
Steve: I would like to offer some facts regarding your misconceptions. Our patented bio-brush provides media for the attached growth bacteria, so the growth on the filter is negligible. Concrete and steel tanks corrode only in an anaerobic process (septic- lacking oxygen). The anaerobic bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide gas. The hydrogen sulfide gas will mix with low levels of oxygen and water in the head space and produce hydrochloric acid. The hydrochloric acid attacks the concrete or steal near the water line. Converting the tank to aerobic eliminates the anaerobic bacteria, thus eliminating the hydrochloric acid. No acid, no corrosion. Many people install our product specifically for this reason. Thanks, Karl
Can you validate what you say by leading me to University studies available on line for reading. I have known people who have never done anything to their septic systems for 30 years and more and have had no problems. I went 20 years without doing anything to my system till I refinanced and the bank required the septic system be pumped. The pumper said the system was fine, but because the bank said I needed it done he performed the operation.
Below are links to university studies:
The average septic system life expectancy is 15-20 years with a range of 5 – 50 years. It is not a matter of if a system is going to fail, but when will it fail. A tank should be pumped when the combined solids and scum layer reach about 25% of the tank volume. Each system develops sludge/scum at a different rate depending on use, misuse and biological make-up of the system users. Typically a tank needs pumping every 3 – 5 years.
A septic system relies on holding time in the tank to breakdown the organic material. When a 1,000 gallon tank is about 25% filled with solids and scum its’ functional treatment capacity is only 750 gallons. This results in a 25% reduction in the amount of organic treatment being completed. The effluent flowing to the field has 25% more organic material suspended in it accelerating the growth of the bio-mat.
The old wives’ tale is that a properly functioning septic tank never needs pumping. This is true in a PERFECT environment. However: we live in less than a PERFECT world so solids will accumulate in the tank. Anyone that believes a tank never needs pumping simply does not understand how a system works.
Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions
In response to Toms remarks. I own a septic company and have been doing this line of work for 30 years. 20 years worth of human waste doesn’t disappear and tanks need to be cleaned every 3-5 years depending on how many people are using it, otherwise you are increasing the odds of sending solids to your septic leach field. Your leach field may be working fine but there were a lot of solids in your tank being it had gone 20 years between pumping’s. Sewage treatment plants have to do the same thing everyday. One of the treatment plants I go to has to waste 30,000 gallons everyday, meaning they have to pump that amount of sludge from their clarifiers to their digester tanks.
Randy is spot on. Anyone telling you that the tank never needs pumping is absolutely wrong. A manufacturer of a restoration product makes boastful claims that if you use their product it will eliminate the need for pumping. This company is either lacking basic knowledge in wastewater treatment or they are desperate and hoping this non-truth will help their sales.
I had a septic system put in12 years ago, never been pumped out and I’ve never added anything to it, with no trouble at all. Mother nature takes care of it. Why waste your money.
There is no need to add anything to your septic system. The tank should be pumped every 3-5 years to remove the accumulated sludge and scum layer. The national average life of a septic system is 15 – 20 years with a range of 2 – 50 years. If you neglect to pump the tank you will likely experience problems sooner than later. Karl
I live in Minnesota where it gets cold in the winter. We live on a hill and the wind blows the snow off my mound drain field so I often don’t have good cover. I never have any problems with my system when I am home in the winter. I left for three weeks in the winter and my system froze so I had to have it pumped until it thawed; very expensive vacation. What can I do to prevent this? I can automatically add water daily but I would think that would eventually dilute the bacteria in the system causing it to cool down. The system is designed for a family of 5 but we are empty nesters with only 2.
I don’t recommend the water trickling method as I do not believe this will prevent freezing during long periods of non-use. We have noted that gravity flow systems can freeze when the home is equipped with a condensing furnace. The constant dribble of condensate water flowing out of the tank into the field lines will slowly accumulate ice in the pipes and freeze solid. The best solution I know of is a product specifically designed to remedy this issue. The product is called “The Septic Heater” http://www.septicheater.com/
Can you please comment about septic systems that have gone unused for a length of time? Use the example of a home that has been empty (and the waste system used rarely) for many years due to, say, estate issues. During this time, little or no bacteria is added “naturally” to the system. What does this do to the septic tank and drain field, and what if anything should be done to correct it?
Nothing needs to be done after a system has not been used for an extended period of time. When the system is put back into service the bacteria count will increase naturally. Unless you have the pumping records, I would recommend having the system inspected for sludge accumulation in the tank. If the combined scum and sludge volume is greater than 30% of the tank volume the tank should be pumped.
Just to make sure, CLR septic treatment is not advisable?
Bacterial additive have no positive effect on the function of a septic system. This has been studied by independent. Search our blog for “additives” to view the many articles written on this subject.
We had a new septic system put in two years ago. About 18-20 months later we had to have it pumped because sewage was bubbling up from the tank. Since then we have had to pump it 4 more times. My septic company that installed it says I have a biomat buildup. Will shocking my system help? I don’t want to have to install a new leach field as I have already spent thousands for a new system.