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What typical household chemicals and substances are safe to flush down the toilet and into a private septic system?
Is it ok to flush common household chemicals & household cleaners cleaners into the septic tank?
Which household chemicals may damage the septic tank or leach fields and at what levels of usage are they harmful? This document explains how to extend the life of the septic system by being careful about what goes into it.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Effects of Household Chemicals Flushed Into a Septic System
Household Chemicals Commonly Put Into Septic System or Down Building Drains
What common household cleaners or chemicals are OK to flush into the septic tank?What household cleaners or other common household liquids should NOT be flushed into the septic tank?What do bleach, epsom salts, liquor, whiskey, wine do to the septic tank and drainfield?
Ammonia - in normal dilute quantities such as from mopping a kitchen floor, should not be a concern. Don't dump bottles of un-wanted ammonia or any other chemicals into the building drains or septic system.
Bleach - in normal quantities, modest household usage is so dilute in the septic tank as to not be much of a concern; but if you're doing a lot of
wash using lots of bleach, consider using an oxygen bleach product (sodium percarbonate) as an alternative.
Bleach at large quantities such in an attempt to subvert a well test or septic dye test, can
damage the septic system and should not be poured into it.
Technical review, content suggestions, critique are welcomed and are listed at "References."
This article is part of our series:
De-Greasing chemicals: de-greasing or cleaning chemicals such as those used in industrial processes or for cleaning metal parts should not be flushed into the septic system, while other de-greasing or FOG (Fats Oils Grease) removing drain and septic maintenance chemicals and treatments are likely to be acceptable.
Details and a discussion of FOG (Fat Oil Grease) de-greasers used in drain maintenance and a comparison of those products with industrial de-greasing chemicals are given in this article
Detergents & household cleaners at normal levels: Small and normal quantities of household cleaner such as water used to mop a floor or clean a counter,
are unlikely to damage a septic system by their volume, concentration in the septic tank, nor by their chemical content.
Normal levels of household cleaning,
detergents, fabric softeners, shampoos, and bath soap, at normal levels of household use are sufficiently dilute
when they reach the septic tank that they should not be a problem for a conventional septic tank and drainfield system.
However clothes washing machine and dishwashing machine detergents commonly contain phosphates and surfactants which are environmental contaminants.
Laundry detergents & soaps used in washing machines & dishwashers are discussed separately
Drain Cleaners & Septic Treatment Chemicals , such as used to unclog building drains, of all types, caustic or organic, should be ok provided that you follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Regular, daily, weekly, or monthly use of drain openers, drain cleaners should not be needed in residential septic systems and some products that are caustics may be harmful to the system and to the environment when used often or in larger-than-recommended quantities.
Septic treatment chemicals are generally not needed, sometimes contaminate the environment, and are illegal in many jurisdictions in the U.S. and all of Canada.
Thanks to David Peterson for suggesting clarification on drain cleaners and septic systems.
Epsom salts, such as used to bathe feet, at normal use should also be OK.
Liquor or Whiskey: how to get rid of un-wanted whiskey or liquor: pouring a small amount, say a bottle or two of unwanted liquor down the drain and on into the septic tank is not likely to be harmful.
Frequent pouring of liquor into a septic system or pouring large amounts, say a case at a time, is probably a bad idea. It'd be better to give the liquor away.
Look into a charitable gifts foundation if your whiskey bottles are in good shape.
Photo chemicals: But if a building is hosting non-residential activities such
as a photo lab or other activity that sends a concentrated dose of chemicals into the system it's likely to be a problem either
for the septic system or for the environment.
While liquids are not going to clog a pipe, they can, especially if in high concentration, damage the
bacterial action in the septic tank or in the leach fields where the biomat is needed to process pathogens and thus to make
the effluent safe to discharge into the environment.
Even a chemical which does not directly damage the biomat may
be nonetheless neither filtered nor neutralized by the septic system process. So if you're dumping large amounts of photo chemicals
or cleaners down yo
Reader Question: Will antibacterial soap interfere with a septic system?
I've done a search on your informative site but I was unable to ascertain as to whether or not antibacterial soaps should be used at a home with a septic system.
Will the antibacterial quality of the soap interfere with the needed bacteria in the system?
Reply: At normal usage levels antibacterial soap won't hurt the septic tank
A short answer is "no" - not in the amounts that would normally be used in a household.
At normal household usage levels such as washing hands or washing dishes, anitbacterial soap will be sufficiently dilute in the septic tank as to do no harm.
We use the same reasoning as used for normal usage of household cleaners and laundry bleach discussed in the article above. - Ed.
Reade Question: what causes drain clogging or septic pump clogging by a white waxy substance?
What causes the large amount of white waxy clumpy substance that i found recently in my septic pump container?
The substance was stuck to the sides of the tank(severeal inches thick), stuck all over the pump, and stuck all over the float switch which of course was the problem and the reason for opening the septic tank.
This goopy accumulation happened over 2 years and 5 months.
thanks. - Rani 8/11/11
I can't be certain what the white stuff was without seeing a sample in our forensic lab. But I can warn that using more powdered detergent in a dishwasher or clothes washer can lead to accumulation of a gooey mess that clogs drains or even septic drainfields.
You've added another important example: excessive detergent use OR using a budget detergent that contains large amounts of clay fillers can clog the pump float control switch or the pump intake in a sewage ejector pump or sewer pump as well.
We discuss the causes of white waxy deposits in drains and sewage or ejector pumps
On 2016-06-08 Reply by (mod) - distinguish cleaning de-greasers from plumbing drain degreasing products
I have not included common plumbing drain FOG (Fat Oil Grease) degreasers (such as Cloroben PT-4) in our Don't Flush List (link given below) though excessive use of any solvent may not only harm the septic tank but some solvents are harmful to humans directly or if found in groundwater.
However other degreasing solvents such as those used in industry to clean metal parts, or in garages to clean automotive parts, are a completely different product that should not be flushed down drains into septic systems, and that might be prohibited from drain disposal in municipal sewer systems as well.
See this example MSDS safety sheet for Cloroben PT4, a plumbing drain cleaner also described as a "flow improver" and "grease control agent" produced and marketed by Hercules. As pointed out by Hughes (1954) often safety has focused first on explosion or fire hazards.
Some Hercules products such as Hercules PT-GIO1™ combine grease solvents and "waste disgesting bacteria" while Hercules PT-4 (or Cloroben PT-4) is a formlua designed to rapidly dissolve FOG (Fats Oils and Grease) using a non-acidic, non-caustic formula that is described as "safe on all types of piping materials when used as directed"
CLOROBEN PT4 SAFETY DATA SHEET, [PDF], HCC Holdings, Inc. an Oatey Affiliate, 4700 West 160th Street
Cleveland, OH 44135, USA, retrieved 2017/02/22, original source: http://www.oatey.com/msds/sds-us--hercules-cloroben-pt4.pdf
Cloroben PT-4 can be used to improve flow of gravel absorption beds around
cesspools, drywells, leach tanks and drain field laterals.
Can be used to clean lines to
and from grease traps, cleans main lines or soil stacks/vents of apartment buildings,
condominiums and hotels or for commercial applications; controls grease caking and
fouling in clarifiers, lines and digesters and helps maintain good percolation in aeration
basins of municipal waste treatment plants.
Hercules PT- and WHAM Product literature: http://www.oatey.com/doc/lcs982greasecontrolwhampt4ptbiocanadapdf081015.pdf (op cit)
Because of the potential health impacts, the U.S. EPA has ste maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for some solvents such as chlorinated solvents in groundwater in the United States.
Moran, Michael J., John S. Zogorski, and Paul J. Squillace. "Chlorinated solvents in groundwater of the United States." Environmental Science & Technology 41, no. 1 (2007): 74-81.
Murphy, Brian L., and Thomas D. Gauthier. "Current developments in environmental forensics: Forensic analysis of chlorinated solvent contamination data." Environmental Claims Journal 11, no. 4 (1999): 81-96.
Viraraghavan, T., and Simon Hashem. "Trace organics in septic tank effluent." Water, Air, & Soil Pollution 28, no. 3 (1986): 299-308.
And some supposedly-safe solvents have been demonstrated to be hazardous
Hughes, James P. "Hazardous exposure to some so-called safe solvents." Journal of the American Medical Association 156, no. 3 (1954): 234-237. Abstract: There is scarcely an industrial plant or a business that does not use some solvents. The kinds and the quantities vary from the can of type cleaner in the secretary's desk to tank car loads of less familiar substances used as degreasing agents in the metal trades or as vehicles in the manufacture of chemicals.
There are hazards in the handling of all solvents because of their appreciable volatility. Some danger may be recognized by the user, but flammability and explosiveness are more likely to be considered than physiological action.
The selection of a solvent for a specific purpose depends on technological factors, such as required action, volatility, handling practice (including vapor recovery), the tendency of the substance to leave a residual film on metal surfaces, cost, and availability.
The safety aspect may be introduced as a last consideration but, perhaps, only in terms of risk of fire or explosion.
Continue reading at CHEMICALS to KEEP OUT OF SEPTICS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Thanks to reader David Peterson for suggesting text clarification on drain cleaners 04/2009
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill. Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers: * Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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