Low cost toilet paper performs well in septic tanks (C) Daniel FriedmanBathroom Tissue Lab Test

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Toilet paper breakdown or biodegradation test:

What Happens to Toilet Paper in the Septic Tank? Do some toilet tissues break down better than others? Does it matter? This article describes and provide photos of a simple test demonstrating how bathroom tissue should be expected to break down inside of the septic tank.

We demonstrate a simple low-tech toilet paper test to explore what happens to toilet tissue when it enters the septic tank or sewer system.

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.

Testing Toilet Paper for Septic System Breakdown

Toilet paper test (C) Daniel Friedman

Discussed here: A simple test demonstrates toilet paper break down in the septic tank.

Explanation of importance of septic tank settlement time; Does toilet tissue create a problem in the septic tank? Recommendations for use of recycled-paper toilet tissue versus ultra-soft fluffy toilet paper brands address using recycled paper versus cutting down standing trees; Recommendations for use of biodegradable toilet paper

This article is part of our series: SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTION & MAINTENANCE COURSE an online book on septic systems. Here we demonstrate a simple low-tech toilet paper test to explore what happens to toilet tissue when it enters the septic tank or sewer system.

Since large numbers of people throughout the world who have access to toilets are accustomed to flushing their used toilet tissue along with waste, we've begun a series of simple empirical tests of the breakdown of several types of widely-used toilet paper

At TOILET TISSUE CHOICES we also explained that in a conventional septic system using a tank and drainfield, ordinary toilet tissue does not harm the septic system.

That article addresses the questions of whether or not we should use special or bio-degradable toilet paper when a home is connected to a private septic system and what kinds of paper or toilet tissue may damage the septic tank or leach fields?

In that article we describe the impacts of using soft toilet tissue, recycled fiber toilet tissue, and other paper products that people might flush into a septic or sewer system.


Testing toilet paper (C) Daniel Friedman

The toilet tissue remains in the septic tank, kept from flowing into the drainfield by septic tank baffles, and eventually toilet tissue breaks down in the septic tank and is not a solid bulk problem at normal levels of usage.

To see just what actually happens to toilet paper in a septic tank produces photographs that some readers may not wish to examine closely, so in our forensic laboratory we made the simple toilet paper test illustrated here.

One square of Rite-Aid® low-cost bathroom tissue was inserted into a quartz-glass test jar containing approximately 100 ml of tap water (photo at left).

We capped and shook the jar of water and toilet paper for approximately 30 seconds (photo at left).

Toilet paper test (C) Daniel FriedmanThis agitation is more violent than what happens in a septic tank, but there too the incoming and out flowing sewage, combined in some systems with bacterial action and mechanical aeration, produces agitation of the sewage in the tank, including toilet tissue.

You can see that very quickly the toilet tissue separated into a large number of very small, fine paper fragments suspended in the water.

Still, we would not want even these small fragments to flow out of the septic tank into the drainfield, as soil clogging would follow, reducing the drainfield life. The job of septic tank baffles is precisely that of keeping floating scum and solids in the septic tank.

But what keeps these small particles of toilet paper (or other waste) in the septic tank if they are agitated into and mixed with septic liquid effluent that will indeed flow out through the septic tank outlet baffle and into the drainfield?

Time is the answer, or in septic-speak, settlement time.

During periods of inactivity mechanical agitation of sewage in the septic tank is reduced, allowing solids to either settle out into the sludge at septic tank bottom, or coagulate in the floating scum layer at the top of the septic tank.

You can see in this photo ) of our toilet paper test that after just 1/2 a minute the toilet paper fragments have already settled out and begun to collect on the bottom of our test jar.

Toilet paper settlement test (C) Daniel FriedmanSee EFFLUENT RETENTION TIME for details about septic tank settlement time.

Further septic tank agitation during use may re-mix these toilet tissue fragments, causing them to break into still smaller fragments that again will settle out of the liquid, moving towards the septic tank bottom.

Eventually the cycle of agitation and settling will virtually dissolve the toilet tissue to very small microscopic paper fibers that may be digested further by fungal or bacterial action in the septic tank or drainfield.

Our toilet tissue test shown here was performed in simple tap water, without the benefit of septic tank microorganisms that would be expected to further break down bath tissue into ever smaller, septic-tank-digestible, fragments.

That is why when the septic tank is opened for pumping and cleaning, only the most recently-used toilet tissue is going to be found visible in the septic tank.


We will keep this test in our laboratory and will provide here further updates and photos on what happens to toilet paper in plain tap water.

Testing RV-Type Toilet Paper Designed for Chemical Toilets

RV toilet paper breakdown test (C) Daniel FriedmanIn February 2010 we began a parallel study of RV type toilet paper (Coleman® brand) in tap water to watch for the rate of fiber breakdown.

Keep in mind that this version of toilet paper breakdown testing has (for now) excluded

But our lab photo (above) shows even without microscopic examination that by no means does this toilet tissue simply dissolve when it is placed in water.

Toilet Tissue Breakdown Test Update

Shown below are the same two toilet paper samples on 2018/06/20 - nine years after this toilet tissue degradation test was begun.

Toilet paper breakdown test status in 2018 (C) Daniel Friedman

The small bottle sample on the left is conventional toilet tissue while the larger bottle on the right contains Coleman™ brand RV toilet tisse.

While there is some limited bacterial action going on in these samples, more bacterial action occurs in a normal septic tank where paper is broken down more-rapidly than in tap-water and toilet paper samples.

Be Sure to Pump the Septic Tank On Schedule

Comments on this sample are also found at TOILET TISSUE CHOICES

There we comment that any toilet tissue that has not broken down in the septic tank will be removed when the septic tank is pumped - on schedule. That septic tank cleanout or pumping is the most-critical step to maintain the septic system.


Be Sure You are Using the Proper Treatment Chemical for RV Tanks, Chemical Toilets, or Graywater Holding Tanks

Coleman chemical toilet treatment (C) Daniel FriedmanChemicals intended as deodorants for chemical toilets, RV and marine sewage holding tanks, and similar equipment are produced by several companies including Coleman(see below) and Thetford's (Aqua-Kem®).

As Coleman® points out right on their Dry Holding Tank Deodorant and Cleaner, that product is intended for use only in portable toilets and RV/Marine toilet systems.

In sum, this is a deodorant and sewage stabilizer intended for portable toilets (chemical toilets) and RV sewage holding tanks where it is intended for brief (5-day) holding periods. Longer holding periods for sewage in these systems, or holding at higher temperatures may require a higher dose of the product.

The company's product labeling indicates that this substance

For graywater holding tanks in RVs and marine systems, Coleman® indicates that a separate product, Coleman® liquid deodorant and cleaner, is recommended in stead. See How to Use & Maintain a Chemical Toilet.


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