too important to stay silent…just because your association endorses and promotes something doesn’t make it right for you or your clients. Hope the information below educates, saves time, expense and future aggravation for any involved…ymmv
My ownership experience, education and recommendation to clients is:
NO ADDITIVES ARE REQUIRED OR HAVE BEEN PROVEN BENEFICIAL FOR PROPER SEPTIC SYSTEM FUNCTION
- The system must be engineered and installed correctly (inspection required)
- The system requires periodic maintenance (pumping and general upkeep repairs) (inspection required, market these as annual services)
- The owner requires education on system operations and what to avoid introducing into the system tanks and drainfield piping (part of inspector’s job if qualified)
Where is the product test data or anything besides a marketing campaign?
Selling maintenance product can be compared to prescriptive repairs, something we should avoid and leave to the experts…
Septic System Additives & Chemicals for Septic Tank and Drainfield “Maintenance,” “Un-Clogging,” or “Repair” - Septic Tank Treatments
· Septic System Treatments, septic tank additives, septic drainfield restorer
· Septic system chemicals, septic tank treatments, septic tank bacteria, yeast in septic tanks
· Septic field restoration projects and products: Porox™, hydrogen peroxide, acids, enzymes, pressurized aeration, resting the drainfield, as attempts to rejuvenate a drainfield: do they work? are they legal?
· Do septic tank or septic system treatments work? Do some septic treatments harm the environment? Are they legal?
· Septic tank additives: position of septic experts, Canadian & US Government Agencies
Our site offers impartial, unbiased advice without conflicts of interest. We will block advertisements which we discover or readers inform us are associated with bad business practices, false-advertising, or junk science. Our contact info is at inspect-ny.com/appointment.htm.
This article discusses the use of septic chemicals or bacterial or other septic tank additives, septic system restorers, and septic tank treatments for septic systems. Should you add septic treatment chemicals, nutrients, cleaners, bacteria, yeast, root killers, septic drainfield decloggers to septic systems? Generally, no. Why not? What causes septic system failures? What do experts say about septic chemicals and septic treatments? Why do people use them? These questions are addressed here. Our page top photograph shows a collection of septic system additives, chemicals, cleaners, root killers, etc. for sale at a building supply store. We do not have specific information about these individual products and we make no specific representation about the efficacy of any individual product shown.
Comments and suggestions for content are welcome. This document is a chapter of Inspecting, Testing, & Maintaining Residential Septic Systems. Also see The Septic Information Website. Citation of this article by reference to this website and brief quotation for the sole purpose of review are permitted. Use of this information at other websites, in books or pamphlets for sale is reserved to the author. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at “References.”
© Copyright 2009 Daniel Friedman, All Rights Reserved. Information Accuracy & Bias Pledge is at below-left. Use links at the left of each page to navigate this document or to view other topics at this website. Green links show where you are in our document or website.
SEPTIC PRODUCTS FOR SALE - Alternative Onsite Waste Disposal (Septic System) Materials & Products
· Arcan Enterprises, Scotch Plains NJ, septic field hydrogen peroxide treatment system. Arcan reports that their system can be applied by homeowners. 888-35ARCAN 908-322-0468 in New Jersey. E-mail: email@example.com
[Check with your local health department for advice and any local regulations before using this or any other septic system cleaner or additive.]
· Biocycle Wastewater Treatment a BioCycle Unit, Tertiary Polishing Filter and Monitoring System.- Ireland
· Product Submissions Are Invited - for septic maintenance and repair or alternative septic system products to be considered for listing, please include supporting research and product literature. There is no listing fee. Contact Us - please use email. Also see Info-Share support explanation
ARE Septic Tank ADDITIVES USEFUL? - Septic System Additives and Chemicals - are they needed?
Septic Additive Companies are Asked for Independent Supporting Research
Many septic treatment producers and distributors contact us with suggested products. We ask for independent, peer-reviewed, professional research supporting each suggested product. Such support is particularly needed for two reasons:
- The high cost of replacing a failed septic absorption field or seepage pit system naturally breeds an industry of “magic bullets” which are questionable (see the citations which follow.)
- Because of the lack of demonstrated effectiveness, and perhaps more important, because some septic additives or cleaners are dangerous or can cause serious ground water contamination they are illegal in many jurisdictions.
Septic tank additives or “rejuvenators” are not needed in your septic tank, whether the additives are chemically-based (organic or inorganic compounds that claim to break up sludge or scum or to unclog drainfields), or biologically-based septic additives (septic tank yeast cultures, septic tank bacteria, starter bacteria, or septic tank enzymes).
Some septic tank or septic drainfield additives such as yeast or harsh chemicals can actually damage the septic system. Yeast can cause frothing and excessive activity in the septic tank, preventing normal settling of solids and coagulation of greases. This agitation forces solid waste into the drainfield and by clogging the soil, shortens its life. Other septic chemicals intended to kill tree roots or unclog clogged leachfield soils can contaminate the environment.
Can Some Conditions Kill Off Needed Septic Tank Bacteria?
If other conditions at a property have resulted in killing-off the (needed) septic tank bacteria (such as adding unusually large amounts of bleach, disinfectants, or antibiotics to a septic tank) some folks sell bacterial “starters” to “rejuvenate” the septic tank. To me this makes little sense for the following reasons:
- Calculations of “septic tank die-off” which demonstrate that about 2 gallons of bleach is likely to harm septic tank bacteria have been based on a “static septic system”, a fixed septic tank volume into which no new wastewater, sewage, and their diluting and re inoculating effect have been considered.
- If you don’t correct the conditions that have caused a bacterial die-off in the septic tank, no amount of starter or booster is going to make any difference.
- Adding to a septic tank products such as enzymes which claim to break down grease risk destroying the floating scum layer in the septic tank, forcing unwanted oils and debris into the leach field.
- As soon as you stop putting inappropriate bleach, disinfectant, or antibiotics into the septic system and after the first time someone uses a toilet, the septic tank has been re inoculated with what it needs. However the release of chemicals from a septic system to the environment can be a serious problem in some locations, especially if larger volume industrial processes or larger facilities such as nursing homes are the chemical source.
- Forcing hydrogen peroxide or other chemicals into drainfield or leach field soils can damage the soil and contaminate the environment.
If/when research is provided on specific products we will provide access to it from this page.
Septic Tank PUMPING PREVENTS FAILURES - Citations on Septic Tank Pumping, Failure Prevention, Additives
Pumping the septic tank regularly is the main thing that can and should be done to extend the life of your septic system.
In general, septic system chemicals are not needed and are not recommended: Chemicals and other additives promoted to keep a septic system “healthy” or “free-flowing” or “nourished” are generally not required nor recommended by expert sources. The following references support this statement:
· Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension,Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 “Septic Tank Pumping,” by Paul D. Robillard and Kelli S. Martin - last line of second paragraph “Biological and chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate decomposition.”
· Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 “Preventing Septic System Failures,” by PaulD. Robillard and Kelli S. Martin - page 2, Maintenance Failures, paragraph two, “Chemical or biological additives are not a substitute for pumping.”
· “Soil Science Facts, Septic Tank Systems,” Michael T. Hoover, Dept. of Soil Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, SS 86-4, “Are Septic-Tank Cleaners Necessary?” “No. These products include biologically based materials (bacteria, enzymes, and yeast), inorganic chemicals (acids and bases), or organic chemicals (including solvents). They do not reduce the need for regular pumping of the septic tank. Some of these products contain organic chemicals and may even damage the drainfield or contaminate the groundwater and nearby wells.”
· Florida ASHI Seminar, Kissimmee FL, 10/10/93, “Septic Tank News & Views,” cites Florida building code 10D-6.050 Maintenance, paragraph (4) "Organic chemical solvents shall not be advertised, sold, or used in the state for the purpose of degreasing or de clogging onsite sewage disposal systems. (4)(a) All organic chemical solvents known to have been used as decloggers or degreasers of onsite sewage disposal systems or those which have a likelihood of being used in such a manner shall be labeled on the front of each product container with the following language: ‘Florida Statute 381.0065 (13) prohibits the advertisement, sale or use of organic chemical solvents for the purpose of degreasing or de clogging onsite sewage systems in the state.’ … " and (4)(b) continues, “Persons who use organic chemical solvents for degreasing or declogging onsite sewage disposal systems shall be subject to revocation of their septage disposal service permits and shall be subject to other applicable penalties as described in Chapter 381, or 489 Part III,F.S.” These law changes were effective in Florida march 17, 1992.
· “Septic Tank Maintenance,” K. Mancl and J.A. Moore, Oregon State University Extension Service, Extension Circular 1343/January 1990. “Biological and chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate settling or decomposition.”
The view that chemical and other additives are not necessary, and in some jurisdictions are illegal, was held by information we collected from every U.S. state as well as Canadian sources.
Septic Tank Pumping Frequency Chart
CANADA PROHIBITS Septic Tank ADDITIVES - Canadian citations on Septic Tank Additives - prohibited
Our Canadian sources have offered the most detailed explanation of these issues. (Thanks to Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, Ontario, for providing this information.) See “Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems,” Referring to Ontario Regulation 374/81 under part VII of the Environmental Protection Act, ISBN 0-7743-7303-2.
ONTARIO MINISTRY - Ontario, Canada, Ministry of the Environment, “9.4.1 Class 4 Sewage Systems, Construction, Operation, and Maintenance,” May 1982.
· Paragraph 3(f)(i) Chemicals: “The function of a septic tank is not improved by the addition of disinfectants or other chemicals. In general, the additary products which are claimed to “clean” septic tanks contain sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide as the active agent. Such compounds may result in sludge bulking and a large increase in alkalinity, and may interfere with digestion. The resulting effluent may severely damage the soil structure and cause accelerated clogging, even though some temporary relief may be experienced immediately after application of the product.”
· 3(f)(ii) Frequently however, the harmful effects of ordinary household chemicals are overemphasized. Small amounts of chlorine bleaches, added ahead of the tank, may be used for odor control and will have no adverse effects. Small quantities of lye or caustics normally used in the home, added to plumbing fixtures, are not objectionable as far as operation of the tank is concerned. If the septic tanks are as large as required by regulation, dilution of lye or caustics in the tank will be enough to overcome any harmful effects that might otherwise occur.
· 3(f)(iii) Some 1200 products, many containing enzymes, have been placed on the market for use in septic tanks, and extravagant claims have been made for some of them. As far as is known, none has been proved advantageous in properly controlled tests.
· 3(f)(iv) Soaps, detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, or other material as normally used in the household will have no appreciable adverse effect on the system. However, as both the soil and essential organisms might be susceptible to large doses of chemicals and other disinfectants, moderation should be the rule. Advice of responsible officials should be sought before chemicals arising from a hobby or home industry are discharged into the system.
· 3(f)(v) Adsorption trenches or filters can become clogged due to the plugging of the voids in the stone layer with soil particles, or due to the build-up at the soil/sewage interface of a black, slimy deposit composed of organic wastes, bacteria, inorganic precipitates and other debris, occurring due to the age of a system or to its overloading with solids. A combination of these causes may also occur. Where a slimy deposit is causing or contributing to clogging, rejuvenation of the soil/sewage interface may be accomplished by removing any stagnant water from the system and injecting a strong solution of hydrogen peroxide. This form of chemical restoration was developed and patented (1977) by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and the process named POROX. Applications using hydrogen peroxide to restore leaching beds must be licensed by WARF.
Because of the dangers of handling this strong oxidant, this treatment should be done by professionals. Confirmation that slimy deposits are clogging the field can be determined by measuring the liquid level in one or more absorption trenches and comparing it to the level of ground water in an augured hole located a few feet from the bed perimeter. Inspection of the trenches by exposing portions at two or more dispersed points in the leaching bed will indicate whether the clogging is general in all distribution lines and if the voids in the stone are filled or partly filled with soil. If the voids are filled POROX™ treatment would not have as lasting an effect. If judged suited to rejuvenation by POROX™, it is important that the septic tank be pumped and that all static liquid is removed from the absorption trenches prior to the treatment.
Biological and chemical additives are not needed to aid or accelerate decomposition in conventional residential septic systems. In some jurisdictions such septic tank products, cleaners, root killers, grease dissolvers, etc. are prohibited by building codes, as the municipality is concerned for chemical pollution of groundwater and aquifers. Other products may actually harm the septic system. Some of my clients who added yeast to their septic tank regularly discovered that the yeast caused so much frothing in their septic tank that solids were forced into the leach field rather than settling to the tank bottom.
Opinions about what ought to be added to septic tanks to keep them “healthy” range from obscure possibility to ridiculous. At a class on this topic in Ontario an inspector insisted that a bacterial inoculation was needed in the septic tank whenever it was pumped. Nonsense.
There is plenty of bacteria left in the tank and entering it when it’s used. Another inspector said he tossed a cat into the septic tank after cleaning. Although it was difficult to take such a comment seriously, he insisted that he was not kidding. Popular delusions and the madness of crowds has infected the onsite waste disposal topic as badly as the Dutch tulip craze affected gardeners.
US EPA Statement on Septic Tank Additives
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Special Issues Fact Sheet 1 EPA 625/R-00/008
Description of Septic Tank Additive Products
Because of the presence of significant numbers and types of bacteria, enzymes, yeasts, and other fungi and microorganisms in typical residential and commercial wastewaters, the use of septic system additives containing these or any other ingredients is not recommended.
The benefits of consumer products sold as septic system cleaners, degraders, decomposers, deodorizers, organic digesters, or enhancers are not significant or have not been demonstrated conclusively, depending on the product. Some of these products can actually interfere with treatment processes, affect biological decomposition of wastes, contribute to system clogging, and contaminate ground water. The septic tank/soil absorption field system is the most commonly used onsite wastewater treatment system in the United States. It is relatively low in cost, has no moving parts, and requires little maintenance.
Septic tanks have a number of important functions, including:
· Remove oils, grease and settleable solids. The septic tank is designed to provide quiescent conditions over a sufficient time period to allow settleable solids to sink to the bottom of the tank and floatable solids, oils, and grease to rise to the surface. The result is a middle layer of partially clarified effluent that exits the tank to the soil absorption field.
· Store settleable and floatable material. Tanks are generously sized according to projected wastewater flow and composition to accumulate sludge and scum at the bottom and top of the tank, respectively. Tanks require pumping at infrequent intervals (e.g., 1 to 7 years), depending on sludge and scum accumulation rates.
· Digest/decompose organic matter. In an anaerobic environment, facultative and anaerobic bacteria can reduce retained organic molecules to soluble compounds and gases, including H2, CO2, NH3, H2S, and CH4. This digestion can significantly reduce sludge volume in warm climates.
Types of septic tank or septic system additives and effects on treatment processes
There are three general types of commonly marketed septic system additives:
· Inorganic compounds, usually strong acids or alkalis, are promoted for their ability to open clogged drains. Product ingredients (e.g., sulfuric acid, lye) are similar to those used in popular commercial drain cleaners. These products can adversely affect biological decomposition processes in the treatment system and cause structural damage to pipes, septic tanks, and other treatment system components. Hydrogen peroxide, once promoted as an infiltration field reconditioner, has been found to actually degrade soil structure and compromise long-term viability of soil treatment potential. Its use to unclog failed infiltration fields is no longer recommended.
· Organic solvents, often chlorinated hydrocarbons (e.g., methylene chloride, trichloroethylene) commonly used as degreasers and marketed for their ability to break down oils and grease. Organic solvents represent significant risks to ground water and wastewater treatment processes. These products can destroy resident populations of decomposer and other helpful microorganisms in the treatment system. Use of products containing organic solvents in onsite treatment systems is banned in many states. Introduction of organic solvents into onsite systems located in states that ban the use of these products may trigger liability issues if ground water becomes contaminated.
· Biological additives, like bacteria and extracellular enzymes mixed with surfactants or nutrient solutions, which mirror but do not appear to significantly enhance normal biological decomposition processes in the septic tank. Some biological additives have been found to degrade or dissipate septic tank scum and sludge. However, whether this relatively minor benefit is derived without compromising long-term viability of the soil infiltration system has not been demonstrated conclusively. Some studies suggest that material degraded by additives in the tank contributes to increased loadings of BOD, TSS, and other contaminants in the otherwise clarified septic tank effluent.
Odor control additives for septic systems: Other products containing formaldehyde, paraformaldehyde, quaternary ammonia, and zinc sulfate are advertised to control septic odors by killing bacteria. This objective, however, runs counter to the purpose and function of septic tanks (promoting anaerobic bacterial growth). If odor is a problem, the source should be investigated because sewage may be surfacing, a line might have ruptured, or another system problem might be present.
Phosphorous removers for septic systems: Another variety of consumer products is marketed for their ability to remove phosphorus from wastewater. These products are targeted at watershed residents who are experiencing eutrophication problems in nearby lakes and streams. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for aquatic plant growth and limiting its input to inland surface waters can help curtail nuisance algae blooms.
Aluminum (as alum, sodium aluminate, aluminum chloride, and activated alumna), ferric iron (as ferric chloride and ferric sulfate), ferrous iron (as ferrous sulfate and ferrous chloride), and calcium (as lime) have been proven to be effective in stripping phosphorus from effluent and settling it to the bottom of the tank. An important side effect of this form of treatment, however, can be the destruction of the microbial population in the septic tank due to loss of buffering capacity and a subsequent drop in pH. Treatment processes can be severely compromised under this scenario.
Baking soda in septic tanks: Finally, baking soda and other flocculants are marketed as products that lower the concentration of suspended solids in septic tank effluent. Theoretically, flocculation and settling of suspended solids would result in cleaner effluent discharges to the subsurface wastewater infiltration system. However, research has not conclusively demonstrated significant success in this regard.