There are lots of septic tank additives out there from different manufacturers with promises to enable you to get the best from your septic system. While this might sound like a good idea, there are many issues to be considered before getting any additives added to your septic tank.

In this article, we would be discussing the way a septic system works, the different types of septic tank additives, how they work, and their effects.

WHAT ARE SEPTIC TANK ADDITIVES?

Septic tank additives are biological agents or chemical products purchased for one’s septic tank to carry out various functions such as:

  • Breaking up scum in the system.
  • Accelerating biosolid digestion.
  • Increasing the settleability of solids in the septic tank.
  • Unclogging a clogged soil absorption system.

 HOW DOES THE SEPTIC SYSTEM WORK?

One needs to understand how a septic system works before considering getting additives or not.

A conventional septic system that comprises a tank, drain-field, and soil; works in such a way that it doesn’t require any human intervention. The septic tank is designed to help keep solids, oil,  grease, etc, from entering and clogging your drain-field.

The septic tank receives all household wastewater and waste solids.

Bacteria from the waste then break down the solids separating the waste into different layers. The solid such as sand and dirt creates a layer at the bottom known as sludge while grease, fats, etc, rise to the top to create a scum layer.

In the middle is a layer of clear wastewater called effluent which passes into the soil through a drain-field. This is where it undergoes further filtration before safely integrated into the groundwater.

Now, a septic system when properly maintained by regular inspection, pumping, etc. could function as long as 20 years or more.

TYPES OF SEPTIC TANK ADDITIVES

Man in his usual manner has tried to mitigate the natural treatment process in a septic system resulting in the manufacture and marketing of specific septic additives to enhance the smooth running of septic systems and solve possible problems that might occur.

This, therefore, brings us to the different types of septic system additives.

Many septic tank additives manufacturers claim their products carry out many functions such as digesting solids in a septic tank, breaking up scum in the system, accelerating biosolid digestion.etc. They also claim their products refresh one’s system so you don’t need to pump your septic tank more often.

There are 2 main categories of septic system additives. These include;

BIOLOGICAL ADDITIVES: This group of additives includes yeast, enzymes, and bacteria that help to enhance and boost newly installed systems; and to augment overworked ones.

In reality, one does not need any bacteria to be added to the septic system as the bacteria which comes from the simple act of using the system is sufficient enough to keep the system working fine.

CHEMICAL ADDITIVES: These could be either be inorganic compounds or organic solvents.

The inorganic compounds contain strong acids or alkaline and are promoted for their ability to open clogged drains. They include sulfuric acid, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide.etc.

The organic solvents include chlorinated hydrocarbons that are commonly used as degreasers and also have the ability to break down oil and grease. However, they can disrupt groundwater and wastewater treatment processes.

Chemical additives are used to break down oil, sludge; and control odor in a septic system.

It is worthy to note that these additives when added are capable of killing the bacteria and other beneficial microbes that help keep the septic system working fine.

They can also destroy the waste separation process that takes place inside the septic tank, leading to contamination of the groundwater and surrounding soil. The chemical additives can also damage the system’s pipe and other components.

For example, research has shown that hydrogen peroxide though not much harmful to bacteria is capable of degrading soil structure in a drain-field thereby reducing its ability to purify wastewater effluent.

THE PROS AND CONS OF SEPTIC SYSTEM ADDITIVES

It has been approximated that over 1200 additives products are in the market today, many of which contain enzymes that can be bought from chemical companies, discount stores, etc.

Although the beneficial effects of biological additives on the septic system are still being debated, some benefits might have been discovered.

Firstly, under septic tank bacteria “die-off” conditions,  slight reductions in the amount of effluent solid have been achieved using additives.

Die-off conditions in this context occur when toxic substances like bleach, disinfectant cleaners in large quantities destroys bacteria in the septic tank. Other factors that can also cause die-off, include the use of some anti-bacterial agents and medications taken by the homeowner.

Secondly, some enzymatic products can reduce the amount of grease and oil in the septic tank.

Studies have also shown that chemical additives like alum, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, when used in a septic system could agitate soil containing clay and silt, destroying the soil structure and decreasing the soil permeability.

DOES MY SEPTIC TANK NEED AN ADDITIVE TO KEEP IT WORKING? 

It may not be a good idea for a homeowner to make use of additives in his or her septic tank that is designed, operated, and maintained properly.  The reason is that naturally-occurring bacteria needed to make your system work properly, are present within human fecal matter.

You don’t need to add more, feed them, or support them. Also, contrary to popular belief, yeast and possums are not needed in a septic tank.

It is also worthy to note that adding chemical additives to a septic system may lead to the death of the bacterial population in the septic tank, destroy the structure of your tank and pipes, and might also lead to groundwater contamination.

Septic additives are not necessary as a healthy septic system has all it takes to treat and get rid of water. All your tank needs to stay in shape is regular inspection, cleaning to remove the solid sludge layer.

WAYS TO KEEP YOUR SEPTIC SYSTEM IN GOOD CONDITIONS WITHOUT ADDITIVES

So, what can you do to keep your septic system running fine without the use of additives?

Below are some maintenance tips you ought to follow to maximize the life of your septic system and get the best of it.

  • The use of less water as excessive use could be a major cause of system failure. It prevents the drain-field from absorbing water efficiently which can lead to an overflow problem. Also, repair any leak immediately it is noticed.
  • Properly dispose of paints, pesticides, oil at their garbage place and prevent toxic materials from going down the drain.
  • Leftovers from food, medications, tissues, and other solid items should go the trash bags and not down your septic system.
  • Space your laundry throughout the week to avoid overloading as doing all of it one day might put a strain on your drain-field.
  • Having your tank checked routinely for any faults is another great way of having your system clean and in good condition
  • Also, have your septic tank pumped when the need arises, depending on your household size and how often you make use of it. This is necessary to remove the accumulation of solids from your septic tank.

Septic tank pumping can be likened to changing the oils in your car. Doing it regularly will prolong the life of your engine and not doing it at all will lead to the demise of the engine.

WHEN CAN ONE USE SEPTIC TANK ADDITIVES?

Although it is not necessary to use additives when a septic system is capable of carrying out its basic function.

However, there are instances where one can still use additives, especially biological ones.

Some homeowners do not stay home that often, so the septic system lies unused while they are gone. This means that the tank will not get the necessary bacteria it is supposed to get from everyday waste.

In such cases, the bacteria in the tank might not be enough to carry out a proper breakdown. Infrequent use can also cause solid to accumulate more quickly than normal and in such a scenario, you may consider the use of septic tank additives.

This particular problem can still be solved without the use of additives, by simply saving any heavy water-use activities such as laundry or dishwashing, until the toilet has been used a few times to generate more bacteria.

Another instance one can make use of a biological additive is when homeowners take antibiotics or other prescribed medications that may reduce the number of bacteria being released into the septic system. However, it should be noted that there is still a lot of research going on in this area.