The folklore of septic systems could probably fill a small book. Like most folklore, the stories reflect elements of truth, ignorance, and humor. The purpose of this is to dispel some myths about septic systems and explain how they actually work. Hopefully, this information will help you keep your system working well for many years.
How the system works
The septic system is a natural sewage treatment and disposal system. By natural, we mean that it relies on bacteria to digest and clean the wastewater. The bacteria in the septic tank literally eat the solids in the tank turning them into liquids and gasses. As you might expect these gasses have a foul odor. To avoid these bad odors they are vented off through pipes on the house roof. The liquid wastes flow to the drainfield. The final purification occurs by organisms living in the soil.
The bacteria in the septic tank eat and digest most of the waste. But there's always some waste that doesn't even appeal to these critters (Minerals, Dirt, Inorganic Material = SLUDGE). As a result, the health department recommends pumping out the tank every three to five years. This will remove excess sludge that has accumulated.
Common myths - dead cats and a pound of yeast
Theories abound about the best way to help a septic system. Most theories deal with "seeding" the septic tank to get good bacterial growth started. Advice has ranged from flushing a pound of yeast into the system, to seeding the septic tank with hamburger, all the way to placing a dead cat in the septic tank.
Most of this folklore is believable because it contains elements of truth. The concept of seeding a septic tank is partially true. Septic systems are biological systems and must have bacteria to work. However, for most systems no special seeding is necessary to get them started. The simple act of using the system will provide all the bacteria necessary to make the system function well. Yeast, hamburger, and especially dead cats will not help develop the colony of bacteria in the tank any faster.
Additives for systems
Septic system folklore doesn't stop with seeding a new septic system. Many products are sold that claim to make old systems like new. Other products claim to eliminate the need to pump out the septic tank. These products usually contain yeast, bacteria, enzymes, or chemical degreasers.
People often ask if additives can reduce or eliminate the need to pump a septic tank. It's a good question, too. The answer is NO, bacteria additives are only to reduce odors, or excessive organic buildups in the tank and or drain line.
Why additives won't prevent pumping?
Some of the solids in the tank are sand, grit, bits of plastic and similar materials. No enzyme or bacteria can digest these. Other organic and inorganic solids are not very digestible. Hence they accumulate. In short, adding enzymes or bacteria usually won't prevent pumping the tank, just make it run smoother between pumping. The solution is simple. Pump your tank every three to five years.
The routine maintenance of pumping your tank.
After a system is working it requires very little maintenance. About all you have to do is pump the tank out every three to five years. The purpose of pumping out the tank is to remove accumulated solids. These solids can and will stop-up the soil where the wastewater is to be absorbed. When you have your tank pumped, it is wise to inspect the condition of the tank. Your licensed septic tank pumper can check the condition of the septic tank and the pipes going into and out of the tank.
The most often heard myth though is the concept that, "I never had to have my septic tank pumped before." This reflects an unfortunate attitude of neglect. Another way of looking at is, "If it ain't broke don't maintain it." The health department certainly doesn't promote this attitude. And we prefer to think of it like changing the oil in you car. It's always wiser to do before you have to and the system stops working.
Call us with your questions
If you have a question about your septic system, or suspect a problem, call Navo & Sons Inc. (530) 273-2964. We are trained and knowledgeable about septic systems. We are here to serve you and can offer you over the phone free and professional advice.