Should you add chemicals, nutrients, cleaners, decloggers to septic systems?
No! Why not? What causes failures?
Septic System Additives and Chemicals
Chemicals and other additives promoted to keep a septic system “healthy” or “free-flowing” or “nourished” are generally not required nor recommended by any known 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 acclerate decomposition.”
Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 “Preventing Septic System Failures,” by Paul D. Robillard and Kelli S. Martin – page 2, Maintenance Failures, paragraph two, “Chemical or biological additives are not a substitte 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-TankCleaners 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 fdor the purpose of degreasing or declogging 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 liklihood 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 declogging 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.
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 Protectin Act, ISBN 0-7743-7303-2.
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 odour 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 properlycontrolled tests.
3(f)(iv) Soaps, detergtents, 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 professinals. Confirmation that slimy deposits are clogging the field can be determined by measuring the liquid level in one or more absorption grenches and comparing it to the level of ground water in an augered 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.