Nearly 25 percent of United States households use a septic system as their means of water and sewage disposal. The keys to maintaining a healthy septic system are to understand how it works and follow practices to keep it healthy.
A home washer uses lots of water that must be dispelled into the system. There are several quick guidelines to follow when using a washer with a septic system; but I want to expand the discussion about laundry detergents and their effect on the health and maintenance of the system.
When clothes are washed, grey water or waste water that contains detergent, fabric softener, stain remover and soil is dumped into the septic tank. The septic tank is the equivalent of a city's waste water treatment facility. The type of septic system will determine which type of laundry detergent is the safest to use. For a conventional, gravity-powered system, a liquid form of laundry detergents should be used. Dry detergent have fillers or extenders that clog the drain field. The less expensive dry laundry detergents actually contain montmorillonite clay which is used as a sealant as a form of filler. This clogs the drain field as well as sodium and other extenders found in powdered detergents.
However, for an aerated septic system a powdered septic tank safe laundry detergents is best to avoid excessive foam in the aeration chamber.
Septic tank safe detergent should not contain phosphates and have low levels of surfactants. The label should also indicate that the detergent is biodegradable. Phosphates encourage the growth of algae. If algae grow too fast and too abundant in the water drain field, there will be a total depletion of dissolved oxygen. No oxygen, no life. This is especially harmful to local freshwater supplies which will eventually receive the run-off from septic systems.
Surfactants are found in almost every laundry detergent because they help separate the body soil or oily stains from the fabric. There are two types of surfactants commonly used in laundry detergent - natural or oleochemical surfactants and synthetic or petrochemical surfactants. Oleochemical surfactants are derived from plant oils such as palm or coconut oil. Petrochemical surfactants are derived from crude oil. A detergent with natural surfactants will produce less suds and foaming than those with petrochemicals.
Recommended Detergents for Septic Tanks
After doing some research with septic system companies, including Wind River Environmental, this list of suggested detergents has been developed:
Septic tank safe laundry products can be more expensive than other detergents. If you are installing a new septic system or upgrading and prefer to use other detergents, then you should install a dry well beside the septic tank. A dry well is a tank that collects all the runoff from the washing machine and the dishwasher. A dry well is helpful in preventing the harsh detergents from harming the bacteria and clogging the drain field.
While using the correct laundry detergent is a plus in keeping a system healthy, you must still be diligent in maintaining the efficiency of your septic system. The tank must be pumped out regularly and used properly.