The Role of Bacteria In Your Septic System

Healthy Bacteria Levels and the Products that Cause Imbalance

It may come as a surprise to many homeowners, but the amount of bacteria that your septic tank has directly impacts the overall performance of your septic system.  In fact, if you are experiencing septic system problems, back ups, foul odor or gurgling sounds it is caused by a reduction in the levels of bacteria within your system.  In this article we take a closer look at Septic Systems and discuss why Bacteria levels are so important to the process.  Furthermore, we examine which household products homeowners likely use that may be causing irreparable damage.

bacteria is required in your septic tankThe word Septic is defined as being ‘infected with bacteria.’  Therefore a septic system is designed to use naturally occurring bacteria and enzymes to help breakdown the solid waste, greases, fats, detergents and soaps that are deposited into the septic tank daily.  The bacteria in your septic tank feeds upon this organic matter and digests it. The digestive process results in the solids being liquefied within the septic tank.  Once liquefied, the gray water leaves the septic tank into the drain field where it drains through tiny perforations in the pipes and is returned to the soil.  It is actually a pretty impressive process when you stop and think about it, but what happens if their is not enough naturally occurring bacteria in the septic tank to break down the solid waste?

The Causes of Septic Failure

If the bacteria levels in a septic system drop, the solid waste cannot be liquefied.  The sediment piles up in the tank until it reaches a critical level and begins to affect the drain field of the system.  This pile up of solid waste may cause a foul odor and even back ups in the house.  While both of these are extremely unpleasant, the most costly damage is done when these particles of waste leave the septic tank and enter the drain field.

As you can imagine, the liquid that leaves your septic tank is not exactly clear.  You would not want to drink the water as it is, it is filled with particles of waste.  As these particles travel through the drain line and out through the perforations they are collected.  The sides of the drain lines and the perforations themselves commonly accumulate these particles and over time, they build up and can restrict the drainage of your system.  Even more troubling for your system is the fact the soil acts like a natural filter as the water drains into it.  This means ALL of the particles that leave your septic tank are collected within the first few inches of soil surrounding the drain lines.

This collection of organic material is called Bio Mat.  This bio mat acts like a wet sponge, once saturated it can prevent your drain field from draining.  This is where the serious problems occur.  Because the system cannot drain, gray water back fills into the tank and home or it surfaces in the form of flooding yard.  The repairs can cost thousands of dollars to homeowners.

Maintaining Bacteria Levels

At the time of their inception, septic systems were designed to use only naturally occurring bacteria to process the solid waste.  This worked fine in the old days, but as the household water consumption has changed over the years, so have the products we use in our homes.  The combination of the two can lead to these serious septic system problems if you are not careful.

Most homeowners take the time to clean their home. Research has shown that a cleaner home can prevent the spread of germs and sickness.  Homeowners disinfect the counters, floors and bathrooms regularly, especially if there are children in the home.  Regular laundry loads drop massive amounts of bacteria killing detergents into your septic system. Even the hand soaps we use are anti bacterial now a days.  The point being that most of the household cleaning products we use sanitize and kill germs.  The very same germs that your Septic System relies upon to process the solid waste and paper in your septic tank.

Each day, our normal household activities kill bacteria and lower the overall bacteria levels.  If nothing is done to increase the bacteria levels or reduce the amount of bacteria killing products used then the septic system will ultimately fail.

What Can Be Done to Help

There are a number of things that can be done as regular septic maintenance for your system.  Many homeowners pump their septic tank out regularly.  Regular pumping is a good way to keep the amount of sediment in your septic tank down.  Theoretically, the less solid waste build up in your septic tank, the lower the chances of it spreading to the drain field and causing massive headaches. Keep in mind, however, that each time the septic tank is pumped out, so is the naturally occurring bacteria in the tank so pumping too often can also lead to problems.

By reducing the anti bacterial products you use in the home, you can reduce some of the bacteria kill off.  Not using bleach in the laundry helps, of course, as would restricting or limiting the use of any anti bacterial cleaners.  Moderation is the key here.  It is OK to keep your home clean and germ free, but think about the quantity you use or how often these products are used.

Lastly, there are bacteria additives that can be used in your septic system.  By supplementing bacteria into your septic tank on a regular basis, you can effectively maintain the bacteria levels within your system and avoid the potential problems we have discussed.  There are even some bacteria additives strong enough to help reverse the damage already done.

The most effective way to maintain proper septic system maintenance and bacteria levels is to practice each of these three things.  Make sure you have your septic system pumped regularly, but not too often.  Many counties may regulate the frequency of pumping, but in general, every 3 years is good.  Reduce the amount of bleach or detergents you use.  The household cleaners we use have a cumulative affect on your system, so take inventory of the products that kill germs and take steps to reduce the volume and frequency of their use.  Lastly, find a septic additive that delivers a concentrated dose of bacteria to the system for you each month.  By following these steps you can properly maintain bacteria levels and keep your system performing well for years to come.