A garbage disposal is a convenient kitchen appliance that grinds up food waste so it can flow down the drain easily. However, if you have a septic tank, you may wonder if using a garbage disposal is a good idea.
The short answer is yes, you can have a garbage disposal with a septic tank. However, there are some important factors to consider and precautions to take for your septic system’s health. In this article, we’ll explore:
- How a garbage disposal and septic tank work
- The pros and cons of using a disposal with septic
- Tips for safe operation of a garbage disposal with septic
- Alternatives to a garbage disposal
- Signs your septic tank is having issues
- When to call a professional
How Do Garbage Disposals and Septic Tanks Work?
To understand how these two systems work together, let’s first look at what each does separately:
What Does a Garbage Disposal Do?
A garbage disposal is installed under the sink and connects to the drain pipe. It uses a high-powered electric motor and blades to pulverize food scraps into tiny particles that can wash down the drain with water.
Benefits of a garbage disposal include:
- Grinds up food waste instead of filling trash cans
- Reduces organic waste going to landfills
- Easy to use and maintain
Potential drawbacks include:
- Can jam if improper items are put down the drain
- Doesn’t eliminate all food waste
- May require more septic tank maintenance
What Does a Septic Tank Do?
A septic tank is an underground chamber that collects all wastewater from household drains. Inside the tank, solid waste separates from liquid and undergoes decomposition by bacteria. The clarified liquid can then drain out of the tank into a leach field.
Key functions of a septic tank include:
- Collects all household wastewater
- Allows solids to settle out and decompose
- Filters effluent before releasing to leach field
- Needs periodic pumping to remove accumulated sludge
Using a garbage disposal introduces more solids into the septic tank. While not inherently bad, it does require care to prevent overloading.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Disposal with Septic
Adding a garbage disposal to a home with a septic tank has some potential advantages but also some drawbacks to weigh.
- Adds convenience of grinding food waste in the kitchen
- May reduce need to take trash out as often
- Can help reduce clogs by grinding up soft foods
- Increases solids loading on the septic tank
- Can accelerate sludge buildup in the septic tank
- Improper use leads to jams and early failure
The key is using the disposal judiciously and following usage guidelines to prevent overtaxing the septic system. With careful use, many homeowners find the benefits outweigh the risks. But it’s important to monitor your tank and pump as needed.
Tips for Safe Use of a Garbage Disposal with Septic
If you want to use a disposal with your septic tank, here are some tips to do so safely:
Use cold water when grinding food waste. Cold water solidifies fats and grease so they chop up better. Hot water liquefies grease which can clog drains.
Let water run for 15-30 seconds after grinding to flush particles down the drain. Don’t turn off water until grinding is complete.
Grind hard items like small bones, eggshells, and citrus rinds to scour disposal walls. Avoid large bones.
Use a sink strainer to catch excess solids and empty into the trash.
Limit fibrous foods like celery, corn husks, and artichokes that can tangle and clog the disposal.
Avoid grinding grease, rice, pasta, coffee grounds, or expanding foods that can clog drains or accumulate in the tank.
Never put toxic chemicals, glass, metals, non-food waste into a disposal.
Pump septic tank regularly, such as every 2-3 years for a family of four, to remove excess solids.
Following these disposal usage tips will minimize the impact on your septic tank. But you’ll still need to monitor sludge levels and pump as needed.
Alternatives to Using a Garbage Disposal with Septic
If you decide a garbage disposal isn’t the best choice with your septic system, no problem. There are other options to help reduce food waste. Consider these garbage disposal alternatives:
Composting – Create a compost pile or bin to decompose food scraps naturally. Use the finished compost to fertilize your garden.
Trash can – Simply discard food waste into the garbage as you always have.
Curbside collection – Some municipalities offer curbside collection of food waste for composting.
Under-sink food waste bins – These small bins fit under the sink to collect scraps for emptying into the trash or curbside pickup.
Sink strainers – A simple sink strainer can catch larger food bits for disposal in the trash.
On-demand food waste disposers – Attach units to your sink faucet to grind up smaller amounts of food waste when needed.
Go with the food waste solution that best fits your home and habits. A disposal isn’t your only choice.
Signs Your Septic Tank is Having Problems
While using a garbage disposal with septic doesn’t guarantee issues, you’ll want to watch for any signs of trouble. Symptoms your septic tank needs attention include:
- Slow draining sinks or toilets
- Gurgling sounds from plumbing fixtures
- Plumbing backups and overflows
- Ground dampness or ponded water over the tank or leach field
- Sewage odors indoors or outdoors
- The need to pump frequently
If you notice any of these issues, contact a septic professional immediately to inspect your tank and fix any problems. Continued use of a failing system can lead to costly repairs.
When to Call a Professional for Septic Tank Help
While routine maintenance like periodic pumping is needed for any septic tank, it’s especially important with a garbage disposal. Sludge and scum can accumulate faster, so you may need to pump as often as yearly.
Definitely call a septic pro right away if you have signs of a blockage or failure. Professionals have specialized tools to diagnose issues. They can also:
- Pump the tank if needed
- Inspect tank components and distribution box
- Check the leach field for blockages
- Repair or replace damaged septic system parts
Don’t wait until you have a plumbing emergency. At the first sign of a problem, reach out to a trusted local septic contractor. Taking a proactive approach reduces the likelihood of expensive emergency repairs down the road.
Key Takeaways About Garbage Disposals and Septic Tanks
To summarize the key points:
It is possible to use a garbage disposal if you have a septic tank. But take precautions.
Benefits include convenience and less trash. Drawbacks are increased tank maintenance.
Use a disposal minimally and run cold water when grinding. Avoid fats, grease and fibrous waste.
Watch for signs of septic trouble and pump the tank regularly.
Consider composting or other waste options if concerned about septic overload.
Call a professional at any sign of problems for prompt diagnosis and repairs.
With proper care and maintenance, a garbage disposal and septic tank can work together effectively in your home. But neglecting the septic system will result in expensive fixes down the road. Contact a trusted septic service company if you have any concerns about your system’s health or performance.