If you have a septic tank, you know that periodic pumping is crucial to keep it functioning properly. But between regular maintenance visits, there are some simple things you can add to your tank to help break down solids and prevent clogging.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- How septic tanks work to process waste
- Why solids buildup happens in tanks
- DIY additives to break down solids
- Professional additives and treatments
- When to call a septic service provider
- Signs you have excessive solids
- How to prevent solids buildup
Understanding How Septic Tanks Work
Septic tanks use natural anaerobic bacteria to break down and decompose waste. Here’s a quick overview:
- Waste flows into the tank and heavier solids sink to the bottom, forming a sludge layer.
- Grease and lighter solids float to the top as scum.
- Bacteria digest and liquefy the solids.
- Clarified liquid flows out to the drain field.
- Sludge and scum remain in the tank and need periodic pumping.
Naturally occurring bacteria drive this process. But sometimes, waste accumulates faster than the bacteria can break it down, leading to clogs.
Why Do Solids Build Up in Septic Tanks?
Excess solid waste in septic tanks usually occurs for a few key reasons:
- Insufficient bacteria levels to handle the volume of waste
- Flushing non-biodegradable items that don’t break down
- Allowing sludge to get too close to the outlet
- Poor maintenance like inadequate pumping schedule
Solids building up can lead to expensive repairs and replacement if left unchecked.
DIY Additives to Help Break Down Solids
There are a few homemade options you can add to your tank occasionally to help maintain bacteria levels and break down accumulated solids:
Active Dry Yeast
- Adds more bacteria to digest waste.
- Mix 1/4 to 1/2 cup yeast with warm water and sugar and flush down toilet.
- Do this every 2-3 months.
- Provides enzymes to accelerate breakdown of organics.
- Mash up 3-4 overripe tomatoes and flush down toilet in batches.
- Perform treatment every 2-3 months.
- Helps liquefy grease and sludge buildup.
- Boil water and carefully pour down drains to melt fats and oils.
- Repeat weekly to help control minor buildup.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
- Chemical reaction helps dissolve organic solids.
- Pour baking soda down drain, follow with vinegar, let sit 30 mins.
- Flush with hot water. Repeat monthly.
These DIY options can provide minor ongoing maintenance for your septic tank in between pump outs.
Professional Septic Tank Additives
There are also specialized additives available to help break down solids:
- Contains concentrated live bacteria.
- Optimizes bacteria counts to digest waste.
- Usually requires monthly dosing.
- Includes enzymes to accelerate breakdown of organics.
- Added monthly or as-needed.
- Strong chemicals to dissolve solids.
- Not recommended due to risks.
- Reduces water volume so bacteria can catch up.
- An indirect way to improve solids breakdown.
While DIY options can help, commercial additives usually provide a much higher dose of bacteria or enzymes. Follow product instructions carefully.
When to Call a Professional
Septic additives alone cannot fully solve an excessive solids buildup problem. Make sure to:
- Have your tank inspected annually.
- Pump the tank regularly every 3-5 years.
- Call a septic pro for maintenance, repairs, or replacement.
Relying solely on additives without proper pumping is false economy. Professional maintenance is essential for long-term septic health.
Signs You Have Excessive Solids Buildup
Watch for these warning signs that your septic tank has too much solid waste accumulation:
- Slow draining fixtures or toilets
- Gurgling sounds from drains and toilets
- Plumbing backups
- Surface ponding around the septic tank or drain field
- Foul sewage odors around the tank
- The need to pump much more frequently than normal
If you notice any of these, call a septic pro to inspect your tank and drain field right away. Removing excess solids is the only permanent solution.
Tips to Prevent Solids Overload
The best approach is preventing solids buildup in the first place. Try these tips:
- Have regular septic tank pumping every 3-5 years.
- Use a sink strainer to catch food scraps.
- Limit use of a garbage disposal if you have one.
- Don’t flush wipes, paper towels, or other trash.
- Install low-flow toilets and faucets to reduce water volume.
- Avoid pouring fats/oils down drains.
- Use septic-safe, organic cleaners in moderation.
- Don’t overload the tank with too much waste at once.
Following septic-safe habits will minimize solids accumulation between pump outs. Contact your local septic service professional for maintenance and advice.
- Some additives like yeast and enzymes can help break down solids.
- But professional pumping is still required periodically.
- Call a septic pro if you have signs of excess solids.
- Prevent buildup by using the tank responsibly and pumping regularly.
- DIY additives complement, but don’t replace, professional maintenance.
While additives have a role, proper use and routine pumping of your septic tank are the real keys to managing waste solids. Invest in regular maintenance to avoid expensive repairs down the road.