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Why Garbage Disposals and Septic Tanks Don't Mix

Disgusting Septic Tank
Your home's septic system is designed to store the waste produced in your home in a safe and out-of-sight way. But if you hook up a garbage disposal and aren't careful, you may suddenly find all that waste becomes very visible as it rises up through the pipes and floods your bathroom or kitchen in a sewage backup.

You may think of a garbage disposal as a must-have home appliance, but it just doesn't play well with a septic tank. Find out why these two systems are incompatible and what you can do if you absolutely must use a disposal unit.

Limit Solid Waste

When you're relying on a septic tank rather than a connection to a municipal sewage system, you should aim to limit the amount of solid waste going into the tank. Water that flows in flows back out relatively quickly, but solid waste remains trapped and breaks down slowly. Many forms of waste that go into the tank can't break down at all in there, and every piece of solid waste could potentially cause a clog that leads to a messy backup.

Since garbage disposals mounted in your kitchen sink are designed to grind up solid or semi-solid materials and flush them into the tank, they obviously put extra load on the system.

Avoid Enzymes and Additives

There are plenty of garbage disposals marketed as safe for septic tanks because they inject doses of specialty enzymes or additives along with each use. The manufacturers claim that these enzymes outweigh the extra load of the solid waste entering the tank, with some of them going as far as to say that the additives digest the waste as soon as it enters the system.

Unfortunately, none of the marketing claims are backed up by any septic tank testing. Years of ongoing tests conducted by universities and associated extension offices have shown that none of these enzymes or additives help septic tanks at all, and many even make the system clog or back up faster than usual.

If you absolutely must use a garbage disposal, choose a normal unit rather than one that includes additives. You'll get better results from managing your usage than from spending more money on a specialty product that could accidentally damage your septic system instead.

Prepare to Pump

Anyone who decides to gamble with a garbage disposal on a septic system should set aside the money for pumping. Every use of the disposal shortens the time between now and your next pumping so you can't rely on the usual recommended time intervals. For example, a system rated to need pumping every two years normally will likely need attention every year to year and a half instead.

For some people, the cost of extra pumping is well worth the exchange for the convenience of a garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. You are also shortening the overall lifespan of the septic system by increasing the load of solid waste entering it. Don't forget to increase your long-term saving plans to compensate for the need to replace the system a few years earlier than normal.

Use with Caution

Using the garbage disposal sparingly and only for certain materials can make a big difference in how much it affects your system. For example, oils, and greases, or foods high in them, should not go down the sink in any way. Tough and fibrous foods, like coffee grinds or corn husks, also take a lot longer to break down in the septic system than other solid wastes.

Consider letting us here at Dr. Flush inspect your tank before you install a garbage disposal. If you already have one, schedule an inspection and cleaning to make sure it's not damaging the system.