If you have a septic system in your home, you know that it needs to be pumped around every two to three years to continue functioning properly. It can be a costly procedure, but if you don’t maintain your system, it can ultimately result in thousands of dollars in damages, making $400 for a pump seem cheap by comparison. Some people, however, believe there’s a third option. They attempt to reduce the need for pumping by regularly putting special additives into their septic system. What are these septic additives and do they really work? Let’s take a look.
What Are Septic Additives?
Over time, solid waste builds up in the bottom of your septic tank, while fats and oils build up at the top. After a while, this accumulated waste takes up more and more space, until there’s no longer room for the clear liquid in the middle—at which point, the system needs to be pumped. However, many believe that septic additives can break down those solids, so that the tank doesn’t fill up as quickly, and the system doesn’t need to be pumped as often.
There are two types of additives that can be used. Chemical additives use sulfuric acid and similar active ingredients to break up the grease and oil at the top of the tank. Biological additives, meanwhile, use bacteria and enzymes to break down the solids at the bottom. These additives are introduced into the system by flushing them down the toilet every month or so, where they can break down the materials in the tank.
That’s how additives work in theory. But how do they work in practice?
Do Septic Additives Work?
Many experts believe that additives not only don’t help your septic system, but can actually harm both it and the environment. Chemical additives in particular are demonstrably harmful. In addition to breaking down solid waste, they can actually corrode the tank itself, causing serious damage. These chemicals can also contaminate the surrounding soil and groundwater. As such, many areas don’t even allow additives to be used at all.
Biological additives seem like a better bet. They’re all natural, so they won’t harm the environment, and only break down biological materials, so they won’t damage your tank. But do they work?
A scientific study in 1997 sought to find that out. In a blind comparison, no significant difference was found between tanks that had been given additives and tanks that hadn’t. Another, unpublished study found a 30% decrease in the top layer of fats and oils in tanks with additives over two years, but it also found an increase in fats and oils flowing out of the system and into the surrounding drain field, which is environmentally problematic.
So the final verdict is that biological septic additives, while mostly harmless, are also seemingly ineffective in their intended purpose, and therefore end up wasting money, rather than saving it. So stick to having your septic system pumped every couple of years. It’s the most efficient and effective solution in the long run.