If you have a septic tank on your property, it is likely out of sight and out of mind when it is working as it should. However, there are steps you can take every day to help maintain your septic system and increase its longevity. One of them is knowing what you can and cannot put down your drains. Since all drains in your home lead to your septic system, this is important in any room, but it especially comes into play if you have a garbage disposal.
Can I Use a Garbage Disposal With a Septic Tank?
The short answer is yes, but there are several caveats. To get started, here is a look at what garbage disposals and septic tanks ultimately do and some pros and cons of each.
What Does a Garbage Disposal Do?
A garbage disposal is a practical addition to almost any kitchen. If you have one in your home, you likely use it to grind up leftover food scraps after a meal. It's easy to see the immense value of these systems when you consider their advantages such as:
- A convenient alternative to trash cans.
- Diverts food waste from landfills.
- Easy to maintain and operate.
At the same time, a garbage disposal is a complex piece of equipment with many aspects, some of them negative. If you have a garbage disposal, or you plan to install one in the near future, you should know everything that decision entails. These are some of the disadvantages of a garbage disposal:
- May begin to emit an odor.
- Can't manage all food scraps.
- Will occasionally clog or jam.
What Does a Septic System Do?
A septic system serves a similar purpose as a sewer system. It receives waste and processes it with bacteria, breaking down solids before releasing the liquid effluents into a drainfield. Concerning its overall utility, a tank can hold up to 1,000 gallons of water, and that is only one of its many benefits. Additionally, septic tanks:
- Are composed of durable material such as concrete.
- Can last 25 to 30 years with regular maintenance.
- Provide an accessible alternative to a shared sewer system.
Similar to garbage disposals, though, septic systems are also complex and imperfect. These are a few of their drawbacks:
- Need pumping every few years.
- May drop in efficiency from misuse.
- Will lose capacity from accumulated sludge.
Things to Consider If You Have a Septic Tank
Naturally, homeowners with a septic tank need to take certain precautions to maintain it. If you want to ensure the longevity of your system, it is critical to treat it as you would any other piece of equipment — with care and attention. Follow the proper protocol and do not deviate from the standard set of rules.
First, you need to limit the amount of solids you flush. If you dispose of materials that don't belong in your toilet, they may build up and cause issues with your septic tank's capacity. As a general rule, you should not place anything in your system that won't decompose easily, such as the following items:
- Dental floss
- Cat litter
- Coffee beans
- Paper towels
- Sanitary napkins
- Disposable diapers
- Cigarette butts
It is also necessary to take care with household cleaners. Your septic tank depends on certain types and amounts of bacteria to function, and many disinfectants, bleaches and cleaning products can harm your system. Use organic and biodegradable household cleaners whenever possible to prevent any problems.
On the subject of harmful substances, it is also vital to avoid a range of fluids such as paint, paint thinners, motor oil, gasoline, grease and oil. Allowing these substances to enter your septic system will result in significant consequences. You may even have to replace the entire system if the damage is too extensive.
Garbage Disposals and Septic Tanks
"I have a septic tank. Can I install a garbage disposal or will it cause problems?"
As we mentioned earlier, you can have a garbage disposal and a septic tank. However, since septic tanks can be sensitive to what is put in them, this is a common question that people are apt to ask their local plumber. For many people living in town, having a garbage disposal doesn’t require a second thought because the city pays for all maintenance. With a septic tank, of course, you have to be cautious because if the wrong things go down the drain, they can cause costly problems for the homeowner.
Food breaks down a lot slower than other matter that goes down the drain. Grab a square of toilet paper and make it wet. It instantly gets soggy and smaller. Now run water over a few chunks of strawberry. There’s no breakdown. It just gets a little cleaner. Instead of relying on a garbage disposal, start a compost bin. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can reuse compost on any plants or trees you have around the home, or share with your neighbors.
Many people do opt to go ahead and get a garbage disposal, though. It might require more frequent pumping for some families depending on how much they use the disposal — or what they decide to wash down the drain. The primary thing to remember is that garbage disposals are not garbage cans. Just because you can pop something into your disposal does not mean that it should go into it. Most problems occur because of misuse by the owner, not because the septic system cannot handle the extra food matter in the tank.
To keep your garbage disposal working as it should, here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
- Use cold water when you grind food. Cold water will cause any grease or oils to solidify so that they can be chopped.
- Pour a little dish soap inside the disposal after washing dishes, run for about a minute with some cold water.
- Run your disposal regularly. Frequent use helps prevent rust and corrosion.
- Grind hard materials such as small chicken or fish bones (no large animal bones). These create a scouring action inside the grind chamber that will help clean the garbage disposal’s walls.
The most important thing to remember is, do not put anything in the garbage disposal that is not a biodegradable food. When in doubt, throw it out!
- Don’t use hot water when grinding food waste. It will cause oils to liquefy and accumulate somewhere in your disposal or down your drain causing clogs.
- Don’t turn off the motor or water until grinding is complete. Let the water run at least 15 seconds after the grinding is completed.
- Don’t grind fibrous materials like corn husks, celery stalks, onion skins or artichokes. The fibers from these can get tangled and jam your disposals motor.
- Don’t pour oil, fat or grease into the disposal (or your drain!). Even though cold water will help it to solidify, it will slowly accumulate, clog drains and even hinder your disposal’s grinding ability.
- Don’t put large amounts of food down the disposal. Make sure to cut it up before you feed it in (a little at a time).
- Don’t put expandable foods like rice or pasta into your disposal. They might seem small, but when added to the water of your drains, they will expand and can cause jams or clogs.
- Don’t use coffee grounds. Grounds will accumulate, and what starts small will build up and cause clogs.
- Don’t grind glass, plastic, metal, paper, anything combustible or even cigarette butts. If we just mentioned it, it means someone’s done it.
As you can see, there’s a few more “don’ts” than “do’s." We could have kept going, but we’re pretty sure you’ve gotten the point. Restating an earlier point, one of the worst things to do is to pour any type of oil or fat down your drain. These are next to impossible to break down in your septic system.
What Can You Put Down a Garbage Disposal With a Septic Tank?
Regardless of whether or not you own a septic tank, it is important to remember that garbage disposals don't grind food scraps into a smooth liquid form. Rather, they chop food scraps into small bits which are often hard and granular. If you are using a garbage disposal when you have a septic tank, though, eventually, you may accidentally overfill the solid layer in your septic tank.
You can sidestep this issue with a little selectivity. Only use your garbage disposal for unconsumed or rotted perishables, soft foods such as old tomatoes, bananas and oranges. Always throw away foods that are potentially damaging to your system.
What Not to Put in the Garbage Disposal With a Septic Tank
Again, it is critical to exercise caution when operating a garbage disposal with a septic tank. A brief moment of forgetfulness may not seem like much, but over time, those small concessions will start to compound. Your septic tank will gradually lose its capacity and efficiency until you need the service of a professional.
In these instances, you can always reach out to Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse. Our licensed plumbers are familiar with a broad spectrum of problems, and they are highly adept at handling any issues with your garbage disposal, septic system or related equipment.
In addition to the items listed earlier as ones you want to avoid putting in your garbage disposal — such as coffee grounds, pasta, rice and oil — here are a few more:
- Seafood shells
- Fruit pits
- Potato peels
- Grape skins
- Avocado seeds
Again, these items can be potentially damaging to your garbage disposal even if you do not have a septic system, but they can cause extra trouble if you do have a septic tank. If you feel like you may not remember the items above, we advise you to compile a list you can easily reference. It will serve as a safety measure until you understand your system better.
On that note, it's also important to specify items which are not safe for your garbage disposal but don't belong to a set category. For example, it is proper protocol to bring medication to a pharmacy if you plan to throw it away. Flushing medication or placing it down the disposal may impact water quality near you.
Do You Need a Special Garbage Disposal for Septic Systems?
Even a vigilant homeowner will make mistakes every now and then. Unless you write a list of all the rules you have to follow and post it beside your sink, you might accidentally dispose of coffee beans or paper towels and realize your error too late. Fortunately, you can invest in what is known as a septic assist garbage disposal.
What Is a Septic Assist Garbage Disposal?
The septic assist garbage disposal has many of the same properties as an average garbage disposal, but it also has a special design that reduces the strain on a septic system. Some products have injection technology that feeds enzyme-producing micro-organisms into the food waste to assist a tank's bacteria.
That said, you still have to exercise caution when using this type of garbage disposal. Too much organic material in your septic tank can still lead to problems, and even with the benefits of a septic assist garbage disposal, you need to show restraint. Otherwise, you are likely to place your system in jeopardy.
What Is the Best Garbage Disposal for Septic Systems?
Despite their benefits, septic assist garbage disposals are not technically necessary. They may provide security for your tank, but they are not a prerequisite if you own a septic system. That said, it is highly advisable to consider a garbage disposal with a septic-friendly design that can prevent any complications.
To that end, garbage disposals with injection technology are effective, but they are not the only product capable of protecting your septic system. A garbage disposal with superior grinding action and a high RPM — or revolutions per minute — can reduce food waste to tiny particles and will work with a standard septic system.
However, even with enzyme-producing micro-organisms or an impressive RPM, it is best to limit the amount of food you grind. These garbage disposal models will only mitigate risk, not eliminate it.
As you review your options, remember to read the manufacturer's instructions. Each garbage disposal model is different, and your new equipment may have features you're unfamiliar with. Look through the manual to inform yourself of the various aspects of your garbage disposal to help you avoid potential issues.
If you already have a garbage disposal and are getting a new septic tank, make sure to tell your septic tank specialist about it. They might size your tank a little larger to accommodate the extra waste that you’re putting into your tank. It is a relatively basic precaution for your system, but it is essential nonetheless.
Garbage Disposal Alternatives
A garbage disposal has its benefits, but you don't need one. You can still use a conventional trash can or other garbage disposal alternatives that are efficient and straightforward.
Something as simple as a sink strainer can catch food waste before it slips down the drain and causes a problem. It is a comparatively low-cost solution that can help you avoid clogs. It is also easy to use and maintain. Just clear away any buildup once or twice a day and scrub the strainer of residue every week or so.
You can also build a compost bin with the right tools and supplies. Composting is a smart way to dispose of food waste, even if you don't own a garden. Compost is a valuable commodity which can assist with the growth of plants or trees around your property, so a bin is worth the effort.
Concerning the structure of your compost bin, it can take many forms. Depending on your situation, you may see the appeal in a wire-mesh holding unit, a worm composting bin or even heap composting if you have the space. Any of these options can provide a steady supply of compost if you follow the correct procedures.
Can you use a garbage disposal with a septic system? Yes, but you have a diverse range of alternate strategies if you don't feel comfortable with the standard setup. Whether you purchase a sink strainer, build a compost bin or use your trash can, you have no shortage of options as you move forward.
Clogged Drain Solutions
Whether you have a garbage disposal and a septic tank or not, you are not alone if you have frequent issues with your drains. Clogs are common, and homeowners have a number of solutions to address this type of problem. If you have experienced one or more of the indicators on the list below, you likely have a clogged drain in need of service:
- Water drains slowly after pooling.
- Water backs up out of the drain.
- You hear a gurgling noise.
- You smell rotting food around the sink area.
- Puddles form on the floor next to the sink.
Fortunately, you can often manage a clogged drain without the assistance of a specialist. The issue is not always as serious as it first appears, and you can usually clear the block with the same technique you would use for a clogged toilet. Follow these steps, and you should be able to fix the problem:
- Turn on the water and fill the sink about halfway.
- If your sink is a double kitchen sink, use a towel or a rag to plug one of the drains.
- With a bathroom sink, cover the overflow hole.
- Start to plunge the open drain with a cup plunger.
- Move the plunger down and up several times, then pull it off.
If you don't see the desired results, continue to work the plunger until you do. Of course, you can always consult the professionals at Mr. Rooter Plumbing as well if you find you're having issues with your plumbing. Even with the strategies above, you may encounter problems, and our licensed plumbers are here to help.
Septic Cleaning Services From Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse
Homeowners with septic systems need to look after their tank and schedule maintenance. When they treat their septic system with care, it can last for years. If they neglect this responsibility, they may have to spend a substantial sum of money on costly repairs and replacements.
Fortunately, you can keep your septic system healthy with very little work. Beyond the precautions in the previous sections, you should have a licensed professional pump your tank at periodic intervals. Most experts advise that for a family of four, a 1,000-gallon tank should be pumped about every two and a half years.
Unlike a clogged drain — which is a relatively simple DIY project — servicing your septic system will always require a professional. The germs and gases that a tank can release are dangerous, and maintenance requires an informed understanding of the equipment. You need an expert to lend their experience.
In that regard, you can trust Mr. Rooter Plumbing to pump and maintain your tank. We specialize in septic systems, and if you find yourself in need of cleaning, pumping or maintenance services, we're here.
If you have additional questions, don't hesitate to call us at 315-472-1203. You can also contact us online. Whether you have a clogged drain, difficulties with your septic system or another plumbing-related issue, reach out to start a conversation.