Household septic systems are something you probably don't think about until there is a problem. And when there is a problem, it is usually an expensive and messy one. More than 25 percent of the homes in the United States use a septic system to process household plumbing waste. To keep the system healthy, certain steps should be taken such as regularly scheduled pumping every three to five years to reduce sludge buildup and the installation of low-flow water fixtures and laundry appliances to reduce wastewater input to the system.
But what about the laundry detergents and cleaning products you use around the house every week? Are they safe for the septic system?
Household Cleaning Product Ingredients
Most people want to use the most effective cleaning products to keep their homes sparkling and germ-free. But some of the same ingredients that protect people from illness-causing bacteria are not good for the bacteria that keep a septic system working properly. Bacteria are necessary for a septic system to break down the solid waste and kill pathogens that will flow into the leach field and, eventually, groundwater.
That same groundwater should be protected from chemicals classified as hazardous to humans or the environment.
Septic systems are not designed to filter out many petroleum-based chemicals such as fuels, lubricants, pesticides, or solvent-based products. Even disinfectants in large quantities can wreak havoc on the processes of a healthy septic system. It is particularly important to read labels on household products to determine if they are safe for septic systems and monitor the level of use. Just two gallons of chlorine bleach entering the system within a short period will kill most of the useful bacteria in a 1,000-gallon septic tank.
While most commercial products are safe for septic systems when used in recommended quantities (always read the labels), the better choices are "green" cleaners that do not contain petroleum-based solvents and have received the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Safer Choice designation. You can also make your products with distilled white vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda to clean and disinfect your home.
Safest Toilet and Bathroom Cleaners
Bathrooms are pretty germ-ridden places and need regular cleaning with septic-safe cleaners. Try one of the following when cleaning that space:
- CLR Bath & Kitchen Foaming Action Cleaner
- CLR Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover
- Green Works 99% Naturally-Derived Toilet Bowl Cleaner
- Method Bathroom and Toilet Bowl Cleaners
- Proline EFP Toilet Bowl
If plumbing clogs appear in a sink or toilet, do not use crystal drain cleaners that are too toxic for septic systems. Opt for non-chemical methods to open drains or use a commercial liquid drain cleaner.
Safest Dishwashing Detergents
Whether you are handwashing dishes or using a dishwasher, these are safe choices:
- Aldi Foaming Dish Soap
- Amway Home Dish Drops Automatic Dishwashing Powder
- Dropps Dishwasher Pods
- ECOS Dishmate Dish Soap
- Method Dish and Dishwasher Soaps
- Seventh Generation Dish Liquid
- Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel: Free & Clear
To clean your dishwasher, use vinegar and baking soda or a commercial cleaner such as LemiShine that contains natural ingredients.
Safest Floor Cleaners
Choose one of these floor cleaners to keep different types of flooring in your home looking great:
- BISSELL Advanced Professional Spot & Stain + Oxy
- BISSELL Pet Stain and Odor
- ECOS PRO Neutral Floor Cleaner Concentrated 1:128
- Holloway House Quick Shine Hardwood Floor Cleaner
- Holloway House Quick Shine Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner
- Honest Floor Cleaner: Grapefruit Grove
Safest Odor Removers
When odors strike, these are septic-safe options:
- Earth Friendly Products Everyday Stain & Odor Remover
- ECOS Pet Kitty Litter Deodorizer
- Fresh Wave Odor Removing Spray
- Wegmans Advance Fabric Odor Remover Fresh Linen
- Well at Walgreens Odor Eliminator
Safest Kitchen, Glass, and All-Purpose Cleaners
Opt for one of these products for many of your cleaning needs:
- Amway Home L.O.C. Multi-Purpose Cleaner
- Disney Baby ECOS Stain & Odor Remover
- ECOS Glass + Surface Cleaner Vinegar
- Green Works 98% Naturally-Derived Glass & Surface Cleaner Spray
- Green Works 98% Naturally-Derived All-Purpose Cleaner Spray
- Honest Glass Cleaner: Free & Clear
- Krud Kutter Kitchen Degreaser
- Seventh Generation All-Purpose Natural Cleaner
- Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner and Degreaser
Household Cleaning Products to Avoid
Along with petroleum-based fuels, lubricants, car maintenance products such as antifreeze, and lead-based paints, several household cleaning products should not enter a septic system:
Crystal drain cleaners: Crystal drain cleaners contain large quantities of lye and sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid that can kill beneficial bacteria and cause corrosion. Liquid drain cleaners are diluted and move more quickly through the system making them safer to use.
Disinfectants: Large amounts of chlorine bleach, pine oil, phenolic, and quaternary disinfectants will kill the needed bacteria in a septic system. They should be used in limited quantities, following product directions and allowing time for the septic system bacteria to recover between uses.
Oven cleaners: Many oven cleaners contain lye and other septic-harmful chemicals. It is much safer to choose other methods for removing grease and food from oven surfaces.
Oils and solvents: Oily products such as some furniture polishes and leather conditioners should never be disposed of into a septic system because they can smother the leach field. Solvents such as degreasers, paint thinners, and nail polish removers also upset the balance in a system and pollute the leach field groundwater. Dispose of these products at a local hazardous waste facility.