Disposable Wipes: Good For You, Bad For Your Septic System

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 1 in 5 five households in the U.S. have a septic system. These individual sewage disposal systems are separate from the centralized pipes and wastewater treatment facility maintained by a city and they are often found in rural areas where city sewer pipes don’t reach. While a septic system can provide an easy solution for homeowners who can’t tie into the municipal sewer system (or want to avoid the exorbitant cost to do so), it’s important to know how to care for one. In today’s blog from Lion Home Service, we want to discuss something that’s ruining many septic systems all over the country — disposable wipes. Keep reading to learn more and if you need septic tank service or have additional questions, please contact Lion Home Service in Fort Collins.

Septic System Basics

Before we get into why disposable wipes are wreaking havoc on septic systems, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how a septic system works. Each system consists of three basic components — the pipe that takes your wastewater away from your home, a septic tank that holds your wastewater and allows solids to settle out, and a drain field where the wastewater is filtered through the soil to remove contaminants.  When you flush a toilet, run your garbage disposal, or do your laundry, the wastewater is carried away from your home and is deposited into the septic tank where it sits long enough to allow the solids to settle out. Over time, these solids are broken down by bacteria in the tank, creating a sludge that is eventually pumped out when your septic tank is serviced.  

However, what happens if the items being washed down the drain aren’t biodegradable and can’t be broken down completely? They end up sitting in your tank, taking up extra space. Or, in many situations, they clog up pipes or worse yet — your sewage pump, causing damage and leaving you with a hefty replacement bill. 

People are guilty of flushing just about everything down the toilet — cotton swabs, cigarette butts, cat litter, and the list goes on. But perhaps the biggest problem we see stems from something most people assume is perfectly okay to flush — disposable wipes.   

There’s a Disposable Wipe For That

In the past few years, it seems like the market for disposable wipes has exploded. And we aren’t just talking about those so-called “flushable” wipes that are intended to be used as a substitute for toilet paper. You can now find disposable wipes for cleaning your face, your baby, your pet, your car, and your house. Some disposable wipes have mild cleaning agents in them, while others may have strong chemicals, disinfectants, or even furniture polish in them. No matter which type of disposable wipes you use, it’s important to remember one thing — none of them are okay to flush down your toilet. 

Just do a quick search on the internet and you’ll find dozens of stories of people spending thousands of dollars on septic system repairs because of these wipes. And don’t be fooled by the ones that claim to be safe to flush. The fact is, many disposable wipes are made of materials such as polyester, polypropylene, and in the best cases, highly-durable cellulose fibers. These materials are chosen for their ability to hold together when wet, but because of this, they do not break down quickly in water. Over time, they can build up in your septic tank and even clog your pipes. If your main sewer line gets clogged, your wastewater and raw sewage can back up into your house — and no one wants that! 

More Problems Caused By Disposable Wipes

If the threat of an accumulation of used wipes in your septic tank isn’t enough to make you think twice before flushing them, think of what happens when your sewer line gets plugged. First, wipes increase your chances of a blockage because they often wrap around other items you may have flushed such as paper towels or cotton swabs. When this happens, the sewer line between your house and tank can get plugged, causing raw sewage to start seeping into your home. So, how do you prevent this disaster from occurring?  A good rule of thumb is to always dispose of wipes in the trash can, even if they are labeled “septic safe”.

In a perfect world, flushable wipes would also mean that they were biodegradable, but right now that isn’t the case. To make matters worse, it’s important to also consider the effect that antibacterial or other chemically-laden wipes are having on your septic system. In order for your septic system to function properly, it requires a certain amount of “good” bacteria to break down the organic material. When you flush wipes that have antibacterial chemicals in them, they also kill the beneficial bacteria in your septic system that are needed for it to continue to work properly. 

Keep Your Septic System Running Smoothly For Many Years To Come

Most experts agree that a properly maintained septic system can last for decades. If you use your toilet as a trash can, however, it’s likely that you’ll have to repair or replace your system prematurely. In addition to disposable wipes, there are several other things you should never flush down your toilet or wash down the drain. Those items consist of things that are either not biodegradable or are hazardous to the bacteria in your septic system or to the environment. 

Do your part to protect the environment and get the most life out of your septic system by following a regular maintenance plan with the help of the experts at Lion Home Service. We’re a locally-owned company offering professional septic system cleaning as well as other home maintenance services such as furnace and AC installation and repair, roof installation, and water heater repairs, among others. Visit our website for a complete list of services or to contact us about scheduling your septic system service today.