Should I Use Septic Tank Additives?

You’ve seen the commercials advertising septic tank additives. RID-X is usually the first to come to mind. So what’s the deal, what are these products, and do they actually work? Or are you basically flushing money down the drain?

What are septic tank additives?

First let’s discuss how your septic tank works. While your septic tank is in use, solid waste known as sludge builds up on the bottom of the tank, and fats, oils & grease (FOG’s) also known as scum float up at the top.

graphic of septic tank showing how sewage separates into scum effluent and sludge

The waste increases, filling up space until there’s no more room for the liquid in the middle. When you get to this point, it’s time to pump your tank. Companies advertise that septic additives can break down solids, so the tank doesn’t fill up as fast, and the septic system doesn’t need frequent pumping.

How do they claim to work?

2 primary types of additives are being sold. The first type makes use of bacteria and/or enzymes to help break down the solids at the bottom of the tank. Biological additives are safer for the environment than the chemical alternatives. They are natural and we haven’t noticed any damage to the tanks themselves.

The second type is the chemical additives which are primarily acid based and work to break up the FOG’s floating in the tank. Chemical additives are particularly harmful.

The chemicals can leach out through the drain field and contaminate the surrounding soil and the environment. Not only do they break down solid waste, but they can corrode the tank itself.

Essentially, when you buy either of these additives, you take them home and flush them down your toilet. The question is, are you flushing your money away?

Do they actually work?

A quick search on Google and you will find a number of colleges that have conducted studies on the use and consequences of using septic tank additives.  Here is a good one from Washington State University and another one here from the University of Florida.  Also check out the video below for more discussion on the studies available.

The additives do what they claim… they reduce the solids in your tank. The question is, are there unintended consequences?

As a wastewater specialist in Oklahoma, we have seen the results of using these additives firsthand. Our experience is that they may negatively impact your system.

The smaller sludge particles are too small to settle out and, instead, move downstream in the system. In an aerobic system, the particles make their way to the pump tanks and can cause the sprayers to stink. In a conventional system, the particles will move into the lateral lines and may cause a biomat to form quicker which will prevent water from absorbing into the ground properly.

If you currently use septic additives in your aerobic and you’re questioning this, walk out and take a look in your tank. The water will be almost black, even in the pump tank.

Now go look at a neighbor’s tank that doesn’t use additives. You’ll find a chocolate milk colored water in the ATU and slightly dirty to almost clear water in the pump tank. Your water is black from the sludge particles that aren’t settling out.

The bottom line is that you’re usually better off saving your money and investing in regular septic maintenance. That includes getting your septic system pumped regularly.

See below for the recommended years between pumping. For example, a home with 3 people and a 1000 gal tank should get pumped approximately every 3.7 years (good septic habits can extend this time). Keep in mind, most aerobic systems have small trash tanks.

septic pumping frequency chart

If you own a septic system, it is important to regularly check its condition. Contact us today if you need a checkup or are unsure when the last inspection was done.

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