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Over time, waste may build up on the walls of drain pipes and in the septic tank. This build-up, if left unchecked, may result in slow drains, clogs, or a backed-up septic tank and drainfield. This potentially damaging sludge build-up can be alleviated with a good drain cleaner. Drain cleaners are able to absorb contents causing the blockage and drain them away, restoring normal flow to your drainage system. However, not all drain cleaners in the market are effective or even safe to use with septic systems. Some drain cleaners might get the job done but could contain corrosive substances that may destroy the pipes and other drainage elements. Moreso, if your property relies on an on-site septic system – you will need to be extra discerning in your choice of drain cleaners, should you decide to use them.
What drain cleaners are best for septic systems? Chemical drain cleaners can kill the good enzymes and bacteria in your tank that help to break waste down and may even be damaging to the septic tank itself. Remember that bacteria break down the solid wastes in the septic tank so the whole system can function properly. This is why it is important to keep the proper bacterial balance in the septic system, and your choice of a drain cleaner should not be harmful to these essential bacteria. Highly-synthetic drain cleaners will contain sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid, making them the number one culprits in corrosion of pipes, whether plastic or metal. They are tempting to use because these types of cleaners might work faster and are cheaper, but they will cause more problems in the long run, especially if you have a septic system. A septic-safe drain cleaner will not contain such chemicals that are not only corrosive but harmful to the natural bacteria and enzymes throughout a septic system. One of the basic indications of such a safe product can be found on the label itself.
If there is a clog in your drains, one of the simplest methods to try to remove it is to pour hot (boiling point) water down the drain. The hot water helps loosen accumulated grease or soap residue causing the clog, while hair clogs are loosened by the rush of water.
If the hot water method does not work, the next method that you can try is a baking soda and vinegar solution. Dump about 2-3 teaspoonfuls of baking soda into your clogged drain, followed by ½ cup of vinegar. This mixture will create a “fizzing” action that may help break the clog up and restore the flow in your drain once again.
If the latter fails, there is one last thing you can attempt to do before calling in the plumber. It is to use a septic-safe drain cleaner. If your home or property relies on a septic system, it is always wise to keep a septic-safe drain cleaning product on-hand. This way, you can restore normal flow to your drains if the other DIY methods fall short. We’ve drawn up a list of drain cleaners best for septic systems currently available on the market. We considered various factors in making the list: efficacy in clearing stubborn clogs, multi-purpose application (sinks, toilets, garbage disposals, and sewer lines), and – most importantly – environmentally-safe ingredients.
Drano Ultra Max Gel is formulated thick so that it cuts through standing water and works to dissolve tough clogs fast (in 7 minutes or less) and restore them to a free-flowing state. Drano Ultra Max Gel is safe for all pipes and it works great to remove hair, soap, scum, and other clogs. Tested safe on PVC, metal pipes, garbage disposals, and septic systems.
PRO: Easy to use. All you need is to pour the solution into any slow-moving drain and wait for 15 minutes or less (more, for tougher clogs). The product comes with a money-back guarantee, not that you will need it.
CON: There are some clogs that might be too complex for the product to handle. Also, this product is not highly recommended for toilets.
Green Gobbler’s DISSOLVE is formulated with rapid hair-dissolve technology that works on contact and liquefies any obstructions in the drain caused by fats, oils, lint, and hair. DISSOLVE’s high-density formula is heavier than water, so it easily sinks and clings to the blockage and begins working instantly. Green Gobbler boasts of products that are non-caustic and are safer alternatives to chemicals such as sodium hydroxide or bleach. Green Gobbler DISSOLVE Drain Clog Remover is powerful enough to plow through any clog.
PRO: Green Gobbler DISSOLVE is formulated to be tough on clogs but it is biodegradable and environmentally-friendly.
CON: May not work for severely and completely clogged-up sinks or drains.
Bio-clean’s Drain Septic Bacteria works well with kitchen sinks, showers, bathtubs, garbage disposals, septic tanks and drain fields, even cat litter pans. It is also a popular choice for RV’s or motor homes. It is a special combination of natural bacteria and enzymes that digest organic waste found throughout any plumbing system. Bio-Clean will remove the grease, hair, soap scum, food residue, paper, or cotton that may be plugging up drain lines and restore your drain flow to full capacity. Bio-Clean is tested safe for people, septic systems, and, more importantly, the environment.
PRO: Bio-clean Drain Septic Bacteria is environmentally-friendly and safe as it transforms waste matter into water, mineral ash, and carbon dioxide. What’s more, Bio-clean restores the vital bacterial action in septic tanks.
CON: Formula needs a bit of time to complete its action and is not effective on inorganic waste.
RID-X Septic Tank Treatment Enzymes can help prevent septic backups, along with regular pump-outs, by continuously breaking down household waste. RID-X helps maintain the healthy balance of septic bacteria throughout the septic system and this prevents costly septic clogs and back-ups. The natural bacteria and advanced enzymes in RID-X’s formulation start working immediately upon contact to break down paper, protein, oils, and grease. RID X is safe for use with all kinds of pipes and septic tanks. It is easy to use – just simply pour the liquid into the toilet and flush, or into any sink drain and run water for 15 seconds.
PRO: RID-X Septic Tank Treatment Enzymes is favored by numerous consumers because of its odor-less decomposition process.
CON: A number of consumers have complained about faulty seals on the bottles’ caps or opening. Packaging may not withstand certain shipping and handling conditions.
Roebic’s K-570 Leach & Drain Field Treatment comes in a concentrated formulation that allows for the quick delivery of more enzyme-producing bacteria to the problem area. The highly-concentrated formula makes it ideal and convenient for treating larger septic systems found in modern homes. Roebic K-570 can more rapidly break up drainfield clogs and restore drain flow, ultimately preventing septic system failure. Roebic K-570 is certified biodegradable and easy to use.
PRO: Although it comes in a highly-concentrated form, Roebic K-570 is very safe on all kinds of drainage pipes. It is biodegradable, thus safe to use for any septic system and will be safe for the environment.
CON: A few consumers have indicated that the product made no difference after application. Please note, however, that this product – as will any other store-bought product — is NOT a solution to a failing drainfield. Regular pumping and maintenance and care is the best prevention and a drainfield that has reached the point of failure will need professional servicing.
Rockwell Labs’ InVade Bio Drain Gel contains premium, natural microbes and citrus oil for efficient cleaning and effectively eliminates odor. The powerful probiotics in InVade’s formulation are instantly activated upon contact and are effective in digesting organic matter. InVade’s specialized thickened formula clings to the sides of drains, providing maximum contact and coverage. Its thick-coating action facilitates the digestion of scum and the elimination of odors.
PRO: InVade Bio Drain Gel is always a value-added purchase because of its multiple applications. Besides clearing up drain clogs, it may also be used with power sprayers, hose-end sprayers, and with mopping applications. Its formulation contains no harsh chemicals or fumes.
CON: May not work best with more severe clogs. It may require pressure (foaming) for better results.
CLR Power Plumber is an innovative aerosol product that drains tough clogs in seconds for sinks, tubs, shower stalls, and toilets. CLR PP4-5 is a revolutionary cleaner formulated to work with inorganic blockages which most of the drain cleaners in the market cannot handle. It utilizes the water in the drain pipes like a “ram” to force blockages down the drain and is able to reach up to 50 ft. into the sewer.
PRO: CLR PP4-5 gives you more value for your money as it can be used up to 15 times, unlike regular drain cleaners that usually have a 2-applications limit. More importantly, it is safe, both for the home and the environment. It contains no harmful acid or lye that can harm kids or pets. It won’t harm your pipes, nor the environment.
CON: It may require additional equipment when used, which are not indicated on the label.
What NOT to Flush Down Your Septic System
Often, we don’t really give a second thought about what we put down the drains of our homes. Be reminded that this unwary practice can be harmful to your drains and pipes, and, if your property relies on an on-site dedicated septic system, it can result in major septic problems. Let us look around the house and refer to the lists of things you should never allow down your drains so you can protect the delicate balance of your septic system.
In the Kitchen
Sure, it can be difficult to monitor what goes down the drain in the kitchen. However, if you aren’t careful, what you put down your kitchen sink will drain and travel to your septic tank, hastening the likelihood of a septic problem. Refer to the brief list below of things you should avoid sending down your kitchen sink’s drains.
- Coffee grounds
- All non-organic solid waste
- Scraps of food
- Fats, oil, and grease
- Harsh and toxic chemicals
The naturally-occurring bacteria and enzymes in a septic tank will have a very difficult time, at best, to process inorganic waste. Most of them will be unable to digest them at all. If inorganic, un-digested waste is left to accumulate in a septic tank, this may lead to clogs, to sewage backing up to the house, and/or your drainfield to flood and, sooner or later, fail. On the other hand, harsh and toxic chemicals pose a real threat to the life of the helpful bacteria that digest solid waste and also help remove the pathogens from your wastewater. As a result, aside from a clogged up system, your groundwater can become polluted, putting everyone in the vicinity at risk.
In the Bathroom
Like in the kitchen, there are certain things you should not be allowed down the drain in the shower stall, sink, and flushed down the toilet in your bathroom. For the sake of your sinks and shower drains, one of the first things you should do is to switch away from anti-bacterial soaps as these can harm the vital bacteria present in your septic system. As for the toilet, here is a list of things you should never flush down:
- Paper towels (wet or dry)
- Plastic materials
- Sanitary napkins, diapers, tampons, and similar items
- Dental floss
- Cat litter
- All non-biodegradable solid waste
- Harsh and toxic substances
Basically, the only thing that should be flushed is wastewater and toilet paper. But even then, you have to ensure that the latter is labeled as “septic-safe”. It is easy to keep your septic system healthy and fully-functioning. One of the first steps is to make it a way of life to dispose of inorganic and toxic substances properly.
By referring to this list, you could be protecting your home from a septic catastrophe. It pays to always be mindful of how things going down your drain and how they can affect your septic system. Septic system care is the first major step in its maintenance and longevity.
DIY Septic-Safe Drain Cleaners
We’ve talked about the more natural method of pouring a pot of boiling water down the drain to work on simple clogs caused by hardened soap or grease. Another helpful practice is to fit sink strainers or pieces of wire mesh over your drains to trap hair or food particles. A lot of people also rely on plungers (and running hot water alternately) for slow drains. These remedies are quite effective for minor clogs. For more serious clogs, a popular remedy is baking soda and vinegar mixture. If there’s anything safer than septic-safe drain cleaners, it’s that.
The most commonly used DIY drain cleaner solution is a mixture of 1 cup baking soda and 1 cup white vinegar. These two substances together will create an intense foaming action. This is helped further along by flushing it down with 2 cups of hot water 15 minutes after the application. This is not just a clog solution – it is actually good routine maintenance.
Another solution you can try is a mix of salt and baking soda. Pour about a 1/2 cup of each down the drain. Let this sit for half an hour, at minimum, or as long as overnight. Once this mixture has been given a significant time to sit in drains, clear it with a pot of boiling water. Just remember that the tougher the clog, the longer it needs to sit.
Lemon juice is an alternative to vinegar. Yes, it is a little more costly, but it smells a lot better while working just as well. You may find that you prefer using lemon juice in your kitchen drains, if only for its more appetizing smell. Again, run plenty of hot water after the baking soda and lemon juice have foamed up for 15 minutes, at least.
Septic Care to Avoid Clogged Drains
There are basic maintenance steps every property-on-septic system owner can take to keep one’s septic system healthy, while avoiding clogged drains, altogether. The easiest way to go about this is to avoid draining and flushing things that can clog a pipe, such as a grease and oils. Likewise, avoid allowing banana peels, potato skin, eggshells, bones, pits or seeds down your drains.
And because hair is a common cause of drain clogging, especially in the bathroom, it’s always a good idea to install protective meshes or screens overall shower, tub, and sink drains to catch hair and other clogging agents.
Another helpful practice is to limit, if not altogether eliminate, the use of a garbage disposal unit. If doing away with your garbage disposal unit is not feasible, there are several models available in the market that are safe for use with septic systems. Some people also put ice cubes in the garbage disposal to keep the blades sharpened. This keeps the unit efficient in grinding food particles down.
You can also help maintain the bacterial colony in your septic system by using a monthly septic tank treatment product. When used as directed, this will help maintain the necessary bacterial and enzyme balance that can otherwise be upset by normal household products like bleach, certain soaps, and detergents.
One of the safest methods in unclogging a drain is to use a plunger. It is non-invasive and is effective in small blockages. At least try to use a plunger before trying a drain cleaner. On this note, never use a plunger simultaneously with a chemical drain cleaner as the suction could cause a splash-back on your skin. If you have a septic system, being too liberal on chemical drain cleaners will not always help and may even do harm. Your septic tank is basically a well-balanced bacterial ecosystem. Keeping a healthy balance to this ecosystem is vital to the process of digesting solid waste and breaking down pathogens in wastewater. If available, you may want to try a DIY solution of baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and water solution. This is the “greener” alternative to the eco-friendly drain cleaners that are available in the market. And if you do opt for drain cleaners, be sure to purchase ONLY those labeled as septic-safe. This goes for all the other household products you use, too. And even these should also be used in moderation and as directed.