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Can I Use a Garbage Disposal if I Have a Septic System?

Millions of homeowners around the country are using septic, rather than sewer systems. Whether their septic system was a choice, or was a necessity due to lack of a shared sewer system, septic systems provide significant advantages for many who appreciate the environmentally friendly design, durability, and lower costs.

Septic systems that have been properly installed and maintained should last between 20 and 40 years; many, though, last significantly longer. Regular cleanings, pumpings, and care are necessities for keeping your septic system running properly.

It’s also important to make sure you monitor what is being sent into the septic system; leaky faucets, items like dental floss, paper towels, and other kitchen or bathroom items, and washing machines can cause problems if not properly monitored.

As a result, many homeowners worry about using garbage disposals with their systems. These tools make clean up much easier, and are often considered environmentally friendly, keeping food scraps away from landfills. However, the garbage disposals can also cause significant damage to septic systems if not properly maintained.

 

Septic Systems and Garbage Disposals: Why They Don’t Play Nice

Garbage disposals are popular additions in many kitchens, as they keep kitchens clean from bacteria that can cause illnesses and food waste out of landfills. Unfortunately, though, they are not the best choice for septic systems.

A garbage disposal is used to grind food scraps into tiny pieces, making is easier to dispose of and process the waste. When you have a septic system, the pieces of food are flushed down the drain, into your system.

Just as you should avoid sending other solids down the septic system, the garbage disposal poses a problem when homeowners try to process and dispose of non-biodegradable food items, like food packaging items, or even hard-to-break-down foods, like bones, fruit pits, coffee grounds, or oil and grease.

These items add up in your septic tank, and as the sludge accumulates, it takes away from the full capacity of the tank. Ideally, the septic system’s bacteria and treatments will help to break down the components that are causing the sludge, but as the larger, heavier pieces sink to the bottom more quickly, the bacteria doesn’t have the time to do its job.

As the amount of sludge grows, not only does it reduce the tank’s full capacity, but it reduces the amount of bacteria that is available to break down the particles, decreasing the efficiency and safety of your septic system.

 

How to Prevent Problems

  • Purchase a garbage disposal that has been designed to work with septic systems. Many of these specialized designs release enzymes when the unit is on and grinding up the food particles. These enzymes are highly effective at breaking down the food to an even greater degree; they also attach to the food pieces and continue to work on minimizing the food. Not only does this increase the efficiency of your garbage disposal, but it also improves the operation of your septic system.
  • Know what foods can be disposed. With a shared sewer system, the list of approved foods is much longer; in a septic system, though, homeowners need to be aware of the foods that can cause damage. These include coffee grounds, pasta, rice, grease or oil, bones, fruit pits, and stringy vegetables, which can wrap around disposal parts and cause clogs. Hard or large pieces can test the limits of your garbage disposal, causing it to potentially shake and come loose. Make sure everything you dispose is a biodegradable food item—plastic wraps, papers, or ties can cause significant damage to both the garbage disposal and the septic system.
  • Take precautionary measures. Before you operate the garbage disposal, run some cold water first. This helps to improve the process of pushing food through the garbage disposal by keeping foods in a cool, solid state, rather than becoming warm and sticky.

  • Stay on top of regular maintenance, flushing, and cleaning of your garbage disposal. Pour a little dish soap in your disposal with some cold water to clean the disposal. Regularly inspect the connections to make sure everything is properly sealed. It’s also vital to work with professionals to have your septic system pumped regularly — between one and three years is ideal.

If you have questions about the connection between your garbage disposal and septic system, give Paradise Septic a call. We’re ready to support you.

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