Are Additives for Septic Tanks a Scam?

According to the EPA, more than one in five households in the United States need to use on-site wastewater treatment systems, or septic systems, to treat organic wastewater on their property. When we moved from California to Delaware, we became one of those owners. Neither the builder nor the inspector told us that we needed to add anything to our septic tank. So, are additives for septic tanks a scam? 

I have heard neighbors and read many internet pages talking about helping my septic system by adding products to the septic tank. And I have reached a point where I need to know if this is true. 

Independent research has shown that additives for septic tanks are not beneficial. Appropriate maintenance is all homeowners need to do to have a septic tank function well. In addition to inspections every 1 to 3 years, homeowners should get professional help and pump their septic tank every 3 to 5 years.

A convincing neighbor tells you that you should add yeast to your septic tank. A septic service provider suggests flushing a bacteria or chemical additive to help break down waste in your tank. Since you are new to septic systems, you feel that you should follow their advice.

So, get your wallet and get ready to pay. Or should you?

Let’s review some third-party evidence showing that additives for septic tanks are unnecessary.

Types of Additives and Effects on Septic Systems

In this Onsite Wastewater Treatment System Manual, the EPA compares company claims for additives with the effects of these additives on treatment processes.

Inorganic Compounds

  • What they are: These usually include strong acids or alkalis.
  • Benefit Claims: They are promoted for their ability to open clogged drains.
  • Known Issues: Ingredients like sulfuric acid, often used as drain cleaners, can damage pipes, septic tanks, and system components. Hydrogen peroxide has been proven to degrade soil structure.

Organic Solvents

  • What they are: These usually include chlorinated hydrocarbons (e.g., methylene chloride, trichloroethylene.)
  • Benefit Claims: Used as degreasers and marketed for their ability to break down oils and grease.
  • Known Issues: These products are detrimental to the treatment process because they destroy good bacteria and make your treatment system less effective. Many states have banned the use of organic solvents in onsite treatment systems. 

Biological Additives

  • What they are: These usually include bacteria and extracellular enzymes mixed with surfactants or nutrient solutions.
  • Benefit Claims: They are promoted as enhancing normal biological decomposition processes in the septic tank.
  • Known Issues: Some biological additives have been found to slightly reduce septic tank scum and sludge. However, there’s no proof that it significantly enhances normal biological decomposition processes in the septic tank. Some studies suggest that biological additives may contribute to increased contaminants in the otherwise clarified septic tank effluent.

There is No Practical Value in Using Bacterial Septic Tank Additives 

North Carolina State University research cited by Purdue University shows there is no benefit to adding bacteria to septic tanks.

The study tested 48 septic tanks with a double-blind study using three additives and one control (no additive). These are the conclusions of the effect of the additives when compared to the control:

  • Additives did not reduce the thickness of sludge depth in the septic tanks.
  • Additives did not reduce the rate of sludge accumulation.
  • There was no change to the total suspended solids.
  • There was very limited effect for BOD5, a measure of the sum of all biodegradable organic substances in the water.

The overall conclusion was that this research did not demonstrate any practical value of using bacterial septic tank additives.

Save Your Money on Additives and Pump Your Septic Tank Every 3 to 5 Years

According to Kansas State University, additives are no substitute for proper septic tank maintenance. You should focus on removing solids from your septic tank by pumping it with professional help every 3 to 5 years instead of spending money on additives.

Septic Tank Additives: Frequently Asked Questions

Experts within Inspectapedia answered two of the most frequently asked questions about the use of common additives.

Should I Put Yeast Into the Septic Tank? 

No. Yeast agitates the septic tank, prevents settlement of solids, interferes with the formation of the scum layer, and thus pushes solids into the drainfield.

Should I Put Baking Soda Into the Septic Tank? 

No. In theory, baking soda should result in cleaner effluent. However, there is no conclusive proof of this. Either way, the typical quantity that people would flush into a septic tank, a tablespoon, or a homeowner-sized box of baking soda is too small to make a difference and, thankfully, would cause no significant harm.

EPA SepticSmart Quick Tip Video Summary

Not everyone will agree, but after my research, I don’t think I need additives for my septic tank. In the meantime, my focus will be on following EPA recommendations.

This summary video emphasizes the main things you need to do to ensure your septic system functions properly. Notice how none of the tips mention septic tank additives.

Do you disagree with this article? Let us know by adding a comment below.

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