Having a garbage disposal in the kitchen can be extremely convenient. When used properly, a garbage disposal can help to prevent clogged pipes and sewer line clogs since it will work to break up any solids that go down the kitchen sink. One question we often get from customers who have a home with a septic system is whether it is possible to use a garbage disposal. The answer is yes, it is technically possible to use a garbage disposal with a septic system. However, it is not something we would recommend for reasons we’ll now look at.
Reduced Effectiveness of Your Septic System
A septic system is really only designed to handle wastewater, toilet paper, and human waste. Washing a bit of food scraps down the sink every now and then typically is not much of an issue, but putting too many solids into a septic system definitely can be. To understand why, it is necessary to know a bit more about how exactly septic systems work.
All of the waste from your home’s plumbing flows through a main sewer line and into the septic tank. Any time new water and waste enters the tank, it pushes some of the wastewater out of the tank, where it then flows out through the leach or drain field. As the water then seeps down through the drain field, microbes work to treat the water and feed on any remaining waste.
All of the waste in the septic tank settles into three different layers. The very bottom layer consists of sludge that is formed when bacteria in the tank break down all the solid waste. Any new solids that enter the tank settle on top of the sludge layer, where the bacteria immediately start working to break down the solids. All the water that enters the tank settles at the top above the sludge and solids.
When a septic system is used correctly, the bacteria have plenty of time to break down the solids into sludge. This is important since breaking down the solids means they take up much less space. If you were to put too much solid waste into the system, the bacteria would struggle to keep up, and the solid layer would quickly start to build.
This is part of the reason why garbage disposals are not a great option for septic systems since they will greatly increase the amount of solid waste that flows into the tank. Another issue is that the bacteria in the tank are much more effective at breaking down human waste and toilet paper than they are at breaking down many types of food scraps that are not as easily biodegradable. This means that a garbage disposal can reduce the effectiveness of your septic system, which can lead to higher maintenance costs and potentially create other septic issues.
In most cases, you should only need to have your septic tank pumped out every three to five years or so. As long as the system is working effectively, the bacteria should break down the solids to prevent the sludge layer from rising too high. If you use a garbage disposal, all the extra solids will cause the sludge layer to build up much more quickly. As a result, you will need to have your septic tank pumped more frequently, possibly as often as once a year.
The average cost for septic pumping in the U.S. is around $400, and this can quickly add up if you suddenly need your septic tank pumped every year instead of only once every three to five years. This means that you need to think carefully about whether the extra cost is really worth it for the convenience a garbage disposal provides.
Increased Chance of Septic Issues
The fact that a garbage disposal will decrease the capacity of your septic tank and cause it to fill up much more quickly also means that you need to be extremely diligent about getting your tank pumped regularly. If you do not have the tank pumped often enough, it can start to overflow and lead to other more serious issues. An overflowing septic tank can pollute the surrounding area since wastewater will start to leak out of the tank instead of flowing into the drain field where it can be properly treated.
An even bigger issue is that solids may also start to flow out of the tank and into the drain field pipes. The pipes in the drain have lots of small perforations that allow the wastewater to slowly seep out. If solid waste starts flowing out of the tank, it can start to clog all the pipes so that they can no longer drain. This is a serious problem that will prevent your septic from ever working properly and will usually mean that you need to have the entire drain field dug up and replaced.
Solids can also clog the outlet baffle, which is where the wastewater flows out of the tank and into the drain field. If the baffle becomes clogged, no more water will be able to drain out, and the tank will quickly start overflowing and flooding the surrounding area with sewage.
How to Prevent Your Garbage Disposal From Causing Septic Issues
Even after explaining all of the reasons why using a garbage disposal with a septic system is not recommended, we know that some people will still do it. If you decide to go ahead and use a garbage disposal, here are some tips that can help to at least limit the impact it has on your septic system.
The most important thing to do is to use your garbage disposal sparingly and do not treat it like a second trash can. The more you use the disposal, the more solids go down the drain. The quicker the sludge layer will build, and the more potential issues you will have.
It is also important to only put easily biodegradable food scraps down the drain. Soft fruits and vegetables are usually fine since they will break down fairly quickly, but you definitely want to avoid things like meat scraps or any hard items like eggshells, bones, fruit pits, and nuts.
Fibrous or starchy vegetables like corn husks and potato peels should also be avoided, as they can clog or damage the garbage disposal. Pasta, rice, and other grains are also bad since water can make them swell and potentially cause them to clog your pipes. You should avoid putting any of these items down your garbage disposal no matter what type of sewer system your home has, but it is especially important if your house has a septic system.
At We Care Plumbing, Heating, & Air, we specialize in septic services. We can help if you need your septic tank pumped or any septic repairs or installation services. We also offer professional drain cleaning and sewer line services as well as a full range of other plumbing, heating, and air conditioning services for residents of Temecula, Murrieta, Orange, and the surrounding areas. Give We Care Plumbing, Heating, & Air a call today if you have any questions or to schedule a service call.