I grew up living in a home septic system my whole life and we never had to use a “treatment” or “activator” to keep it working properly.
However, we do follow pretty strict rules about what chemicals and cleaning supplies we use in the house as well as rules on do’s and don’ts for septic that my parents taught us and I think that is the main reason why we avoided problems with the septic tank clogging, backing up or smelling nasty.
On average we have the tank pumped by a local septic tank maintenance service every 4-5 years to although we’ve never had a problem with odors or clogging pipes. It may be able to go much longer but we have it pumped …
However, I do know that many people do need to use an enzyme, activator or treatment to help the healthy bacteria flourish, especially when the tank has been heavily used and/or does not have a good balance of bacteria.
While there are products like RID-X Septic Treatment or these flushable Live Bacteria Packets from Cabin Obsession that are actually pretty affordable and some people swear by them. However, many readers have asked about ways to replicate these kinds of products at home with a DIY recipe. I’ve listed several of the most common homemade solutions for septic treatments I’ve come across over the years.
DIY Septic Tank Treatments
1) Yeast as Septic Tank Activator
This is a popular homemade treatment. The main idea is that it’s a cheap way to add live bacteria to your tank rather than buying store-bought treatments. The main selling point on some of those products is that they also contain enzymes specifically added to break down fats, oils and grease. Others may be added specifically to
break down cellulose (from toilet paper fibers).
So while this may not be as complete of a solution as something like Rid-X, yeast would be a way to add live cultures to your tank.
Boil ½ gallon of water. Add 2 cups of sugar.
Allow it to cool until it’s warm to the touch.
(95 degrees is the best temperature for yeast to multiply, but not quite warm enough for proofing active dry yeast which works best in water temperature between 105 and 110 degrees)
Add 2 cups of cornmeal.
Add 4 packages of dry yeast to this mixture and allow yeast to dissolve for several minutes.
Pour the solution into your toilet and flush.
For best results do before leaving for work or going to bed so you do not add a large amount of water to the septic tank for the next several hours (laundry, showers, toilets).
This article in the Farmer’s Almanac says to just chuck 1/2 cup of yeast directly in the toilet and flush! That is definitely a much simpler solution, although the sugar and cornmeal do seem like it would create a more active production of bacteria…although I suppose the yeast would feed off the solid waste in the tank once it’s flushed.
2) Rotten (over-ripe) Tomatoes
This next DIY solution recommends “feeding” your septic tank a few rotten tomatoes via your garbage disposal while the water is running, the idea is that adding the fermenting tomatoes will help the septic tank balance. If you don’t have a garbage disposal you could chop them up or put them in a blender (read here to find out if you really should even be using a garbage disposal with your septic system?)
I personally don’t think this is a great solution. The idea of adding a few tomatoes every 2-3 months to your tank at first glance sounds somewhat logical but experts warn that you may just be wasting your money (or food in this case) by trying to manually adjust the PH of your septic tank.
To do this accurately you’d really need to know the PH of the water in your house and the PH in your septic holding tank…and then work out an accurate amount of acidic or alkaline material to adjust properly. I personally would enjoy my garden tomatoes (with a little fresh garlic and olive oil 😉 before they go to waste…rather than throw them down the drain.
Also, if you live with a septic system, the recommendation for coffee grounds and food scraps is to compost whenever possible…but never put them down your drain.
So I guess I don’t ‘see a logical reason to put more food down the drain when on a daily basis I am trying to minimize the food that ends up down the drain.
I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. We lived at the edge of town, technically just outside of town and part of the rural incorporated township. Anyway, the important point is that we were just far enough out of town to be off the sewer grid and needed a septic system. We were a large family and with seven brothers and sisters so did a high volume of laundry, dirty dishes and took a lot of showers (and the toilet got flushed a LOT).
And they were always reminding us what not to throw down the drain when we were little. Growing up in the 70s (pre-Internet), my parents really didn’t have access to a lot of information but it was considered pretty common sense and all the other neighbors around us had septic tanks:
My sisters knew not to throw tampons or maxi pads down the toilet, we scraped off all the food scraps off our plates using a rubber spatula before washing dishes (food waste went into a small tub that later went to the compost pile)
we only put things in the laundry bin clothes that were really dirty and helped do laundry throughout the week- rather than letting it pile up and doing several loads on the weekend and used plant-based laundry detergents like these that are safe for septic tanks.
We also learned to take short showers, apart from the fact that it wasn’t good to put that much water all at once in the septic tank and water heater didn’t crank out enough hot water for all of us to take long showers and overstaying your allotted time in the shower would usually end in a fight (or getting towel whipped by an older sibling).
My parents also didn’t stock drain cleaners, bleach or harsh chemicals in the house. My grandparents had run a self-sufficient dairy farm and my grandmother made all her own cleaning and washing supplies using things like borax, lye and washing powder that she bought in the local store…so she didn’t really use toxic chemicals regardless of the septic system. Click here to see DIY laundry detergent recipe using just 3 ingredients.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I moved out and eventually got my own home (also with a septic system in a much more remote part of the state) that I started researching what should or should not be used with a septic tank. I read about people putting all kinds of things in their septic tanks to “activate it”.
My mom was very environmentally conscious (before it was mainstream) and my dad grew up on a small dairy farm, my grandparent’s farm was totally self-sufficient and my grandma made all her own soap, shampoo, washing detergent. The words organic, eco-friendly were not used at the time, and “green” was just a color.
Without knowing it, they were much more eco-friendly than even the most loyal Whole Foods customers are today….without even really thinking about it from that angle, they just did was common sense at the time.
Featured image: Image Credit Wayne Feiden