Fabric Softeners and Your Septic Tank

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A recent problem with our septic system led me to discover a thing or two about the products many of us use today. One would not normally expect to have problems with a septic system that is only five years old, but apparently in this situation the grease interceptor was blocked.

Since we do not use a lot of grease in our cooking, and certainly would not dump any down the drain, we started to look for other sources which could cause this problem. With three girls in the house, an obvious assumption would be the beauty products and lotions, some of which can contain a lot of oil/grease.

Next on the list of offenders is the fabric softener in the laundry room. I had no idea that liquid fabric softeners can harm septic systems! Our homebuilder never mentioned it, nor did the plumber, but a little research revealed that most liquid fabric softeners have the same effect as pouring bacon grease down the drain.

The major brands of liquid fabric softener are petroleum based – bad for your septic tank. There are a few brands like Seventh Generation Fabric Softener, Blue Eucalyptus and Lavender, 32 Fluid Ounce that are plant based and are relatively safe (in moderation) for septic. One very eco-friendly fabric softener is distilled white vinegar - and your clothes won't smell! Just add 1/4 cup where and when you would normally add liquid fabric softener. There is also a fabric softener recipe link on the home page, if you want to get fancy.

One thing the plumber mentioned that I was not aware of was that antibacterial products and disinfecting cleansers could destroy all of the “good bacteria” in the septic system. Take a minute to think about all of the antibacterial products and cleaners used today – bar soaps, facial cleansers, liquid soap, dishwashing detergent, tub and tile cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners as well as your laundry bleach.

Even though products may be labeled as safe for septic systems, they can have a detrimental effect when used in excess. Let’s say you use some of these products, and you also do 3 to 5 loads of laundry per week using bleach – this could lead to septic system failure.

Becoming more label conscious and making changes in the products used in your home will help to avoid problems in the future. Luckily, our plumbing problem was caught early, saving us a lot of money.