The Hidden Lives Of Septic Systems

Posted on: 20 August 2019

The Hidden Lives of Septic Systems

"It's alive!"

Is that the cry of Dr. Frankenstein as he creates his monster or your friendly local septic technician as he monitors the condition of your septic tank? Although your tank is just an inanimate hunk of concrete or fiberglass, what's inside is actually teeming with life. Your septic tank is home to a surprisingly varied ecosystem and, just like the flora that lives inside your gut and helps you to digest food, your septic tank's resident critters help to break down waste and keep your tank from overflowing. Understanding how these little guys function as part of your septic system is a key part of making sure that they survive to keep doing their jobs.

Down into the Muck

To begin to understand your septic flora, you must first understand the environment that they live in. The waste that enters your septic tank will naturally divide into three separate and important layers. Grease and oils will settle at the top while solids will drop down to the bottom. The liquid waste occupies the center of the tank, and it should always make up more than three-quarters of the total volume of waste in the tank. Once the solids and greases cause this overall ratio to shrink, it's time to have your tank pumped.

This stratified environment may sound like a pretty disgusting place, but it's heaven to the microbes that live in your tank.

The Tank Ecosystem

From the perspective of a homeowner, the important part of the ecosystem within your tank is the activity that occurs with the solid wastes. The bacteria and other microbes that take up residence within your tank feed on the solid waste, converting it from solids into liquids. These microorganisms are naturally present in the waste that gets flushed into the tank, so in a healthy tank, there's no need to do anything to help these little friends along. They will happily chug along, chewing on solid waste and excreting liquids that can ultimately make their way into your drain field.

This ecosystem is the reason that your tank can quickly fill to its maximum liquid level. Once the tank has reached this level, the feeding activities of the microorganisms within it will ensure that waste does not build up too quickly. Although your tank flora cannot keep the waste in check indefinitely, they are the primary reason that you are not cleaning your tank several times per year.

The Care and Feeding of Septic Microorganisms

As noted above, there's little that you need to do to keep your tank's ecosystem in good shape. These bacteria occur naturally and they're perfectly happy with the steady stream of waste that enters your tank. In general, the most important thing you can do to keep your septic tank's ecosystem in good shape is simply to avoid flushing materials that may be harmful. In particular, avoid ever flushing household cleaners or antibacterial products into the septic system. These can kill huge numbers of your waste-eating allies, ultimately ruining the balance of your tank and forcing you to pump it much more often than would be otherwise necessary.

For more information, contact your local plumbing professional.