When you flush your toilet, you probably won't give much thought as to what happens to your waste. Few people really know what goes on inside of their septic systems. Even fewer people understand the crucial role bacteria play in keeping the septic tank in working order. The following sheds a little light on how bacteria help process septic tank waste.

How Bacteria Benefits Your Septic Tank

When people think of "bacteria," they tend to think of E. coli and other "bad" bacteria that often prove harmful to human beings. But there are also "good" bacteria that are essential for a properly operating septic tank. Septic tanks rely on aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to process waste. The former relies on oxygen and is mostly found in the drain field, while the latter breaks down waste without the need for oxygen.

When organic solid waste enters your septic tank, beneficial bacteria and enzymes go to work breaking down and consuming the solid waste. These microorganisms eventually transform most of the solid waste into a combination of gases and liquids, while leaving indigestible solids to join the bottom of the septic tank as sludge.

The resulting gases and effluent eventually pass into a gravel-lined drain field, which usually contains a biomat filled with more beneficial bacteria. As liquid effluent passes through the biomat, the bacteria within break it down even further before it eventually passes into the water table.

Things That Can Harm Septic Tank Bacteria

Whenever you're using your toilet, washing clothes or even taking a shower, it pays to know what goes down your drain. The common household products you take for granted can actually have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem within your septic tank system.

For example, caustic drain cleaners can eat away at stubborn clogs, but they can also eat away at the beneficial bacteria in your septic tank. Antibacterial cleaning products, designed to eliminate harmful bacteria on sinks, countertops and toilets, can also do a number on beneficial bacteria. Using these products excessively can lead to septic tank problems.

Other items that could prove harmful to beneficial bacteria include:

  • Non-biodegradable detergents
  • Insecticides
  • Prescription drugs, antibiotics and strong OTC medications
  • Liquid bleach

Using Biological Additives

Many people believe that adding extra bacteria, enzymes or activators through the use of septic tank additives can help their septic systems. However, these additives usually do more harm than good. Adding extra bacteria to your septic tank can easily upset the preexisting balance within the system, making it harder for existing bacteria to efficiently decompose waste. It can also lead to other problems, including clogged drain fields and contaminated ground water.

To learn more, contact a septic tank pumping professional in your area.