You probably already have a good idea that flushing the wrong thing down your toilet can cause an issue with your septic tank. Notorious "problem items" include everything from cat litter to kitchen grease. However, the biggest thing that you're probably putting down your drain that's about to clog up the works is actually your toilet paper.
Buy Cheap Toilet Paper
If you want, you can invest in toilet paper that's marked "septic safe." Or, you can just buy thinner, cheaper toilet paper. What's the difference? Not much, really, because both types are essentially the right type for your septic system.
Cheaper toilet paper, just like "septic safe" paper, is less fibrous, which makes it thinner than more expensive toilet paper. Because it's less fibrous, the paper breaks down better and faster once it hits your septic system. If you're buying triple-ply, ultra-thick toilet paper, your septic system is going to have to work harder to break down the cellulose material in it. More of that stuff is going to sit around, gunking up your tank over time.
Additionally, some of those cellulose fibers are going to make it to your leech field, potentially making it work harder as well to drain. It doesn't matter how small the cellulose fibers are; they still plump up and hold moisture, which is NOT what you want happening in your leech field.
You also want to avoid expensive toilet paper that has greasy additives, like aloe and other forms of lotion. The paper might feel pleasantly soft, but the lotion acts like grease when it's thrown into your septic tank.
Test The TP You Love
Remember: your septic system essentially relies on water, bacteria, and time to dissolve solids that are put into your tank, and that includes toilet paper. So, the less solid material you put down your drain, the less likely you'll end up with a backup, a nasty clog somewhere, or a tank that needs to be pumped before its normally scheduled maintenance.
If you really want to get a good idea of how well your favorite toilet paper dissolves in your septic tank as opposed to another brand, try this test (or one similar to it):
- Get one jar, with a lid, for each type of toilet paper you want to test.
- Put 1 cup of water in each jar.
- Add 3 sheets of the toilet paper you're testing to the jar of water, one type of toilet paper per jar.
- Shake each jar for 20 seconds. That simulates the agitation, over time, in your septic tank that the toilet paper would experience as drains are emptied or more toilets are flushed.
- Wait for about 1/2 hour and then examine the toilet paper in each jar, first visually and then when a spatula or fork.
You should see the difference first in how each toilet paper reacted to the water. Some brands and types will simply break down rapidly in response to the water and mild agitation while others will remain largely intact. Some will begin settling toward the bottom of the jar and some will continue to take up most of the space.
While this test doesn't account for the natural bacteria found in septic systems, it will give you a good idea of how soluble your preferred brand of toilet paper actually is (or isn't).
Generally speaking, if you want to do your septic system a favor and avoid unnecessary maintenance, stick to a toilet paper that doesn't have greasy additives, is thinner, and dissolves quickly in water alone. You can also talk to your septic tank service person - the odds are good that he or she knows quite a bit about what toilet paper is safe for your system. To learn more about septic tank service, visit McDermott Septic Tank Pumping.