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Improve Septic System Performance

The homeowner can improve performance of the septic system and avoid major problems by selecting appropriate products and making wise water use decisions.

A typical person uses from 60 to 100 gallons of water per day. About 60 percent of that water is used in the bathroom. Reducing water use conserves water resources and helps the septic system. In the course of daily living, many materials used in the home enter the sewage system for disposal and treatment. Some belong down the drain and others belong in the trash.


  • Do not use antibacterial soaps and cleansers
  • Limit use of bleach-based cleansers and detergents. Use more elbow grease
  • Repair leaky faucets and toilets


  • Only human waste and moderate amounts of plain toilet paper should go down the toilet – nothing else. Toilet paper should break down easily
  • Do not flush any other products or items. The toilet is not a garbage can
  • Do not use “every flush” toilet bowl disinfectants; they introduce a chemical each time you flush
  • Do not use disposable toilet brushes. If you must use them, throw them in the trash, do not flush down the toilet as shown on packaging
  • Install low-flow showerheads and low-flush toilets
  • Reduce or eliminate use of drain cleaners
  • Do not use cleaners that automatically spray shower stalls after each use, this also introduces chemicals with every use
  • Use bath oils, soaps, shaving creams, and other products sparingly
  • Avoid laundry or other large water uses while using the shower. Large whirlpool bathtubs use large volumes of water which may overload the system. Be sure your septic tank has additional capacity
  • Shut off water while shaving and brushing teeth (save up to two gallons per minute)
  • Choose quick showers that use less water than tub baths
  • Do not flush unused medications.


  • Use gel or highly biodegradable dish washing detergents. Read labels and purchase those with zero phosphorus content
  • Choose a water conserving dishwasher. Scrape dishes well before placing in the dishwasher. New models advertised as “no-scraping needed” have a built in garbage disposal. Scraping dishes into the trash reduces solids in the septic tank
  • Do not use a garbage disposal or dispose of vegetables, meat, fat, oil, coffee grounds, and other undigested food products in the septic system. Doing so adds solids to your septic tank and uses large amounts of water. Compost kitchen wastes or throw them in the garbage
  • Be sure there is a shutoff valve on the drinking water treatment device so the system does not run continuously when the reservoir is full
  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap to get cool water
  • Reduce the use of drain cleaners by minimizing the amount of grease and food that go down the drain


  • Use liquid or highly biodegradable powdered detergents with no clay filter
  • Only use detergents containing bleach when absolutely necessary, not every load
  • Use minimum amount of detergent or bleach required to do the job
  • Select a front-loading washing machine which uses 40-65% less water, or a new water efficient top loader when replacing your washer
  • Distribute wash loads evenly throughout the week to avoid overloading the system in a short period. A good rule of thumb is one load of laundry per day
  • Wash only full loads when possible; adjust the water level to fit the load
  • Install a filter on the washer to remove lint and an effluent screen on the septic tank outlet baffle
  • Avoid installing a second floor laundry. It will reduce septic tank performance due to the rapid speed of water entering the tank. If laundry is on the second floor, make sure the tank has additional capacity and an effluent screen is in place


  • Re-route water softener, iron filter, and other treatment filter recharge outside of the septic system. Consider using a separate soil treatment area or dig a short trench (20’-30’)
  • Route condensation water from a high efficiency furnace outside of the septic system to prevent freezing problems. It can run to a sump pump, be directed to a soil treatment area or dry well, or be vented directly out of the house onto the ground
  • Recharge your water softener as infrequently as possible. If replacing, look for an on-demand until so the system recharges only as needed, based on the volume of water used
  • Be sure sump pumps, floor drains, garage drains, roof drains, and other methods of routing water away from your house are not going into the septic system. This high volume of water can easily overload the system
  • Route chlorine-treated water from hot tubs and pools outside of the septic system
  • Install a water meter to monitor water use. Check it monthly
  • Dispose of solvents, paints, antifreeze, and chemicals through recycling and hazardous waste channels. Do not wash paint brushes in the sink. Disposable paint brushes are an alternative
  • Be sure your automatic lawn sprinkler system is zoned to minimize watering over the soil treatment area

 Find more information at http://septic.umn.edu/

To order septic system publications, visit: https://shop-secure.extension.umn.edu/ or call the Distribution Center at (800) 876-8638