Naturclean Septic-33
Sludge & Waste Reducer

Septic Systems

An explanation of what septic systems are, how they work, and why they fail,

Contents: Frequently Asked Questions - Septic FAQ's

  • What Are Septic Systems?
  • How do Septic Systems Work?
  • What are the Components of a Private Septic System?
  • Where are These Components Located?
  • Care and Maintenance
  • Why Septic Systems Fail
  • How Long Should a Septic System Last?
  • What are the Signs of a Failing System?
  • Can a System and Dying Leachfield Be Restored Without Being Replaced?
  • If I Plan on Repairing, Installing, or Replacing A System, What should I expect?
  • If my Family is Growing and I add a New Bedroom, What Should I Expect?
  • How Big Should a Septic Tank Be?
  • How Big Should the Leach Field Be?
  • What is Gray Water?
  • Alternative (Other Types of) Systems
  • Should I Add Bacteria
  • Septic-33
  • Septic System Do-Nots


    What are Septic Systems?

    Septic systems are considered to be on-site systems designed to safely dispose of biological sanitary waste. "Gray water", such as laundry waste, is part of the waste system, but it may not result in what is referred to as "biological" waste. We will address "gray water" waste as it impacts the design of a septic system.


    How do Septic Systems Work?

    Basically a septic system provides a "holding tank" where natural bacterial action decomposes human waste products into environmentally acceptable components - the major end-components being water, mixed with some other components that are not readily consumed by the bacterial action, gases, and undigested solids. The end products, except the undigested solids, are then discharged to the on-site environment.


    What are the Components of a Private Septic System?

    The things that are most obvious are the things seen every day - the sinks, toilets, and pipes in a normal house. What are not visible are the things that are underground; the things that are underground, and the ground itself, greatly impact how a septic system works.

    The individual parts of the system are the septic tank, a distribution box, and a leach field. Bacterial action takes place in the septic tank where the end products are mainly water, gases, and undigested material, called sludge that sinks to the bottom of the tank and scum that floats to the top of the tank. The septic tank contains baffles that prevent any scum that floats to the surface and sludge that settles to the bottom from passing out of the tank. The gases that are generated vent to the atmosphere via the plumbing vent system. From the septic tank, the segregated and relatively clear liquid flows into a small distribution box where it is then metered out to several perforated pipes. These perforated pipes then deliver the liquid to a large soil surface area, called a leach field, or absorption field, for absorption. The soil also acts as a filter to remove any small amounts of solids that may be carried along with the liquid. The sludge in the bottom of the tank must be periodically pumped out and properly disposed of.

    There are other kinds of systems for special situations, but the septic tank and leach field is the most widely used system in our area. The following discussion concentrates on this type of system.




    Where are These Components Located?

    The concrete, or sometimes steel, septic tank is buried in the ground, usually a minimum of 10 feet from the house. The top of the tank is usually about one foot below the soil surface so it can be periodically opened for inspection and pumping. If you do not know for sure where the tank is located, the first step is to locate where the house sewer pipe leaves the house. In a house with a basement, this is where the pipe passes through the wall. Locating the exit point may be more difficult for a house with no basement. If the pipe exit can be found, the tank normally begins about 10 feet from the house outside wall and in line with the house sewer pipe. If the soil is not frozen, you can usually find the tank by pushing a slender metal rod into the ground until it hits the buried tank. You can buy a metal rod about 1/8 inch in diameter for a few dollars at most hardware stores. Be careful when probing for the tank and avoid hammering the metal rod into the ground - you could break a sewer pipe.

    The distribution box is much smaller than the septic tank and is usual found about 20 feet from the house. It too is usually only about one foot below the ground. Again, you can probe the soil carefully to locate the distribution box with a slender metal rod.

    From the distribution box, several pipes direct liquid to a series of pipes in trenches called laterals. The pipes in the trenches have holes in them to allow the liquid to be evenly distributed within the trench. To keep the pipes from being blocked with soil and to provide a space for water to be stored while it is being absorbed by the soil, the pipes are laid in a bed of crushed stone. Above the stone is a soil filter (usually one or two layers of what is called untreated building paper). Above the soil filter is top soil in which grass is planted.

    Equally important is WHERE THE COMPONENTS SHOULD NOT BE. If there are wells, either yours or a neighbor's, the leach field must be a minimum of 100 feet from the location of the well. In some areas, the well is not allowed to be down-slope from the leach field. If there is a stream or pond, the leach field must also be a minimum of 100 feet from the mean high water mark. Normally, no part of the system should be within 10 feet of a property line. In some areas and in unusual conditions, minimum distances may be greater than those noted here. In addition, no part of the system should be under a porch or driveway and you should not drive heavy vehicles (including automobiles) over the system lest the system be damaged.



  • Care and Maintenance

    Conventional septic systems are not entirely care free. The undigested solids (sludge) in the bottom of the septic tank should be pumped out every two to four years, depending on usage and tank size. If the sludge is not removed periodically, it will eventually carry over into the leach field and cause the field to fail.

    A well designed system can handle a reasonable amount of normal household chemicals such as drain cleaners, laundry detergent and bleach; excessive usage can be detrimental. You should avoid putting in chemicals that are toxic to the bacteria, such as paint thinner, solvents, insecticides, etc. Cooking fats and grease should also be avoided. If a garbage disposal is used, more frequent tank pumping may be needed.

    Depending on the size of the tank and your location, plan on a cost of about $200-$400 each time the tank is pumped. When the tank is pumped, your service person should also check the tank baffles for possible damage; ask them to do this inspection before you contract with them. While the tank is open, the service technician can also run some water from a hose into the distribution box to get an indication that the leach field is also still functioning; ask if the company offers this service.



    Why Septic Systems Fail

    If the liquid effluent cannot soak into the soil surrounding the leach field, sewage may back up into the system and overflow into the house or puddle on the surface of the ground. There are several possible causes for this problem.

    1. Poor Soil Conditions; Faulty Design or Installation
    A leaching system placed in unsuitable soil, a system that is too small for the house it serves, or an improperly constructed system may lead to early failure.

    2. Soil Clogging
    The most dominant cause of system failure is the clogging up of the leach feild. This is caused by the very poor and inefficient break down of the influent. Grease, oils and phosphates that do not get eliminated but usually slowly flow out into the leach field. There it flows out into the surrounding soil, there to impact and not allow breakdown. Some break down occurs by indigenous bacteria but not enough to stop impaction. This continues until the surrounding soils are no longer accessable. While this is happening, the grease, oils and phosphates are impacting the crushed rock of the drain feild. When the field can no longer accept water because of impaction, the effluent rises to the surface and you have a dead system.

    So, if grease, oils, phosphates, sludge or scum are allowed to escape into the distribution box and from there into the leach field, the soil will quickly become clogged. If this happens, the liquid will no longer soak, or percolate, into the soil. This condition can also be caused by broken baffles in the septic tank that allow grease, oils, phosphates, sludge or scum to escape even faster. Failure to have the tank pumped can also lead to a situation where the sludge and scum overwhelm the baffles.

    Can this process be reversed? Yes, in most cases, by using our Septic-33 you can cleanup the grease, oils, phosphates, sludge or scum accumulation and impaction. This formulation is not a mixture of a few enzymes and a couple bacteria strains but a specialized blend of 58 strains of bacteria to actually eliminate the problem, restore the dead field and not just delay and extend the problem.

    More Septic-33 Information to Restore and Keep Leachfield Clean

    3. High Water Table
    During wet, or abnormally wet, seasons groundwater may rise into the leach field and force sewage upward to the ground surface. This condition may mean the system has to be re-installed at a higher level. It may also be possible to intercept the high groundwater with a series of drains around the system called "curtain drains".

    4. Roots
    The roots of trees and bushes planted too close to the system can sometimes enter and block the pipes of the system. Removal of the plants and clearing the pipes of the roots is usually required.

    5. Physical Damage
    Trucks or heavy equipment passing over the system can damage pipes and joints to the point of rendering the system inoperable. You should be aware of the location of the system and direct traffic to avoid such damage.


    How Long Should a Septic System Last?

    You can expect a conventional septic system, such as that being described here, to last about 30 years. Some systems last much longer and some systems can fail earlier for reasons like those noted above. Other things can also affect the life of a septic system. For example, a system may have been providing satisfactory service for a previous owner for many years, only to fail shortly after you have bought the house. If the previous owners were a working couple with no children, the system was probably not heavily used; if yours is a family of six, the added load could push a marginal system over the edge and into failure.  


    What are the Signs of a Failing System?

    Sewage backup into the home is one possible sign of a failing system. However, backup can also be simply the result of a blockage somewhere between the house and the septic tank (this is relatively easy to fix). Another possible sign of failure is a smell of sewage outside the house. If this smell is more noticeable after a lot of water has been put into the system - multiple showers or several loads of laundry (if the laundry waste discharges into the septic system), for example - this may be an indication that the leach field is failing. The smell may also be accompanied by a "spongy" feeling in some areas of the leach field, near the distribution box, or near the septic tank. The "spongy" feel may be caused by water and waste being pushed to or near ground level. If ponding water is also seen, this is called "breakthrough" and is an almost positive indication of failure of one or more parts of the system. This is an extremely dangerous health hazard with the possibilty of contact with raw sewage containing dangerous pathogens. This smell, however, can also originate at the plumbing vent. In either case, further investigation is warranted.

    If you see such signs, a dye test may confirm your suspicions. For this test, a special strong dye is put in the system - usually by flushing it down the toilet. A significant amount of water is then washed into the system. If there is "breakthrough", the dye will become visible on the ground surface. If the dye is seen on the surface, this would be a very strong indication that the system has failed. A licensed professional engineer, or a septic system contractor can usually perform this test for you if it is needed.


    If I Plan on Repairing, Installing, or Replacing A System, What should I expect?

    There are two major factors involved in adding a new system or repairing or replacing an existing one. The first is the cost; the second is the inconvenience of possibly not being able to use the existing system while a replacement is being installed. For new construction, the second factor is not usually a major consideration.

    Repair or replacement cost will obviously depend on what has to be repaired and/or replaced. If the repair does not involve the leach field, the cost may be high, but it will probably not be exorbitant. The least expensive repair will be associated with a broken pipe between the distribution box and the house. The cost for this type of repair is in the order of several hundred dollars. If only a septic tank needs to be replaced - and the leach field is still undamaged - the cost will be in the order of about $1500 to $2500. If a new leach field is needed, and there is room for such an installation, you should plan on spending an additional $3000 to $4000 for a typical home. If there is not sufficient room for a new leach field, the existing field, including the clogged soil, must be removed and a completely new system must be installed. Such an effort can easily exceed $10,000.

    Is there a better way? Yes. using NatureClean's Septic-33. By using our proven bacteria formulation we have shown that about 70% of systems can be restored within about 8 - 16 weeks.

    More Septic-33 Information


    If my Family is Growing and I add a New Bedroom, What Should I Expect?

    Septic systems are designed to dispose of household biological waste. The amount of waste to be handled depends on a number of factors. Among these are the number of people living in the house and their lifestyle. After many years of experience, a major guideline in determining the size and capability of a septic system has been correlated to the number of bedrooms in a house. The number of bedrooms typically determines the number of people generating waste and hence the amount of waste that must be handled. If your family is growing and a new bedroom is needed, then the load on the septic system is also increased. If the septic system capability does not keep up with the increased demand, system failure may occur.

    So, how do you determine the septic system needs for your growing family? The following sections deal mainly with sizing a septic system so that it can adequately perform the desired function. Your design professional can handle the actual testing and number-crunching - but we have provided some standard guidelines to aid you. You may not need all this information, but it could help in making your decisions.


    How Big Should a Septic Tank Be?

    Septic tanks are sized according to the amount of liquid waste they must process. This is done by counting the number of bedrooms. In California the minimum size tank that can be installed now is 1000 gallons for a 1, 2, or 3 bedroom house. For each bedroom after 3, add 250 gallons to the size of the tank. If a garbage grinder is in the kitchen sink, it counts as an additional bedroom.


    How Big Should the Leach Field Be?

    Determining the required size of a leach field is a bit more complicated. The first thing to consider is the nature of the soil in which the leach field is to be constructed. Because water has to be absorbed in the soil, we need to know how fast it can be absorbed. This is called the percolation rate and is expressed as the time it takes for water in a test hole to decrease in level by one inch (minutes/inch). We must also know the type of soil and whether seasonal changes in the natural level of groundwater will interfere with the satisfactory operation of the system. Seasonal groundwater must be more than four feet from the bottom of the leach field trenches. Judgments regarding the soil conditions and percolation rates are best left to a professional. If the soil percolates very fast (less than one minute per inch) or very slow (greater than 60 minutes per inch) it will not be possible to install a standard leach field in the existing soil.

    We must now determine the amount of water that has to be absorbed each day. As with the septic tank sizing, there are also "rules of thumb" that can be used to find out how much water must be absorbed each day for each bedroom in the house (expressed as gallons per day per bedroom). For older houses (built before 1979) we must allow 150 gallons per day (gpd) per bedroom. For houses where the toilets are limited to no more than 3.5 gallons per flush and the faucets and showerheads are limited to 3 gallons per minute or less, we must allow 130 gpd per bedroom. For houses with water-saving toilets that use only one gallon per flush we allow 90 gpd per bedroom. The required flow rate is found by multiplying the appropriate flow by the number of bedrooms (in this case, we do not have to count a garbage disposal as a bedroom).

    Knowing the rate at which water can be absorbed by the soil (the percolation rate) and the flow rate (in gallons per day), we can use the following table to calculate how many square feet of absorption field is needed.

    Percolation                                   Application Rates
    minutes per inch                       Gallons per Day per Square Foot
        1 - 5                                              1.2
        6 - 7                                              1.0
        8 - 10                                             0.9
       11 - 15                                             0.8
       16 - 20                                             0.7
       21 - 30                                             0.6
       31 - 45                                             0.5
       46 - 60                                             0.45

    Soil with a percolation rate less than 1 minute per inch or more than 60 minutes per inch is unsuitable for a conventional system.

    Required Area (square feet) = Flow Rate (gallons per day) / Application Rate (gallons per day per square foot)

    Now that we know the number of square feet of absorption field that is needed, we can divide by the width of each trench to see how many feet of trench is required. The normal trench width is two feet.

    Let's do a sample calculation to see how this works. Assume you are buying a 3-bedroom house that was built in 1971. The leach field has failed and a new one must be installed. You have had a percolation test performed and the design professional has determined that the soil is suitable, the groundwater conditions are acceptable, and the percolation rate is 32 minutes per inch. How big an absorption field will be needed?

    Since the house was built before 1979, the flow rate is 3 bedrooms times 150 gallons per day per bedroom, or 450 gallons per day. From the table above, the application rate is 0.5 gallons per day per square foot for a percolation rate of 32 minutes per inch. The required trench area is then 450 gallons per day divided by 0.5 gallons per day per square foot. You will need 900 square feet of absorption area. If the absorption trenches are 2 feet wide, you will need a total of 450 feet of absorption trench. Most health codes limit the length of any one trench (called a lateral) to no more than 60 feet, the minimum number of laterals is 450 feet divided by 60 feet per lateral, or 7.5 laterals. Where property conditions permit, it is best to keep the laterals the same length, so your design professional may specify 8 laterals, each 60 feet long. But what if there is only room on the property for laterals that are 45 feet long. In this case, you would need 10 laterals, or trenches. In addition to the area needed for the leach field, you should also allow room for possible expansion (50% expansion area is required in some states).


    What is Gray Water?

    Gray water is usually water from a laundry system, perhaps the effluent from a sump pump, the foundation footing drains, roof runoff, and sometimes shower drains. This water usually does not contain human waste products and does not need to be digested like human waste. The disposal requirements for this type of water are less stringent than those for human waste. If there is a space problem on your site, it may be possible to segregate the gray waste from the human waste and minimize the size of the system needed for control of the human waste.


    Alternative (Other Types of) Systems


    This is the future of onsite waste water treatment. Very efficient, environmentally friendly and allows re-use of the effluent without contamination of the surrounding eco system.

    Aerobic treatment systems (Onsite Waste Treatment Systems) provide a competitively priced and environmentally safe method to treat household wastewater. They are intended for use in areas where sewers are not available and conventional septic tanks are not suitable due to soil or site constraints. NatureClean’s primary single home systems is a three-chamber Aerobic Treatment Unit (ATU). The NC-SM500 has met the NSF requirements for noise levels (less than 60 dbA at a distance of 20 feet) that successfully met the performance requirements established by NSF/ANSI Standard 40 Class I effluent. As well as the NSF threshold odor requirements.

    After processing, the treated effluent is pumped into a network of shallow (6” to 10” deep) drip irrigation lines that are specially fabricated by GEOFLOW to prevent clogging, root intrusion and microbial growth. Because of both pressurization and shallow depth, drip lines can be installed in areas of shallow bedrock, rocky soils, around trees and in a variety of situations where a conventional septic drain field could not be constructed.

    With regular septic systems , if ground water or percolation rates are unsuitable, it may be possible to install what is called a "mound" system. In a mound system, a suitable soil is placed above the unsuitable soil. A conventional system is then installed in the mound. There are some additional requirements for this type of design.

    If there is not enough room for a conventional leach field, it may be possible to install one or more cesspools, or seepage pits. These units are usually round, require less open ground, and are deeper than a conventional leach field. Again, there are specific requirements for these systems.

    Conventional, mound, and seepage pit systems all work by what is called anerobic bacterial action. This means the bacteria work without oxygen. Some systems are designed to be aerobic - meaning the bacteria need oxygen (air); There are also hybrid systems that use a combination of anerobic and aerobic sections.



    Should I Add Bacteria ?

    One dictionary defines bacteria as: "typically one cell organisms which have no chlorophyll, multiply by cell division, and can be seen only with a microscope. Although some bacteria cause diseases, others are necessary for grease reduction, fermentation, hydrocarbon reduction, etc." Bacteria are single-celled organisms that do not have well-defined organelles such as a nucleus. The cells are typically enclosed in a rigid cell wall and a plasma membrane. Bacteria contain all of the genetic material necessary to reproduce, and they reproduce by simple cellular division. Many companies want you to use Enzymes, however an enzyme is a protein that acts as a catalyst and does not reproduce. The enzyme is responsible for accelerating the rate of a reaction in which various substrates are converted to products through the formation of an enzyme-substrate complex. In general, each type of enzyme catalyzes only one type of reaction and will operate on only one type of substrate, extremely specific.

    We say bacteria cultures are what our Creator gave us to dispose of organic waste. The reason we are not knee deep in dinosaurs is because when something dies, the bacteria in the ground and in the corpse consumes it. If you take an apple and throw it out on the lawn, in a short time it will disintegrate. We are told the apple rotted. That’s just another way to say the bacteria are breaking it down so they can eat it.

    The word biodegradable means bacteria can and will eat something. Anything that is biodegradable is known as organic. If bacteria cannot eat it, generally, it is inorganic.

    Problems arise when there are just too many organics for the bacteria on site to handle. These on site bacteria are known as indigenous organisms. They can be overwhelmed by heavy loadings of organics. That’s when Naturclean Septic-33 is the answer. Working with the indigenous organisms, they provide the right team in large enough numbers to get the job done.

    When placed in the sewer, Naturclean Septic-33 build a biological slime on the pipe wall. The slime is the same thing you get on the media of a trickling filter in a sewer treatment plant. You can also compare it to the slime you find on a stone picked up in a creek. The bacteria will make the tank wall and pipes too slippery for grease to get a hold. They eat the grease they come in contact with.


    What is Septic-33 ?

    Naturclean Septic-33 contains adaptive microorganisms and a broad spectrum of biochemical accelerators specifically formulated for use in septic systems.

    Naturclean Septic-33 is composed of aerobic and facultative anaerobic microorganisms. These microorganisms have been carefully selected from nature, and adapted for optimum performance in septic systems. Naturclean Septic-33 is more effective in degrading undesirable proteins, fats and carbohydrates than naturally existing bacterial strains. This means more consistent and more balanced treatment performance with fewer systems upsets. The microbial protoplasm produced is a biodegradable source of food for higher life forms.

    Naturclean Septic-33 contains a natural microbial growth stimulant and coordination compound which increases the rate of microbial growth and the ability of the microorganisms to use nutrients. Naturclean Septic-33 organisms secrete significantly higher enzyme concentrations than unstimulated microorganisms resulting in improved waste digestion rates.

    The regular use of Naturclean Septic-33 establishes and maintains a biomass which is resistant to the effects of organic inhibitors commonly found in wastewaters. Synthetic detergents and other surfactants are commonly found in septic tank wastewaters. These compounds reduce oxygen transfer rates. Reductions in oxygen transfer rate reduce the ultimate capacity of a system to handle wastes. Naturclean Septic-33 is specifically formulated to degrade synthetic detergents. Naturclean Septic-33 thereby allows vital oxygen to be transferred to the biomass at a more rapid rate. This increases the wasteload handling capacity and system stability under higher than normal shockload conditions.

  • Naturclean Septic-33's specific, adapted microorganisms secrete lipase enzymes in significant quantities. Trapped lipids are enzymatically hydrolyzed, liquefied and solubilized. Solubilized solids are readily broken down and degraded by the biomass. Mats or "cakes" are eliminated and grease deposits loosened and removed.

    Grease and fats also tend to be surface active and thus interfere with oxygen transfer. The use of Naturclean Septic-33 in the presence of large quantities of grease and fat, generally increases oxygen transfer efficiency and thus tank efficiency.


    Lots of Bacteria

    Note that our plate count is extremely high—the highest count we’ve ever seen- in fact we average over 4.5 billion bacteria to the gram. This brings us to a competitive situation you must be aware of. There are companies who promise anything to get a sale. They tout their product as the best. One of the things they use to confuse the customer is plate count. They will claim to have enormous numbers of bacteria in their product and sometimes they do. However, not all plate count claims are valid. Unless the count can be verified in a certified testing laboratory, using accepted procedures, the claim should be discounted.

    While plate counts are important, they are not what determines the best product. Always remember that we are not playing a quantity game; we are playing a QUALITY game. If you could clean sewers solely with a vast number of bacteria, no septic system would need you. If you take a plate count of almost any septic system, you will find it loaded with bacteria. The plate count may even be higher than our formula. The septic tank has plenty of bacteria. The septic system does not need more bacteria, he needs a whole new cast of characters; one that will handle the varied waste that is introduced to the system.


    Different Strains - Why?

    Many strains of bacteria will not eat sewer grease under any circumstances. They simply die off. The only effective formula is one that will eat sewer grease after all other food is gone. This requires a carefully selected formula. Naturclean Septic-33 includes bacteria strains that will eat sewer grease. When the cultures are first developed in the laboratory and later grown during production, they are fed grease. Due to this process, the bacteria will look for grease when they wake up in the collection system.

    Carefully selected means exactly that. Not every bacterium will consume sewer grease. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as bacteria that prefer to eat sewer grease. Most bacteria would rather eat carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and cellulose) first. Next they will choose protein. After all that is gone, they will work on the fats and greases starting with the ones that are easiest to break down. Rest assured, sewer grease is on the bottom of the list.

    Meanwhile, sewage carries everything known to man, even in a septic system At any given moment, you will find many varieties of chemicals, soap, petroleum products, cellulose, and numerous other compounds. In addition, the pH of the water can swing back and forth without notice. On top of this, the stream can change characteristics without warning when someone dumps something down the line. This is especially prevalent during holidays.

    To the best of our knowledge, Septic-33 contains more strains of specific bacteria than any other formula available. It is necessary to have this formula because of the complexity of sewage systems. Septic-33 contains 58 carefully selected strains of bacteria. These include strains to eat grease, oils, hydrocarbon and wax degradation, cellulose, proteins, H2S, also for the degradation of detergents and surfactants and the degradation of phenolic and aromatic compounds.


    Synergism ?

    In order to clean a sewer you must put the right cast of characters on the scene at the right time. If a football coach wants to win a game, it’s better if he picks the team instead of taking the first eleven people who show up on game day. Just as the coach needs people with different skills to man his team, we need many strains of bacteria to win the war with grease. On a football field, it’s called teamwork. In a collection system, it’s called synergism

    Synergism is simply a group of bacteria working together to get the job done. For instance, a molecule of grease may consist of several compounds. One strain of bacteria cannot break it down. However, when the right team of bacteria goes to work, each consuming a different substrate (food), the compound is quickly consumed. order. QUALITY separates Naturclean Septic-33 from everyone else. Used as directed, Naturclean Septic-33 will work every time.

    Application Dossage Page

    Closing Comment

    We hope the preceding has helped you in understanding what a private conventional sewage disposal system is and what the maintenance and replacement costs might be. Some of the material presented may be more technical than you expected - but we hope it will be useful and informative.


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