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#1
Old 09-19-2009, 11:42 AM
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Septic systems and water softeners

We had our septic tank pumped a while back, and the guy from the septic tank company warned us about the fact that our water softener is plumbed to discharge its waste into the septic system. I should say that although we do have a water softener installed, and it is plumbed that way, we haven't turned it on or hooked it up or done whatever we need to do to make it do its job since we moved in.

The septic guy said that the excess minerals going into the tank eventually make it out into the leach field and clog up the little pores, causing the system to fail and need t be replaced much sooner than it should. He recommended that we get it replumbed to discharge somewhere else on our property, which sounds expensive.

We didn't worry about it for a long time, because we both don't mind hard water, and actually prefer the taste. However, it's SO hard that it's now beginning to interfere with our other plumbing - showerheads get clogged, water pressure is dropping, aerators are screwed up, etc.

So rather than taking septic system guy's word for it, I did some googling, and from what I can tell, it seems that there is a widespread belief that water softeners are bad for septic systems, but people who have done actual research seem to feel that they're not. Can anyone fill me in on the, to coin a phrase, straight dope? It sure would be more convenient to leave the system the way it is, but I don't want to have to replace our septic system, either....
#2
Old 09-19-2009, 12:16 PM
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you can turn a valve on the softener to bypass it. if it's bypassed then the softener is of no consequence. if the softener is not plugged in then it hasn't regenerated and is probably of no consequence to the septic (though the resin in the softener might be deteriorating, it could loose its chemical action or be getting moldy/buggy). if you don't regenerate cycle the resin and are flowing through the softener it could eventually compact and restrict flow. if you aren't using softener put the valve on bypass and keep it unplugged.

the salts flushed by the softener in regeneration cycles are claimed to be bad for the bacterial action in the septic as well as claim of leech field damage. you could route that discharge into a sump pump or out onto the yard instead of the septic (move where you discharge and rinse that area with water to not kill your grass). running the softener discharge out the basement wall above ground will cost not many dollars (20 to 50 dollars could do it) using PVC pipe and is homeowner level project.

remove shower heads and clean with needle and soak in vinegar to unclog holes. suds work better in non-hard water and less soap scum.

Last edited by johnpost; 09-19-2009 at 12:19 PM.
#3
Old 09-19-2009, 02:01 PM
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I agree with johnpost, but in our case the hardness of the water would have been a big problem for us.

We had tested the water before we built the house so we knew it was going to be an issue. In our case it was fairly easy to dig a dry well for the water softener to drain into and in fact our county strongly recommended that we do that.

The cost wasn't much since it was planned for up front. In your case, if you're not using the water softener I don't see what harm it could be causing, but if it was ever used in the past then that may force you to replace your drainfield sooner than you otherwise would have had to. I don't think this is all bunk since the company that currently maintains our septic system sent someone out to the house to verify that we had the proper plumbing. If it wasn't real why would they care?
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#4
Old 09-19-2009, 03:09 PM
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Whoops - I guess I neglected to mention that because of the extreme hardness of the water and what it's doing to the plumbing, we're thinking of hooking the softener back up and getting it going again, and I'm trying to figure out if it's safe to keep it dumping into the septic system, or if we need to replumb it somehow.
#5
Old 09-19-2009, 04:16 PM
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Your septic man is misinformed. Studies done have shown water softener discharge to cause no harm to septic systems and in some situations it can even be beneficial.

The Water Quality Association(WQA) has done multiple tests on this subject. A short summery can be found on this PDF http://wqa.org/pdf/Consumer%20Br...probseptic.pdf
#6
Old 09-19-2009, 07:05 PM
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That's good to know, as our water softener is plumbed into the septic tank. I always wondered about that, it just seems like 40lbs. of salt a month would be bad for the bacteria, but I guess not, considering the volume of water it is diluted into.
#7
Old 09-19-2009, 09:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fear Itself View Post
That's good to know, as our water softener is plumbed into the septic tank. I always wondered about that, it just seems like 40lbs. of salt a month would be bad for the bacteria, but I guess not, considering the volume of water it is diluted into.
Bacteria does quite fine in salt water. Ever been to the ocean?
#8
Old 09-19-2009, 09:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fear Itself View Post
That's good to know, as our water softener is plumbed into the septic tank. I always wondered about that, it just seems like 40lbs. of salt a month would be bad for the bacteria, but I guess not, considering the volume of water it is diluted into.
Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
Bacteria does quite fine in salt water. Ever been to the ocean?
there are zillions of bacteria and they all aren't equal in diet or environment.
#9
Old 09-19-2009, 10:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
Your septic man is misinformed. Studies done have shown water softener discharge to cause no harm to septic systems and in some situations it can even be beneficial.

The Water Quality Association(WQA) has done multiple tests on this subject. A short summery can be found on this PDF http://wqa.org/pdf/Consumer%20Br...probseptic.pdf
Yeah, that's one of the documents I found while googling. It looks like that study is the only one that's been done, and it was done quite a while ago. I'm not too concerned about my bacteria - I can always get more from the lab if that goes horribly wrong - but more about clogging the pores. Sounds like the consensus is that it's probably not an issue, most of the time. It seems that concerns are based on anectdotal evidence from septic tank people. Hmm.
#10
Old 09-19-2009, 10:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
there are zillions of bacteria and they all aren't equal in diet or environment.
Yes and the bacteria in septic systems do not seem to suffer any ill effects from the sodium. If you have any evidence softener discharge is harmful to septic's feel free to provide it.

This is a subject with a lot of misinformation I've been in the water treatment business all my life despite all the claims laymen have about the ill effects of softener discharge, no evidence of it has ever been brought to my attention. The only in depth objective studies on it have been by the WQA and have shown only positive effects.
#11
Old 09-20-2009, 12:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
Bacteria does quite fine in salt water. Ever been to the ocean?
Quote:
Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
there are zillions of bacteria and they all aren't equal in diet or environment.
Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
Yes and the bacteria in septic systems do not seem to suffer any ill effects from the sodium. If you have any evidence softener discharge is harmful to septic's feel free to provide it.

This is a subject with a lot of misinformation I've been in the water treatment business all my life despite all the claims laymen have about the ill effects of softener discharge, no evidence of it has ever been brought to my attention. The only in depth objective studies on it have been by the WQA and have shown only positive effects.
just because some bacteria live in the ocean doesn't mean that the bacteria that live in a septic can enjoy the same environment or diet.

there is septic info (i have no cites at the moment) where chemicals (types of cleaning and bleach, waste) are not recommended to put into septic tanks. garbage disposals aren't good for them either. that would suggest that a lot of common insults aren't good for the septic systems.

the WQA, a trade organization, does provide a press release but not the research paper without purchase, maybe only to members.

Last edited by johnpost; 09-20-2009 at 12:03 AM.
#12
Old 09-20-2009, 06:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
there is septic info (i have no cites at the moment) where chemicals (types of cleaning and bleach, waste) are not recommended to put into septic tanks. garbage disposals aren't good for them either. that would suggest that a lot of common insults aren't good for the septic systems.
That would suggest that specific chemicals and garbage disposals are bad for the septic.

If you are going to assert that softener discharge is harmful to septic systems, please provide some evidence or stop spreading misinformation.
#13
Old 09-20-2009, 08:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
there is septic info (i have no cites at the moment) where chemicals (types of cleaning and bleach, waste) are not recommended to put into septic tanks. garbage disposals aren't good for them either. that would suggest that a lot of common insults aren't good for the septic systems.

the WQA, a trade organization, does provide a press release but not the research paper without purchase, maybe only to members.
Quote:
Originally Posted by boytyperanma View Post
That would suggest that specific chemicals and garbage disposals are bad for the septic.

If you are going to assert that softener discharge is harmful to septic systems, please provide some evidence or stop spreading misinformation.
i'm not spreading misinformation. i stated that people have made statements that softener discharge is no good for septic systems. that is a true statement people have made claims.

i'm not accepting a summary publication of the Water Quality Association, a trade group that includes people in the water softener industry, as proof of anything. trade industry publications are often biased. there seem to be research that had found softener discharge to be harmful to septic systems. i'm withholding a conclusion until i see the actual research done on both sides of the issue.
#14
Old 09-20-2009, 07:30 PM
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Followup question: I went and examined our water softener, and it appears that it hasn't been off all this time after all - it's been running, but without salt. It's been doing this for at least thirteen months that I know of, possibly quite a bit longer. Does this damage the resin, or do you think it would be OK if I loaded it up with salt and let 'er rip?
#15
Old 09-20-2009, 09:39 PM
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It can resin can become iron fouled and the salt can not make enough contact with the resin bed for it to transfer correctly.

Set the softener to regenerate every night for a week. Get some Iron Out or any other sodiumhydrosulphite product mix a 1/4 cup with a gallon of water each night and dump it in over the salt. After that if its not softening correctly it could be a lost cause but you should can a water treatment guy in your area to help you out.
#16
Old 09-21-2009, 09:46 AM
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The homes in my neighborhood have septic systems and water softeners to treat the high iron content in the well water.

The developer controversially installed water softeners, but left it up to the homeowners to connect the discharge to the septic system, or into a dry well at the homeowner's expense. However, nothing could be done until after the closing. Officially, the Town "discouraged" connecting water softener discharges to septic systems.

I took a credit on the developer's undersized water softeners, and installed my own. My installer reported that his customers had no reported problems with discharging into the septic system, so I had him direct the discharge into the septic system.

About six months later, we had three septic backups in the neighborhood. Apparently, due to the high iron content in the water softener discharge, iron-loving bacteria were building up in such numbers that they were clogging up the effluent filter in people's septic tanks. (This filter is intended to prevent solids from leaving the tank and making it into the leach field.) One homeowner "solved" the problem by simply removing the filter. I thought this was a bad idea, because solids discharged into a leach field can cause premature failure of the leach field, and new leach fields typically cost $10K-20K to replace.

So, to make a long story short, I promptly had a dry well installed adjacent to my septic tank to accept the water softener discharge. It cost $1,100.

P.S. I'm an environmental engineer with experience with the design and installation of septic systems. However, the research to support or discourage the practice of directing water softener discharges into septic systems is sparse. At the time I made my decision to go ahead and use the septic system (and later to switch to a dry well), the decision in each case was essentially based on anecdotal reports.

Last edited by robby; 09-21-2009 at 09:48 AM.
#17
Old 09-21-2009, 10:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robby View Post
About six months later, we had three septic backups in the neighborhood. Apparently, due to the high iron content in the water softener discharge, iron-loving bacteria were building up in such numbers that they were clogging up the effluent filter in people's septic tanks. (This filter is intended to prevent solids from leaving the tank and making it into the leach field.) One homeowner "solved" the problem by simply removing the filter. I thought this was a bad idea, because solids discharged into a leach field can cause premature failure of the leach field, and new leach fields typically cost $10K-20K to replace.

you might advise your neighbors who keep the softener connected to the septic to rinse their filter every 2 months. though not an easy thing during a cold and snowy winter.
#18
Old 08-01-2014, 04:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeghead View Post
Whoops - I guess I neglected to mention that because of the extreme hardness of the water and what it's doing to the plumbing, we're thinking of hooking the softener back up and getting it going again, and I'm trying to figure out if it's safe to keep it dumping into the septic system, or if we need to re-plumb it somehow.
It is best and simple to plumb the discharge from the backwash to a location other than the septic tank (in most cases).
Some the things hard on septic systems are soaps, paints, chemicals, grease, oil.
A water softener will result in using less soaps to clean and do laundry.
Many people run the discharge from their washing machine to a separate sump with its own mini leach field to preserve their septic tank. (simple home project).
Septic tanks work best with human waste and "Single" ply toilet paper only.
excess water is bad for your septic system.
Septic tank and leach fields need to be vented for the bacteria to properly breed.
A great septic tank additive is equal parts of: baking soda, brown sugar and Yeast.
(the yeast feeds off the sugar and the baking soda creates oxygen).
Since Hard water will plug up your pipes and faucets, it will most likely plug up your leach field as well in time.
#19
Old 08-01-2014, 08:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeghead View Post
Followup question: I went and examined our water softener, and it appears that it hasn't been off all this time after all - it's been running, but without salt. It's been doing this for at least thirteen months that I know of, possibly quite a bit longer. Does this damage the resin, or do you think it would be OK if I loaded it up with salt and let 'er rip?
A simple home test. Find a liquid soap. Soap not detergent. Put one drop of soap in a small eye dropper bottle. Fill half way with water. Put cap on and shake. Do any suds form, how much, and how long does the soap suds bubbles last. For a standard on your soap use distilled water first. Now repeat with unsoften water. Then after a regeneration cycle test the soft water. If the suds last as long as the distilled water then your softener is working. If the test results are the same as the unsoften water regenerate again and see if you get an improvement. If it never improves it is time for a new softener or new resin.

If you get the same suds rate on raw water as distilled water you probably have a detergent.

MY 2cents I would think that NaCL would be bad for a septic system.
#20
Old 08-01-2014, 11:14 PM
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My plumbing has been working fine over the last five years, thanks.
#21
Old 08-02-2014, 09:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unclebob9 View Post
It is best and simple to plumb the discharge from the backwash to a location other than the septic tank (in most cases).
Some the things hard on septic systems are soaps, paints, chemicals, grease, oil.
A water softener will result in using less soaps to clean and do laundry.
Many people run the discharge from their washing machine to a separate sump with its own mini leach field to preserve their septic tank. (simple home project).
Septic tanks work best with human waste and "Single" ply toilet paper only.
excess water is bad for your septic system.
Septic tank and leach fields need to be vented for the bacteria to properly breed.
A great septic tank additive is equal parts of: baking soda, brown sugar and Yeast.
(the yeast feeds off the sugar and the baking soda creates oxygen).
Since Hard water will plug up your pipes and faucets, it will most likely plug up your leach field as well in time.
ninja'ed by a newbie ... welcome to SDMB ... good to have someone here who knows his shit.

I would stress the soap part, especially laundry soap. A surprisingly large number of people use to much and THAT is bad for the tank. Also the actual dirt washed out of the clothes doesn't liquify (duh) and sits down in the sludge. So you want your washing machine on the "mini-sump" as above. It's a weekend project if you're not afraid of shovels.

I have 6 domiciles on a 1,000 gallon tank ... I pump that sucker once a year whether it needs it or not ... keeps the crap out of the leech field and gives an opportunity to clean the baffles. Never seen no damn filter, but this is an old system from the 1960's.

Last edited by watchwolf49; 08-02-2014 at 09:15 AM. Reason: Spring fed water system, already soft
#22
Old 09-20-2015, 05:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unclebob9 View Post
It is best and simple to plumb the discharge from the backwash to a location other than the septic tank (in most cases).
Some the things hard on septic systems are soaps, paints, chemicals, grease, oil.
A water softener will result in using less soaps to clean and do laundry.
Many people run the discharge from their washing machine to a separate sump with its own mini leach field to preserve their septic tank. (simple home project).
Septic tanks work best with human waste and "Single" ply toilet paper only.
excess water is bad for your septic system.
Septic tank and leach fields need to be vented for the bacteria to properly breed.
A great septic tank additive is equal parts of: baking soda, brown sugar and Yeast.
(the yeast feeds off the sugar and the baking soda creates oxygen).
Since Hard water will plug up your pipes and faucets, it will most likely plug up your leach field as well in time.
This is a dead thread but I'm going to post anyway....

First, excess water is bad for the leach field, but the septic tank is designed to be full of water all the time. You get it pumped to remove excess solids. Or at least you are supposed to anyway.

The "venting" for a septic system has nothing at all to do with bacteria. You need the vent because you can't flush a toilet into a sealed system (plug your vent and prove it for yourself). Water entering the septic system displaces both air and water, hence you need a vent. The bacteria in a septic tank is predominantly anaerobic (it doesn't need air to survive). If you question this, you can research aeration systems designed for septic tanks. Those are designed to use aerobic bacteria along with an aerator, which pumps air into the septic tank (like a fish tank pump). And the yeast/baking soda/sugar mixture is a complete joke. I won't even elaborate on that one, but yeast does not eat crap and toilet paper. If you have to feed it with sugar, why put it in the septic tank at all? It's not magically going to stop eating sugar and start eating crap and toilet paper.

As for the "hardness" of the water damaging the leach field, I doubt it. The minerals and other elements are heavier than the water itself and most of it will settle to the bottom of the tank. Actually most of it will collect on your shower head and in your faucet screens. Salt water is also heavier than "fresh" water, so in theory it should sit lower in the tank. Eventually most of the salt will settle out of the water and drop in the tank, except for whatever amount is really dissolved in the water. Even then, most of the water displaced in the septic system is "fresh" water. The real killer of your leach field is solid particles that get through to the field. Put a filter between the tank and the field, and get your tank pumped at least yearly. It's worth the 2 or 3 hundred dollars in prevention.
#23
Old 09-21-2015, 03:54 PM
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The house is now sold. The plumbing and septic systems are now firmly Someone Else's Problems.
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