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I recently bought my first home that has septic, after 26 years of living with sewers. I've heard that putting lots of water down the septic all at one time is bad for the system, but I'm confused as to why. As I understand it, the septic tank pumps liquids and other broken down material into the leach field, so the water should go right through into the field.

Due to a chronic pain condition as a result of a car accident, I routinely take 2 hour hot showers to help be able to use my neck for an entire work day. With a standard shower head, this means I'm running about 250 gallons of water through the septic system. (And a low-flow showerhead isn't going to get me the pressure I need to help with my neck.) From an environmental standpoint, I'm not too concerned -- after all, I'm basically pumping the water out of my well and putting it back into the ground 100 ft away in the backyard, so the ecological impact shouldn't be too bad -- but I'm worried I'm somehow damaging my system.

Is this going to hurt the septic system? If so, is there something I can do (perhaps by modifying my plumbing and doing something else with shower waste water) to avoid damage?

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I should note that I've been living here now for about 6 months and the showers haven't been an issue. I'm not trying to cure a problem I know about, but rather trying to avoid some future issue that I cannot detect. –  David Pfeffer Jan 8 at 12:32
    
My septic didn't mind 4 people taking 30 minute showers, or sometimes 6 or 7 people taking showers. You might want to put an envelope of "septic bacteria" down the toilet every month or two - it might be just a placebo but it won't hurt and if the showers are diluting your bacteria it might help. –  Kate Gregory Jan 9 at 1:37
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2 Answers

It is similar to changing the water on a tank of fish, not quite but the best comparison I think of on the spot. Your septic system works by natural decomposition aided by bacteria, surprising similar to your stomach. Putting that much water into a septic field at once can disrupt decomp process by "shocking" the system or flooding/shaking it and moving the bacteria away from their food source. There are companies and even apartment complexes using septic so it all depends on the size of your system and if/how much you feed you system bacteria (there are quite a few products for this). If you find yourself needing to pump out your septic too often, or at all depending on the system, then I'd look into supplementing it with some products.

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The only problem I could foresee is an over-saturation of the ground, where it will not take on any of the effluent that it is designed to do. If you have been there for 6 months and do not have any signs of problems at the leaching field, there should be no issue. Leaching fields are supposed to be designed for the amount of bath tubs and sinks in the whole house that are dumping into it.

I have had septic all along for the past 24 years and no issues with mine. I do not run a large volume through it, there are just 3 of us here. It is a 1989 house, with 3BR and 1 1/2 bath. Looks like yours is handling it well, if you see no issues outside.

Water on its own will not do anything to it. Its what goes down with the water that will, I mean cooking grease or oil, which is the worst, and non-biodegradable items. Do not use a garbage disposal with a septic, although, I have helped build houses where the owners MUST have a disposer, by their request, then they will need to be committed to pumping it out on occasion, since to a degree, it is acting as a holding tank.

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I grew up in a house with a septic system. We used the garbage disposal all the time. Right or wrong, we credited the garbage disposal for the life of the system, which needed no maintenance for over 25 years. The veggies and orange peels, we surmised, introduced more micro-organisms into the system. The system was no match for eminent domain, however, which removed it to build a parkway. I think the #1 enemy to septic systems is washing machines. –  Edwin Jan 8 at 16:39
    
Good points, and a testimony to garbage disposals VS. septic tanks. This will be brought up when this issue rises during construction meetings. I have always had to maintain, no disposer on septic, with the company I had been with for 22 years, I was never told if it was based on actual experience or just an assumption. –  Jack Jan 8 at 23:10
    
Given that Insinkerator makes a special septic garbage disposal, which is 100% identical to a non-septic unit other than discharging a bit of septic enzyme every time it is run, I would assume they're fine. –  David Pfeffer Jan 9 at 2:28
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