Can You Have a Garbage Disposal With a Septic Tank System?

Garbage disposals are a convenient addition to your kitchen, enabling you to rinse small food scraps down the drain instead of meticulously picking them out.  While they work fine when you’re on a public sewer system, it gets a bit trickier when you’re using a septic tank system.

While you can install a garbage disposal in one of your sinks, it might not be the best idea if you’re using a septic tank system.

Is A Garbage Disposal Bad For A Septic System?

Garbage disposals can be bad for your septic system if you don’t take the proper precautions.  If you’re cautious of what you put down the drain, the septic system may be just fine.  However, if you put non-biodegradable items down your septic system, you can cause the disposal to malfunction, clog the pipes, or contribute to a septic tank backup.

There are three layers in your septic tank: watery waste, scum, and solids.  Solids sink to the bottom, the liquid waste remains in the middle, and scum (grease, fats, oils) rises to the top.  Septic tanks operate using a delicate bacteria balance.  If the balance is upset (large food scraps in your septic system), you may run into all sorts of issues, which can be extremely costly.  If you want to be on the safe side, don’t use a garbage disposal with a septic system.

What Not To Put In A Garbage Disposal With A Septic Tank

There are a few things that should never go down a garbage disposal, regardless of whether you have a septic tank or not.  Here are a few things you should never put down a garbage disposal:

  • Utensils
  • Small toys
  • Jewelry
  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Metal
  • Paper
  • Any other non-food item

You may look at a few things on that list and wonder how they could possibly end up in your sink, and in turn, your garbage disposal.  However, if you have kids, you probably know all too well how these things could end up in the sink, then magically disappear with a horrible grinding noise down the drain.

As a general rule of thumb, you should never grind any non-food item in your garbage disposal.  Glass, plastic, metal, paper, and other non-food materials can damage your system, leading to a steep plumbing repair bill.

What Food Scraps Can I Put In My Garbage Disposal?

What Food Scraps Can I Put In My Garbage Disposal

Usually, small, biodegradable food scraps that end up in your sink are fine to go down the drain with the garbage disposal.  However, if you have large food scraps, we recommend throwing them away or breaking them into smaller pieces before whisking them away down the drain.

There are a few food scraps that shouldn’t go down your garbage disposal if you have a septic system.  These items include:

  • Coffee grounds: Most of the time, coffee grounds are super fine. However, they often form a sticky paste after brewing, which can clog your drain.
  • Pasta, bread, and rice: These foods tend to absorb water, which can expand in the plumbing, leading to a clog.
  • Fruit pits and seeds: These are often too hard for your garbage disposal blades to handle, so refrain from sending them down the drain.
  • Larger animal bones: If a few spindly fish bones make their way through the garbage disposal, it’ll probably be fine. However, with larger animal bones, your garbage disposal blade may not be able to grind them.
  • Shells or nuts: These foods can go one of two ways: either they’re too hard for the system to grind, or they are soft and create a paste-like substance that clogs the plumbing.
  • Eggshells, stringy vegetables, onion layers: Fibrous materials, like corn husks, eggshells, onion layers, and celery, are a nightmare for your garbage disposal. They can wrap around the system instead of grinding down, causing issues.

Do You Need A Special Garbage Disposal For Septic Systems?

InSinkErator Evolution Septic Assist 3/4 HP Household Garbage Disposal

Many brands offer garbage disposals, including Moen, InSinkErator, and Waste King.  In addition to regular, everyday garbage disposals that work well on a public sewer system, many brands also offer septic assist garbage disposals.  You can find garbage disposals in several varieties at local hardware or home improvement stores, like Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Technically, you don’t have to buy a septic assist garbage disposal.  However, they can offer extra security for your septic tank, which can be helpful in the long run.  Garbage disposals designed with septic systems in mind can help avoid unwanted complications.

Septic assist garbage disposals inject natural microorganisms that help break down food scraps that end up in your septic tank.  They’re not the only option available, though.  You could also opt for a garbage disposal with excellent grinding action and a high RPM (revolutions per minute).  These garbage disposals grind food waste into tiny particles that will do just fine in your standard septic system.

However, regardless of whether you purchase a septic assist or impressive-RPM garbage disposal, you should try to avoid grinding excessive amounts of food.  Although these garbage disposal models help mitigate some risks, the risk is still prevalent.

Moen GXS75C Host Series 3/4 HP Continuous Feed Garbage Disposal with Sound Reduction, Power Cord Included

Can You Have A Garbage Disposal With A Well?

If you have a septic system, you may have a well too.  Individuals who live in rural areas often have both since there isn’t access to public water and waste systems.  The septic system is where wastewater from your home ends up, and the well is typically where you draw from, although there is a system involved with the well (including the cistern).

Since the well is where you draw your water from, it shouldn’t matter if you have a garbage disposal or not.  The main concern with garbage disposals and septic systems is where the waste ends up and if the system can handle it.  The process doesn’t ship anything away to a well, so you should be just fine.

You do have to be extremely careful that the well and septic tank are a fair distance apart, as contamination between the two can be deadly.  However, the answer to the question of a garbage disposal and a well is yes; you can have a garbage disposal with a well.  It shouldn’t be an issue.

What Are The Alternatives To Garbage Disposals?

Sink Strainer

If you have a septic system and would prefer to leave the finite bacteria balance alone, you may want to avoid garbage disposal.  While garbage disposals are convenient for whisking away food scraps, they’re not a necessity.

Several excellent alternatives to garbage disposals include compost or vermicompost, or a basket strainer.  Composting is a great way to turn food waste into a useful material.  Many gardeners use compost for fertilizer, so if you have a garden, you might as well make use of your food scraps.

One of the great parts about composting is you can compost leaves, paper, and grass clippings with your food waste.  Not only is composting easier on your septic system, saving you money on pumping the tank frequently, but it’s also an eco-friendly option!

Another option, which is even easier than composting, is a basket strainer.  Simply buy a small basket strainer and place it in your sink drain.  It will catch all of the food scraps hanging out in the sink.  Then, tap the food scraps in the strainer into the trash can once or twice per day (or more, depending on how often you use the sink).

Additionally, once a week (or more frequently if necessary), scrub the basket strainer clean of any excess residue.  If you don’t wash the strainer regularly, it will begin to stink, especially if food scraps are caught in the basket.

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