• Install a new low-flow toilet. New units give a complete flush with 1 1/2 gallons per flush. Caution: displacing water with bricks or water bottles in old toilet tanks often gives less than a total flush.
    Repair leaky faucets and toilets immediately. 

  • Flush toilets less often. In many cases, the toilet can be used several times for liquid waste before flushing.  

  • Do not use "every flush" toilet bowl disinfectants that are placed in the tank or bowl.  

  • Do not flush facial tissues, paper towels, or personal hygiene products down the toilet. 

  • Do not flush cigarette butts or unwanted prescription or over the counter medications down the toilet. 

  • Use moderate amounts of white toilet paper. Toilet paper should break up easily in water. Some dyes used for toilet paper are difficult for bacteria to break down. 

  • Take showers instead of tub baths. Showers use less water than tub baths (about 5 gallons per inch in tub).  

  • Take shorter showers. 

  • Install low-flow shower heads, hand held showers with pause control, and temperature balance valve controls. 

  • Shut off water in the shower while lathering and shampooing. 

  • Do not run the hot water in the shower to warm the bathroom. 

  • Reduce use of drain cleaners by minimizing the amount of hair that goes down the drain. 

  • Shut off water while shaving and brushing teeth (save up to 5 gallons per minute). 

  • Fill basin to wash hands instead of washing under running water.

  • Reduce use of cleaners by doing more scrubbing with less cleanser. 


  • Install low-flow faucets.

  • Repair leaky faucets.

  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap every time to get cool water.

  • Hand wash dishes in the sink instead of running water.

  • Only turn on the dishwasher when you have a full load.

  • Install an energy/water efficient dishwasher.

  • Use a low-phosphate (0-5%) liquid detergent in the dishwasher.  

  • Use as little soap as possible to do the job. 

  • Do not use a garbage disposal!

  • Never put vegetables, meat, fat, oil, coffee grounds and other undigested food products into the septic system.  

  • Reduce the use of drain cleaners by minimizing the amount of grease and food particles that go down the drain.

  • Use minimal amounts of mild cleaners, as needed only.

  • When using drinking water treatment devices, be sure there is a shutoff valve so the system doesn't run continuously when the reservoir is full.  Some units may reject up to 8 gallons for every 1 gallon retained.  



  • Select a front-loading washing machine that uses 40% less water.  

  • Use suds-saving top-loading washing machine to reduce water and detergent use.  

  • Wash only full loads. Adjust load level settings for small loads.  

  • Distribute wash loads evenly throughout the week to avoid overloading the system with large volumes of water.  

  • Install filter on washer to remove lint.  

  • Use no-phosphate laundry detergents. 

  • Use the minimum amount of detergent necessary to do the job. This is often less than suggested by manufacturers.  

  • Use liquid detergents (powdered detergents add fine particles to the sludge accumulation).  

  • Use highly biodegradable powdered detergents if liquid detergents are undesirable. 



Basement and Utility Rooms 

  • Recharge the water softener as infrequently as possible to reduce water use.

  • Re-route the water softener recharge water outside the septic system.  It does not need to be treated.

  • Route chlorine-treated water from swimming pools and hot tubs outside of the septic system to a ditch or a separate dry well.

  • Route roof drains and basement drainage tile water (sump pumps) outside of septic system and away from the drain field.

  • Dispose of all solvents, paints, antifreeze, and chemicals through local recycling and hazardous waste channels. Consult local solid waste officials for proper methods.  These materials kill valuable bacteria in the system and may pass through to contaminate drinking water.

  • Never let wash water from latex paint on brushes or rollers go down the drain and into the septic system!


Septic Starters, Feeders, Cleaners and Other Additives

There is no quick fix or substitute for proper operation and regular maintenance. Do not use starters, feeders, cleaners and other additives.      

Starters: A starter is not needed to get the bacterial action going in the septic tank. There are naturally-occurring bacteria present in wastewater.      

Feeders: It is not necessary to "feed" the system additional bacteria, yeast preparations, or other home remedies. There are millions of bacteria entering the system in normal sewage. If the bacterial activity level is low, figure out what is killing them (for example, cleaners) and correct it. High levels of activity will return after the correction.   

Cleaners: Additives effective in removing solids from the septic tank will probably damage the soil treatment system. Many additives suspend the solids that would normally float to the top or settle to the bottom of the tank. This allows them to be flushed into the soil treatment system, where they clog pipes and soil pores leading to partial or complete failure of the system.    

Other Additives: Additives, particularly degreasers, may contain carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) that flow directly into the groundwater along with the treated sewage.    


Produced by the Communication and Educational Technology Services, University of Minnesota Extension Service.