From Westport River Watershed Alliance

Roberta Carvalho, WRWA Science Director
Marketing tactics influencing the fear of bacteria and dirt have driven the demand for antibacterial soaps and products. Consumers are barraged with commercials showing that bacteria is harmful and causes illness. There are typically 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and a million bacterial cells in one ml of fresh water. Only a small number of these “germs” can cause harm to the human body. Most of the bacteria illnesses in the United States are not even from dirt, they are food born.

Sometimes antibacterial products have a negative effect on our bodies and our environment. Triclosan, is a chemical in antibacterial soaps, cleaners, and antiseptic toiletries. In 2016 the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a rule banning the use of triclosan, triclocarban and 17 other chemicals in hand and body washes which are marketed as being more effective than simple soap. Companies have a year to take these ingredients out of their products or remove the products from the market.

Bacteria help to decompose waste in our septic tanks. To achieve proper treatment for germs, a septic system is dependent on millions of naturally occurring bacteria throughout the system. Good bacteria from our bodies and waste are what make a septic system function. Anaerobic bacteria in the tank decompose organic waste. Aerobic bacteria in soil, destroys disease causing pathogens and finish breaking down molecular waste. The accumulative use of antibacterial soaps and cleaners in the home, causes significant and total destruction of both the good and bad bacteria in the septic system. Most antibacterial products are washed or flushed down the drain, however; onsite wastewater systems (septic systems) can’t process these chemicals.

Because septic systems are responsible for the treatment of water that eventually returns back into the environment. Septic maintenance is a vital part of ensuring a healthy and safe environment. Maintaining the bacteria in the septic system is key. 75% of all liquid soaps contain anti-bacterials as well as: shampoos, body wash, mouthwash, toothpaste, tile tub and shower cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, laundry detergents, bleach and bleach alternative products, kitchen disinfectants, dish soaps and dish washer detergents, and fabric softeners. We live in a world where we surrounded by antibacterials and it is almost impossible to eliminate using them,
however; limiting the use can contain the problem.

To limit antibacterials in your septic:

♦ Never use toilet bowl cleaners that stay in the bowl or work after every flush.
♦ Reduce the use of drain cleaner by using drain traps.
♦ When cleaning, scrub more and use less cleaning product.
♦ Never dispose of grease in a drain, it ultimately stops bacteria from decomposing waste.
♦ Avoid excessive water flushing into the septic system -it stunts bacteria growth.
♦ Use regular soap and avoid products that say antibacterial, sanitizing and disinfectant.
♦ Use white vinegar followed by hydrogen peroxide to clean surfaces, especially in the kitchen.
♦ Avoid bleach and bleach alternatives as much as possible.
♦ Never flush prescriptions or over the counter medications (antibiotics).
♦ Don’t use harsh septic tank cleaners or septic tank additives.
♦ Be aware that while labels that read “won’t harm septic tanks” won’t actually harm the tank itself, but   can harm the bacteria in the tank.