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Thread: Draining a water softener into a septic system...bad idea?

  1. #1
    DIY Senior Member Mikebarone's Avatar
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    Default Draining a water softener into a septic system...bad idea?

    I have a client that the water softener discharge line drains into her sewer line that goes into her septic system. I noticed on my dads discharge line on his water softener, (that he just discharges on the ground) that it, (over time) leaves a crusty salt layer on the ground.
    On my clients house, will the salt get into her leach field area, (under ground) and leave that same crusty salt layer, and, (in time) reduce the life of the leach field and even kill some of the good bacteria in the septic tank?

    Thanks,

    Mike

  2. #2
    Master Plumber nhmaster's Avatar
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    Very bad idea indeed. Yes the salt kills the bacteria both in the tank and the leachfield.

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    Master Plumber Redwood's Avatar
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    It depends on who you talk to!

    In my state it is prohibited as the claim is made that it does what NH Master claims...

    Other places it is fine and claimed to actually be beneficial...water-softeners/effects-of-water-softener-discharge-on-septic-systems

    The work I do is done in accordance with the laws of my state.

    I will say though That I keep a rather large freshwater aquarium That relies heavily on a biological filter. I.E. fish poop in the gravel consumed by bacteria and one of the things I do to maintain a healthy aquarium is add Aquarium Salt to the water.
    Last edited by Redwood; 10-04-2008 at 03:51 PM.

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    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    The oceans are full of bacteria and have very salty water, much saltier than the diluted discharge from a softener that is then further diluted in at least normally, a 1000 gal septic tank, and in many cases a larger than 1000 gal tank.

    Millions of softeners discharge into a septic tank without problems and have been doing it for many decades.

    The EPA has done two studies over the last 20-30 years and the results of the first study caused a number of the very few States with bans on the discharge to lift them. There are only about 3-5 that have bans.

    The EPA says that there is no negative change in the operation of the septic system and if any change at all, it's a slight improvement due to the additional water.

    In the vast majority of locations, it is illegal to put the discharge on or in the ground because it contaminates soil and groundwater.

    IMO it belongs in the septic system.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

  5. #5
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    California is coming close to banning softeners alltogether. I keep hearing it has to do with salt. Maybe with the wasted water. Who knows!

  6. #6
    Master Plumber Redwood's Avatar
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    Or maybe the Culligan Man is stuffing The Terminator's back pocket...

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    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    The CA governor vetoed that bill. The problem is chloride content in sewage treatment plants. The cause is the high chloride Colorado River water and irrigation but softeners were being blamed.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

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    Radon Contractor and Water Treatment 99k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikebarone View Post
    I have a client that the water softener discharge line drains into her sewer line that goes into her septic system. I noticed on my dads discharge line on his water softener, (that he just discharges on the ground) that it, (over time) leaves a crusty salt layer on the ground.
    On my clients house, will the salt get into her leach field area, (under ground) and leave that same crusty salt layer, and, (in time) reduce the life of the leach field and even kill some of the good bacteria in the septic tank?

    Thanks,

    Mike
    As Redwood noted, our state doesn't allow backwash in the septic. So the best solution is to direct it in a downspout drainage pipe (if available). The problem with just dumping it on the ground is that the salt can damage/kill vegetation.

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    DIY Senior Member Mikebarone's Avatar
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    Default Thanks

    Thanks everyone for all the feed back!

    I'm in Phoenix AZ and as far as I know the city / state haven’t addressed the issue of banning the discharge of water softeners into the city sewer systems….yet.
    After reading all of the replies to my question, I guess I can leave that sleeping dog alone, and go back to getting her A/C duct working properly….LOL.

    Thanks again,

    Mike

  10. #10
    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 99k View Post
    As Redwood noted, our state doesn't allow backwash in the septic. So the best solution is to direct it in a downspout drainage pipe (if available). The problem with just dumping it on the ground is that the salt can damage/kill vegetation.
    My softener's backwash went into my septic tank until just a few days ago, and I expect to see a significant difference in my tank over the next few months. The tank in question is only a 500-gallon tank, but the softener backwash and two toilets were all that were dumping into it ... and after only about two years, my outlet filter had to be cleaned weekly.

    Since having the tank cleaned and pumped last week, the owner of the septic company that serviced my tank has told me about a demonstration he observed at a County Heath Department. An aquarium had been set up to represent a septic tank with sludge in the bottom, then salt water was introduced. Accdording to what I have been told, the salt water settled at the bottom of the tank and floated the sludge that was then stirred around by a normal flow of effluent coming into the tank.

    My softener's backwash now goes into a small drain field of its own.

  11. #11
    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    All softeners have a DLFC (drain line flow control) it controls/limits the max gpm flow to drain. The max gpm DLFC for a large residential softener would not be more than 5 gpm. Most won't flow more than 2.7 gpm. A backwashed or regenerated filter can go to 10 gpm.

    The vast majority of residential softeners have a 1/2" ID drain line. The 100% saturated brine from the salt tank is diluted down to 8-13% brine as it is drawn from the salt tank and mixed with the water in the resin tank before it exits the softener's drain line.

    The flow from a 1/2" ID drain line going into a house drain and then into the main sewer line into a septic tank is not going to stir up sediment or anything else in a 500 gal or larger septic tank.

    A fish tank model is not a septic tank...

    I think you aren't using enough water to keep your 500 gal system operating correctly. What is the minimum gpm flow rate of those filters? I have had two 500 gal tanks with a single leach bed line from each, with 1 for a full bath, and the other for a half bath and kitchen sink that were pumped three times in 56 years with 2-5 people living there. Those tanks didn't have any filter on the outlet or in the leach lines; that filter thing sounds like a money maker to me. There was no softener or filter draining into either.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

  12. #12
    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    The flow from a 1/2" ID drain line going into a house drain and then into the main sewer line into a septic tank is not going to stir up sediment or anything else in a 500 gal or larger septic tank.
    Sure, and I believe the flow in the demonstration was representative of the discharge from a washing machine or bath tub.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    I think you aren't using enough water to keep your 500 gal system operating correctly.
    After being pumped, it only took five days for the 500-gallon tank to fill. The problem I had was the presence of suspended solids not breaking down or settling on the bottom.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    What is the minimum gpm flow rate of those filters?
    I do not know, but they only restrict flow when they are clogged with particles.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    I have had two 500 gal tanks with a single leach bed line from each ... pumped three times in 56 years ... no softener or filter draining into either.
    With my own softener now out of the picture, I hope to achieve the same!

  13. #13
    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    With your softener's discharge water now going into a drain field of its own you are polluting the ground water; that's illegal in many more States than the number of States with a ban on using the septic tank. And you've done this after watching a fish tank model demonstration...

    You said you had two toilets and the softener discharge going into the 500 gal tank. Now you mention a washing machine and a sink stirring up the sludge... you didn't have either and I don't think a toilet or two would stir up sludge so it gets out of the tank but if it did, it proves your tank baffle isn't doing its job.

    I say that any filter in a septic system drain field line will reduce flow from the first drop of water that's run through it; even brand new it's a restriction in flow that's designed to have an ever increasing restriction to flow. A money maker fer sure for those selling that type of septic system.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

  14. #14
    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    With your softener's discharge water now going into a drain field of its own you are polluting the ground water; that's illegal in many more States than the number of States with a ban on using the septic tank. And you've done this after watching a fish tank model demonstration...
    I did not see the demonstration -- a licensed septic installer told me about it after he had seen it, and he has also told me the drain field I now have for the softener is fine. However, I do understand the issue of dilution, and I will definitely check into that. If necessary, I will come up with some kind of system to add water to the flow at the time of backwash discharge.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    I don't think a toilet or two would stir up sludge so it gets out of the tank but if it did, it proves your tank baffle isn't doing its job.
    The baffle is fine and doing just as it should -- it cannot stop sediment from coming up off the bottom for whatever reason. However, I do believe my outlet drop pipe was too close to the bottom of the tank ... and I have since shortened it. It was a couple of inches below the baffle. Overall, though, my suspicion is that a bag of salt per week going into that tank was at least contributing to whatever was causing visible solids to clog my filter, and now we will see over the next few months.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    I say that any filter in a septic system drain field line will reduce flow from the first drop of water that's run through it; even brand new it's a restriction in flow that's designed to have an ever increasing restriction to flow. A money maker fer sure for those selling that type of septic system.
    The filter I use is designed to keep solids out of my drain field, and not to restrict flow. It is actually a very simple filter that looks like a large bottle brush, it is inexpensive, it last "forever" and it is very easy to rinse clean:

    http://www.gag-simtech.com/new_files/Page566.htm

  15. #15
    DIY Junior Member Cobra1365's Avatar
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    My system used to drain into our septic. When it destroyed my distribution box (concrete) I re-routed it to a french drain system. Over time, the salt will eat away a concrete system.

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