A drain cleaner is a cleaning agent that has been specially formulated to break down organic matter and grease. There are two broad categories of drain cleaner – chemical-based and biological-based. Chemical-based drain cleaners can either be alkaline (they have a high pH) or acidic (have a low pH). Both alkaline and acidic degreases use solvent agents made from alcohol and petrochemicals. Because of their composition, both alkaline and acidic drain cleaners can alter the pH of the septic tank which makes them a bad choice for septic system owners. And this is where septic-safe drain cleaner using biosurfactants and bacteria comes handy…
Unlike their chemical-based counterparts, biosurfactants are made from bacteria and this means they do not pose any risk to the microorganisms in the septic tank.
CAUTION: There are some biosurfactants that are made from plants and are therefore biodegradable. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are harmless. Some of the biodegradable drain cleaners are actually harmful both to the environment and to the users. For instance, benzene is one of the commonly used organic compounds in these degreases and it is carcinogenic. So do not make the mistake of buying a drain cleaner just because it has the non-hazardous sticker.
Biosurfactants are surface-active substances which are produced from microorganisms (primarily bacteria). All biosurfactants are amphiphiles which means they consist of a polar (hydrophilic) and a non-polar(hydrophobic) group. As a result of their amphiphiles, nature biosurfactants have lots of functional advantages over their chemical counterparts. For instance, they have great surface activity due to their impressive foaming capabilities which makes them awesome emulsifiers. They are also environmentally friendly because they are biodegradable and that makes them safe to use for septic system owners. Another advantage of biosurfactants is they are active at extreme salinity, temperatures, and pH. Because septic systems can have a subset of these extreme conditions, biosurfactants are the perfect degreasers to go for. Biosurfactants can also be produced from industrial waste as well as from industrial by-products. The utilization of waste products as substrates in the production of biosurfactants not only makes it cheap to produce them but also helps in reducing pollution.
Using biosurfactants in septic-safe drain cleaners
Hydrocarbons are widely used today and they are known to cause serious environmental contamination. For starters, the hydrocarbons found in fats and oils are not soluble in water which poses a challenge in the septic system. The bacteria in the septic system cannot break FOG down and their accumulation in the septic tank causes the scum to build up quickly. FOG can also result in blocked pipes in the plumbing from the house or even in the drain field. The lack of solubility of hydrocarbons means that they cannot dissolve in groundwater either. If they get this far, they will partition to the soil matrix which contributes to the biggest chunk of the total contaminant mass.
Biosurfactants can help in the cleaning of these hydrocarbons. They achieve this either by increasing the substrate bioavailability for the microorganisms or by interaction with the surface of the cells to increase their hydrophobicity (repelling rather than absorbing water). Increasing their hydrophobicity makes it easier for the hydrophobic substrates to associate with the bacterial cells. When biosurfactants reduce surface tensions, they increase the surface area of the insoluble compounds. This ultimately leads to the increase of mobility as well as bioavailability of the hydrocarbons. As a result, biosurfactants enhance the removal and biodegradation of hydrocarbons.
As a septic system owner, you should keep away from the chemical drain cleaners. These drain cleaners contain lots of toxic substances that will kill the helpful bacteria in the septic tank and thereby cause you more harm than good. Additionally, some of these drain cleaners have compounds that are toxic to humans. Instead, you should stick to septic-safe drain cleaners. Biosurfactants are made from bacteria and you can be sure they will not alter the pH of your septic system or result in the death of the helpful bacteria. But even though these septic-safe drain cleaners do a great job in breaking down fats, they shouldn’t be looked at as a substitute for pumping the tank. Using them helps you to avoid blockages and system failure but you should still stick to your pumping schedule as guided by your local regulations.