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Keeping Paint (and solids) out of your Septic Tank

 Silverback @ Bucket ApeBucket Ape is Septic Safe as it keeps paint and other solids out of your septic tank and drainfield


One fourth of U.S. home are on a septic system, but for most homeowners “Out of sight and out of mind” best describes their feelings towards their septic system.  A septic system just doesn’t conjure up the same pride as other major assets; say a nice looking car sitting in the drive.  This is unfortunate as repairing a failed septic system can cost much more than that car.  The good news is that with a little preventative care and cost, you can avoid a significant expense further down the road.

Proper operation and maintenance of your septic system can have a significant impact on how well it works and how long it lasts, and in most communities, septic system maintenance is the responsibility of the homeowner.  Any liability resulting from damages caused by a failed septic system is also the responsibility of the homeowner.

A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.

What comprises a Septic System?

So what makes up a “septic system” as compared to a septic tank that most people are familiar with?  There are essentially four major components that make up a typical septic system.   Septic System showing the drainfield, septic tank, soil and how to keep paint out of it while cleaning your paint brushes

Pipe from the home

All of your household wastewater exits your home through a pipe, called a building sewer, which leads to the septic tank.

Septic Tank

The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene. Its purpose is to hold the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out, forming sludge (solids), and oil and grease to float to the surface as scum. It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials by microbes that live within the tank. If these microbes get stressed or die out, the partial decomposition is slowed or eliminated.  Compartments and a T-shaped outlets in the septic tank prevent sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area, unless it becomes too full.   If your septic tank is not regularly inspected and pumped, it will begin to accumulate solids and overflow, clogging the drainfield. Not only can this cause your system to fail, but it also can spread disease and contaminate ground and surface waters.    How a septic tank is constructed and how to clean your paint brushes and protect it


The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield (a series of pipes that contain numerous small holes for drainage over a large area) for further treatment by the soil. The partially treated wastewater is pushed into the drainfield for further treatment every time new wastewater enters the tank.


Septic tank wastewater flows to the drainfield, where it percolates into the soil. Microbes in the soil provide final treatment by digesting or removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients before they reach the groundwater. Suitable soil is necessary for successful wastewater treatment; this includes both the ability of the wastewater to seep into the soil and that soil being biologically support to the microbes. 



How expensive is it to fix?

A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money!  Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is most often the culprit.  Having your septic system inspected regularly (at least every 3 years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system.  Your system will need pumping (generally every 3 to 5 years due to the normal accumulation of solids and scum), depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system.  An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property value and could pose a legal liability.

The old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” should come to mind.  The minimal amount of preventative maintenance that septic systems require costs very little in comparison to the cost of repairs.  For example, it typically costs from $3,000 to $10,000 to replace a failing septic system with a new one, compared to approximately $50 to $150 to have a septic system inspected, and $150 to $250 to have it pumped.  Occasionally homeowners get the financial shock that not only have their drain fields failed, but they will have to relocate a new one as the present site is no longer acceptable for a replacement drain field.  These shocks can easily run northward of $30,000 after having the site re-engineered and/or elevated.

It is impossible to say how expensive the liability of a failed septic system can be when considering polluted groundwater and surface waters are involved.  The easiest thing is to ensure that nothing goes down your septic system.  We have compiled a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts at the end of this article that will help you to avoid many common problems resulting from your septic system.


What can I do to maintain my system?

Septic system maintenance is often compared to automobile maintenance because only a little effort on a regular basis can save a lot of money and significantly prolong the life of the system.  Sound septic system operation and maintenance practices center around conserving water and being careful that nothing harmful is disposed of into the system.  What goes down the drain can have a major impact on how well your septic system works and how long it lasts.

Your system is not designed to be a garbage can and solids build up in the septic tank that will eventually need to be pumped. The more solids that go into the tank, the more frequently the tank will need to be pumped, and the higher the risk for problems to arise.  I learned this many years ago after using my toilet as the bottomless ashtray for my cigarette butts.  It wasn’t until those butts ganged up (brought together by grease/oils) and clogged my effluent pipe that I learned my lesson.  Here in Florida, our water table is so high that we have septic tanks with pump.  This pump sends the waste water “up” to our drainfield.  The cigarette butts clogged up the intake on the pump and burned it up, so not only did I have to pay to have my tank pumped, but also had the added luxury of buying a new pump.

To avoid disrupting or permanently damaging your septic system, do not use it to dispose of hazardous household chemicals. Even small amounts of paints, varnishes, paint thinners, waste oil, anti-freeze, photographic solutions, pharmaceuticals, antibacterial soaps, gasoline, oil, pesticides, and other organic chemicals can destroy helpful bacteria and the biological digestion taking place within your system. Even latex paint is unhealthy for your septic system!  

Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system and the less load that is placed on the drainfield/soil. Efficient water use can improve the operation of the septic system and reduce the risk of failure. For a DIY’er to clean paint brushes or rollers in a sink is not a very efficient use of water. 

Garbage disposals

Eliminating the use of a garbage disposal can reduce the amount of grease and solids entering the septic tank and possibly clogging the drainfield. A garbage disposal grinds up kitchen scraps, suspends them in water, and sends the mixture to the septic tank. Once in the septic tank, some of the materials are broken down by bacterial action, but most of the grindings have to be pumped out of the tank. Using a garbage disposal frequently can significantly increase the accumulation of sludge and scum in your septic tank, resulting in the need for more frequent pumping.

How can the Bucket Ape help me protect my investment?

Bucket Ape helps you protect your septic system by keeping harmful chemicals and excess solids out of your septic tank.  It allows you to clean your painting tools without sending the paint down into your septic tank.  It also helps to keep solids out of your septic system during tiling and grouting.Don't wash your paint brushes loaded with latex paint in your sink because it will end up in your septic tank and harm it

Paints, solvents and toxic chemicals should not enter your septic system.   These chemicals cause havoc on the ecological balance that exists in your tank and the soil.  Latex paint (actually all paints) should never be sent towards the septic system.  Due to decreased action by microbes from these chemicals, solids will build up much quicker in the tank increasing the chance they make it into the drainfield clogging the pipes and drain holes.  For the microbes in the drainfield soil, decreased microbes result in wastewater being released into the environment without full and adequate treatment, posing significant health risks.  Don’t clean your paint brushes in sinks inside the house, it is convenient but harmful to your septic system.  Use the Bucket Ape to clean your brushes and safely drain it where the chemicals will not affect your septic system.

Bucket Ape also keeps the introduction of sand and chemicals from tiling or grouting from entering your septic system.  I have spoken with a tile installer that “bragged” that he would just pour his clean up water down the customer’s toilet and then refill the bucket in the tub, so he could avoid hauling the buckets outside!  This installer’s laziness (not to mention unprofessionalism) became the problem of the unknowing homeowner.  Loads of sand and harmful chemicals from the tile/grout made their way into the homeowner’s septic system.  At best we can hope the homeowner just had to have his tank pumped out earlier than he would have had to otherwise. 

Even when using Bucket Ape, there are several things you can do to save yourself time and have a smaller impact on the environment.  Just follow these tips to get your job done quicker, save yourself time, and take pride in doing you part to protect the environment.

  • You would not throw away a screwdriver after you use it, so why throw away your painting tools? Good painting tools can be reused many times - saving money and time spent shopping for new tools, as well as helping the environment by generating less waste. 
  • Store them for days inside food storage bags and avoid cleaning all together until you’ve completely finished the job.  There are storage bags on the market now that entire paint roller trays AND the roller can fit in.  (Hint – look for 2 gallon bags)
  • Invest in premium paint brushes/rollers. Investing in high quality brushes and rollers will save time and money. They are more efficient when applying paint and can be rinsed and re-used.
  • Before cleaning either rollers or brushes, wipe as much of the excess paint on to cardboard or newspaper.


  • With latex paint, partially fill a bucket with water and roll the applicator back and forth. If necessary, use detergent with the water to remove difficult paint. Rinse the roller until the water is clear. Let dry.  
  • For oil-based paint, roll the applicator in a paint tray containing mineral spirits or paint thinner. Then wash the roller in a bucket full of soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and let dry.

Paint Brushes:

  • To clean brushes with latex paint on them, simply swish it in the Bucket Ape until the water runs clear.  Shut off the water supply and let them dry as the Bucket Ape drains completely.  Be sure to hang your brushes for long term storage.
  • Oil-based paint loaded brushes should be cleaned in a small bucket or container with mineral spirits, and then rinsed in fresh water and finally washed with soapy water.   After cleaning them with mineral spirits, simply swish it in the Bucket Ape until the water runs clear.  After the water runs clear, pour a little liquid soap into the Bucket Ape and agitate the brush until the water again runs clear.  Shut off the water supply and let them dry as the Bucket Ape drains completely.




Do’s and Don’ts for septic owners

Septic System Do’s and Don’ts

Do learn the location of your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a sketch of it handy with your maintenance record for service visits.

*Do have your septic system inspected annually.

*Do have your septic tank pumped out by a licensed contractor, approximately every three to five years, or as often as is appropriate for your system

*Do keep your septic tank cover accessible for inspections and pumping. Install risers if necessary.

*Do call a professional whenever you experience problems with your system, or if there are any signs of system failure.

*Do keep a detailed record of repairs, pumping, inspections, permits issued, and other maintenance activities.

*Do conserve water to avoid overloading the system. Be sure to repair any leaky faucets or toilets.

*Do divert other sources of water, like roof drains, house footing drains, and sump pumps, away from the septic system.  Excessive water keeps the soil in the drainfield from naturally cleansing the wastewater.

*Don’t go down into a septic tank. Toxic gases are produced by the natural treatment processes in septic tanks and can kill in minutes. Extreme care should be taken when inspecting a septic tank, even when just looking in.

*Don’t allow anyone to drive or park over any part of the system.

*Don’t plant anything over or near the drainfield except grass. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs may clog and damage the drain lines.

*Don’t dig in your drainfield or build anything over it, and don’t cover the drainfield with a hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. The area over the drainfield should have only a grass cover. The grass will not only prevent erosion, but will help remove excess water.

*Don’t make or allow repairs to your septic system without obtaining the required health department permit. Use professional licensed onsite contractors when needed.

*Don’t use septic tank additives. Under normal operating conditions, these products usually do not help and some may even be harmful to your system.

*Don’t use your toilet as a trash can or poison your septic system and the groundwater by pouring harmful chemicals andcleansers down the drain. Harsh chemicals can kill the beneficial bacteria that treat your wastewater.

*Don’t use a garbage disposal without checking with your local regulatory agency to make sure that your septic system can accommodate this additional waste.

*Don’t use caustic drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a drain snake  to open clogs.

*Don’t use your septic system as a trash can. Don’t put dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, latex paint, pesticides, or other hazardous chemicals into your system.

*Don’t allow backwash from home water softeners to enter the septic system.