The Effect of Latex Paint on Septics

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Latex paint goes on easily with a brush or roller.
Latex paint goes on easily with a brush or roller. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

A new coat of paint can freshen up a room and give it a completely updated appearance. You can minimize drying time and cleanup by using water-based, or latex, paint. Latex paints produce lower levels of paint fumes than oil-based paints, and you can clean up your brushes, roller covers and paint pans with soap and water. Be cautious when you clean your brushes, however, as even small amounts of latex paint may be detrimental to your septic system.

Septic System Failure

Septic systems use naturally occurring, living organisms to break down, digest and treat solid and liquid waste that is introduced into the septic tank. Toxic household chemicals can kill these organisms, resulting in a failure of your septic system. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that while common culprits include oil-based paints, solvents and cleaning products that are labeled as poison or hazardous, even latex paint cleanup should be minimized. Latex paints may contain toxic substances, including ethylene glycol or acetate, according to the National Drinking Water Clearinghouse.

Sludge

Your septic system is primarily designed to break down, digest and treat organic materials. The organisms that live in your septic system typically cannot digest the solid materials present in latex paint. These solids will settle to the bottom of your septic tank, where they can result in a thick, gray putty-like material, according to the Shamrock Septic Service website.

Proper Disposal

One of the benefits of latex paint is its ease of cleanup with soap and water. This might cause you to think that it is okay to pour latex paint down the drain. This is not true. While your septic system can usually handle small amounts of latex paint, it should be limited to cleaning up your brushes, hands and other tools. Any latex paint that remains in the can should be properly stored or disposed of by allowing it to completely solidify. Latex paint that is completely dry may typically be disposed of through the normal solid waste trash collection process in your municipality.

Additives

There are a number of septic system additive products available to homeowners. These additives fall into two primary categories: biological and chemical. Biological additives seek to increase the number of living organisms such as enzymes and bacteria in your septic system, while chemical additives seek to hasten the breakdown of waste material in your septic system. The National Environmental Services Center notes there is little evidence to suggest that either type of additive is effective in improving septic system function, and that chemical additives may actually be harmful to your septic system and the natural environment.

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