What can I do?

Island Water, Best Practices

Download a full-size, PDF version of the poster to print out.


Household Cleaners in our Islands’ Waters

Many commercial household cleaning products are not groundwater or septic friendly because they contain toxins including chlorine, ammonia, lye, hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, xylene, formaldehyde, phenol, ethanol, and cresol.


Protect yourself, your family, our groundwater and the environment by putting together a safe cleaning kit with inexpensive, effective ingredientsThe building blocks for this kit are baking soda, liquid soap, steel wool, vegetable oil, borax, washing soda, white vinegar, lemon juice, cream of tartar, and salt.


ALL PURPOSE CLEANER Mix 125 ml pure soap with 4 litres hot water. Add 60 ml strained lemon juice to cut grease ordissolve 60 ml baking soda in 1 litre hot water. Mix equal parts of vinegar and salt for scouring.


DISHES Add pure soap flakes to hot water, add vinegar for tough grease.


LAUNDRY Borax can replace detergent -125 ml per average laundry load. To enhance, add 80 ml washing soda to the water as the machine is filling. Put clothes in, add 375 ml of pure soap flakes. For hard water add 60 ml of vinegar during the first rinse. This is also a fabric softener.

When switching from detergent to pure soap, wash items twice with 80 ml of washing soda only to remove residues and reduce yellowing.

Use a hydrogen peroxide bleach or 125 ml of washing soda in a load of laundry. And you can add 125 ml of borax for additional cleaning power.


BATHROOM CLEANERS AND DISINFECTANTS Clean surfaces regularly with ½ c. borax in approx. 4 litres hot water or pure soap in hot water. For TUB AND TILE, use a firm bristled brush with plain baking soda or a mixture of 125 ml pure soap in 4 litres hot water with baking soda added. For MOLD AND MILDEW, rub tiles and grout with a cloth moistened with vinegar, then scrub with an old tooth or nail brush.


TOILET BOWL CLEANER Use borax or mix borax and lemon juice and let stand, then scrub. For regular cleaning, use pure soap and water. For stubborn calcium stains, put 1000 mg of vitamin C in the bowl, leave overnight, and scrub.


DRAIN CLEANER Use a plunger or metal snake and/or pour 125 ml baking soda down drain, followed by 125 ml vinegar. Cover the drain and overflow vent while it fizzes, then follow with hot water.


GLASS CLEANER Mix 65 ml vinegar or 15 ml lemon juice in a 1 litre spray bottle filled with warm water. Polish with newspaper.


OVEN CLEANER Wipe grease and spills asap, or line the oven with aluminum foil. If you need to clean, sprinkle baking soda on moist surface and scrub with steel wool. Or add baking soda to 250 ml of pure soap, 120 ml of lemon juice and 4 liters of hot water – wear gloves while scrubbing.


SCOURING CLEANER Use borax powder or baking soda or a paste made with pure soap and baking soda.


METAL POLISH For copper mix lemon juice or hot vinegar with a little salt and apply with a rag. For chrome, white flour or rubbing alcohol on a dry rag; for brass, equal parts of salt and flour with a little vinegar; for silver a paste of baking soda and water.


FURNITURE POLISH Dissolve 5 ml lemon oil in 250 ml vegetable oil and apply with a clean, dry cloth. Use almond oil, olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and lemon juice for unvarnished furniture.


FLOOR POLISH Melt 30 ml of paraffin wax in a double boiler, add 1 liter of mineral oil and a few drops of lemon oil. Apply with a cloth, allow to dry and polish.



*It is difficult to avoid all the harmful ingredients in the products we purchase, including those we use for personal care and as cosmetics. With a little effort, it is possible to eliminate the most toxic substances to protect your health and the environment. I have found two on-line resources that contain good, usable information.

The Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green at www.davidsuzuki.org/dirty dozen provides a wallet sized shoppers guide to ingredients to avoid.

*Don’t flush unused, outdated, unwanted medications down sinks or toilets. You can return them to the Health Clinic or any Pharmacy where they will be disposed of safely. This ensures that children and pets cannot get a hold of them. It also keeps them out of the groundwate

Care of Septic Systems



Septic system, photo by Redstarpublications Wikimedia Commons

There is no one septic system suitable for all sites. They vary according to geology, lot size ad percolation time.

With proper care, a septic tank/field sewage treatment and disposal system will do its job for a long time. However any system will fail prematurely if taken for granted and neglected. The consequences of a failed system can be a serious health hazard caused by contaminated groundwater, streams and marine waters. Also, landowners may be faced with a septic field replacement cost of up to $25,000 or with having to install an expensive alternative package plant or engineered system. It pays to care for your sewage treatment/disposal system.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to take the care necessary to have an effective long-lived field. All you have to do is protect it against damage caused by abuse of the system, vehicular damage or plugging by roots from adjacent trees, particularly cedars. The less apparent and, therefore, the greatest threat occurs when the effluent does the damage because it has not been treated adequately in the septic tank. As a result, inadequately digested particles in the effluent are too big and therefore plug the pores in the soil. This is progressive and has two consequences. It impairs field effectiveness by cutting off air to oxygen dependent bacteria which are what treat the effluent by destroying pathogens. When the plugging of the pores becomes advanced, the resulting impermeability of the field causes ponding or seepage of untreated effluent, polluting adjacent surface and subsurface waters.

Proper digestion in the septic tank requires three measures


Septic tank illustration by Olek Remesz on Wikimedia Commons

1. Regular pumping of the septic tank (every 3 to 5 years)
This will prevent the settled sludge and floating crust from growing to the point where these take up so much room that the effective volume in the tank becomes too small. If this happens, the liquids pass through the tank too quickly thus providing inadequate time for digestion of solids and settlement necessary to produce effluent with very small suspended particles.

2. Minimizing the volume of water drained to the septic tank.
This can be done by installing water conservation devices and generally minimizing the amount of water used, particularly when there are large numbers of people in the house. If excessive volumes enter the tank, these displace effluent from the tank to the field before there is adequate time for proper digestion and settlement of the harmful larger particles. Obviously the greater the time it takes to pass through the tank, the higher the quality of the effluent and, therefore, the longer the life of the field. As a conservative rule of thumb, volumes to the tank should be managed so that there is an average minimum retention time of 5 days. For example, if the tank has a capacity of 600 gallons, then maximum daily discharge to it should be 120 gallons.

3. Avoid the use and disposal of products harmful to bacteria
Hazardous materials ranging from household cleaners to paint thinners, and including unused antibiotics, should not be allowed to drain to the septic tank. These weaken or kill the treatment bacteria and , of course, end up in the groundwater and possibly the stream and marine environments.

Hornby Water Stewardship asks all owners and renters of homes with septic tank/field sewage treatment/disposal systems to take a moment to consider the above and to think about the attention and care currently given to their system. A properly cared for system will reduce the risk to family, friends and visitors and result in very compelling financial benefits.

The Hornby Water Stewardship Project can assist you in protecting your system. we have an ongoing program of producing and updating brochures on water conservation and groundwater protection. You can refer to these for information on measures and devices which will reduce the volume of water wasted to septic systems and in the use of appropriate environmentally friendly cleaners. As a first step we suggest you:

  1. Consider installing good quality two-flush or low flush toilets.
  2. Use only full loads for dish and clothes washers and make sure use is limited to one load of either laundry or dishes per day. Also, be sure to add no more than the manufacturer’s recommended amount of soap or detergent.
  3. Don’t allow buildings, vehicles or activities on your septic field that could compact the soil or damage the pipes.
  4. Keep shrubs and trees and particularly cedars away from your field and do not water your field
  5. Use cleaning products that are “environmentally friendly” for laundry, dish washing and plumbing. Again, do not use more than the recommended amount.
  6. Avoid the use of any products which claim to improve septic tank performance as these can be harmful.