SLOAN COLUMN: Buttermilk, beer, slugs and septic tanks
By: Bob Sloan
“Have you tried buttermilk?”
The words came out of nowhere. It seems like a simple enough question, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the conversation taking place.
I peered at the person who posed the mysterious question. He is a wise and highly respected man with nearly 90 years of living under his belt. The look on his face revealed he was quite serious about this odd inquiry.
“What do you mean,” I asked twice, the second time considerably louder than the first.
“Have you tried buttermilk?” he asked again.
I looked at the person across the desk from my old friend and I. She appeared to be just as befuddled.
“I don’t have a clue what you are talking about,” I said as respectfully as possible. “Yes, I’ve had buttermilk many times. It’s okay, I guess, but I’m not particularly fond of it. It does make good biscuits, though. But what in the world does buttermilk have to do with anything we’re talking about?”
The old fellow appeared a bit agitated and fired back, “No. I mean have you tried pouring buttermilk down the toilet?”
Then it all made sense. Well, sort of.
Several minutes earlier we had been discussing the stinky situation at my home. I have a rather “foul” smelling leak in my front yard not far from where the septic tank is buried. Folks much wiser than myself have taken a look at the less-than pleasant smelling puddle and informed me that I am likely in need of a new drain field. The cost would be in the neighborhood of $1,500.
The meaning of the mysterious question was now a little clearer, but not nearly clear enough.
I proceeded to task my friend what buttermilk had to do with septic tanks. He explained that a man he knew very well for many years and who owned and operated a septic tank business had once told him that pouring a gallon of buttermilk down the commode would clean out your pipes and clear up any septic tank issues. I knew the fellow to whom he was referring. His name was Harry and he had recently passed away somewhat unexpectedly. Not that I doubted my friend, but I knew Harry knew his business and that business was plumbing and septic tanks.
I was both befuddled and amused at the idea of buttermilk being the solution to my problem. I’d never heard of such a thing. Neither had the other person privy to the conversation. Something tells me that Heloise didn’t have this one in her file cabinet full of hints, either.
Quirky, around-the-house fix-its are not all that uncommon. We have all heard them, tried them, found out they worked and then passed them on to someone else. More often than not, they end up saving you a bunch of money.
A few years back we had a problem with slugs climbing, no, slithering up the sliding door leading to our deck. As evidence of their adventures, slimy trails were left all over the glass. I probably spent $30 or more at the local hardware store on sprays, liquids and powders, all claiming to be able to rid me of the unwelcome vermin. None of them did the trick.
It was not until my buddy Ed enlightened me on the slug-preventing properties of beer that the slug situation was remedied.
In his slow Southern drawl, Ed explained that slugs don’t care one iota for the taste or smell of beer. All I needed to do was pour a beer or two at the foot of the sliding glass door and viola, slug problem solved.
I followed Ed’s instructions that very night and sure enough, there was nary a snail trail on the sliding door and not a slug in sight.
Like Heloise and Ed and my old friend, we all have a bunch of nifty fix-it tricks that we’ve picked up along the way. It always leaves you at a loss when someone offers you a surprising solution that otherwise would have never crossed your mind. And it’s even better when it works.
Now back to our buttermilk brainteaser.
If a gallon of buttermilk could possibly save me a bundle of dough, then why not give it a shot, I thought. That very afternoon I drove to the IGA and dropped close to $7 on two half-gallons of buttermilk. As I stood in the checkout line and handed the cashier my money, this thought crossed my mind – why does milk cost more when it sours? Go figure.
Upon returning home, I poured the buttermilk down the commode - half-gallon, flush, another half-gallon, another flush.
Then I waited.
Some four days later, the sour stench remained. The yard still leaked and stunk. Such is life. The beer worked. The buttermilk didn’t.
I don’t doubt the wisdom passed on by my wise old friend, it just didn’t work for me. Who knows, maybe my plumbing is lactose intolerant. At any rate, my guess is that we will soon be installing a new drain field.
Something tells the pipes are shiny clean and smell like buttermilk, though, courtesy of my old friend’s wisdom.