How to Care for Your Septic Tank

How to Care for Your Septic Tank


Septic systems are set up in about 1 in 4 houses in the U.S., and they’re especially prevalent in rural areas which aren’t served by municipal sewer services. As opposed to pumping waste through sewer mains into a central sewage treatment facility, a septic system pumps liquid and solid waste from the house into a drain field and septic tank that is underground.

How Septic System Works

In a standard septic system, all wastes and water taken by that water flows down the house ‘s drain system and via one primary sewer pipe into the septic tank. The flow of waste water might be a matter of simple gravity, or it might be enhanced with an electrical pump. The septic tank holds the waste material long enough to allow the solids to settle to the bottom as oil, grease, and liquids — the scum afterwards — float to the surface. When the tank reaches capacity, the liquids lying along with the scum layer flow forward to a set of porous pipes into a drain area ready with gravel and other aggregate which helps disperse the liquid waste. The liquids slowly filter through the soil as bacterial activity breaks down the germs. From the time the liquid waste filters to groundwater supplies, it’s virtually sterile.

Meanwhile, the solids in the tank break down under the affect of anaerobic bacteria, making a sludgy substance that accumulates in the bottom of the tank. If the bacterial action is successful, these solid wastes are greatly reduced in quantity as they break down.

Anatomy from a Septic Tank

The septic tank water-tight container made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene buried in the ground in a place near the house. It features an inlet pipe where waste from the house ‘s sewer pipe enters the tank and an outlet pipe which allows liquids to flow forward into the drain area. The surface of the tank is buried slightly beneath the surface of the soil, invisible except for one or two review tubes and a manhole cover that’s used to pump the sludge in the tank when it becomes mandatory.

When to Have Your Septic Tank Pumped

The EPA recommends a septic tank should be inspected every two to three decades, with mechanical pumping normally required every three to five years to drain the tank. Systems which are undersized or that see very heavy usage may require pumping yearly. Some systems have electric float switches, pumps, or mechanical parts, and these have to be inspected more frequently — typically once annually.

Pumping is the practice of removing sludge from the bottom of the septic tank, and this has to be done before the sludge builds up to a level where it blocks the outlet pipe through which fluids flow into the drain field. The frequency with which this has to be done depends upon several variables:

  • Size of household: Larger families, predictably, create more waste, and therefore fill the septic tank quicker.
  • How much wastewater is generated: The sheer volume of wastewater flowing to the septic tank may affect how quickly the septic tank fills up.
  • The volume of solids from the wastewater: Households that have many bathrooms, or who make regular use of garbage disposals, often fill the septic tank faster.
  • Septic tank dimensions: Larger tanks may hold stronger sludge, and therefore will require less frequent pumping.

There are techniques to help estimate when you need to have your tank pumped. For instance: an average four-bedroom home might have a 1,200 to 1,500 gallon tank and with a family of four, you should expect to have the tank pumped every 3 to 5 years with average use.

How a Septic Tank Is Pumped

If you have a septic service professional professional who inspects your septic tank regularly, they will inform you when it’s time to pump out the sludge in the tank. Normally, this is when the floating scum layer that lies between the sludge and the floating water is within approximately 6 inches of the outlet pipe resulting in the drain field.

The septic service comes with a huge tanker truck with vacuum equipment and technicians inserts a huge hose to the septic tank through the manhole after the cover is removed. Since the truck’s equipment sucks out the contents of the septic tank, a tech usually stirs the contents of the tank using a muck rake to break up the solids and then combine them with the liquid substance to create pumping more efficient. Prices for pumping a septic tank vary from $200 to $500 depending on the area where you reside and the size of the septic tank.

Tips for Maintaining Septic System

There are several proactive steps you can take to make certain that your septic system works efficiently and to decrease the frequency with which pumping is required:

  • Reduce water use. With high efficiency, water-saving plumbing toilets and taps can greatly reduce the quantity of water that goes into the septic system. Fixing leaks and drips is another way to decrease the overuse of water which can lead to the septic tank to fill quicker.
  • Reduce solid wastes: Tracking the solid waste that enters the septic system is another way to keep it functioning properly. Trash that’s either washed or flushed down the drain may overburden the septic system. Don’t flush anything apart from toilet paper down the toilet, and avoid using a garbage disposer that places organic food wastes to the septic system. Throwing things in the garbage takes just a small effort, but it is going to make a significant impact in the management of the septic system.
  • Direct rainwater away from the drain area . Downspouts and landscape grading that funnel water on the septic system’s drain field can interfere with its ability to distribute water from the septic system.
  • Don’t drain hot tubs to the drain system. This can place undue strain on the septic system; rather, drain water from hot tubs or swimming pools to the yard, away from the drain area.
  • Avoid placing chemicals down the drain. Compounds can interfere with the bacterial activity that breaks down solid wastes, so avoid flushing them down the drain. This also includes various commercial septic tank additives, which generally do more harm than good. Unless a trusted professional has prescribed this additive, don’t use any septic tank compounds.


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