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Maintaining Your Septic System

By Tracy Green and Charmaine Simmons

When you think about the maintenance of the systems in your home your first thoughts are probably HVAC, electrical and plumbing. However, one overlooked and undervalued system in your home is actually outside your home, the septic system. As with all the systems in your home, if you properly maintain your septic system you can avoid costly repairs.

First, understanding how a septic system works will help you maintain it. The wastewater from your home leaves through a pipe and goes to the septic tank. The waste separates into solid waste (sludge) that sinks to the bottom and oil and grease (scum) rises to the top. There are bacteria in the septic tank that helps to breakdown the sludge. The wastewater then exits the septic tank and goes into the drainage field. The wastewater is released into the soil which removes harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

So one thing you have to watch is what you put down your drains (that goes into your septic tank). Everything that goes down your drains should be biodegradable and septic safe. Flushing things like dental floss, feminine products, paper towels, coffee grounds and other kitchen and bathroom products can clog the tank and drain field. Also, household chemicals, paint, oils and grease can kill the good bacteria in your septic tank. If you have a garbage disposal, you will want to use it sparingly as it will increase the accumulation of sludge and scum.

Another thing to be aware of when you have a septic system is how much water you are using. Per the EPA, the average single-home family uses 70 gallons of indoor water per person per day. Leaking faucets and running toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons per day. Faucet aerators and high efficiency toilets and showerheads can help reduce excess water usage. Many people like the convenience of washing all their laundry in one day, but with a septic system you need to give your tank time to recover. So it’s recommended to spread your washing, otherwise you risk flooding your drainage field.

Knowing where your septic tank and drainage field are is also very important. You don’t’ want to put anything heavy like a shed, parked car or RV, cement or pool in this area as it can damage the tank and pipes as well as compromise the drainage field. Another thing that can damage your septic system are large trees and shrubs. Roots, especially aggressive roots that come with Willows, can damage pipes and the tank.

Having your tank pumped regularly is part of proper maintenance. Professionals typically charge between $200-$300 for this service, however, it can vary by region. Keep in mind that if they have to dig to find your septic tank that will incur additional fees. When your tank is pumped they should also inspect the tank to make sure everything is in good working condition. The frequency of pumpings varies between owners. No matter the size of your family, if you have a garbage disposal it is recommended that you pump your system annually. If you are a family of four with no garbage disposal, it’s recommended every 2-3 years. If you are a family of two with no garbage disposal, it’s recommended every 4-5 years.

Every few months using a septic tank system treatment, like Rid-X®, by pouring into your toilet can add the bacteria necessary to keep your septic tank performing optimally. For those of you who like homemade treatments, you can pour a liter of spoiled buttermilk down the toilet every few months, as it too is a great source of bacteria. If you notice anything that seems off with your septic system, it is best to contact a professional immediately to address any issues as early as possible.

While this system doesn’t need constant supervision, remembering these key things will help prolong the life of your septic system.

Sources: http://www.epa.gov/owm/septic/pubs/homeowner_guide_long.pdf; http://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-a-Septic-System

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39 thoughts on “Maintaining Your Septic System

  1. Thank you for all this great information about septic tanks! I really like your point about knowing where the septic tank and drainage field is because I would have never thought about avoiding to put heavy things like a shed or our camper on top of it. We just moved into our home that has a septic tank and these are all great tips to make sure we’re taking care of it correctly.

  2. I didn’t know that something as small as dental floss could cause problems for your septic tank. I wonder if that’s actually what’s been causing my aunt’s septic tank problems. Her little daughter loves playing with dental floss, and last time I visited, she disposed of it in the toilet.

  3. Very informative post. A good rule of thumb is not to flush things into the septic that did not go through your mouth (except toilet paper). Your system likes items that will easily decompose.

    Roland

  4. Thanks for the tips for maintaining a septic system. My wife and I just moved into a home with a septic tank, and we want to make sure we take proper care of it. Thanks for mentioning that you should spread out your loads of laundry so you don’t put too much water in your tank at one time. We will keep that in mind.

  5. It is good to know that one should be aware of how much water they are using when a septic system is involved. I did not realize that the average family used 70 gallons of indoor water per person per day. It would be a good idea to get a septic system drained before moving into a new house.

  6. My husband and I recently moved into a home with a septic system. We want to make sure we are able to maintain it correctly to avoid any future problems. As you said, having your tank pumped and cleaned regularly by a professional will help ensure that everything is in good working condition. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I like that you recommend to wash your clothes throughout the week instead of just on one day. I can see why this would help keep your septic system in good condition. My uncle has lived in a house with a septic system for over twenty years. I’ll have to ask him if he does anything because of it.

  8. My brother recently moved into a house that uses a septic system. He doesn’t know much about that type of waste removal, and he’s wanting to learn more to ensure it is well taken care of. I didn’t realize that staggering your loads of laundry to different days can help the system recovery properly and prevent overflowing. I’ll be sure my brother is aware of this tip.

  9. Ever since we moved in three years ago we haven’t had the time or money to maintain our septic tank. It was remarkable to know that everything that goes down your drains should be biodegradable and septic safe. I will be certain to get the tank checked to make sure it is in good condition!

  10. The septic tank is something I have never thought much of. I think I should probably be more aware of it, so I don’t do anything that might break it. I hadn’t even thought of spreading out the laundry, but that makes sense!

  11. It makes sense to me that proper maintenance of a septic system can help prevent costly repairs. Like the article states, this all starts with knowing how a septic tank works. By learning basic septic tank functions in this article, I feel I can take better care of my tank. If I were to ever experience a problem with my tank, I wouldn’t hesitate to contact a septic tank repair specialist for my needs.

  12. You’re so right when you said that the septic system is often an overlooked and undervalued part of the home. I don’t know much about septic systems, so this article really helped me to understand what I need to do to maintain it. As you mentioned, it’s important to have the septic system pumped. I will be sure to have that done soon! Thanks for sharing!

  13. I agree that the septic tank is often overlooked and undervalued. You also said that if you understand how your septic system works, it will better help you understand how to maintain it. I think it’s a good idea to add additives to your system that will help to reduce waste levels.

  14. I appreciate this article about septic system maintenance. It is good to know that understanding how a septic system works will help you to better maintain it. I did not realize that everything in the tank enters through a pipe. It would be best to watch children to prevent large objects to go down drains and cause unnecessary problems to the system.

  15. I didn’t realize that there was so much that went into septic system maintenance! I like how you point out that knowing where your septic tank and drainage field are is so important so that you don’t put anything heavy, like a shed or parked car, in this area. My husband and I just moved into our first home, so all of this is new to us. I imagine that we’ll probably want to call a professional to come check everything out so that we know all is well before we get too settled. We’ll have to ask our new neighbors if there’s anyone they recommend.

  16. I didn’t realize that it was a good idea to treat your septic tank every few months. I can see how doing this can keep your system working properly and ensure that it will do so for a long time. I will make sure to look into this and ask the professionals about it. Thank you for sharing.

  17. Thanks for the tips for maintaining a septic system. I didn’t realize that I needed to be watchful of how much water I am using each day. I normally do all my laundry on one day, but I guess I should be letting my tank recover!

  18. Hi…
    thanks for sharing this informative blog with us. great stuff. I like your content of list you included. please
    keep sharing such innovative ideas with us.

  19. I agree that having your septic tank pumped regularly would be good. I would imagine that this could keep the system working well and prevent costly repairs. This would also be a good way to see if there are any needed repairs and get them done at the same time.

  20. I didn’t know that septic tanks needed time to recover, I’m glad that I came across this article! In our family, Sunday is laundry day. I think that it might be a smarter idea to space it our during the week so that our tank doesn’t get too overwhelmed. I’ll have to call someone in to make sure that everything is running properly with it and we won’t have to make any drastic repairs.

  21. I appreciate what you said about using your garbage disposal sparingly in order to maintain your septic system well. I’ve always thought that if you have a garbage disposal you can put whatever you want down there and it will be fine for your septic system! Would you say it is better not to have a disposal then in order to avoid the build up of sludge and scum in your septic tank?

    • Depending on the county codes where you live, you may not be able to have a garbage disposal if you are on a septic system. It’s probably safest not to have one, as even if you use it sparingly, someone else at your house might use it without realizing the damage it can cause to your septic system.

  22. I want to take better care of my septic tank. Thanks for the advice about how you should have your tank pumped regularly. Another thing to consider is to get your septic tank serviced by a company that is licensed and insured.

  23. I didn’t realize that all of the drains in my house lead to my septic tank, so I have never paid much attention to how often I use my garbage disposal. Your comment about the garbage disposal adding to the sludge in the tank was a real eye opener, I imagine watching what goes down the drain would make as much difference in the life of the tank as having it pumped regularly does. I had an issue with my tank last week and I’ve been looking into getting it repaired, but it seems I have been misusing it for my whole life… maybe I would be better off getting it replaced now and treating the new one more carefully.

  24. In your article, you stated that if you are a family of four with no garbage disposal, it’s recommended every 2-3 years. Do most septic companies offer regularly scheduled maintenance? My mother’s home has a septic tank and lately she has been noticing a really bad smell lingering through the house. Hiring a septic company to come and maintain it might be a good idea.

  25. My friend is buying a new house that has a septic system as a way of disposal. It is nice to know that better understanding how these systems work will offer a better knowledge of how to maintain them. I have heard that it is good to get them inspected regularly to prevent extensive problems.

  26. I appreciate your information on how a septic system actually works. You’re right when you say that it is much easier to take care of something like this when you know how it looks when it is functioning properly. I didn’t realize that dental floss could actually cause clogs, I think that this sometimes gets down my drains. I’ll have to what out for this better, thank you for a helpful article!

  27. I had never thought about all of the things that you’d have to watch out for when you’re putting things down your drains. Wastewater systems are one of those things that you just expect to work right, and having to think of things like that can get overwhelming. The more you’re reminded of what to do though, the better off you’ll be, so I appreciate the advice anyways. Thanks for sharing.

  28. It is true that this type of maintenance is not nearly as well known or focused on. I appreciate you explaining how this system works so I can better understand what needs to be maintained and what I need to watch. This seems like a pretty simple, but important process. Thank you for all of your helpful tips!

  29. Nice share… I just knew from you that septic tank pipe can not be mixed with bath pipe. nice sharing. Regard from young entrepreneur.

  30. Taking care of your septic system does seem like a good thing to do when you are a homeowner. I like that you talked about how much water can affect the system. I had no idea that a leaking faucet could create 200 pounds of extra water going through the system. It seems like it would be smart to have your plumbing and septic tank inspected on a regular basis to avoid problems like that.

  31. I agree that understanding how a septic system works is helpful. That way you can maintain it, and know how you are affecting the system when you use it. I think if more people knew how it works, they would be more careful about what things they flush down the toilet. Thanks for the advice!

  32. Thanks for the great advice, I actually didn’t know that placing heavier items on top of the tank or drain field could lead to damage, but I suppose that’s obvious. When we used to live in our home that had a septic system, we foolishly placed a shed on top of the tank. This led to a lot of damage over time and continual maintenance that eventually led to us moving out, I wish we had known about these tips quite a long time ago.

  33. I would think that someone would want to have their septic tank working properly, and not having any problems with it. I can see it working better if stuff that should not be in there stays out would be smart. Thanks for the tips, they are really good ideas.

  34. I had never thought about the fact that putting something over the drainage field would cause problems. I can see how that would make sense though. I also love planting trees, so I guess I would have to keep that in mind too. Thanks for the heads up!

  35. Thanks so much Tracy and Charmaine for your tip about regular septic pumping can help maintenance. I didn’t know that septic tanks had to be pumped every 2-3 years. My brother and his family recently had problems with their drainage system and I believe they had a professional go and check it out. I hope these tips can help us avoid that kind of mess in the future!

  36. Thanks for explaining the problems with putting the wrong types of stuff into the septic system. Having never had a septic system before, I really hadn’t thought about the challenges that it would present for garbage disposal or the flushing system. Apparently there’s a lot more possible problems than I would have imagined. It seems like knowing these things is definitely going to prevent a lot of headaches down the road if or when I decide to switch to a septic system. Thanks for the help!

  37. Thanks for explaining the way septic systems work! I’m considering having a septic system at my new home rather than hooking up to the city sewer line. It sounds like it uses very natural processes, which I like, but could take a while to recycle the water. Do you know how intensive septic maintenance is compared to sewer system maintenance?

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