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The Dos and Don'ts Of a Septic System

By Bill Gassett | July 5, 2023

A septic tank is an integral component of a residential wastewater treatment system, responsible for efficiently processing and disposing of household waste. However, septic tanks can become prone to costly repairs, health hazards, and environmental pollution without proper maintenance and care.

We will explore the importance of maintaining a healthy septic tank and discuss essential dos and don'ts for owners.

We will also provide valuable advice on garbage disposal, safe cleaning supplies, tips for maintaining a healthy septic tank, and identifying when your septic tank requires pumping. By following these guidelines, homeowners can prolong the lifespan of their septic system and minimize the risks associated with neglecting proper maintenance.

Signs of septic system failure will be costly, frustrating, and stressful.

Why Is Maintaining a Healthy Septic Tank Important?

Maintenance of a septic system is vital for several reasons. First and foremost, a properly maintained septic tank promotes the effective treatment and disposal of household wastewater. Regular maintenance prevents the accumulation of sludge and scum, which can obstruct the system, leading to backups, odors, and overflows.

The cost of pumping a septic tank is minimal, given the importance and cost of replacement. Repairing or replacing a failed septic system can be expensive, making it economically prudent to prioritize proactive maintenance and care.

Additionally, a poorly functioning septic tank can contaminate groundwater and nearby water bodies, posing health risks to humans and the environment.

What not to do with a septic tank

What Enters Your Septic Tank and How?

Understanding the composition of wastewater and how it interacts with your septic tank is essential for maintaining its optimal functionality. When wastewater flows from your home, it enters the septic tank through the inlet pipe. Within the tank, a process of separation takes place, dividing the wastewater into three distinct layers.

Solid waste, known as sludge, settles at the bottom, while lighter materials, such as fats, oils, and grease, float to the top, forming a layer of scum. The remaining liquid, known as effluent, occupies the middle layer.

Beneficial bacteria in the tank help break down organic matter in the wastewater, facilitating the decomposition process. Eventually, the clarified liquid effluent exits the tank through the outlet pipe, entering the drain field for further treatment and absorption into the soil.

The Cost of Pumping a Septic Tank

The cost of pumping a septic tank varies based on tank size, accessibility, location, and local market rates. On average, septic tank pumping can range from $200 to $600. Regular maintenance and pumping are more cost-effective than the expenses associated with major repairs or the cost of system replacement.

Dos and Don'ts for Septic Tanks

To ensure the longevity and efficiency of your septic tank, it is essential to follow a set of dos and don'ts. Adhering to these guidelines can prevent potential issues and costly repairs. Let's explore the dos and don'ts of septic tank maintenance:

Do Conserve Water

Conserving water helps prevent overwhelming the septic system and ensures proper treatment. Repair any leaks in faucets, toilets, or pipes promptly. Consider installing water-efficient fixtures, such as low-flow toilets and aerators on faucets. Additionally, spreading out water usage throughout the day can alleviate strain on the septic tank.

Don't Flush Non-Biodegradable Items

Flushing non-biodegradable items down the toilet can clog the system, leading to backups and costly repairs. Avoid flushing items such as diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, paper towels, cigarette butts, dental floss, or other materials that do not break down easily. Stick to flushing only human waste and toilet paper.

Do Regular Inspections

Regular septic inspections allow you to identify potential issues before they become significant problems. Inspect the septic tank and its components, such as the inlet and outlet pipes, baffles, and drain field. Look for signs of leaks, odors, or surfacing effluent. A professional inspection every three to five years is recommended.

It's one of the essential tasks of septic system maintenance.

Don't Park or Build Structures on The Drainfield

The drain field is a critical septic system component responsible for effluent's final treatment and absorption. Avoid parking vehicles or constructing permanent structures on the drain field, such as sheds or patios. These activities can compact the soil and disrupt the absorption process.

Do Pump Your Septic Tank Regularly

Regular pumping removes accumulated sludge and scum from the septic tank. The pumping frequency depends on factors like tank size, household size, and water usage. On average, septic tanks should be pumped every three to five years. Neglecting pumping can lead to backups, system failure, and costly repairs.

Don't Use Harsh Chemicals or Additives

Avoid harsh chemicals, such as bleach, drain cleaners, or excessive antibacterial soaps, as they can disrupt the bacterial balance in the septic tank. Additionally, be cautious with septic additives, as they may not provide significant benefits and could harm the system if misused.

Do Divert Excess Water From The Drain Field

Ensure that rainwater, gutter downspouts, and sump pump discharge are directed away from the drain field. Excess water can oversaturate the drain field, hampering its ability to treat and absorb effluent effectively.

Garbage Disposal Advice for a Healthy Septic Tank

Proper garbage disposal practices are crucial for your septic tank's well-being and for reducing the cost of pumping a septic system. Certain items can cause clogs, disrupt bacterial activity, and lead to septic system failures. Here are some essential tips for garbage disposal:

Avoid Disposing of Solid Waste in The Garbage Disposal

The garbage disposal is not designed to handle solid waste, such as food scraps, coffee grounds, or eggshells. These materials can accumulate in the septic tank, causing blockages and reducing efficiency. Instead, compost or discard them in the regular trash.

Minimize Garbage Disposal Usage

Limit garbage disposal usage to prevent overwhelming the septic system with excessive organic matter. Scrape food scraps into a compost bin or dispose of them in the regular trash whenever possible.

Use a Strainer

Install a strainer or mesh screen over your sink drain to catch larger food particles and debris. This helps prevent them from entering the septic system.

Dispose of Cooking Oils and Fats Properly

Grease, oils, and fats should never be poured down the drain or into the garbage disposal. They can solidify and clog pipes, impeding the flow of wastewater. Instead, let them cool and solidify in a container, then dispose of them in the regular trash.

What Cleaning Supplies Are Safe for Septic Systems

Using the right cleaning supplies is essential to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your septic tank. Harsh chemicals can disrupt the natural breakdown of waste and potentially harm the septic system. Consider the following safe cleaning practices for septic systems:

Choose Septic-Safe Cleaning Products

Look for cleaning products that are labeled as "septic-safe," "biodegradable," or "environmentally friendly." These products are formulated to be gentle on the septic system and not contain harmful ingredients that could disrupt bacterial activity.

Avoid Excessive Use of Antibacterial Products

While maintaining hygiene is essential, excessive use of antibacterial soaps, detergents, and cleaning agents can negatively impact the septic system. These products can kill the beneficial bacteria responsible for breaking down waste. Use them sparingly and opt for regular soaps and detergents whenever possible.

Use Non-Toxic and Natural Cleaning Alternatives

Consider using non-toxic and natural cleaning alternatives like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. These ingredients are effective for various cleaning tasks and are safe for septic systems.

Limit Bleach

While bleach is commonly used for disinfection, excessive use can harm the septic system. If bleach is necessary, use it sparingly and in moderate amounts.

Properly Dispose of Hazardous Materials

Avoid pouring hazardous chemicals down the drain, such as paint thinners, pesticides, or strong solvents. These substances can harm the bacterial balance in the septic tank and contaminate groundwater. Dispose of them according to local regulations or take them to designated collection facilities.

Tips for a Healthy Septic Tank in the Bathroom

The bathroom contributes a significant amount of wastewater to the septic system, and adopting proper practices can help maintain its health and functionality. Consider the following tips for a healthy septic tank in the bathroom:

Use Water Efficient Fixtures

To reduce water consumption, use low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets. This helps prevent overloading the septic system and extends its lifespan.

Fix Leaky Faucets and Toilets

Leaky faucets and toilets can waste water and overload the septic system. Repair leaks promptly to conserve water and prevent unnecessary strain on the system.

Don't Use The Toilet as a Garbage Bin

Dispose of non-biodegradable items in the regular trash, such as wipes, sanitary products, cotton swabs, dental floss, and diapers. Flushing these items can cause clogs and damage the septic system.

Use Septic Safe Toilet Paper

Choose toilet paper labeled as "septic-safe" or "biodegradable." These types of toilet paper break down more efficiently, reducing the strain on the septic system.

Avoid Excessive Use of Harsh Cleaners

Harsh cleaners, such as toilet bowl and drain cleaners, can disrupt the bacterial balance in the septic tank. Use them sparingly and according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Separate Aeration Devices From The Septic System

If you have jetted tubs or air whirlpool systems, ensure they are not connected to the septic system. These devices can introduce excess air and disrupt the bacterial activity in the septic tank.

Educate Family Members

Ensure everyone understands the dos and don'ts of septic system usage. Inform them about the importance of conserving water, proper waste disposal, and the potential consequences of neglecting septic tank maintenance.

Knowing When Your Septic Tank Is Full

Knowing the signs indicating that your septic tank requires pumping is crucial. Pumping is necessary to remove accumulated sludge and scum from the tank, preventing backups and system failure. Here are some indications that your septic tank may be full:

  • SLOW DRAINS: If you notice slow drainage in sinks, showers, bathtubs, or toilets, it could be a sign that your septic tank is nearing its capacity. Accumulated sludge and scum can obstruct wastewater flow, causing drainage issues.
  • ODORS: Foul odors, particularly around the septic tank or drains, may indicate that the tank is full. When the tank is overloaded, untreated sewage gases can escape, causing unpleasant smells.
  • WATER POOLING OR LUSH VEGETATION: If you notice water pooling in the yard or areas near the drain field, it could be a sign of a full septic tank. Excessively lush vegetation or areas of greener grass around the drain field may also indicate that the septic system is overloaded.
  • BACKUPS AND GURGLING SOUNDS: If sewage backs into drains, toilets, or showers, your septic tank is full and needs immediate attention. Gurgling sounds from drains when using water fixtures can also signal a full tank.
  • INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE SCHEDULE: Following a regular inspection and maintenance schedule for your septic tank is essential. Consult a professional septic service provider to determine the recommended frequency of pumping based on factors such as tank size, household size, and water usage.

Final Thoughts

Proper septic tank maintenance is essential to avoid costly repairs, health hazards, and environmental pollution. By following the dos and don'ts for septic tank maintenance, practicing responsible garbage disposal, using septic-safe cleaning supplies, implementing bathroom tips, and recognizing signs of a full tank, homeowners can ensure the longevity and effectiveness of their septic systems.

When buying a home, checking a septic system is a vital specialty inspection that should always be completed.

Regular inspections, pumping when necessary, and consulting with septic service professionals are crucial to maintaining a healthy septic tank. By taking proactive measures and adopting good practices, homeowners can enjoy the benefits of a well-functioning septic system while minimizing the risks of neglecting septic tank maintenance.

Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate industry with 38 years of experience. Bill is well respected for his informative articles for buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Newsbreak, Credit Sesame, Realty Biz News, and his own authoritative resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. He has been on of the top RE/MAX agents in New England over the last two decades.
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