How do I care for my septic system?

Prevention, pumping, and inspection play the biggest role in maintaining a well-functioning septic system.

 

Inspection

Typical septic tanks and drainfields should be inspected about every 3 years by a licensed professional. Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected more often - generally once per year. A service contract is important since alternative systems have mechanized parts.

 

Pumping

Generally, septic tanks should be pumped every 3 to 5 years by a state licensed, reputable septage waste hauler. Four major factors influence the frequency of septic pumping:

  • Household size

  • Total wastewater generated

  • Volume of solids in wastewater

  • Septic tank size

 

Prevention - Use Water Efficiently

The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system - which means less stress on the system. There are many simple ways to use household water more efficiently:

  • Replace inefficient toilets with high-efficiency toilets. Toilet use accounts for 25 to 30 percent of household water use. Switching from a 3.5- or 5-gallon reservoir to a 1.6 gallon reservoir toilet is a simple way to reduce stress on your septic system.

  • Faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads. Faucets with flow restrictors help reduce the volume of water entering your septic system.

  • Washing machines. It's not just switching to ENERGY STAR clothes washers that will make a difference - though these models do use 50 percent less water than standard models. Simply spreading laundry day among a few days a week will give your septic system more time to treat waste. Also, only running full loads of laundry will make sure all wash water is efficiently used.

 

Prevention - Properly Dispose of Waste

Everything that goes down the drain enters the septic system. That doesn't mean everything should go down the drain, or in your toilet.

  • Toilets. An easy rule of thumb: don't flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Toilet paper is designed to be flushed into a septic tank. Everything else - paper towels, baby wipes, feminine products, medications, etc. - is not designed to be flushed and should go into the garbage can.

  • Sinks. Whether you are at the kitchen sink, bathtub, or utility sink, pouring certain chemicals down drains destroys the important living organisms that digest and treat household waste inside of the septic tank. Avoid chemical drain openers for a clogged drain and use a drain snake instead. Never pour cooking oil, grease, oil-based paints, solvents, or large volumes of toxic cleaners down the drain. Latex paint waste should be minimized.

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Prevention - Take Care of Your Drainfield

The drainfield is the last stop for wastewater as it travels through a septic system. The drainfield has the important task of facilitating the percolation of wastewater into the groundwater system where it can be naturally purified of remaining pathogens. If the drainfield is damaged, the area surrounding the septic tank can flood with untreated wastewater, potentially overflowing into nearby surface water and creating a serious human health risk.

To keep the drainfield operating smoothly, it is important not to allow heavy objects or livestock to sit or walk over the drainfield. The area should also remain clear of vigorously rooted plants, like trees and woody shrubs. Ultimately it's best to keep the drainfield planted with turfgrass and clear of any obstructions.