Septic systems are the most widely used type of waste disposal throughout rural and suburban United States areas. Exercising proper septic tank care involves preventive maintenance and common sense precautions. As a homeowner, you are accountable for maintaining your septic system. The septic system in your home is one of the vital parts of your property. Without a functioning septic system, you can’t even legally sell your home – so it makes sense to maintain and care for it properly.
If you are like most homeowners, you probably never give much thought to what happens to what goes down your drain. However, if you own a car and understand how important it is to do preventative maintenance (like changing your oil), then you can understand how maintaining your septic system can save you money and future problems.
Regular maintenance checks and periodic pumpings are routine, but many people are not aware that there are many other choices you can make that will increase the life of and reduce the repairs needed on your septic tank.
A properly designed and installed septic system can be the safest, most economical way to treat your wastewater as long as it is properly maintained.
Taking care of your septic system isn’t difficult, because modern systems function efficiently when you follow a few basic guidelines. Put these tips to use for a clean and trouble-free septic system.
Tips For Your System
These are some helpful hints on septic tank care and maintenance that professionals have given to keep your problems to a bare minimum. If these tips are followed, you will find that your septic tank is more likely to function at it’s very best and may rarely require expenses beyond general septic tank maintenance.
Rainwater Should Be Diverted From the Septic Drainfield or Leach Field
Above ground water should be diverted away from the drain field. A soggy drain field won’t absorb and neutralize liquid waste. If you have an above ground pool, fountain, yard watering system, etc. be sure drainpipes and culverts are channeled elsewhere. Do not introduce gutters or basement pipes draining near septic system. Direct down spouts and runoff away from the septic field to avoid saturating the area with excess water.
Do not Overload the Septic Tank and Drainfield
Avoid overloading your septic system. It needs time to deal with wastes and fluids if it’s going to do so efficiently. The less water you use at one time, the better. Don’t run the dishwasher and washing machine at the same time that someone is showering, or do all the family laundry in one day. Try doing laundry in small loads every few days instead of all at once. Reduce water levels for small loads of laundry if possible. Keep plumbing fixtures such as toilets and faucets in good repair to prevent leakage/wasting of water. If you replace old fixtures, install new “low flow” types. Never allow large, irregular, intermittent or constant volumes of clear water into the system, as with a leaking toilet or faucet. Use a displacer to reduce the amount of water needed to flush the toilet. Use aerators on faucets and flow reducer nozzles on showers to help lower water consumption. Wait until the dishwasher is full to run it. Never waste water.
Keep Trees Away from the Septic System
Discourage root damage by keeping trees at least 100 feet away from the septic system. Consider taking out any kind of trees within 75 ft. as the roots can grow into the lines and drain field, etc. and do real damage. Trees with aggressive roots, such as Weeping Willows, should be planted at least 150 feet away from your septic system. Clear the roots from trees in the near vicinity of tank as they can rupture the tank resulting in collapsing of system.
The Toilet Isn’t a Garbage Disposal
Don’t flush anything down the toilet except bodily waste and toilet paper. Be careful what you flush. Anything that the bacteria in the septic system can’t digest will be left to clog it up. The fewer solids that get flushed, the happier your septic tank will be. Use a toilet paper that degrades easily to avoid a buildup of solids that will clog your septic system so that you need to have it pumped sooner. High wet strength toilet paper that doesn’t break down easily in water is harder for your septic tank to deal with. The following items should never be flushed: personal sanitary products, condoms, cigarette butts and filters, hair, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers, kitty litter, gauze bandages, fat, grease or oil, paper towels and facial tissues.
Use Garbage Disposals Wisely
A garbage disposal can double the amount of solids added to a septic tank. Choose a top-line disposal that grinds food into tiny particles that are easier for a system to digest. Do not use garbage disposals that swallow food whole. They should be good enough to grind food into small particles that will break down more rapidly when in the septic system. Use garbage disposals that periodically release small amounts of enzymes into the drain or flush enzyme packets down the toilet occasionally. These septic tank treatments help to keep things decomposing properly in the septic tank. Increasing the load of solids into the tank decreases the capacity and shortens the interval between pumpings.
Minimize Heavy Duty Cleaners
Overuse of heavy cleaners kills beneficial bacteria in the septic tank, so solids won’t break down as well. Never over-use ordinary household cleaning chemicals that will be flushed into the system. Never pour out or empty hobby or home industry chemicals into the system. Never allow waste from water softeners to enter the system.
Do Not Pour Grease Down the Drain
Dispose of oil or grease in the trash. Never allow grease or other bulky waste to enter the system. As these substances float on water, they pose a threat of clogging the inlet pipes by filling up upper part of septic tank. If that happens you will need an expensive pumping or some other type of repair.
Avoid Hazardous Chemicals
Never flush chemicals that could contaminate surface and groundwater, such as: varnish, paints, paint thinners, motor oils, waste oils, gasoline and other similar chemicals. They can ruin your system and are a hazard to groundwater. Dispose of them properly. Never flush toxic materials such as pesticides into the system. Chemicals, such as bleach, harsh cleaners, etc. can destroy the bacteria that keeps your waste decomposing and may even eventually wind up in your nearby wells, streams, lakes, etc. Don’t pour these types of things down the drains any more than is absolutely necessary.
Protect the System from Damage
Do not drive over the drainfield, build a structure on top of it, or cover it with concrete or asphalt. Never allow vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.) to drive across or park on the drainfield. Their pressure can yield damage to the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil. As the name drainfield implies, this is the area that the septic lines drain into and you don’t want it to cave in or be less able to effectively do it’s job.
Plant a flower garden or grass on the drain field to cut down on soil erosion. You many find that plants grow well in this area. Dense grass cover and other shallow rooted plants are beneficial over a septic field. However, do not plant trees because large plant roots can clog or break the pipes.
Do NOT use Additives
You do NOT need to add any commercial products or yeast to your system. Additives or “rejuvenators” do not improve how well your system works. There are always plenty of natural bacteria available to do the job. (They come from YOUR digestive system.) In fact, additives can damage your system by breaking up the sludge and scum layers, causing them to flush out of the tank and clog the infiltration bed. Additives that say “Never worry about pumping your septic tank again” are the worst!
Contact a professional immediately if you recognize any of these warning signals:
- Gurgling sounds in the plumbing.
- Sluggishness when flushing toilet.
- Any plumbing backups.
- Grass in the yard growing faster and greener in one particular area.
- Ground mush underfoot.
- Obnoxious odors inside or outside.
- Low spots beginning to appear in yard, whether or not any of the above symptoms have occurred.