Expert advice on how to maintain a home septic tank, with advice on how to prevent and repair septic tank failure problems.
It pays to take care of your septic tank. When not maintained properly, the necessary bacteria in the system can be destroyed, causing the biological machine to shut down. Then, sludge builds up and is pushed into the drainfield, where it clogs up the system. Before you know it, you have a sewage backup and a major headache.
The tank can be pumped out, but the drainfield cannot. After several tank pumpings on a too-frequent basis, you may discover that you have to install a new septic system at the cost of several thousand dollars. With proper care, a system should last more than 20 years.
It’s important to know where your tank is located, both so it may be inspected and pumped, and so that you can avoid driving over the tank or leachfield with heavy equipment or doing other work that might damage the system. If you don’t know where it is, you may be able to obtain records from your town or city hall. Otherwise, you can hire a septic contractor, who may find it with an electronic detector or by probing the soil with a long metal rod.
Once you’ve located your septic tank, make a map that shows its location and put the map where you’ll be able to find it in the future. It also helps to mark the tank’s location with a stake or stone that isn’t likely to be moved.
Have your tank inspected by a septic tank professional every three to five years—more frequently if your family uses a lot of water and a garbage disposer. You can reduce the strain on your septic system by using less water and staggering showers, clothes washing, bathing, and other heavy usage.
Be aware that what you flush or wash down the drain can damage the system. Don’t flush dyed or heavy toilet tissue or paper towels, feminine hygiene products, condoms, or disposable diapers.
Though some disinfectants, ammonia, and cleaners are not likely to significantly damage a system, avoid washing quantities of chemicals—particularly chlorine bleach—into the system. Never pour chemical drain cleaners, solvents such as paint, motor oil, pesticides, poisons or chemicals into drainpipes. Minimize use of a garbage disposer and don’t put fat, grease, or coffee grounds into it.
Many commercial septic treatments meant to be flushed into the system are ineffective or can actually damage it. They can promote the flow of sludge into drain lines, clogging the drainfield. Before using such a product, check with your health department to see if it has received state approval. Periodic inspection and pumping of your septic system are the best ways to ensure it operates for many years.