Septic Systems

septic systems

The purpose of an on-site wastewater treatment system, commonly known as a Septic system, is to treat sewage from your household. A septic system has two parts: the sewage tank and the soil treatment system. The most common sewage tank is a septic tank that receives raw sewage from the household. Three layers form in the tank: solids settle to the bottom and a layer of scum or grease floats on the surface of a liquid layer. As raw sewage is added to the tank; an equal amount of liquid flows out into the soil treatment system known as the leaching field.



Discharge all sewage waste from the house into the septic tank. Don't run waste water from laundry or saunas directly into the drain field as the detergent or soap scum will quickly clog soil pores and cause failure.

Do not add "starters" to your septic system. Enough bacteria are available in the wastes flushed into the septic tank. Even after the tank has been pumped, enough bacteria will be provided when you use the system again.

Do not use additives in your system. They are of no benefit and may harm the system. Additives that cause the accumulated sludge to increase in volume or float will result in sludge being flushed into the drain field, plugging soil pores. Also, some additives, particularly degreasers, may be carcinogens that will flow into ground water with treated waste water.

Have the septic system checked every one to two years and pumped every two to three years by a professional septic system contractor to remove solids and scum. Although tanks that are away from lakes or rivers may not need it every year, annual pumping is excellent insurance near shorelines.

Remove the manhole cover when having the tank pumped to make sure that all solids have been removed. The sludge in the tank should be mixed during pumping. A tank cannot be adequately cleaned through a 4-inch inspection pipe. Pumping through the inspection port may clog the outlet baffle with scum and grease.

Do not use the system as a trash can. Garbage disposal use is a leading factor in clogged systems. Don't put grease, oil, disposable diapers, colored toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, paint, pesticides, coffee grounds or other items down any drains in your home.

Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from trees or shrubs may clog and damage the absorption field.

Keep roof drains, sump pump drains, and other rain or surface water drainage systems away from the absorption field. Flooding can keep the soil from naturally cleansing the waste water.

Be alert. Unpleasant odors, soggy soil, liquid waste flow, or excessive grass growth over the soil absorption area can be signs that the system is in need of service.

When properly maintained, septic tanks are safe and reliable. It will cost approximately $100 to $150, each time you have a septic tank pumped, but replacing the entire system and drain field may cost from $6,000 to $20,000 depending on the size

Threats to human health and water quality increase if your septic system is not properly maintained.



Sewage backup in your drains or toilets. This may be a black liquid with a bad odor.

Slow toilet flushing. Even if you use plungers or drain cleaners, drains may run slower than usual.

Wet areas or water seeping near drain field. It may or may not have an odor.

Excessive growth of aquatic weeds or algae in the lake near your home. Incomplete treatment of nutrient-rich water seeping from your system promotes this growth.

Unpleasant odors around your house. This may result from improper venting or a failing system.

Bacteria or nitrates are found in your well water. This indicates a serious water contamination problem that may come from your own or a neighbor's failing system.

Biodegradable dye flushed through the system shows up in the lake or river.



Call the local health or zoning and planning department. They will help you get the expert advice you need to solve your problem.

Have the septic tank pumped, making sure that sludge as well as liquid is removed. This will often help solve the problem temporarily, particularly if you also cut back significantly on water use. If the drain field or household piping is clogged or if high water levels are a problem, this won't help.

Fence off the area to minimize contact with wastewater (for humans, pets, and wildlife).

Don't use additives. Additives are no benefit and may harm the system.



Wash only full loads in the dishwasher. Typical dishwashers use about 13 gallons for each wash. Newer models use 8-9 gallons.

Wash only full loads of clothes and use front-loading washers and suds-savers to save water. To avoid overloading your system, spread washing over the week instead of washing several loads on one day. A single load takes about 40 gallons.

Use liquid laundry detergent because it's less likely to have fillers or carriers that may damage the septic system. Try to use the minimum amount because detergents can cause problems with the system.

Minimize use of household chemicals and cleaners. Normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, toilet bowl deodorizers, and other cleaners won't harm bacterial action in the septic tank.


Septic System Illustration


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Last updated on  Feb 28, 2013