Owners Notebook septic system care 2
A design / build residential and light commercial construction company.
CL # 769640 General B / HIC
The Owners Notebook - Septic System Care
How to care for, feed & understand your septic system
Septic System Care Page 2 of 3
Maintaining Your Septic System
Locate and diagram your septic tank and disposal field. As stated earlier, many homeowners, particularly those who live in older houses,
are not sure where their tank and field are located. Once you have identified the location of the system, you need to find the pumpout
port. This may be a surface or underground manhole, or a riser pipe that is at the soil surface. All of the components of the system, the
tank, pumpout ports, inspection pipes and disposal field, should be diagrammed on a map that you keep in a handy location.
Inspect and pump out your tank regularly. The most important maintenance is to pump out your tank on a regular basis. When the tank
is not cleaned, solids build up until they are carried into the disposal field, where they block the flow of liquid. The frequency depends
on the size of the tank and the number of people it services. Tanks should be inspected at least once every two years to determine the
rate of sludge (solids on the bottom of the tank) and scum buildup. With ordinary use and care, a septic tank usually requires cleaning
every three to seven years, although there are no set rules since the usage will vary with each homeowner's circumstances. According to
Daniel Freeman, American Home Service Company, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., "When a tank is not pumped sufficiently, often there is less
settling time for waste entering the tank, so small bits of floating solids are pushed out into and begin clogging the soil-absorption
system, shortening and eventually ending its life." If you use a sink-mounted garbage-disposal unit, you may need to pump out more
frequently. However, in many cases, septic tanks can be operated for up to five years without pumping, if they are maintained properly.
Depending on the size of the tank and your location, plan on about $200 for each pumpout. Pumpouts must be performed by a licensed
septic-tank cleaner (also known as a honey dipper). A non-licensed cleaner may simply empty your tank and then dispose of the wastes
in the nearest stream. Ask the service technician to check the tank baffles for possible damage. While the tank is open, the technician
can also run some water from a hose with a tracer dye added, into the distribution box. If no effluent shows on the surface of the ground,
then the leach field is most likely functioning properly.
Continued from page 1
Be careful about disposing items into the system. Try to avoid pouring cooking oils, fats and grease into the kitchen sink. Also avoid
using a sink-mounted garbage disposal, since this will increase the wastes entering the system. Don't flush non-biodegradable items
like disposable diapers, cat litter, filtered cigarettes, sanitary napkins, plastic tampon applicators, paper towels, condoms or similar
materials. Never flush toxic substances like used motor oil, oil or acrylic paints, varnishes, photographic solutions, pesticides,
insecticides, fertilizers, disinfectants, paint thinners or solvents. Many of these products can pass directly through the septic system
and contaminate groundwater. They can also kill the microorganisms that decompose the wastes and can damage the soil in the
Do not use caustic drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead use boiling water, baking soda and vinegar, or a drain snake to free up
clogs. Clean your toilet, sinks, shower and tubs with a mild detergent or baking soda, rather than the stronger and potentially system-
damaging commercial bathroom cleansers. If a water softener is used in the home, the salt recharge solution should not be allowed to
enter the system if the predominant soils in the disposal field are very fine textured and drainage is very slow. In these situations,
sodium in the softener recharge solution may damage soil structure in the disposal field and plug the system. If you have a water
softener, the size of the absorption field must be increased to accommodate the additional flow.
A word of caution: Toxic gases build up in septic tanks; therefore, never allow
anyone except a professional to go into the tank. You should exercise caution
when simply peering in the tank. Also, check the cover to the manhole,
because children can fall through a rusted manhole cover.
Don't plant trees or bushes near your disposal field. Trees and bushes have
extensive root systems that can damage the disposal field. Tree roots can move
30 to 40 feet from the trunk base and break, disrupt or clog the pipes. Margeret
Lauderbach writes in The Idaho Statesman: "Willows love water, and woe to
the landowner who plants one within 50 feet of a sewer line or septic system."
Grass is the best vegetative cover for the disposal field. Also, don't drive
vehicles or heavy equipment over the disposal field. This is especially
important if you are constructing an addition or doing some other type of
construction, since construction vehicles can be particularly heavy.
Reduce water flow to your system by conserving water. Excessive water use
can compromise your system's ability to treat and dispose wastewater. Reduce
the amount of water by using low-flow toilets and showerheads. Try to
distribute dishwashing and laundry throughout the week rather than at one or
two times. Fix leaking toilets and faucets. Don't connect downspouts or sump
pumps to the septic system.
Avoid additives. Some products are marketed with the promise that they can keep septic systems operating smoothly, correct system
upsets, or do away with the need to pump the tank periodically. These additives are either chemical or biological. Chemical additives
are strong acids, alkalis or organic solvents. Biological additives are cultures of harmless bacteria, plus waste-digesting enzymes.
These sometimes contain yeast cultures.
Although some manufacturers of additives have test data showing how their products perform, there has been almost no
independent verification of these products in full-sized septic systems. The information that exists does not show improved long-term
performance, and there is no evidence of significant benefits. The amount of material added with each dose of product is very small
compared with the biological material already present and working in the tank.
Occasionally a system suffers an upset when the septic-tank bacteria are harmed or destroyed. This can happen if the home is vacant
for a long period and the tank receives no fresh wastewater, or if strong cleaning agents are flushed down the drain. After a few days
of normal use, the biological system in the tank will reestablish itself. In this situation, the biological additives may help speed the
recovery of the septic tank.
While the biological additives are not likely to be harmful, the chemical additives could harm your system. Although they may
unblock a clogged disposal pipe, they can also contaminate drinking water or groundwater supplies. Avoid using cleaners that
contain sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide or hydrogen peroxide. Also do not use any product that contains toxic chemicals in
excess of 1 percent by weight, such as trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, methylene chloride, benzene, carbon
tetrachloride, toluene, napthalene, trichlorophenol, pentachlorophenol, acrolein, acrylonitrile or benzidine. These products have the
potential to sterilize your system temporarily and the resulting passage of raw sewage into the disposal field will hasten its failure. In
addition, the acid and alkali products can corrode the plumbing and the tank. Also, the chemicals can pass through the system and
infiltrate the groundwater or endanger nearby wells.