Plumbing 101: How to Take Care of Your Septic Tank

Septic_tankSeptic tanks are an invaluable addition to any home that doesn’t have access to municipal sewage lines. While they require a little extra know-how to maintain, properly cared-for septic tanks should be odorless, unnoticeable, and able to last for the life of a home. That said, taking care of a septic tank isn’t expensive or complicated, and consists of some pretty basic steps. Otherwise you will be dealing with horrible smells and leaks into your yard which can create an unhealthy environment for your yard, you and your family, and anyone else that might be living in your home.

Use “septic safe” products.

This should go without saying, but it’s best to avoid purchasing cleaners, toilet tissue, or drain clearing products that are not explicitly labeled as being safe for use in septic tanks. Septic systems rely on a very delicate biological balance to break down waste, and harsh chemicals and antibacterial products can disrupt this. Paper products that aren’t septic-safe can also clog the lines that run to the leach field, preventing sewage from draining from the tank.

Avoid sending anything but water or waste down the drain.

According to Kamloops Septic Service, anything that isn’t water-soluble, including paper towels or grease, may not be broken down within the tank itself. Even if it doesn’t end up clogging sewage lines, it can build up in the tank, reduce its capacity, and cause it to back up. If you experience any clogging or sewage back up, you will want to have a professional come out and take care of the problem right away.

Have septic tanks pumped every one to three years.

Even though well-maintained septic tanks can handle waste, they will occasionally need to be professionally pumped out. Three years is the longest period of time a septic tank should go without being pumped. If a home is located in a northern climate or is equipped with a garbage disposal, the cooler temperatures and additional solid waste will require a yearly pumping. Homes in the south, without garbage disposals, may be able to get away with waiting three years

Use septic treatments when needed.

While a properly cared-for tank should host enough bacteria to handle waste, it may need an occasional boost. Cold temperatures can slow down how quickly waste is broken down, excess water use may flush out important bacteria, and certain cleaning products may even kill them. Septic treatment products generally consist of beneficial bacteria and enzymes that help break waste down, keeping septic systems optimally functioning.

Unhealthy septic tanks result in “swampy” odors, slow or stopped drains, or even soggy patches of grass. It can create unhealthy conditions and even affect your property value and therefore taking care of your septic system is a must. By following these tips and keeping tanks pumped, sewage lines clear, and beneficial bacteria levels high, homeowners can ensure that they won’t have to deal with sewage backups, leaking tanks, or expensive repairs.

Erin Emanuel

25 Comments

  1. It is surprising to find people who didn’t know what a septic tank was or its purpose. But even when finding out, it still remains challenging for people to set aside time to maintain one.

    You hit key points here that I agree with! One of my “pet-peeves” is when I find out that people are disposing of waste that isn’t meant to be disposed of except through other means. This strategy will, unfortunately, cause problems to many people. What strategies did you find that were useful in helping people be more aware of what they dispose of?

  2. This is a well-written article, Erin! Thanks for sharing this with us—it sounds like you’re very well knowledgeable in the plumbing career! I’ve been worried about my septic tank, so I’m going to start taking better care of it. I’ll be sure to follow your suggestions by using ‘septic safe’ products. Hopefully I’ll be able to maintain its ability to perform well!

  3. I should really get my septic tank pumped sooner rather than later. It’s piling up and I need to get rid of it. Maybe I should make some phone calls and get somebody over.

  4. My cousin just moved out to a more rural area. This has been a much different change for her, because she use to live in NYC. The sewer system is all she is use to, and she is really struggling with the new septic system instead. This article really points out some interesting ways to make sure that your septic tank is working great. Thanks for the ideas.

  5. I didn’t know that you should have your septic tanks pumped at least every 3 years. That makes sense if you want to keep it working properly and efficiently. Thanks for taking the time to write, I will keep this in mind.

  6. Pumping your septic tank every one to three years seems like a really important tip for me to know. There have been times when I forgot to pump it until almost five years since the last time I had it pumped. The last time I pumped my septic tank was almost four years ago, so now seems like a good time to call a professional to finally pump it out. Thanks for the tips!

  7. I agree that three years is the max that you should go between septic pumpings, and even that is a little long. We went probably about 4 years (we just forgot) without having the system pumped and then it backed up on us big time. It ended up being a pretty costly repair, so we always try to recommend to others to do it more often. Thanks for the post.

  8. Excellent article, Erin! I”m glad that I stumbled upon it because I’ve been trying to take better care of my septic tank. I think you’re absolutely right: septic tanks are absolutely valuable to have in your home, and they should be odorless. I’ll try following your recommendation of using septic safe products. Do you have any product recommendations for me?

  9. I agree with you that taking care of a septic take is neither expensive or complicated, but you need to do it. By keeping up with the maintenance on your septic tank you can make it work as long as it was designed to. It’s kind of like your car in that it needs regular maintenance to keep running well.

  10. As a homeowner you really have to remember a lot of different things, and septic tank maintenance is one of those. It’s important to keep up with the maintenance, because then you will have less worry that there will be any big problems. You can use the same principle with other parts of your house as well.

  11. I didn’t realize the bacteria in your septic system were actually good for breaking down the waste. It kind of seems like a paradox. My friends use a septic system for their plumbing, and they say it saves them a lot of money.

  12. We have been using our friends cabin for a little vacation, and we want to make sure that we leave it better than we found it. We wanted to make sure that the septic tank is nice and clean, and we hadn’t realized that it is best to avoid using cleaners that are not labeled as being safe for use in a septic tank. We’ll steer clear of those products! Thanks for the info.

  13. I like how you said, “Otherwise you will be dealing with horrible smells and leaks into your yard which can create an unhealthy environment for your yard, you and your family, and anyone else that might be living in your home.” This really emphasizes the importance of proper maintenance. I have owned a couple of homes that ran on septic tanks and thankfully I have never had any real problems. In the future I really need to be more careful. It is a shock that I didn’t have some serious problems with the lack of upkeep I was doing. Thanks for the awesome post!

  14. Thanks for taking the time to write and sharing. But, most people do some form of spring cleaning, so consider adding your septic tank on to your to-do list. When winter snow melts, it can make the water table go higher, which in turn could cause your tank to overflow.

  15. Thanks Erin there are some good tips here i like the one about Avoid sending anything but water or waste down the drain. so many people dont do this and wonder why it backs up.

  16. Thanks for the reminder to only use septic safe products. With so many options to choose from, sometimes it can be easy to forget. And, like you point out – dealing with the consequences are not fun. Even the best of us need reminders like that from time to time! Thanks for the post.

  17. My family and I just moved into a home with a septic tank, so I’m happy that I found your post! I know absolutely nothing about taking care of septic tanks, so I’m positive that your tips are going to help us. I especially liked what you mentioned about “septic safe” products. I had no idea that there are things that you can’t pour down your drain with a septic tank! Before I buy any cleaners for my bathroom or my kitchen, I’ll make sure to check that they’re safe to be used a septic tank system. Thank you for the information!

  18. I didn’t know that septic tanks had to be pumped sometimes every year, but we don’t have septic tanks where I live. I can relate though, we have a houseboat and one time someone threw some garbage down there and it caused problems when we were pumping out. I also didn’t know that there were septic treatments that might kill the good bacteria. Thanks for all of the info!

  19. It was interesting to learn that, “Septic systems rely on a very dlicate biological balance to break down waste, and harsh chemicals and antibacterial products can disrupt this.” I don’t know too much about septic tanks but my grandparents, where we are staying for the next couple of weeks, said they need work done on theirs. I thought it would be smart to look up some info on them so I can help. I had no idea that even the type of toilet paper used could make a difference. Thanks for the info!

  20. I’ve had septic problems before so this article is great for information to help me avoid that problem in the future. I didn’t know there were septic safe products made to be safe with sewer water but I’ll have to make sure the products I use are septic safe in the future. Thanks for the helpful septic info.

  21. I want to say thanks for this blog post. I’m a complete newbie to the Septic Tank industry. The funny thing is my dad was in the industry and I never took the time to learn the industry like I should have. My dad passed not to long ago, now it’s my time. Let’s just say this I stay online looking up info like this to help me and my team along the way. Salute!

  22. I would have never thought that the time between having the tank pumped would depend on where you live. Having colder temperatures would make septic treatment more difficult. Would it be better to have the septic tank pumped yearly regardless of where you live for better maintenance?

  23. I didn’t realize that there were separate cleaners and products that should be specifically used for septic tanks as to not damage or clog them. I am usually pretty good at making sure to only put the right things down the drain but I think that I will hire a septic company to see if there is anything that is clogging the tank. That way I will be able to find the problem and stop it as quickly as I can.

  24. Hey Erin,
    The importance of septic safe products can not be too much highlighted. Also a 1-3 year variance for pumping procedures is vital for the proper functionality of these systems. However I wonder why you do not mention anything about adding certain bacteria to your tank. This might help out in the process of braking down the materials in a faster circle and so enhance your septic system.
    Thanks!

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