The Do’s and Don’ts of the Septic System

In Home maintenance tips, Plumbing by Mark Goodman

Septic system illustration
The septic system is designed to provide many years of service, with an overall life expectancy of about 20 years. As with any other system in your household septic systems require maintenance and can become overwhelmed with use and misuse.


12 Simple Rules Every Property Owner with a Septic System Should Follow.

1. Pump Your tank – It is important to know that the septic system will need to be periodically pumped free of solids. Regular pumping helps prevent solids from escaping into the drain field (also known as a leach field) and clogging the system. Septic tanks as a general rule of thumb should be pumped every two to three years. However, the frequency of how often your septic tank needs to be pumped depends on the size of the tank, number of people in the household and if you have a garbage disposal. Pumping prevents solid materials from entering the lateral lines and preventing fluid movement.

Failure to pump the septic tank frequently enough can lead to premature drain field failure and costly repairs.

Minimize the amount of solid material going into your septic system!  The septic system is designed to handle human waste and septic safe toilet paper.  Obviously, anything you can do to minimize the introduction of additional solids will help delay the need to pump your septic system.

2. Garbage Disposals – Disposals add an extra load to the tank resulting in the need for frequent cleaning and possible system failure. Avoid using the garbage disposal as much as possible. Be aware of coffee grounds, egg shells, raw vegetables, meat, fat/oil all of which should be thrown out in the trash, not down the drain. Dissolvable soap packets are also not recommended.  These items are not biodegradable. Non-biodegradable items should be kept out of the septic system.

3. ToiletsDo Not Put Anything into Your Toilet Except Human Waste and Toilet Paper Anything other than human waste and toilet paper may increase the need to pump the septic tank and may travel into the lateral lines and cause blockage.

DON’T FLUSH material that will not easily decompose, such as hair, diapers, cigarette butts, matches, or feminine hygiene products.

DON’T FLUSH medicines or hazardous chemicals like paint, paint thinner and bleach into the system. This includes the washing of paint brushes in the sink. They kill the bacteria needed to decompose wastes in the septic tank and drain field. This includes antibiotics which will kill essential bacteria.

REMIND GUESTS of the need to avoid flushing: cigarette butts, diapers, feminine napkins and tampons, paper towels and tissues.

4. Water Use – Be aware of what you are putting into your septic system.  Being proactive can safe your system from be overloaded as a result of heavy water use. Once a system becomes overloaded with fluid, solid waste moves into the drain field and can quickly block or reduce the life and effectiveness of the drain field.

An excessive amount of laundry in one day adds a large volume of water into your septic system.  Try spacing the laundry over a several day period.  Install a low volume water closets (toilet) which uses approximately 1.6 gallons.  Use low-pressure shower heads, repair any leaking faucets or running toilets as this will reduce water usage.  A stuck toilet flapper can result in as much as 3 gallons a minute of water going down the drain and into your septic system.

5. Use only Liquid or Low Phosphate Detergents – Solid detergents liquefy when agitated but will turn back into solids around lateral lines and cause a blockage.

6. Keep the Finished Grade Below the Bottom of the Lids – To prevent mud and rainwater infiltration, the bottom of the lids must be maintained above the finished grade (including mulch or other landscaping materials).

7. Do Not Drive Over or Pasture Animals on Your Drain Field – compaction of the soils may greatly their absorbent qualities.

8. Do Not Run Your Water Softener Through the Septic System – The salt water (brine) in water softeners kill micro-organisms and destroy the bacterial action in the septic tank. The additional load of Effluent from the softener can put an additional load into the drain field and cause the system to fail.

9. Do Not Run Roof Drains Over or Towards Drain Field Areas – Excess water will saturate the soils and cause the sewage effluent to come to the surface. Divert sump pump and drain tile, also.

10. Ground Water – Groundwater can cause problems at certain times of the year. If the groundwater (water table) rises, this can cause effluent to rise to the surface.

11. Rainfall Amounts – Rainfall can also cause failure. If the ground becomes saturated, the effluent may surface.

12. Dense Clay Soils – The dense clay soils can cause septic systems to fail at any time, especially in wet locations.

For more information check out this guide to septic system maintenance.