A septic system is an efficient, self-contained underground wastewater treatment system. It is comprised of two parts, a septic tank, or reservoir and a drain field. The septic tank is a watertight box with an inlet and outlet pipe. Wastewater flows from your house to the septic tank through a sewer pipe. The reservoir holds the wastewater long enough for solids and liquids to separate into three layers: a scum layer of solids lighter than water (i.e., greases and oils) that float to the top, a middle layer of partially clarified wastewater, and a layer heavier than water that settles to the floor of the tank forming a sludge layer. The sediments remain in the septic tank long enough for bacteria naturally found in the wastewater, to break down the solids. The solids that cannot be broken down are retained in the tank until it is pumped out. The layer of clarified liquid flows through an outlet pipe from the tank to the drain field, or a distribution device, to evenly distribute the wastewater in the drain field. 

 How a septic system works

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report states that the average family of four produces up to 400 gallons of wastewater a day. In a year, that adds up to almost 150,000 gallons! And what if your septic system fails? A failed system can cause ground and surface water pollution and cause expensive water damage. With regular maintenance, however, you can fix the problem before it tanks (pun intended) your whole septic system. 

Inspect and Pump

Every three to five years, a professional should inspect your system for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your tank. The T-shaped outlet in your septic tank prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank. If the scum layer is within half a foot of the bottommost part of the outlet, or if the highest point of the sludge layer is within twelve inches of the outlet, it needs to be pumped. The service provider should note any repairs carried out and the condition of the tank in a report. If other upkeep is recommended, you can hire a repair person to fix the problem.

Water Efficiency

All of the wastewater a household sends down its pipes–toilet, sink, tub or washing machine–ends up in its septic system. The U.S. Geological Survey ascertained that a single person uses approximately 80-100 gallons a day, and what is the biggest culprit? Flushing the toilet. Older homes have 3.5 – 5-gallon reservoirs, whereas new high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less to flush the toilet. Some high water-efficient products on the market include toilets, showerheads, faucet aerators, and washing machines. Being efficient in our water use improves the operation of a septic system and saves you money in the long run. 

Waste Disposal

Everything that is put down the drain ends up in your septic system. That includes food items in your garbage disposal or anything that goes down the sink, shower, or bath. Avoid pouring toxins like oil-based paints or solvents, and even cooking grease down the drain. Waste disposal also includes what you flush down the toilet, which, hopefully, is only human waste and toilet paper. Everyday household items like non-flushable wipes, feminine hygiene products, condoms, and even dental floss should not be flushed. Your septic system is not a garbage container, so don’t treat it like one.

Maintain the Drain Field

The drain field, also known as a leach field, removes contaminants from the liquid in your septic tank. To maintain it, you should never park or drive on your drain field. Avoid planting trees too close too, so roots cannot damage it. And keep rainwater drainage systems away since they can collect water, which slows or stops the wastewater treatment process.

These simple tips can keep your septic system functioning well. If you have questions, you can call a professional who can evaluate and solve any of your septic problems.