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Septic Tank Maintenance

What is a Septic Tank System?

A septic tank system uses natural processes to treat and dispose of the wastewater generated in your home. The system is normally made up of a septic tank and a drain field. The septic tank is usually a large concrete container with two compartments. It provides the first step in the treatment process. As wastewater flows into the tank, the heavier solids settle to the bottom to form a sludge layer, and the lighter solids, greases and oils float to the top to form a scum layer. The wastewater, or effluent as it is now called, flows from the tank into the drain field. The drain field consists of a network of carefully prepared trenches made up of perforated pipe and gravel. The effluent is distributed through the pipe and ponds in the gravel filled trenches as it percolates into the soil. Treatment of the effluent is completed as it moves through the soil.

How Does a Septic Tank System Work?

The septic tank provides some biological treatment of the sludge and scum layers because there are organisms living in the tank that digest these solids. However, there are more solids in the tank than can be digested by these organisms. The majority of treatment is done in the drain field as the effluent percolates to the ground water. The soil acts as a biological and physical filter to remove harmful substances including disease-causing bacteria and viruses, toxic organics and other undesirable constituents in the effluent.

Baffles and effluent filters located in the tank are designed to prevent the sludge and scum from flowing into the drain field. However, if the tank is not pumped regularly to remove the accumulated solids, the tank will fill with solids and the solids will be washed into the drain field. This will quickly clog the soil and ruin the drain field. The only solution will be to replace the drain field.

Did You Know?

… that a properly designed and installed septic tank system can be the safest, most economical way to treat your wastewater as long as it is properly maintained? If you are like most homeowners, you probably have not given much thought into what goes down your drain. But if you own a car and understand the importance of preventative maintenance (like changing the oil), then you can understand how maintaining your septic tank system can save you thousands of dollars and big headaches down the road.

How Do I Take Care of My Septic System?

Maintenance is probably the single most important consideration in making sure a septic system will work well over time. By following the recommendations below, you can help your system to work properly for years.


  • Use additives to eliminate septic tank pumping.
  • Use a garbage grinder--if you do, pump your septic tank at least once a year.
  • Have leaking faucets, toilets or other plumbing fixtures.
  • Pour grease or food scraps down the drain.
  • Use "large" amounts of chemicals such as chlorine bleach, disinfectants or antibacterial cleaners.
  • Have a "laundry day" for a whole week of dirty laundry.
  • Deposit coffee grounds, disposable diapers, sanitary products, paints, thinners, paper towels…
  • Plant trees or bushes over or near the system.
  • Cover the system with a driveway or patio.
  • Overload the system with too much water, including water from a sprinkler system.


  • Have septic tanks pumped every 3 to 5 years.
  • Routinely check float valves on all toilets. They can leak with no detectable sound.
  • Keep a separate container for grease and dispose properly.
  • Use detergents low in phosphates and liquid detergents that contain less fillers.
  • Spread laundry loads over several days so as not overload the system with too much water.
  • Divert surface drainage away from septic system.
  • Avoid driving over septic tank and disposal lines.
  • Use water saving devices such as low-flow showerheads and low-flush toilets.
  • Install an effluent filter the next time the tank is pumped.
  • Plant grass over the disposal field.
  • Call the health department whenever you experience problems with your septic system.

Remember, by maintaining your septic system, you protect your pocket book, the health of your family, your community and your environment.

Page last updated: May 13, 2021