Maintaining your septic tank system protects your health and the environment


CONTACT: Sherry Bradley
(334) 206-5375
CONTACT: Leigh Willis
(334) 206-5375

About half of Alabama residences have an onsite sewage disposal system to collect, treat and dispose of wastewater. Septic tank systems are used where municipal sewers are not available or are impractical, and maintenance is important.

“If you have a septic system, it is your responsibility to take care of it. In order to maintain your system, the tank needs to be accessible for pumping and the drain field should be protected,” Sherry Bradley, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health Bureau of Environmental Services, said.

Failing septic tank systems can endanger your family’s health, pollute the environment, reduce property value and be expensive to repair.

Warning signs of potential system problems include wet spots in the yard, slow-draining toilets or drains, gurgling sounds in drains, and sewage odors.

Maintenance is probably the single most important consideration in making sure a septic system will work well over time. Follow these recommendations to 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 single 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.

Homeowners must get a permit before installing a new system or before repairing an existing one. Septic tank installers and pumpers must be licensed by the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Board. Local county health departments have a copy of septic tank system permit that indicates the approximate location of the system on your property and the size of the tank.

By maintaining your septic system, you protect your wallet and the health of your family, your community and your environment. For more information, visit