Ignoring routine care of your septic tank can create a smelly problem—an expensive, smelly problem. Fortunately, simple upkeep and awareness of how you’re operating your household can keep your septic tank running properly for decades.
When to Pump a Septic Tank
While there are a number of factors that play into the maintenance needed on your septic tank – family size, septic tank size, water use – most septic tanks should be pumped every three to five years. The working parts to the tank should be inspected more often, about every 12 months.
The need to pump a septic tank is determined by the sludge and scum levels. There is a T-shaped outlet that prevents the sludge and scum from exiting to the drainfield area. The scum rises to the top of the tank, while the sludge sits at the bottom. When the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom outlet or the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, it’s time to pump your tank.
The septic tank can handle a certain amount of water at one time, so it’s important to be mindful of how much water your family uses. Some easy ways to conserve water and not overload your septic tank are:
- Repair any leaking toilets or faucets. A leaky faucet dripping once per second will waste 3,000 gallons of water over the course of one year.
- Install high efficiency toilets. Older toilet models use much more water to discard wastes than newer models. Switching to a modern style saves the average family about 13,000 gallons of water each year.
- Have multiple laundry days. Rather than waiting until one day to do multiple loads of laundry, spread the washing out over two or three days to give the tank a chance to catch up with demand. Be sure to wash clothes on the correct load setting (i.e. small, medium, large).
What Not To Put In Your Septic Tank
It’s a septic tank, not a trashcan. Do not allow anything other than human waste and toilet paper to be flushed into the tank. Also, avoid washing certain liquids down the sink. The following items should not be flushed:
- Chemicals: gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze and paint or paint thinners
- Cigarette butts
- Cooking grease or oil
- Dental floss
- Feminine hygiene products
- Flushable wipes
- Paper towels
It’s also a good practice to limit your use of the garbage disposal to avoid overloading the tank with oils and fats. There are a variety of living organisms in your septic system that digests and treats household waste. Using chemical-filled products to clear your drains can kill those organisms and hurt your septic system.
Keep maintenance records of your septic tank so you know when it’s time for the next service. Track the scum and sludge levels indicated by your service professional so you know when it’s time to pump.