Septic System Maintenance

Proper Use of Household Water

It is important that you do not overwhelm your septic system with too much water.  Even a new system can become over saturated if occupants are not conscience of household water usage. If the system becomes flooded, the water from the house will have no outlet and either back up into the house or come to the surface in the yard.

  1. Install a High Efficiency (HE) washing machine.  These machines utilize less water per load.  Most high efficiency washers use only 15 to 30 gallons of water to wash the same amount of clothes as older washers (29 to 45 gallons per load). The most efficient washers use less than 5 gallons.  Even with a HE machine, do not do load after load which could flood your drain fields by not allowing sufficient recovery time.
  2.  Install high efficiency shower heads, toilets and faucets.  The high efficiency shower heads are especially important.  Showers are the second largest water waster for most households.
  3. Check for leaking toilets and faucets.  Even small leaks can leach many gallons of water per day into the septic system.
  4. DO NOT discharge water softeners, hot tubs or spas into the septic system as they will overload the system.  Additionally, the chemicals in these systems breakdown concrete septic tanks and cause a scum layer to form in the drain fields which shorten their useful life.
  5. Run the dishwasher only when full.
  6. DO NOT fill the bath tub for children’s bath time.  

Proper Waste Disposal

Items that will clog your system:  diapers, wipes (even if they are marked “Septic Safe”), dental floss, condoms, cotton swabs, paper towels, cat litter, cigarette filters, coffee grounds, fats, oils, grease, feminine hygiene products, etc.  When you have young children, keep the toilet seat down so that children do not flush toys or other items.

Items that will kill the bacterial balance of your system:  household chemicals including some laundry detergents (look for “Septic Safe” on the label), gasoline, motor oil, pesticides, antifreeze, latex paint, caustic drain de-cloggers,  etc.

Proper Outdoor Maintenance

  1. Keep a manicured lawn over the septic system.  This prevents erosion and maximizes the effectiveness of the septic system through evaporation and transpiration.
  2. DO NOT allow trees or shrubs within 10 feet of the septic tank or drain fields.  The roots of these plants seek water and grow into the pipes both cracking and clogging the pipes.  The roots also push dirt into the pipes, then the dirt and roots completely clog the pipes.  Plants also cause the septic to be shaded thereby preventing proper evaporation by the sun.
  3. DO NOT drive or park vehicles or construction equipment on any part of the septic system.  Doing so can compact the soil in the drain fields or crush the pipes, tank or other septic system components, thus compromising the system’s ability to operate.
  4. DO NOT allow roof gutter drains, basement sump pump drains, footing drains, or surface water drainage systems to discharge over the septic system. Any run-off from roadways or hills must be diverted via a curtain drain. All run-off or discharge of water onto the septic area will possibly saturate the septic area and flood the system.  If the system is flooded, the water from the house will have no outlet and either back up into the house or come to the surface in the yard.
  5. DO NOT place sheds, pools, children’s play yards, etc. over the septic area.  Anything covering the system will negate its effectiveness.

Proper Septic Tank Maintenance

  1. DO NOT use additives.  They are not proven to work and, in some cases, can be harmful to your system.
  2. Pump your tank every 3-5 years depending upon the number of people in your household.  Ask your pumper for their advised timing.

Sources:  Environmental Protection Agency; Cornell University