If your home uses a septic tank to dispose of waste water, it’s important to know how to keep it in proper working order. Here are the basics you need to know to maintain the septic tank system for your home.
A concrete septic tank ready to be installed.
How a Septic Tank Works
A septic tank consists of a large, underground tank with an inlet for the drain pipe coming from your house, and an outlet going to the field lines buried in the yard. The tank allows solid waste to settle out and begins the decomposition process using the natural action of anaerobic bacteria.
Baffles in the tank retain the solid material while allowing liquid to flow into perforated field lines buried in the yard. As it soaks into the soil, the action of aerobic bacteria complete the process of breaking down any remaining waste material.
How to Find the Location of Your Septic Tank
The first step is to determine the location of the septic tank in your yard so it can be inspected and serviced. Septic tanks are usually located at least five feet away from the house with the top buried up to several feet below ground.
Here are some tips on how to locate your septic tank:
Using a camera to find a septic tank.
- A plat of your land (available from your county environmental office) should show the location of the septic tank in your yard.
- Often the general location of the tank and field lines will be evident by greener grass or lush vegetation in the yard.
- If you’re still not sure of the location of the septic tank in your yard, a video camera can be inserted in a drain to track the distance to the tank.
- Once you know the general location of your septic tank, a probing device—such as a thin metal rod—is used to find the top of the buried tank. Take care when probing to keep from damaging drain pipes, field lines, sprinkler systems, or buried utility lines.
Probing to locate the top of a septic tank.
When to Pump Out a Septic Tank
A septic tank should be pumped out every three to five years on average, depending upon the size of the tank and the number of occupants in the house. If you experience drainage problems—including bathtubs that are slow to drain or toilets that tend to back up after flushing—contact a reputable sewage contractor at the first sign of trouble, and limit your water use until the problem has been diagnosed and resolved.
Digging up a septic tank to pump and clean it out.
Septic Tank Dos and Don’ts
Follow these tips to maintain your septic tank system and keep it working properly:
- Once you’ve found your septic tank, record the location for future reference.
- Have your septic tank inspected regularly.
- Pump out your septic tank every three to five years.
- Use biodegradable toilet paper that breaks down easily.
- Conserve water to limit the amount that goes into the tank.
- Never put grease or harsh chemicals—such as solvents, bleach, drain cleaners, pesticides, gasoline, and paint—down a drain or toilet.
- Do not put non-biodegradable items—including dental floss, disposable diapers, kitty litter, condoms, female hygiene products, facial tissue, and cigarettes—down a drain or toilet.
- Do not build or pave on or near a septic tank or field lines.
- Avoid planting trees or shrubs on or near a septic tank or field lines.
- Do not locate a vegetable or herb garden on or near a septic tank or field lines.
- Call a reputable septic tank company if your drains show signs of backing up or draining slowly.
Pumping out a septic tank.
If regular septic tank maintenance is performed, and precautions are taken to keep your system working properly, your system will provide many years of trouble free service.
Dee Massey is employed by Hulsey Environmental & Plumbing Services, Inc. of Gainesville, Georgia. More information is available on their website at www.hulseyenvironmental.com.
I’ve been amazed that whenever I need help, this website seems to have the answers I need. This article was no exception because I really am clueless when it comes to my septic tank maintenance. I appreciated this list of Do’s and Dont’s, especially because I didn’t realize your tank should be pumped every three to five years. Thanks for helping me out with this.
Having a septic tank seems like an adventure even unto itself. I have never had one before, but I know a lot of people get them because they want to live off the grid and not depend on the city for sewage. I had no idea that septic needed to be pumped out every 3 to 5 years.
We are looking for a new home to buy, and one of the options we are looking at has a septic tank. I didn’t know exactly what that entailed, so thank you for this information. How often do you need to have your tank inspected? Is it yearly or every few months? How long do systems usually last? Thanks for the help!
When you say to have the tank inspected regularly, exactly how often do you mean? I appreciate your tip about recording the location of where your septic tank is. This is something that I wouldn’t have thought to do myself, and I’d have to find it over and over again. I will definitely be keeping your tips in mind so that I can keep my tank in good shape, thank you!
You should also add to your list of items NOT to put into a toilet, those “flushable” cleansing wipes. They are NOT degradable as we learned after having to have our septic tank (in a rental property) pumped out.
Do not add materials such as facial tissues, hygiene products, or cigarette butts to waste water. This will give you a huge problem in septic tank later on.
I’m glad that you brought up that a septic tank should be pumped about 3 to 5 years, depending on the size and number of people in the house. I think that it’s worth paying every three years to get it pumped, otherwise, you run the risk of the system getting damaged if you let it do without being serviced. If you do think that there may be a problem with the system, it’s important to call a professional as soon as possible to take care of it.
is it advisible to put ridx in every month? or is there something else that should be put down to help with maintaining a tank?
I love how well detailed your article, from maintaining to its place and other important points, it was rare to read an informative blog like this.
I found that it was helpful when you suggested to choose a septic tank service to pump your tank every three to five years. We recently moved to a home where our we have a septic tank, and we want to make sure that we could keep it properly maintained. I will be sure to have it pumped as often as you recommended.
Thanks for the tip on getting our septic tank pumped every 3 years or so. I had NO clue about the maintenance required for a septic system ever since I purchased my first home a few years ago. Mind-blowing!
Thanks for sharing that the tank needs to be pumped and that it needs to be pumped every three to five years. My aunt wants a septic tank and she wants to make sure that she can get the best upkeep for it. She would really like to get a professional to help her pump it so that it is done correctly.
Awesome tips!!! My husband and I are looking for a septic tank installation that can help us with the septic tank in our new house. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us best.
Thanks for noting that septic tanks need to be pumped every 3-5 years in order to continue working correctly. I want to make sure my septic tank keeps working the way it’s supposed to, but didn’t know the darn think worked! This is helpful information.
Glad to hear you enjoyed this content, Fred. Please feel free to share it with friends — that’s how we’re able to create similar content!
My husband and I just purchased an older home together that needs to have a new septic system installed before we move in. Since this will be our first time caring for a home, the tips you shared about septic maintenance will be really helpful for us!
Glad to hear you enjoyed this content! Please share it with friends — that’s how we’re able to create similar content.
Thank you for the helpful tips. We are moving to a home with a septic so these are great tips. I want to know about using something like the Ridx that is advertised on TV. Do you use it every month and do you use it in each toilet in your home?
Glad you enjoyed these tips! Rid-X’s Frequently Asked Questions page is filled with great information on this product.
You can access it here: https://www.rid-x.com/faq/
Take care! 🙂
Thanks for helping me know what to do with this septic tank. My aunt called the other day to ask if I knew how to maintain a septic system because she, too, just purchased a house with one. Aaah!!! Crazy, right? We’re learning together. Oh, and I just shared your article with her. THANK YOU! 🙂
Glad to hear you enjoyed this content, Victoria! Good luck to you (and your aunt) with those septic systems. 🙂
I had a septic system a few years ago…they suggested natural ways to clean it such as vinegar or even lemon juice or lemon rinds to maintain the natural composting to drains… instead of any other cleaners. No bleach or soaps that contain harmful chemicals. My friend was told to use bleach! I am confused.
We never had a problem with it and we had it for years.
Do you recommend “bleach”?
We don’t recommend using bleach in the septic tank, Martha, as stated in this article.
Here’s some great advice for septic tank maintenance from our friends at the Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/septic/how-care-your-septic-system
Happy home improving!