Though it may not be a particularly appealing chore, performing regular maintenance on a home septic system is an unavoidable fact of life for the roughly 60 million Americans served by this type of waste handling scenario. Septic systems that function as intended can safeguard the surrounding environment by eliminating pollutants from surface waters. This renders large treatment plants unnecessary in many areas of the country. However, when septic systems go without essential maintenance, the consequence can be nasty indeed.
The design of a septic system is relatively straightforward in that it is comprised of a tank that sends material to a drain (leach) field. The intent is that solids and liquid waste will undergo decomposition processes within the tank and ultimately flow to the drain field. At this point, the remaining substance can be absorbed into the surrounding soil.
Unfortunately, when solids do not decompose, they remain inside the tank. Eventually, the accumulation of material will halt the flow toward the leach field. When drains and sinks inside the home begin to slow or clog, this means that a cleaning is needed immediately. This involves pumping out the system to eliminate solids that are stuck.
It is wise to have a septic system examined by a professional every two to three years so that cracks and leakage can be identified. Septic tank pumping frequency is determined by household size, the amount of solids accumulated in the wastewater, tank size and the volume of wastewater produced. Generally speaking, however, a septic system that serves a family of four ought to be pumped every three years. Homes with a greater number of occupants will require shorter intervals between pump-outs.
Homes equipped with garbage disposals call for annual cleanings, because septic systems are not meant to handle food waste. Many people find that autumn is a great time to have a septic cleaning performed, well in advance of the holiday season when large volumes of waste are created.
In addition to regular cleaning, there are key prevention steps that can also be taken to keep a septic system operating as it should. Users should keep close tabs on the volume of solid material that is flushed, particularly the type that does not decompose with ease. Diapers, wet wipes, paper toweling and tampons are among the worst offenders, along with used grease, fat and oil from cooking. All of these things have the ability to plug openings to the leach field, a circumstance that must be avoided if at all possible.
Homeowners are well advised to restrict flushing to natural waste products and toilet paper only, regardless of whether a given commercial product claims that it is in fact flushable. Chemicals and cleaning formulations should never be flushed either, as they can disrupt the decomposition process for other materials within the tank. Using the least amount of water possible for daily tasks such as showers and tooth brushing can help make certain that a septic system stays in top condition at all times.