If you live in an isolated or rural area, chances are you are the proud owner of a septic system. But while most homeowners want to do what’s best and right for their home, most have no idea how to treat or maintain this vital home component.
In the most basic explanation -- the septic system is made up of two parts - the septic tank and the leach field. Water from your home goes into the system in two forms: black water (toilet waste) and gray water (kitchen, sink, bath and laundry waste). A septic system uses natural biological processes to treat this waste.
As wastewater from your home flows into the tank, heavy solids settle to the bottom into a “sludge" layer while fats float to the top forming a layer of “scum”. Between these two layers is a zone of liquids. Bacteria are found in all three of these layers and work to treat and reduce the sludge and scum. They literally “eat and digest” the solid materials. The treated solids and liquids then flow to the leach field and are dispersed into the soil.
Now after reading this you may think you know more than you ever needed, but being the owner of a septic system means you are quite literally running your own wastewater treatment plant. So, although these systems are out of site, they should never be out of mind. Here are a few tips to keep your septic system operating at its best:
1. Conserve water
Your tank needs a chance to treat solids before they hit the leach field. Large amounts of water (like when you take a shower or do laundry) will flush these solids out of the system before their time so it’s best to space out heavy water-use activities. Practice water conservation (think about things like replacing old toilets and installing ones that use less water to flush and/or turn faucets off while brushing teeth, etc). And always repair leaky faucets and valves immediately.
2. Keep it clean
Your septic system uses natural biological process - so only biodegradable waste should go into it. Don’t flush cigarette butts, tissues, diapers, cat litter, coffee grounds, etc. No paints, oils, poisons, pills, etc. Also be careful with bathroom cleaners, disinfectants, ammonia and NO BLEACH! These chemicals kill the helpful bacteria that make your system function properly (and they can contaminate the groundwater, too!) If you must use these chemicals -- be sure to dilute with LOTS of water before they go down the drain.
3. Garbage in - Garbage out
Go easy with your kitchen’s garbage disposal. Using a disposal doubles the rate of solids that buildup in the tank. To avoid the need for frequent pump outs, compost your trash and wipe dishes off and put the remains in the trash before putting them into the dishwasher. Likewise, take it easy on toilet paper. Use products rated for septic systems or simple, inexpensive 1-ply brands. There’s a test to see if your TP is septic safe. View it here: https://inspectapedia.com/septic/Toilet_Tissue_Test.php
4. Waste not
There is no need to use additives that claim to boost the bacteria count or extend septic system’s life. In a healthy system, bacteria are present and doing their job.
There are also things you can do outside your home to help prolong your system:
- Don’t drive or park heavy equipment or vehicles over your system
- Don’t cover the tank or leach field with concrete or blacktop
- Prevent soil erosion by planting grass over the system’s location
- Remove trees that have roots that may damage the system
- Divert water away from your leach field location
- Don’t build on top of your tank or leach field
Most problems with septic systems are due to a lack proper care. It doesn’t take much to keep it running smoothly…but remember, it doesn’t take much to have a septic disaster either.