Does your home have a septic tank? If so, you’re not alone—nearly one in five American homes uses a septic system instead of connecting to a city sewer system, and it’s especially common in rural areas.
Relying on a septic tank means you’ll have to take a little more care of what you put down your drains, plus make time to do some regular maintenance to prevent problems down the road.
Here’s how to properly maintain your septic system:
Have it pumped every few years
A septic tank is essentially an underground storage container that keeps solid wastes until they break down naturally. This processed water (effluent) is then able to escape the tank and filter through the soil in your yard, where nature breaks it down further.
However, over time solid waste at the bottom of the tank that has not yet decomposed begins to build up, and if it’s not removed, it can fill the tank and eventually escape with the effluent into your yard.
That’s why it’s important to have a professional pump out your septic tank every few years. If you’ve just moved into a new home with a septic tank, it might be worth getting it pumped now just so you can start with a clean slate.
Don’t let antibacterial substances down any drain in your home
We get it—bacteria inside your home is bad. But when you have a septic system, you rely on good bacteria to break down solids. If you pour bacteria-killing bleach down your drain, it will continue to kill bacteria after it reaches your septic tank, compromising your tank’s function and potentially contaminating your community’s water.
If you’re on a septic system, you can still clean with Lysol and such, but don’t flush it down your toilet and don’t wash it down the drain.
Be especially careful with:
- Bleach (or cleaners containing bleach)
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Any cleaner advertising its ability to kill bacteria
- Chlorine (such as from a pool or hot tub)
- Paints and solvents
- Automotive fluids, such as motor oil or anti-freeze
- Nail polish or polish remover
If you’re reading this too late, you may be able to repair the damage using a special septic tank enzyme formula.
Keep oils, fats, and greases out of your drains
We’ve discussed the havoc that fats, oils, and grease (FOG) can cause in regular plumbing systems, but with a septic system the problems are multiplied. These fatty substances don’t break down, instead forming a level of scum that floats on the top of your tank.
When that level gets out of hand, it can overwhelm the tank and leech out with the effluent into your lawn. No thank you.
Don’t put these problematic items down your toilet or garbage disposal
There are many things that people flush or put down their drains that seem innocent (and may even be labeled “flushable!”), but can cause plumbing problems. This is especially true if you have a septic system, which can more easily get clogged.
Avoid putting any of these things down any drain in your home:
- Toilet paper that is too thick (here’s how to judge if it’s septic safe)
- Condoms or feminine hygiene products
- Cotton balls or swabs
- Dental floss
- “Flushable” cat litter
- “Flushable” wipes
- Glass or plastic
- Paper towels
- Produce stickers
- Stringy vegetables
- Anything that’s tough, sharp, or doesn’t seem likely to break down naturally
Get it checked annually!
When it comes to septic tanks, what you don’t know can hurt you—or at leave you with an unpleasant mess on your hands. It’s far better to detect problems early than to try to repair major damage. That’s why it’s wise to schedule a yearly septic tank inspection.