How Does my Septic System Work?
A typical residential septic system is composed of two primary parts:
- Septic tank
- Leaching field (drainfield)
Wastewater from your home enters the septic tank where it stays long enough for solids to settle to the bottom of the tank. Bacteria break down these solids over time. The remaining liquid from the tank flows out into the leaching field where it slowly seeps into the soil. Bacteria in the soil and natural filtration through the ground finish the job of treating the wastewater from your home. The non-digestible solids, or sludge, remain in the tank and eventually need to be pumped out by a licensed contractor.
Residential septic systems can function properly for many years without problems. However, regular inspection and maintenance of your septic system as well as proper household habits can help ensure that your system will remain problem-free for decades.
What can YOU do?
Here are some simple steps you can take to maintain your septic system, extend its life, reduce problems and expenses and provide protection for rivers, lakes and streams:
Household Tips for Septic System Owners
- Flush only human waste and toilet paper down the toilet.
- Never flush diapers, feminine hygiene products, condoms, cigarette butts or cat litter down your toilet—these items will not break down in the septic tank and may end up clogging the system.
- Don’t pour household additives, yeast, sugars, oil-based paints and solvents down the drain. All of these items can harm helpful bacteria in your septic system.
- Limit use of a garbage disposal by disposing of food wastes in the trash, and avoid pouring fats and grease down the drain. Doing so will extend the life of your septic system.
- Reduce the amount of wastewater going to your septic system by taking shorter showers, running only full loads of laundry and repairing leaks promptly. You will conserve water while preventing the flooding of your leaching field.
Septic System Maintenance
- Septic systems should be inspected at least every three years by a licensed contractor.
- When sludge in the tank reaches a certain point, the tank will need to be pumped out as recommended by your inspector.
- Never plant trees or vegetation other than grass over your leaching field.
- Avoid overwatering the grass over the leaching field—doing so will saturate the ground and reduce the ability for the wastewater to be able to percolate into the soil.
- Similarly, direct downspouts or other drainage away from the leaching field area to avoid creating overly damp soil conditions.
- Not sure you have a septic system? Contact your county health department to see if you have a septic system and where it’s located on your property.