Septic systems that are properly designed, sited, installed, operated, and maintained can provide excellent wastewater treatment to protect our environment. It is much less expensive to provide regular maintenance such as pumping out the system every 3-5 years (~$300) than it is to replace the system (~$10,000+). Regular maintenance can keep your system working great for 30 years!
A failing septic system can contaminate local streams and ground water wells with disease-causing pathogens and nitrates. Excessive nutrients can increase algal growth and contribute to harmful algal blooms. Therefore it is important to follow these tips to keep your system in working order! Remember, anything that goes down your drain ends up in the septic system. Check out these tips from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Septic Smart program:
- Fix Water Leaks and Use Water Efficiently
Excess water can overload septic systems. Make sure to fix leaks and use water-saving appliances. You can learn more at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense Program website.
- A leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day! Toilets account for 25 to 30 percent of household water use. Newer, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. Replacing older toilets with high-efficiency models can reduce the amount of household water entering your septic system.
- Consider renting a portable toilet if you will be having a large party in order to avoid a strain on your septic system.
- Faucet aerators, high-efficiency showerheads, and shower flow restrictors help reduce the volume of water entering your septic system from sinks and showers.
- Run full loads of laundry to save on water and energy use and spread the loads out throughout the week. Doing all household laundry in one day can harm your septic system by not allowing your septic tank enough time to treat wastewater and could flood the drain field. Clothes washers with the Energy Star label use up to 35 percent less energy and 50 percent less water than standard models.
- Use Non-Toxic Cleaners and Personal Care Products
Your septic system has good microbes that break down solid waste. Harmful chemicals such as bleach or antibacterial products can kill those good microbes and reduce the ability of your system to break down waste products.
- Use non-toxic cleaners and cleaners labeled as "septic safe."
- Consider using microfiber cloths instead of chemicals when possible
- Antibacterial soaps have not been found to be better at preventing illness than regular soaps, but have been found to kill good microbes and have been linked to antibacterial resistant bacteria. Use personal care products such as soaps and toothpastes without Triclosan.
- Avoid chemical drain openers. Try boiling water or a drain snake first.
- Do not direct water softener effluent unfiltered to the septic system. Excess salt can clog the system. Be sure to change the filter regularly.
- Your Toilet and Sink Are Not a Trash Can
What goes down the toilet or drains can harm your septic system. Only flush human waste and septic-safe toilet paper. Do not flush any of the following:
- Cooking grease or oil
- Wipes such as baby wipes or other wet wipes, even if they say "flushable"
- Feminine hygiene products
- Dental floss
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee grounds
- Cat litter
- Paper towels
- Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners
Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal. This will reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic tank and ultimately clog its drain field. Instead, consider composting food waste, such as vegetable scraps, into soil for your garden.
Avoid using septic tank additives. A well-designed system does not need additives, which may cause sludge or scum to enter and clog the drain field. Some additives may pollute groundwater.
- Have Your Tank Inspected and Pumped Regularly
Most systems should be pumped every 3 to 5 years to prevent the sludge from building up and clogging the drain field. Signs your system may have a problem include:
- Pooling water
- Overly healthy-looking lawn directly over the drain field
- Slow drains or toilets
- Unpleasant odors
- Sewage back-up
- Keep Your Drain Field Clear
Your drain field is an important part of your septic system. Make sure to keep the area working by following these tips:
- Never park or drive over the drain field. This compacts the soil and can reduce the ability of the soil to treat the wastewater. Saturated soil is especially susceptible to compaction.
- Do not plant trees near the drain field. Roots can damage the system.
- Do not build any structures including fences or decks above septic systems.
- Do not direct roof drains or stormwater to the drain field. Excess water can slow the wastewater treatment process. You can mound soil slightly over the drain field to allow stormwater to runoff.
- If flood waters are over your septic system, use your septic system as little as possible.
Make sure to contact your local health department to determine what permits are necessary for any septic system repairs or replacements. You can also contact your county health department for assistance in locating your septic system if you are unsure of its exact location on your property.