If you’re a homeowner, you’ve definitely had a septic system installed and if it’s your first time handling a septic system then there’s a lot you have to learn. Septic systems help regulate all the liquid waste that’s generated in your house, and if not maintained properly it can lead to the obvious collapse of a good waste management system.

Many times, homeowners forget about maintaining such systems and when this happens, it leads to a failure of the system way sooner than it otherwise would have. It’s best not to take such an approach with a septic system because it can cause a lot of problems for you to handle!

We’re here to help with a concise guide of everything you need to know about septic tank maintenance. Before we get into that, let’s first look at some of the basic questions that you might have had.

What Is A Septic System Made Of?

If you’re someone who hasn’t looked into a tank’s maintenance before, then you might not know that your septic system won’t just have your septic tank. It also has something called a drain field which is where water gets pushed out once scum and sludge have formed in the septic tank.

Let’s look at how a septic system works – once wastewater enters the septic tank from various rooms like your kitchen, bathrooms, and your laundry rooms, the solid bits sink to the bottom forming sludge with time. The rest of the lighter elements in the wastewater form scum and float to the top. To help you visualize what the inside of a septic tank looks like once segregation is complete, think of it as three layers: the sludge at the bottom, water in the middle, and scum at the top.

The water in the middle is then pushed out into the drainfield which we spoke of before while the bottom layer of sludge and the top layer of scum get eaten by bacteria.

Why Is Septic Maintenance Important?

There are various reasons why septic maintenance is important, but it all comes down to one thing – the cost of replacing the septic system if it gets damaged. You must be aware that septic systems cost a large amount of money, in fact even more than you might have accounted for.

Whether certain parts have been damaged or if you have to replace your entire septic system, you might have to spend anywhere between $3,000 to $10,000 which isn’t a small amount! Even an ordinary pump for that matter can cost $300, so don’t take maintenance lightly, especially when small things towards it can make a great difference.

Did you know? If maintained properly, a household septic system can last you 25 to 30 years!

The Ins And Outs Of Septic Tank Maintenance

It’s now time to look at the various steps that go into maintaining a septic system as a whole so that it can function well and last you as long as possible. Having a septic system is an investment that you make, so while the steps that go into maintaining it are many, they are what you need to do.

1. You Have To Carry Out Frequent Inspections And Pumping

You might or might not know this, but household septic tanks must be inspected every three years without fail. This has been suggested by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and it has to be done by a septic system professional who will inspect leaks and other problems that might have arisen. The EPA states that if your septic system has electrical float switches, mechanical components, or pumps, then it needs to be inspected more frequently as opposed to a septic system that doesn’t have these elements.

There’s a reason why inspection and pumping should not be a DIY – septic tanks have germs and gasses that can be extremely harmful and should only be handled by a professional who knows how it’s done. Not only will he or she pump your tank and look for problems, but will also keep track of the repairs conducted and your septic system’s condition so that it can be used as a reference during future visits.

Pumping your septic tank every three to five years is also very important, and this frequency can be best ascertained by the professional you call to inspect your septic system. This number will depend on four factors:

  • The size of your household.
  • Amount of wastewater your household generates.
  • Size of your septic tank.
  • The amount of solids in your septic tank.

Good to know: Maintain detailed records of the inspections that take place which is something the professional you call will do too. These details should include data on existing leaks, potential damage to the system, and the level of scum and sludge in your septic tank at the time of inspection.

2. Don’t Overlook Waste Management

Ever dumped cooking oil down the drain or flushed a diaper down the toilet? One of the biggest things that contribute to your septic tank and the entire system getting damaged fast is when your waste management systems are at fault. What we mean here is that how and where you dispose of all the trash in your house has an impact on your septic tank.

It’s important to remember that no matter which drains you choose to dump this trash in, it ends up in the septic tank, and your septic tank is not equipped to take care of such materials. Let’s take a look at everything that you’re not supposed to be dumping in the drains around your house so that you try your best to maintain the life of your septic system.

What Not To Dump In Drains Or Flush Down Toilets:

  • Cooking oil or grease
  • Oil-based paints or toxic cleaners
  • Baby wipes
  • Diapers
  • Dental floss
  • Condoms
  • Paper towels
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Cat litter
  • Gasoline
  • Pesticides
  • Paint thinners
  • Cigarette butts
  • Coffee grounds
  • Chemical drain openers
  • Chemical disinfectants
  • Hair

There’s a reason why heavy-duty or toxic cleaners and chemical disinfectants are a part of this list and that’s because these liquids actually end up killing the microorganisms that are responsible for doing away with the sludge in your septic tank. As a result, the process of the waste disintegrating gets slowed down which can lead to clogging in the septic tank which you definitely don’t want.

What About Food Items?

Food items are definitely something that many of us don’t think much of when we dump them down the sink, but it can also have bad repercussions on your septic system. We also tend to dump food items that have expired or gone soft(like fruits and vegetables) into our garbage disposal systems. But garbage disposal systems don’t completely get rid of the food, instead, it’s turned into small bits that still manage to clog the inside of the septic tank.

Overall, avoid anything and everything that can form gunk inside the septic tank. If you’re going with a garbage disposal system, try buying one that’s heavy-duty and that can churn the food you put in it as finely as possible.

There’s another way to dispose of food and that’s creating a compost pile at the back of your house. Not only will it give you good fertilizer for your trees, but it’ll also ensure that you’re not just wasting large amounts of food or clogging your septic tank with it!

3. Conserve Water As Best As You Can

Did you know that all water in your house enters the septic tank? This involves water from your shower, kitchen, laundry, toilet, and any other areas in your house. Imagine how much water this might be, and imagine what would happen if there was a single leak in any of these places. The EPA states that on average one person uses 70 gallons of water per day and in case there’s a leak, for example in your toilet, you can end up wasting up to 200 gallons in a single day.

Too much water entering your septic tank can be bad and is a big no-no because it’s way over the capacity of the tank and what the bacteria inside the septic tank can handle. For this purpose, it’s very important that you efficiently take care of water usage in your house and try your best to minimize wastage.

To help you a step further, we’ll give you a list of areas you can concentrate on that are suggested by the EPA and will help reduce water wastage so that it does not crowd the septic tank:

Regulate Your Laundry:

When you do your laundry, try washing loads that are in line with how much your washing machine can manage. If you wash small loads of laundry everyday in a machine that’s meant for bigger loads, you’re just wasting water. What you can do here is choose the correct load size so that there’s no water wastage.

A common mistake many people make is doing large amounts of laundry on a single day or the week instead of getting the task done throughout the week. But, this does more bad than good because it doesn’t give your septic tank enough time to efficiently handle all the wastewater entering all at once. What this could do is flood your drainfield which is something you definitely don’t want, so space out your laundry days accordingly!

Tip: The EPA suggests buying washing machines that have ENERGY STAR labels because such appliances help conserve both water and electricity. You’d be surprised to know that usually, ENERGY STAR appliances use 50% less water and 35% less energy than normal appliances.

Use High-Efficiency Toilets:

You would be surprised to know how much water can be saved by using high-efficiency toilets if you didn’t know already. Such toilets use a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush which is half of what older toilets use. This way you can reduce the amount of water that enters your septic system without actively having to do something everyday!

Don’t Forget Your Dishwasher

Just like your washing machines, dishwashers should also not be used if not completely full. Never run a dishwasher when it’s not filled to capacity and has only a few dishes because that way you’re going to wastewater and overload your septic tank with time. One thing you can do here is invest in a dishwasher that’s the right size for you and your family so that it’s as big as the number of dishes you put in one load.

Look At Faucets

Did you know that the kind of faucets you use can greatly reduce the amount of daily water wastage? By attaching flow-reducing nozzles to showerheads or aerators to sink faucets, you can end up saving a ton of water. You can also invest in high-efficiency showerheads for better efficiency with water usage.

Good to know: Never drain hot tubs into the septic tank because just one load of water from the hot tub can overload your septic tank and push all the sludge outside, causing your septic tank to fail. Instead, keep your hot tub as far away from your septic system as possible, preferably at the opposite end of the house. Water from the tub can be drained on a turf that diverts the water away from the septic system!

4. Don’t Forget Your Drain Field

One area we tend to forget to maintain when it comes to our septic systems is the drainfield. While septic tanks are more expensive to replace, your drainfield is also as important as your tank, and your tank cannot function without it. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure that you’re drain field doesn’t experience a blow:

  • Never park anything over your drain field and be sure to separate that area from your drainfield.
  • Don’t plant trees around your drainfield and see to it that it’s placed at a distance of at least 100 feet from large trees since you don’t want the drainfield to get covered with roots.
  • Have gutters put in with proper landscape to direct rainwater to other areas so that it doesn’t flood the drainfield, otherwise it’ll be incapable of handling the wastewater that enters it from the septic tank. This also applies to rainwater drainage systems which should be placed away from a drainfield.


What Is The Best Thing To Put In Your Septic Tank?

Your septic tank runs on bacteria and enzymes that help break down the sludge, which is why toxic chemicals are bad for your septic tank. On the other hand, items that help these bacteria grow or have these beneficial enzymes will help speed up the breakdown process. While they can be found in a lot of places and foods, rotten tomatoes are one such food item that has naturally occurring enzymes that are called ‘Pectinase or pectinolytic enzymes.

What Toilet Paper Is Best For Septic Tanks?

Cottonelle’s Ultra Comfort Care, Scott’s Rapid Dissolving Toilet Paper, and Seventh Generation’s White Toilet Paper are some examples of toilet paper that’s best to maintain septic tanks.

Can I Use Bleach If I Have A Septic Tank?

The small amounts of bleach you use when you do your laundry won’t affect the amount of water and bacteria in your septic tank. But, large amounts of bleach, household chemicals or raw cleaners can be harmful and should not be poured down drains.

Does Hair Decompose In A Septic Tank?

No, it doesn’t and it’s not something that should be let down drains. Hair is made of proteins that won’t be broken down easily by the bacteria in your septic tank, and definitely won’t be broken down in a 24-hour period. As a result, it’ll just end up at the side and clog your tank if there are other such items in your septic tank as well.


Maintaining your septic tank requires effort but it’s nothing that too strenuous. You just have to be careful of little everyday things and carry out routine checks without fail. We know that when you have a family it can be hard to regulate everything, but when everyone tries together, it won’t be as hard.

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