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7 Ways You’re Destroying Your Septic Tank


Although modern plumbing has been around for centuries, not every household is connected to a city sewer system. Older homes or homes in rural areas may rely on a septic tank for waste disposal. With proper care, these systems can last many years, but sometimes homeowners are hurting their septic tanks without even knowing it.

7 Ways You’re Destroying Your Septic Tank 

1. Flushing Weird Stuff Down the Toilet

The septic system is composed of two parts: the tank and the leach field. Tanks may be made of concrete, plastic, or steel and range in size from 750 to 1250 gallons. Knowing that these tanks have a limited capacity, you should avoid filling them up with materials that won’t decompose.

Avoid flushing any paper products that aren’t toilet paper down the toilet, and look for toilet paper that claims to be safe for septic systems. Never flush dental floss, menstrual pads, or cigarette butts into the toilet.

2. Not Regulating Water Use

Just like it’s no good to flush solids down the toilet, sending too much water at one time is also bad for the system. The contents of the tank need time to settle. Solids sink to the bottom while liquids in the form of greywater are pushed out of the tank and drain into the ground from the leach field.

All water sources–from dishwashers to showers–flow into the tank. Pumping too much water into the system can fill the tank prematurely, flushing waste out before it has a chance to settle. A full tank can also lead to back-ups in the house. Limiting the length of time spent in the shower and spacing out loads of laundry are ways to reduce the amount of water hitting the tank all at once.

3. Using Harsh Chemicals or Cleaning Supplies

Too much water is bad for the tank, but so are the soaps, detergents, and cleaners that may accompany it. A septic system requires bacteria to break down waste. Destroying beneficial bacterial colonies with chemicals found in many cleaners is detrimental to the tank’s ecosystem.

Look for detergents that are rated safe for septic use. Consider switching to natural cleaners like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. Use sulfate-free shampoos and don’t dump excess chemicals down the drain.

4. Using the Garbage Disposal As the Trash Can

Keeping in context with the first tip, it is also not a good idea to send food particles into the septic system. Not only will they clog your drain and destroy your garbage disposal, but leftovers do not decompose easily and will fill the tank.

Scrape food bits into the trash bin before rinsing plates and never put harsh things like eggshells, coffee grinds, or bones into the garbage disposal.

5. Not Keeping the Leach Field Empty

The leach field, or drainage field, is critical for the health of the system. Properly processed greywater should not smell of sewage. The leach field consists of a webbing of thin tubes for even dispersal of greywater.

Maintain the integrity of these tubes and avoid planting trees near them. The roots may puncture or displace the drainage pipes. Also do not build anything over the leach field that requires any deep foundations. Surface structures like sheds or greenhouses should be fine though.

6. Avoiding Proper Maintenance 

The tank will eventually fill up and experts will need to empty it. They will access the tank via the cover in the yard and pumping usually takes 30 minutes.  How often your tank will need to be pumped depends on a couple of factors.

How many people live in the household? Are you conserving water and only disposing of toilet paper in the toilet? With care, most tanks will only need to be pumped every 3 to 5 years.

7. Ignoring Obvious Signs of Trouble

If your tank is older, it may be made of steel. Steel tanks can corrode faster than concrete or plastic and generally only last 20 to 30 years. Signs of a rusted tank can include the smell of sewage or grass that is especially green in one area.

Signs that it may be time to get your tank pumped include water that drains slowly or doesn’t drain at all, foul smell near the pipes, and slow flushing toilets.

The Take-Home Message:

With proper care and maintenance, a septic system doesn’t have to be a costly affair. Don’t use the toilet and sink as a garbage can, and be mindful of the chemicals going down the drain. Avoid planting shrubs or trees on the leach field, and don’t dig deep foundations to preserve the drainage tubes.

Pump the tank at the first signs of trouble or every 3 to 5 years. Consider replacing steel tanks with concrete or plastic. Following these tips will ensure that you never worry about your septic system, and that’s a great feeling. For more tips, keep up with The Craftsman Blog.

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