How to Care for Your Septic System

Septic system maintenance is often compared to automobile maintenance because only a little effort on a regular basis can save a lot of money and significantly prolong the life of the system. Sound septic system operation and maintenance practices include conserving water, being careful that nothing harmful is disposed of through the system, and having the system inspected annually and pumped when needed. By educating everyone in your household about what is and what isn’t good for septic systems, they can begin to develop good maintenance habits.

Control Water Use

Repair all leaky faucets, fixtures and appliances immediately. Check toilet bowls for leaks: at night, put some food coloring in the toilet tank. In the morning, inspect the bowl. If colored, there is a leak between the tank and bowl.

  • Do not put too much water into the septic system; typical water use is about 50 gallons per day for each person in the family.
  • Install low water use fixtures and appliances (especially toilets and shower heads).
  • Wash only full loads of clothing and dishes.
  • When replacing a washing machine, take a close look at the front loading, and water efficient top loading machines. These machines save a great deal of water over older washers.
  • Reduce length of showers and number of toilet flushings.
  • Spread water use as evenly as possible throughout the day and week, especially laundry.
  • Reroute water softener and iron filter recharge water out of septic system.
  • Do not empty roof drains and sump pump water into the septic system; channel away.
  • Keep surface waters away from the tank and drainfield.

Eliminate harmful products from system

Make sure you are aware of the types and amounts of extra waste materials that are poured down the drain. Use the least toxic household cleanser as possible, as well as limiting the amount of cleaning agents that enter the septic system. Household cleaners are dangerous by function; they are intended to break down grease and dirt and kill germs. The more toxic the cleanser, the more damage it can do to the septic system. Poisons, like those found in disinfectants, and polishing agents can destroy the internal flora of septic systems, as well as corrode the lining of the tank. Read labels carefully – many detergents are high in phosphorus content; avoid these products.

  • Reduce/eliminate use of harsh cleaners, disinfectants, detergents and bleach, including laundry detergents. Use Eco-Friendly laundry and dishwashing detergents containing natural surfactants and are phosphate free. This minimizes the non-organic solids sent to the tank and does not affect the active bacteria population in your septic system.
  • Avoid the use of anti-bacterial soaps. They are not necessary for cleanliness, and destroy good bacteria in the tank and soil treatment area.
  • Pesticides, paints, paint thinners, solvents, disinfectants, poisons, and other household chemicals should not be dumped down the drain into a septic system because they destroy bacteria and kill soil microorganisms that help purify the sewage. Dispose of solvents, paints, unwanted medications through other means such as hazardous waste disposals and exchanges.
  • Keep grease, lint, food particles, cigarette butts, paper towels, sanitary napkins, feminine hygiene products, condoms, disposable diapers, plastic and other solid products out of the system.
  • Restrict or eliminate the use of your garbage disposal. Limiting the use of your garbage disposal will minimize the flow of excess solids to your tank. Garbage disposals usually double the amount of solids added to the tank.
  • Do not pour cooking greases, oils, and fats down the drain. Grease hardens in the septic tank and accumulates until it clogs the inlet or outlet. Grease poured down the drain with hot water may flow through the septic tank and clog soil pores completely.


It is not necessary to use additives to enhance the performance of a properly operating septic system. If bacterial activity is low, it is because disinfectants and other products are killing the bacteria. Reducing or eliminating the use or disposal of these in the system will allow the bacteria to re- establish. Some additives cause solids to become suspended in the liquids. These solids will end up in the drain field, causing significant damage. Starters, feeders and particularly cleaners are unnecessary, and may be harmful to your system.

Cleaning/Pumping the Septic System

Your septic pumping schedule should be every 3 to 5 years depending on household size and usage. Regular septic pumping and cleaning removes the accumulation of the scum and sludge layer in the Septic/ Treatment tanks. It is best to have it measured by your O&M service provider and pumped out as necessary.

  • Install watertight risers over the tanks to simplify access and keep soil, groundwater from entering tank.
  • Always have the tank(s) cleaned through the manhole (20 to 24 inch opening). The inspection pipes are just that – for inspection. These are the white 3 – 4″ pipes at the end of the tank and drain field.
  • Flushing and back flushing is the most common method of agitating solids so they can all be removed.
  • Inlet and outlet baffles should be inspected to be sure they are in place and functioning properly.
  • If you have an effluent filter, inspect and clean regularly.

Pumps, Filters and Controls

All pumps and controls should be routinely checked for proper operation.

  • Replace weak or faulty pumps and controls(floats,timers,controllers).
  • Effluent filters should be cleaned or replaced regularly.
  • Alarms on pumps and treatment systems must be attended to immediately.

Vegetative Cover

  • Maintain adequate vegetative cover over the soil treatment area. Grass is your best cover but basically any shallow rooted, non-invasive plant that will cover a lot of ground and shade out weeds is a good option.
  • Avoid deep rooted plants, shrubs and vegetables over your drainfield. If native prairie grasses are used, manage by mowing – do not burn over this area.
  • Mow and maintain grasses over the soil treatment area. Do not fertilize or water plantings.
  • Keep invasive vegetation(blackberries, scotchbroom, etc.) away from the soil treatment area.
  • Trees and large scrubs should be kept away from your drainfield.
  • Be sure water -seeking trees such as willows, maples and cedars are located far away from the system.
  • Be sure to cut the grass over the soil treatment area a couple weeks before end of the growing season. This will help in the evapotranspiration during the wet season.
  • Maintain stands of appropriate plants on constructed wetland sites

Protect the Soil Treatment Area

  • Keep all vehicles and heavy equipment off soil treatment area (drainfield , mound or dripfield). The only exception is the lawn mower.
  • Mounds are not 4-Wheeler jumps, walking paths, or for use any off road vehicles.
  • Keep invasive vegetation away from the soil treatment area.
  • Do not plan any building additions, pools, driveways, or other construction work near the soil treatment or the reserve area.