Maintaining Your Septic System

Your septic system is an important part of your home. Wastewater from your toilets, sinks, bathtubs, dishwashers and washers flows into your septic tank. Your septic tank is typically located about five to ten feet from your home. The tank’s size is determined by the number of bedrooms in your home.

Wastewater from your home flows into the tank. Lighter materials like soap suds, fats and other light solids float on the top of the tank forming a scum layer. Heavy solids settle to the bottom where they are broken down by bacteria. Not all solids can be broken down and remain as a layer of sludge on the bottom. Every few years, these layers of scum and sludge must be pumped out for the tank to function properly. Liquids flow out of the tank through the pipes to a drainfield where they are absorbed into the surrounding ground.

As the liquids percolate through the soil, they are filtered by chemical and biological processes in the soil. Eventually, the liquid flows into the groundwater supply and back to rivers and streams. Proper care and maintenance of your septic system is critical to keeping your home, family, and the surrounding environment healthy.

Why Maintain Your Septic System?

Residential septic systems pose a serious threat to the water quality of the Harpeth River if they are not properly maintained. Overflow from improperly operating systems can flow into local streams bringing unhealthy bacteria and excess nutrients.

Maintaining the System Saves Money

Although it costs money to have your septic system pumped every few years, it saves more money in the long run by preventing the need to dig up and replace the entire system. Replacing a system involves digging up a large part of your yard and the subsequent costs to replace your landscaping.

Maintaining the System Keeps Your Family and the Environment Healthy

Overflow from septic systems can leak into the surrounding ground. This untreated water contains potentially harmful bacteria that can endanger your family. The untreated water flows through the soil and can threaten the health of nearby streams.

Maintaining the System Protects the Value of Your Property

Failing septic systems can lead to property value decline for you and your neighbors. Properly maintaining   your system will help maintain your home’s value.

Tips to Maintaining Your Septic System

  • Make an accurate diagram of the septic system showing the location of the tank and drainfield area to avoid compromising it in the future.
  • Have your tank pumped every 3 to 5 years, especially if you’re a riparian landowner, to remove scum and sludge buildup.
  • Keep heavy equipment or cars off the drain field and tank. The area over the drainfield should be left undisturbed, with only mowed grass cover. Never build, pave, or drive over a drainfield or septic tank.
  • Restrict the use of kitchen garbage disposals. The excess waste increases the amount of solids in the tank, slowing decomposition and risking overflow from the tank.
  • Do NOT pour grease or cooking oil down the kitchen sink. These items can clog the system.
  • Do NOT allow paints, motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, or disinfectants to get into your septic system. They can pass directly through the system and contaminate groundwater. These chemicals also kill the beneficial bacteria contained within the septic system.
  • Do NOT flush plastics, disposable diapers, or sanitary products down the toilet. These are not biodegradable and will clog the system.
  • Do NOT leave the water running for an extended amount of time. Excess water will cause the tank to overflow.
  • Do NOT use caustic drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a plumber’s snake to clear up clogs.

Septic System Failure

The following signs can indicate a potential problem with your septic system:
  • Wet or standing water in your drainfield that does not evaporate in a day or two.
  • Any septic odors in your home or yard.
  • Bright green spongy growth on the drainfield.
  • Back-up of sewage in your toilets or drains, in spite of using plungers and drain cleaner, can indicate a clog or a possible system failure.

If you see any of these signs, contact your local Health Department and a septic system professional to inspect the tank.

Click to read the HRWA Maintaining Your Septic System brochure

Learn More:

How Your Septic System Works

What to Do After The Flood