A septic tank is a large container that’s buried underground and is used for the purpose of treating wastewater that flows out from a home. These tanks are typically made from fiberglass, plastic, or concrete. Over a period of time, sludge and scum layers will build up within the tank at a rate that’s faster than the draining of the tank. In order to get rid of the sludge and scum buildup, it’s important that the septic tank is cleaned on a relatively regular basis. Without cleaning the tank, the system will become inefficient and won’t be able to effectively treat the wastewater that flows through it.

While you can obtain a septic tank cleaning every year or two, it’s also possible to identify when a tank cleaning should be performed. When the scum layer gets within 6-8 inches of the basic outlet pipe in the tank, the system should be cleaned. The same is true when the lower sludge layer is around 12 inches away from the outlet pipe. However, it can be very difficult to detect the scum and sludge layers within your septic tank, which is why it’s highly recommended that you contact a septic tank inspector to determine if a cleaning is needed. This article takes a closer look at the importance of septic tank cleaning and what this type of cleaning entails.


Key Takeaways:

  • A septic tank is a large container stored underground for the purpose of treating wastewater.
  • There are four elements included when cleaning your septic tank which include: inspection and pump frequency, using water efficiently, proper waste disposal, and maintaining the drain-field area.
  • The pump chamber collects the effluent that occurs from the tank. If it is malfunctioning, your septic tank may shut down completely.

Four Elements to Complete Your Septic Tank Cleaning

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If you’re thinking about having your septic tank cleaned, you should consider doing so around once every year or two. By cleaning your septic tank on a regular basis, you can be confident that the system will remain efficient and in good condition. The four separate elements that are necessary for the completion of a septic tank cleaning include:

  • Inspection and pump frequency
  • Using water efficiently
  • Proper waste disposal
  • Maintaining the drain-field area

Inspection and Pump Frequency

You should have a professional inspector look at the septic system in your home at least one time every three years or so. The tank itself should be pumped at intervals of 3-5 years. Keep in mind that certain components may need to be inspected on a more regular basis. If you have a septic tank that’s outfitted with mechanical components, electrical switches, or pumps, an inspection of these components should take place once every year. Consider obtaining a service contract if more frequent inspections are needed for your system. The four factors that dictate how frequently the septic pump should be inspected include:

  • The size of your home
  • The amount of solids that are present in the wastewater
  • The size of your septic tank
  • The amount of wastewater that’s generated in your home

When you contact a septic tank inspector, this individual will look at the sludge and scum layers while also inspecting for leaks. Make sure that any records from an inspection are maintained in the event that they need to be referenced in the future. If a cleaning is not yet necessary, it’s still important that you keep track of the scum and sludge layers that are relayed to you by the inspector. If you’re finding it difficult to locate professional inspectors in your area, you can do so with the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association.

Using Water Efficiently

The second aspect of maintaining your septic tank is to use water efficiently throughout your home. The average person will use around 70 gallons of water every day. However, leaks throughout your home can waste much more water. A leaking toilet alone can waste upwards of 200 gallons every day. Keep in mind that the water that’s used within a household will travel through the pipes and into the septic tank. By conserving water, your septic tank will run more efficiently, which reduces the possibility of a septic tank malfunction.

The three most common areas of water use throughout the home include washing machines, shower heads, and toilets. It’s possible to conserve a significant amount of water with each of these systems. When using a washing machine, try to wash your laundry in smaller loads to effectively lessen water waste. It’s also recommended that you spread the loads of laundry throughout the week. Septic tanks can take some time to treat water. If you do all of your laundry in a single day, the drain field could become flooded.

For the shower head that you use, consider purchasing a high-efficiency shower head alongside a flow restrictor, which should keep you from wasting too much water. High-efficiency toilets are also available. These modern toilets use only 1.5 gallons of water with each flush, which is much lower than standard toilets.

Proper Waste Disposal

It’s important that you properly dispose of waste to ensure that your septic tank continues to run efficiently. What you put down the drain affects the condition of your septic tank. By improperly disposing of waste, your septic tank may be unable to effectively treat the wastewater. Some of the items and substances that should NEVER be flushed down the drain include:

  • Diapers
  • Dental floss
  • Cooking oil or grease
  • Cigarette butts
  • Cat litter
  • Coffee grounds
  • Paper towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Household chemicals like oil, antifreeze, paint, and gasoline

It’s also important that you’re careful of what you pour down your sink. There are various living organisms within your septic tank that are designed to treat household waste. In the event that you pour toxins down the kitchen sink, these organisms can be killed, which would worsen the efficacy of your septic system. The solutions that should NEVER be poured down the drain include:

  • Chemical drain openers
  • Oil-based paints or solvents
  • Fats, solids, and grease, which means that you should try to avoid using a garbage disposal

Maintaining The Drain-Field Area

The drain field is an aspect of your septic tank that’s designed to remove a wide variety of contaminants from any of the water that gets through the septic tank. This is a critical function of the septic tank that ensures the water is properly filtered. There are several things that you can do in order to maintain the drain-field area. For instance, it’s important that you never drive or park on your drain field.

If ever you plant trees around your home, it’s essential that these trees are planted a sufficient distance away from the drain field. Otherwise, the roots of these trees may grow directly into the septic system, which could cause thousands of dollars in damage. If you’re unsure of where to plant trees in your yard, contact a septic tank professional. These individuals can help you determine the proper distance for planting trees that won’t affect the integrity of the system itself.

Finally, it’s highly recommended that other components throughout and around your home are installed in the right areas. All rainwater drainage systems, sump pumps, and roof drains should be kept away from the drain field area. When an excess of water builds up within the drain field, the wastewater treatment process could be slowed down or stopped altogether. With these tips in mind, you should be able to keep your septic tank in good working condition. When combined with regular inspections, the tank should be able to last for many years without needing to be replaced.

The Role Your Pump Chamber Plays with the Septic Tank

The pump chamber is among the most important components of a septic tank. This chamber can be made from fiberglass, polyethylene, or concrete. The purpose of this chamber is to collect the effluent that’s produced by the septic tank. Inside the chamber, you will find an alarm float for high water, pump control floats, and a pump. The various control floats throughout the system can be adjusted and are designed to pump a certain volume of effluent.

Once the effluent gets as high as the “on” float, the pump will send the effluent to a disposal area. The pump will continue until the level of effluent has dipped as low as the “off” float. If ever the system or pump malfunctions, the alarm float will send an alarm to notify you of the malfunction, which may allow you to correct the issue before it worsens. This alarm will be set off if the effluent goes higher than the “on” float. You will hear a buzzer and see a visible light when this occurs.

The pump chamber is responsible for sending effluent to the drain field. If the pump chamber is malfunctioning, the entire septic system can stop working properly. To mitigate these issues, it’s important that you take proper care of the pump chamber. This chamber should be inspected once per year. Any electrical parts should also be checked for signs of corrosion. Consider having a pump screen or effluent filter installed to prevent the clogging of solids within the pipes and pump. This screen can help you prevent very costly damage to the tank.

If you have a septic tank installed around your home, properly maintaining the system is essential towards ensuring that the tank remains efficient and effective at treating the wastewater that flows from your home. While some aspects of maintenance can be performed without assistance, it’s highly recommended that you contact a professional inspector when the system needs to be inspected. The inspector you hire for the job can identify when a full cleaning of the tank should take place.