Septic Tank Maintenance: Inside and Outside Your Home

A septic tank in a lawn surrounded by shrubs.

A well-constructed septic tank is a great way to dispose of waste in areas outside of municipal sewer systems. But while septic systems can last a long time, they do require some upkeep to stay in top shape. From pumping the tank on a regular schedule to food items you should not dump down the sink, here are a few septic tank maintenance tips for inside and outside the home.

1. Routine Pumping

A worker pumping out a septic tank.

You should keep detailed records of septic tank maintenance and inspect the outdoor system whenever you get the chance. It's typically recommended to pump the tank once every three years to make sure any undissolved solids are removed. If you avoid pumping the septic tank, these solids could clog up the drain field and create serious problems down the road. Pumping the tank can also increase the life of the septic tank and help the system conserve water in the long run.

2. Avoid Additives

Despite what they advertise, it's not recommended to use special additives in the septic tank. These additives can create major problems in other areas of the system and do not increase the performance of the tank. The bacteria in the tank do a fine job at creating enzymes that break down nutrients in the water and do not require a boost.

3. Household Chemicals

An average use of household cleaners, detergents, and other chemicals will not destroy a septic tank. There are, however, certain chemicals you should avoid dumping into the system. This includes latex-based paints, pharmaceuticals, large amounts of bath oils, and flammable products. The bacteria in your septic tank has trouble digesting these chemicals and they can cause serious damage over time.

4. Substituting Chemicals

Natural cleaning materials.

If you're worried about chemicals harming your septic system, consider subbing them out for more environmentally friendly solutions. Baking powder mixed with water can do wonders as a surface cleaner while white vinegar dissolved in water can be used to clean windows. For metal surfaces, try cleaning with half a lemon covered in salt. These products are not harmful to the septic system and are better for the environment.

5. Kitchen Items

Coffee grounds, egg shells, cooking grease and fats, heavy-duty paper towels, diapers, cigarette butts, and facial tissues will have trouble dissolving in the septic tank and will become solids. Instead, purchase a separate container for these waste items and dispose of them in the trash.

6. Stay Out of the Tank

Do not open the tank under any circumstances. The gasses that build up inside can be fatal and result in serious injury if inhaled. You should also keep the lid to the tank fastened with stainless steel bolts.

7. Toilet Tissue

Toilet paper on a wood floor.

You need to use high quality toilet paper that dissolves easily in water. To test the quality of your toilet paper, place a few squares in a jar of water. Shaking the jar should break up the paper into smaller pieces. If the tissues do not dissolve readily, then you should consider switching brands.

8. Driving Over Tanks

You should avoid driving heavy vehicles over the tank, unless it has a traffic lid equipped. If you are concerned about excessive traffic, consider installing a barrier, such as a line of shrubs, to help divert vehicles.

9. Inspection Tips

The most important maintenance tip is to get the tank pumped every three years. This time frame depends on the amount of solids deposited and the size of the tank. If you notice strong odors, bad drainage, or backups in the sink, then it's probably time to pump the tank.