Septic Systems are a very simple way to treat household wastewater and are easy to operate and maintain. As a homeowner, you must take an active role in maintaining your septic system. Once you have learned how a system works, it is easier to appreciate the importance of a few sound operation and maintenance practices.
How Septic Systems Work
There are two main parts to the basic septic system: the septic tank and the drainfield.
The Septic Tank
Household wastewater first flows into the septic tank where it should stay for at least a day. In the tank, heavy solids in the wastewater settle to the bottom forming a layer of sludge, while grease and light solids float to the top forming a layer of scum.
The sludge and scum remain in the tank where naturally occurring bacteria work to break them down. The bacteria cannot completely break down all of the sludge and scum, however, and this is why septic tanks need to be pumped periodically.
The separated wastewater in the middle layer of the tank is pushed out into the drainfield as more wastewater enters the septic tank from the house. If too much water is flushed into the septic tank in a short period of time, the wastewater flows out of the tank before it has had time to separate. This can happen on days when water use is unusually high (laundry day, for example), or more often if the septic tank is too small for the needs of the household.
When wastewater leaves a septic tank too soon, solids can be carried with it to the drainfield. Drainfields provide additional treatment for the wastewater by allowing it to trickle from a series of perforated pipes, through a layer of gravel, and down through the soil. The soil acts as a natural filter and contains organisms that help treat the waste. Solids damage the drainfield by clogging the small holes in the drainfield pipes and the surrounding gravel, then excess water will strain the system unnecessarily.
How to Care for Your 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 includes these 3 simple rules: conserving water, being careful that nothing harmful is disposed of through the system, and having the system inspected regularly and pumped periodically (every 3-5 years).
It is important to educate everyone in your household about what is and what isn't good for septic systems so they can begin to develop good maintenance habits.
Use Water Wisely
Water conservation is very important for septic systems because continual saturation of the soil in the drainfield can affect the quality of the soil and its ability to naturally remove toxins, bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants from the wastewater.
The first thing you can do, is take stock of how water is being used or wasted around the house. Here are some examples of things you can do to conserve water.
- If you have any leaking faucets or running toilets, repair them immediately.
- Install water-saving features in faucets and shower heads.
(These devices can reduce water use by up to 50 percent)
- Avoid taking long showers or letting water run while washing hands & brushing teeth.
- Use washing machines and dish washers only when full.
- Install Low-flush toilets. Low-flush toilets use one to two gallons per flush compared to the three to five gallons used by conventional toilets. Even using a toilet dam or putting a container filled with rocks in the toilet tank can reduce water use by 25 percent.
It is also important to avoid overtaxing your system by using a lot of water in a short time period. or by allowing too much outside water to reach the drainfield. Try to space out activities requiring heavy water use (like laundry) over several days. Finally, divert roof drains, surface water and sump pumps away from the drainfield.
Know What Not to Flush
What you put into your septic system greatly affects its ability to do its job. As a general rule of thumb, do not dispose of anything in your septic system that can just as easily be put in the trash. Remember that your system is not designed to be a garbage disposal, and that solids build up in the septic tank and eventually need to be pumped out.
In the kitchen, avoid washing food scraps, coffee grinds and other food items down the drain. Grease and cooking oils contribute to the layer of scum in the tank and also should not be put down the drain. Garbage disposals can increase the amount of solids in the tank up to 50 percent and are not recommended for use with septic systems.
The same common-sense approach used in the kitchen should be used in the bathroom. Don't use the toilet to dispose of plastics, paper towels, tampons, disposable diapers, bathroom towelettes, handy wipes, oily floor cleaners, liquid fabric softener, water softener backwash, condoms, kitty litter, etc. The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are wastewater and toilet paper.
Avoid Hazardous Chemicals
To avoid disrupting or permanently damaging your septic system, do not use it to dispose of hazardous household chemicals. Even small amounts of paints, varnishes, thinners, waste oil, photographic solutions, pesticides, and other organic chemicals can destroy helpful bacteria and the biological digestion taking place within your system. These chemicals also pollute the groundwater.
Household cleaners, such as bleach, disinfectants, and drain and toilet bowl cleaners should be used in moderation and only in accordance with product labels. Overuse of these products can harm your system. It makes sense to try to keep all toxic and hazardous chemicals out of your septic tank system when possible.
To avoid groundwater pollution, be sure to dispose of leftover hazardous chemicals by taking them to an approved hazardous waste collection center. For locations and more information, contact your local health department.
Protect Your System
Finally, it is important to protect your septic system from potential damage.
Don't plant anything but grass near your septic system. Roots from shrubs and trees cause damage. Don't allow anyone to drive or operate heavy machinery over any part of the system and keep livestock away from the drainfield and the other parts of the system. Also, don't build anything on or over the drainfield.
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Some septic system additives that claim to help or clean your system also contain hazardous chemicals and should be avoided. Do not use caustic drain openers, or commercial cleaners. Call a professional to clear any drain clogs.
Help maintain proper drainage flow by calling
The Tank Doctor to have your septic tank pumped-out or inspected every 3-5 years.
Providing Services To:
Bend, Black Butte Ranch, Brothers, Camp Sherman, Chemult, Cloverdale, Crescent, Culver, Deschutes, Deschutes River Woods, Elk Lake, Gilchrist, Madres, Opal Springs, Plainview, Prineville, Redmond, Sisters, Sun River, Tumalo, Warm Springs. (Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Klamath, Linn, and Wheeler Counties.)