If your home has a septic system, you should have a solid understanding of how it works to maintain it properly. While a correctly designed and installed septic system can last for decades, it does require periodic inspections and maintenance to function optimally. 

Without routine care, your septic can develop blockages that cause wastewater to back into your household drains or contaminate the groundwater around your home. Ultimately, you may end up shelling out several thousand dollars to replace the system if you neglect its maintenance needs. 

Below, you'll find a basic breakdown of how your septic system works and what you need to do to maintain it properly. 

How a Conventional Septic System Works

Tanks can vary in size, and depending on the property's square footage, they typically range between one and 2000 gallons. They're made of metal, concrete, or heavy plastic and can last up to 40 years with proper care. 

The system has a leech or drain field with rows of perforated piping buried in trenches between 18 and 36 inches below the grade of the surface, close enough to let air reach any bacteria in deep enough to stop freezing.

All the water that travels into every drain throughout your house flows into one main drainage pipe (your main line). From there, that water and any waste it contains will flow into the septic tank. Once watery waste (effluent) makes its way into your septic tank, here's how the system works:

  1. The tank holds the effluent while anaerobic bacteria digest its organic materials. 
  2. As bacteria digest the organic matter, the solid byproducts of that digestion process sink to the bottom of the tank, forming a sludge.
  3. As the sludge sinks, oily matter (grease, fats, and oils that flow into your drains) within the effluent rises to the surface of the wastewater, where it forms a sort of scum. 
  4. The septic tank's filter, compartments, and a T-shaped outlet prevent solid material from exiting the tank and traveling into the system's drainage field. 
  5. The watery effluent (minus the solid sludge left behind during the bacteria's digestion process) then exits the tank and flows into the drainage field, which features perforated piping buried beneath the ground.
  6. As the wastewater travels into the drainage piping, it gradually seeps from the perforations into the surrounding soil. 
  7. As the water percolates through the soil, bacteria within the ground continue decomposing organic matter in the wastewater. Both the natural percolation and organic decomposition processes effectively clean the wastewater, removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and even nutrients.  
  8. Ultimately, the water seeps back into the groundwater supply.

What Happens When a Septic System Isn't Maintained Correctly?

Maintaining a septic system doesn't take much work, but when it's not done properly, major problems can develop. If you don't care for your septic correctly, the most common issues you'll likely run into include:

  • Wastewater and sewage backing up into your bathtub when you flush your toilets
  • Showers, bathtubs, and sinks that drain slowly or fail to drain at all
  • Strong sewage odors in your yard near the septic tank or drain field
  • Pooling water in your basement or muddy, sludgy puddles developing in your lawn around the drain field

How to Maintain Your Septic System and Drainfield Properly

If you want to prevent backed-up drains, water intrusion beneath your home, and sewage collecting in your yard, here's what you'll need to do:

Schedule Periodic Drain Cleaning With a Professional 

A drain cleaning specialist can perform a camera drain inspection to assess the health of your pipes and septic tank. 

If you experience slow drains or any of your pipes develop a clog, professional drain cleaning will break apart and eliminate the solid matter within your drains, which will prevent blockages within the septic tank.

Be Smart About Your Water Usage 

Using excessive water can force the septic tank to flush itself too rapidly, causing excess wastewater buildup in your yard. Even a running toilet or single leak can expel as much as 200 gallons of water daily, and any household water ends up in the septic system. 

Choosing high-efficiency toilets, shower heads, and faucet aerators will restrict the flow and reduce water use. You can also upgrade your washing machine and dishwasher to Energy Star products which will save on your septic system and water bill each month. 

Have Your Septic Tank Pumped Regularly

Have a professional drain cleaner or a plumber inspect your septic system every two to three years. Since the system is designed to contain solid waste (the sludge at the bottom of the tank), that waste must be pumped out periodically. 

Don't wait until your drains are backing up to have this done! If you do, solid waste can travel into the drain field pipes, clogging the perforations and preventing liquids from exiting the tank.

Be Careful About What You Allow Down Your Drains

When you flush the toilet, avoid flushing anything but toilet paper and human waste. Never put wipes, diapers, dental floss, cotton swabs, or feminine hygiene products down the toilet. 

If you have a garbage disposal, avoid putting coffee grounds, starches, and other foods down the drain. These items can cause blockages that may clog or damage the septic over time.  

Plant Grass Over the Leach Field

It's recommended to plant grass over the field and avoid parking or driving in the area because heavy loads can compact the soil and reduce the drain field's effectiveness. You also want to avoid planting trees or plants with invasive roots and keep structures like patios, decks, or pools away from the field entirely.

Need Septic System Cleaning Near Stillwater, MN?

Is your septic system backed up? Whether you're dealing with a backed-up commercial septic system or your household main line appears to be clogged, get in touch with our team at Drain Blaster Bills' Sewer & Drain Cleaning today! Our comprehensive septic system cleaning service will remove any blockages within the system and get your drains flowing freely in no time. 

To get started or learn more about what we can do for you, give us a call today at 763-913-8719 or request a free service quote, and we'll get in touch with you promptly.