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Water: Septic (Onsite / Decentralized) Systems

Failure Causes

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Avoid Common Culprits to System Failure
Proper care and maintenance of your septic system is critical to ensuring your system's proper function. In addition to proper care, there are other common activities that we should be mindful of in our daily lives.

Garbage Disposals
Take care when using your garbage disposal. While convenient, frequent use of garbage disposals significantly increases the accumulation of sludge and scum in septic tanks and can result in the need for more frequent pumping.

Household Chemicals and Toxics
Oil-based paints, solvents, and large volumes of toxic cleaners should not be put down the drain or flushed. Remember that your septic system contains a living collection of organisms that digest and treat waste.

Major Leaks and High Water Demand Appliances
Some appliances, water softeners, and toilets unnecessarily pump water into septic systems. Outdated and inefficient systems can send hundreds of gallons of water to septic tanks, causing agitation of solids and excess flow to drainfields. This can be prevented through proactive maintenance such as fixing leaks (especially leaky old toilets) and updating/replacing old appliances or water treatment systems with newer water efficient models. Another solution is to check with a licensed plumbing professional about alternative routing for high water demand appliances. If researching water softening systems, consult certified water treatment professionals through the Water Quality Association (WQA) by visiting the Find A Water Professional Exit EPA Disclaimer website.

Hot Tubs
Hot tubs may be a great way to relax, but when it comes to emptying them, your septic system should be avoided. Emptying a hot tub into your septic system stirs the solids in the tank, pushing them into the drainfield, causing it to clog and fail. Drain cooled hot tub water onto turf or landscaped areas far away from your septic tank and drainfield, and in accordance with local regulations. Use the same caution when draining swimming pools.

Improper Design or Installation
The proper design and installation of a septic system is essential for it to correctly function. A home’s groundwater table, soil composition, and a properly leveled drainfield are just a few factors to ensure a well-functioning septic system. The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) website has a septic locator that makes it easy to service professionals in your area. Visit www.septiclocator.com Exit EPA Disclaimer and enter your ZIP to get started! Septic Pages Exit EPA Disclaimer, a searchable database of over 30,000 installers and septic system providers, is also a useful tool for identifying a professional in your area!


Looking to Launch a Local Outreach Campaign?
  • Check out the SepticSmart Outreach Toolkit!Toolbox

    Government officials, industry professionals, environmental groups, and other local organizations can access ready-to-use educational materials, case studies, and more.


SepticSmart LogoContact SepticSmart Staff: 
Phone: 208/378-5626

E-mail: decentralized@epa.gov

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