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Water: Septic (Onsite / Decentralized) Systems

Proper Care

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Septic system maintenance isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Upkeep comes down to four important elements:


Inspect and Pump Frequently

The average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. Household septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years. Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components need to be inspected more often, generally once a year. A service contract is important since alternative systems have mechanized parts.

Four major factors influence the frequency of septic pumping:
  • Household size
  • Total wastewater generated
  • Volume of solids in wastewater
  • Septic tank size

Service Provider Coming? Here’s What You Need to Know.

When you call a septic service provider, he or she will inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.

pumping_inspectionYour septic tank includes a T-shaped outlet which prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling to the drainfield area. If the bottom of the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, your tank will need to be pumped.

Remember to note the sludge and scum levels determined by the septic professional in your operation and maintenance records, as this will help determine how often pumping is necessary.

The service provider should note any repairs completed and the tank condition in your system’s service report. If additional repairs are recommended, be sure to hire someone to make them as soon as possible. 

There are various tools to help you find a professional septic system service provider in your area. SepticPagesExit EPA Disclaimer is a searchable database of over 30,000 installers and septic system service providers managed by the publishers of Pumper magazine.  The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) website also has a septic locator that makes it easy to find service professionals in your area. Visit www.septiclocator.comExit EPA Disclaimer and enter your ZIP code to get started!

Use Water Efficiently

Did you know that average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is nearly 70 gallons per individual, per day? And just a single leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day?

All of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. This means that the more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use can not only improve the operation of a septic system, but it can reduce the risk of failure as well. Learn more about simple ways to save water and water-efficient products by visiting EPA’s WaterSense Program.

  • High-efficiency toilets 
    Toilet use accounts for 25 to 30 percent of household water use. Most older homes have toilets with 3.5- to 5-gallon reservoirs, while newer, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. Replacing existing toilets with high-efficiency models is an easy way to quickly reduce the amount of household water entering your septic system.

  • Faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads
    Faucet aerators help reduce water use as well as the volume of water entering your septic system. High-efficiency showerheads or shower flow restrictors also reduce water use.  
     
  • Washing machines
    Washing small loads of laundry on your washing machine’s large-load cycle wastes water and energy. By selecting the proper load size, you’ll reduce water waste. If you’re unable to select a load size, run only full loads of laundry.   

    Another tip? Try to spread water use via washing machine throughout the week. Doing all household laundry in one day might seem like a time-saver, but it can be harmful to your septic system, as it doesn’t allow your septic tank time to adequately treat waste and could potentially flood your drainfield.  

    Consider purchasing an ENERGY STAR Exit EPA Disclaimer clothes washer, which uses 35 percent less energy and a whopping 50 percent less water than a standard model. Learn more about ENERGY STAR Exit EPA Disclaimer appliances.

Whether you flush it down the toilet, grind it in the garbage disposal, or pour it down the sink, shower, or bath, everything that goes down your drains ends up in your septic system. And what goes down the drain can have a major impact on how well your septic system works.

Toilets Aren’t Trash Cans!
Your septic system is not a trash can. An easy rule of thumb? Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:

  • Cooking grease or oil
  • Photographic solutions
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Condoms
  • Dental floss
  • Diapers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cat litter
  • Paper towels
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Household chemicals like gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze, and paint or paint thinners
Think at the Sink!
Your septic system contains a collection of living organisms that digest and treat household waste. Pouring toxins down your drain can kill these organisms and harm your septic system. Whether you’re at the kitchen sink, bathtub, or utility sink:
  • Avoid chemical drain openers for a clogged drain. Instead, use boiling water or a drain snake.
  • Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain!
  • Never pour oil-based paints, solvents, or large volumes of toxic cleaners down the drain. Even latex paint waste should be minimized.
  • Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal, which will significantly reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic tank and ultimately clog its drainfield. 
Own an RV, boat or mobile home?
If you spend any time in a recreational vehicle (RV) or boat, you probably know of the problem of odors from sewage holding tanks. Learn more about proper and safe wastewater disposal—download EPA’s factsheet (2pp, 379K, About PDF) or call The National Small Flows Clearinghouse’s Septic System Care hotline toll-free at 1-800-624-8301. 

Maintain Your Drainfield

Your drainfield—a component of your septic system that removes contaminants from the liquid that emerges from your septic tank—is an important part of your septic system. Here are a few things you should do to maintain it:
  • Parking: Never park or drive on your drainfield.
  • Planting: Plant trees the appropriate distance from your drainfield to keep roots from growing into your septic system. A septic service professional can advise you of the proper distance, depending on your septic tank and landscape.
  • Placing: Keep roof drains, sump pumps, and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drainfield area, as excess water slows down or stops the wastewater treatment process.

     drainfield 



Homeowners can contact their local or state health department for more information about onsite wastewater practices in their community at Contacts.


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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