How to Maintain Your Septic System

From Washtenaw County recommendations:

Remember: Maintenance is much cheaper than replacement!

Four things you can do to help your sewage system

  1. Pump your septic tanks regularly.
  2. Use water efficiently.
  3. Manage what goes down drains.
  4. Protect your drainfield.

Pump Your Septic Tanks Regularly

One of the most important things you can do to keep the system functioning properly is to have the septic tank pumped regularly. If you don’t pump regularly, scum and sludge could build up and be carried to the drainfield. This will clog the drainfield and not allow wastewater to be treated, and wastewater could form a pond in the yard or back up into the house! At this point, you would be facing costly repairs or replacement, instead of minimal maintenance expenses. Follow these guidelines:

  • Know the location of your septic tank lid or risers.
  • Keep the cover easily accessible to the pumper. A marker may help you identify the area.
  • Have the pumper inspect the outlet device each time the tank is pumped.
  • Have your septic tank pumped by a licensed pumper every 2-3 years for 1000-1500 gallons and 3-5 years for 2500+ gallons.
  • Pump both compartments in a dual compartment tank to avoid sludge build up.
  • Do not wash or disinfect the septic tank after it has been pumped.

Use Water Efficiently

See how much water you may use here.

As a gallon of wastewater flows into the tank from the house, a gallon of effluent (liquid waste) flows out of the tank into the drainfield. If wastewater moves in and out of the tank too rapidly due to constant or heavy water flow, solids remaining in the wastewater may move out of the tank into the drainfield, clogging it. Conserve water and spread out water usage by following these suggestions:

  • Wash one or two loads of laundry a day, rather than three or more loads in one day.
  • Install low-flow water fixtures, low volume toilets, and low water-use appliances.
  • Check for and repair leaky toilets, faucets and other leaks in the plumbing system.
  • Take short showers.
  • Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving.

Manage What Goes Down Drains

More solids in wastewater will require more frequent septic tank pumping. In addition, your septic system is not able to effectively treat all materials. Follow these tips:

  • Your septic system is not a trash can! Don’t put dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, or other similar items in the system.
  • Do not overuse the garbage disposal. It adds considerably more solids to the system. Consider composting kitchen waste instead.
  • Do not put grease or oils down the drain. They can increase the scum layer in the septic tank.
  • Do not dump unwanted pesticides, fertilizers or insecticides down the drain. Take them to a household hazardous waste collection center instead.
  • Do not dump paints, thinners or solvents or other materials down the drain. Take them to a household hazardous waste collection center instead.
  • Do not dump or flush excess medications down the drain. Visit for helpful information, including locations of where to safely dispose of these items.
  • A septic system can handle typical amounts of cleaners used for routine cleaning. Do not overuse cleaning products, and do not dump excess cleaning products down the drain.

Protect Your Drainfield

While the drainfield does not require maintenance, a few precautions will help ensure proper functioning and a long service life. Remember that extra water and compaction will reduce the ability of wastewater to percolate  or flow through the soil, preventing the drainfield from treating wastewater properly. Follow these tips to protect the drainfield:

  • Do not connect “clear water” wastes, such as footing drains, roof drains, water softenening discharges or dehumidifiers to the septic system.
  • Divert water from roofs, down spouts or any other surface water runoff away from the area of the septic tank or drainfield.
  • Do not add large amounts of water to the drainfield area by using underground sprinklers. Use a manually operated sprinkler only if it is necessary to maintain the grass cover over the drainfield.
  • Fix all leaking toilets and plumbing fixtures immediately. A constant small flow to the system will significantly shorten its life.
  • Do not drive vehicles or heavy equipment over the drainfield.
  • Do not site dog kennels or other animal confinement units over the drainfield.
  • Do not construct driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, patios or buildings over the septic tank or drainfield.
  • Maintain all required setback distances when adding buildings or other improvements to the property.
  • Do not place additional soil over the drainfield, other than to fill slight depressions. A slight mounding will ensure runoff of surface water.
  • Keep rodents and other burrowing animals out of the drainfield area.
  • Do not plant trees or other deep-rooted plants on or near the drainfield.
  • Do not plant a garden over the drainfield.
  • Consider installing an effluent filter at the outlet of the septic tank to help prevent solids from flowing into the drainfield.
  • Reserve a replacement drainfield area and manage it the same as the present drainfield.
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