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The Ultimate Guide to Septic Tank Maintenance

There are few things more wonderful than a flushing toilet. They magically disappear the things human beings enjoy dealing with the least: their own waste. The thing about toilets is, they don’t literally make waste disappear. The waste has to go somewhere. If you live in a rural area away from the city sewer system, that somewhere is a septic tank somewhere on your property. If you want to avoid septic tank repair or septic tank replacement, you must integrate septic tank maintenance into your home maintenance routine.

Ignoring the needs of your septic tank will lead to costly repairs and really big, stinking messes in your household fixtures and on your lawn. If a sewage swamp in your front yard doesn’t sound ideal, keep reading.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Septic System

Getting acquainted with your septic system is the first step in septic system maintenance. You will need to know where your system is located, what type of system it is, and how it works.

Understanding the specifics of your septic system will save you time, money and prevent damage in the long run.

Where Is Your Septic System Located?

If you aren’t quite sure where your septic tank is located, you’re not alone. Not everyone observes the installation of their septic system. Many people move into homes where septic systems already exist.

It is important to figure out where your system is located so you can keep an eye on it. Many signs of septic system malfunction occur at the site of the tank and drainage field.

To find your septic tank, locate the sewer line that leads out of your home. It should be a four-inch-thick pipe. When you find it, follow the pipe by probing the ground every few feet to find out where it leads.

Eventually, you will come upon the septic tank. According to regulations, septic tanks are required to sit at least five feet away from the home. However, most septic tanks are 10 to 20 feet away.

The drainage field extends out from where your septic tank sits. It is typically covered with grass.

If you are having trouble locating your septic tank, check your county records for diagrams and maps of your property.

Keep in mind that the older the home, the more likely it is that the landscape has changed. It may be difficult to read the map or determine exactly where the tank is located. However, it should give you a decent idea.

What Type of Septic System Do You Have?

Do you have a conventional septic system or an alternative type of septic system? Conventional systems rely on gravity or pumps to move waste through the tank and into the drain field.

Most modern septic systems use pressure distribution via a pump. Alternative septic systems include aerobic systems, mound systems, and sand filter systems.

Aerobic treatment systems use oxygen to break solid waste down. They are great for environmentally sensitive areas.

A mound system is ideal for areas with minimal soil and high groundwater levels. Mound systems have drain fields that are raised above the ground.

Sand filter systems are another great alternative when there isn’t a lot of soil available. They use a sand filtering system and a pump to disperse waste.

What Materials Were Used To Construct Your Tank?

Knowing what type of material was used to build your septic tank can help you understand how to best care for it. The most common septic tank materials include concrete, steel, and plastic.


A concrete septic tank will typically last between 40 and 50 years. However, if subjected to acidic wastewater, a concrete tank will erode much more quickly.

When bacteria break down waste in a septic tank, they create hydrogen sulfide gas. This mixes with water vapor to produce sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid erodes concrete.

Concrete tanks use vents to counteract this process. The vents are located about the leach field. It is important for homeowners to clean them often, so they are clear of debris.

Always make sure the vents get inspected when you get a septic system inspection.


Although steel tanks don’t corrode the same way as concrete tanks, they still only last about 20 to 30 years.

Steel tanks use baffles to slow the distribution of wastewater into the drainage field. Baffles are usually made out of fiberglass, concrete, or steel.

The most common reason for steel septic tank failure is rusted baffles.

You want to avoid accidentally driving over a steel septic tank. If this happens, they can get crushed by the pressure.


A plastic septic tank should last 40 years or more. They are the most affordable option. Plastic tanks are also resistant to rust and immune to corrosion.

Plastic tanks are usually more sensitive to the condition of the soil they are in, as well as changes to the environment. They’re also easy to crush if driven over accidentally.

How Large Is Your Septic Tank?

The size of your septic tank will tell you how much wastewater it is capable of processing. Its size also tells you how often you will need to pump the tank.

Most residential home septic tanks range in size between about 750 and 1,250 gallons. The size of the tank is based on the size of your home and how many people live there.

To estimate the size of your tank, the best method is to count the number of bedrooms in your home. Having a large bathtub will require a larger septic tank as well.

If your home has an addition, chances are the septic tank was upgraded to a larger tank. If you are planning an addition, make sure you budget for a septic system upgrade.

Get Regular Septic Tank Inspections

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends getting your septic system inspected every three years by a trained septic service professional. Can’t recall the last time you had your tank inspected? It’s probably time!

Other authorities, such as the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, recommend annual septic system inspections. This is especially true if your system includes electrical and mechanical components.

A happy medium might be to get a professional inspection every three years and do your own visual inspection of your septic tank and drainage field once a year.

If you aren’t sure how often to inspect your tank, ask your septic service professional what they recommend for your particular septic system.

What Happens During a Septic Inspection?

Septic service providers inspect your septic tank for leaks. They also examine the scum and sludge layers of the tank to make sure the waste is separating properly.

They can also tell you if it is getting close to the time when you need to get your tank pumped. It’s time to pump your tank when the bottom scum layer is six inches or closer to the bottom of the tank.

It’s also time to pump your tank when the top of the sludge layer is nearing 12 or fewer inches from the top of the tank.

If the system isn’t working correctly for some reason, or there is damage, the service provider can recommend repairs to make. You will need to hire a septic repair professional to make the repairs.

It’s not a bad idea to keep a record of the maintenance work done on your septic system. That way, you never have to wonder whether it has been too long since your last inspection.

Pump Your Tank On Schedule

Most conventional septic tanks require pumping every three to five years.

How frequently you need to pump your tank depends on the size of your household and the amount of wastewater your household generates. It’s also determined by the volume of solids in your wastewater.

In between pumpings, add a septic treatment to your septic tank to help boost its natural bacteria.

Maintain Your Drainage Field

The drainage field is the portion of your septic system that is responsible for removing waste from the liquid that exits your septic tank. It is a very important part of your system and needs regular inspection.

There are several things you can do to protect and maintain your septic drainage field. The first thing is to keep heavy objects and vehicles away from the drainage field.

You should absolutely avoid driving or parking on your drainage field. You should also avoid planting trees and other plants in your drainage field.

Tree roots can grow into your septic system and cause damage. Plants can obscure the drainage field, making it difficult to inspect for damage or malfunction.

You should also make every effort to avoid allowing excess water to flow through your drainage field. Excess water can slow or stop the wastewater treatment process altogether.

Make sure your roof gutters, sump pumps, and rainwater drainage systems are not directed toward your septic drainage field.

Check Your Distribution Box

It’s easy to forget about your septic system’s distribution box. It is a part of the system that sits between the septic tank and the drainage field. It is made from precast concrete and has holes for each drain line.

The distribution box makes sure wastewater distributes through the drainage field lines evenly.

You shouldn’t need to pump the distribution box, but you should inspect it frequently. Make sure to check for damage or signs that the flow of wastewater is getting interrupted by a clogged line.

If it looks like the distribution box is tipped or tilted over, it needs straightening. A tilted distribution box won’t function properly and can create clogs and backups.

You should also inspect the structural integrity of the box. If you take proper care of it, your distribution box will last 20 years. 

Practice Water Usage Efficiency

All of the water that gets used in your home ends up in the septic tank. On average, a single-family home uses 70 gallons of water per person per day. A leaking toilet can waste over twice that amount in a single day.

You can do your septic tank a favor by trying to conserve water. Efficient water use helps your septic tank operate better. It also reduces the risk of needing septic tank repair or, even worse, septic tank replacement.

Fortunately, there are many ways to save water. Showering instead of taking a bath, using a dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand, and keeping showers to under ten minutes are all great ways to reduce your water usage.

Modern water-efficient products are another great way to conserve water. Consider incorporating ENERGY STAR washers, high-efficiency toilets, faucet aerators, and high-efficiency showerheads into your home.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Remember, everything that goes down the drains in your home ends up in your septic system. This includes what you flush down the toilet, pour down the sink, and grind up in your garbage disposal.

In addition, everything you put down your drains has an impact on how well your septic system functions. It is important to be mindful of how you use your toilets, showers, and sinks.

When it comes to toilets, the best practice is to avoid flushing anything other than human waste and toilet paper.

You should especially avoid flushing condoms, wipes, floss, tampons, diapers, chemicals, or paper towels. You should also avoid pouring cooking grease, oil, and coffee grounds into your sink drains.

Getting out of the habit of using your garbage disposal is one way to reduce the amount of grease and solids that end up inside your septic tank.

If these items and fluids get into your septic tank, they can cause it to malfunction either by clogging the mechanism or killing the bacteria required to break down the waste.

Chemicals for unclogging drains are especially toxic for your septic tank’s bacteria. Paint will also damage your septic system.

Septic Tank Maintenance Takeaways

The keys to septic tank maintenance include yearly inspections of the entire system, regular pumping, and proper disposal of waste. Don’t put anything in your septic tank that could clog it or kill the necessary bacteria.

Looking for septic tank pumping and maintenance services in Central Indiana? Contact Blair Norris for a service estimate today.

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