Where Does Your Garbage Go?

Got a Residential Septic Tank System? 5 Ways to Help Keep it in Top Shape

Septic tanks allow you to live in out of the way areas and still enjoy indoor plumbing. Once the unit is installed it's easy to forget that you have that large tank buried somewhere on your property. This is one case where you don't want to heed the statement "out of sight, out of mind." Below is a brief description of a septic system and five ways to help keep that system in great shape.

Your Septic System: The Basics

A septic system is made up of a tank, a filter and a drain bed. Waste water enters the septic tank. The solids sink to the bottom where they are broken down by bacteria. The filter keeps the solids in the tank. The liquid flows out into the drain bed and is filtered into the soil. Most leaching beds are positioned under open fields. If you have a septic system you should know where that drain bed is located. Driving or parking on that bed or over the underground tank is not advised.

Five Ways to Help Protect Your System

1. Practice Water Conservation

Try and keep an eye on your water use. If the system gets overloaded with too much waste water the solids take longer to settle on the bottom. Sometimes they get caught in the filter and end up in the leaching bed. This usually means calling a septic service to pump out the tank. Ways to conserve water include getting a low-flow toilet and flushing only when needed. Install energy efficient shower heads and faucets and repair any leaks as soon as they are discovered. Try to minimize your washing machine and dishwasher use.

2. Only Flush Organic Material

Human waste and toilet paper are the only things that should be flushed into your septic system. Adding paper towels, sanitary napkins or disposable diapers to the mix is asking for trouble. Don't believe what's written on the package. Flushing these items may work in city sewer systems, but they only clog up septic tanks. Using toilet paper designed for RVs is a wise move. It may not be as cushy as other brands, but RV paper does tend to break up more easily in holding tanks, taking up less space.

3. Avoid Getting Chemicals in the System

Don't flush or pour anything down your drains that have harsh chemicals. The toxic material is known to kill septic tank bacteria, which are needed for a healthy tank. Examples of these materials include paints, solvents and pesticides. Don't flush away old medications. They also could kill the bacteria and the potentially toxic residue could end up in the groundwater.

4. Use Biodegradable Cleaners

Harsh cleaners, particularly those with bleach, and antibacterial soaps should be avoided. These items also may kill the bacteria that live in the septic tank. Use biodegradable products as much as possible, particularly for tasks that you do frequently, like washing dishes. When you go shopping for cleaning materials, try to find products that have environmentally-friendly labels. Either that or use natural cleaning options, such as lemons, baking soda or vinegar.

5. Inspect and Pump the Tank Regularly

How often you need your septic system pumped out depends on the amount of use it gets and how well you've taken care of your system. A family of four will usually fill up a septic tank a lot faster than a single resident. Homes that have garbage disposals tend to need pumping out more frequently. For example, a home septic tank should be pumped out at least every three years. If that home has a garbage disposal, the agency recommends yearly pumping out. An inspection done by a qualified professional can tell you if your system falls within those parameters or needs more frequent attention.

Click here for info about maintaining your septic system.