Septic Tank 101

The best information about septic tank systems and the maintenance of them is available from the United States Environmental Protection Agency – United States Environmental Protection Agency | US EPA Why Maintain Your Septic System | Septic Systems (Onsite/Decentralized Systems) | US EPA

We are all guilty of abusing our septic tank at some point in time. It may range from excessive water usage, failure to repair a leaky faucet, or dumping some hazardous solvents or liquids down the drain. The only way to keep your septic tank system functioning properly is to have the tank pumped by a reliable licensed septic pumping service. While the need for pumping depends on size, usage and wastes added, it is recommended by many local health authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency Septic Systems (Onsite/Decentralized Systems that a system be pumped every 3 to 5 years. While the pumping frequency may vary, every septic tank should be pumped every 5 to 7 years maximum. Failure to maintain a regular pumping schedule, or the use of additives can cause more solids to pass through the septic tank increasing the likelihood of drain field failure. For more information, please visit the EPA’s site for Septic Smart Homeowners.

Signs of Trouble

We hear all the time about how a homeowner has not pumped their tank in many years. This is not something you would want to put off. Even if the system appears to be working well, sludge may have built up to the point where wastewater is released without sufficient time in the tank for treatment and settling of particles. This situation may result in pollution of groundwater or cause eventual clogging of the drain field.

Watch Water Usage

Saving water consumption can help reduce the load on your system. Check toilets and repair leaks, and use water saver shower heads and toilets.

Waste, Trees. Vehicles

Do not put anything down the toilet except toilet paper and human waste. Never put any chemicals or grease into your tank. Don’t plant any bushes or trees near your system or drain lines. Roots can grow through the pipes and septic cracks and cause backups and major problems. Never park vehicles on tank, the drain lines can be damaged and the tank could collapse.

Standing or Excessive Water

A wet area or standing water occurs above the drain field in situations when sludge particles clog the drain field, when you have tree roots or broken pipes, or when water use in the house exceeds the design capacity of the system. Excessive water use in the home can occur when you have a dripping faucet or running toilet. This can cause the tank to fill up.


We recommend all roof and surface water be routed away from your septic system. Excess water can hinder performance by flooding the secondary treatment system. Install gutters, make changes to your landscaping and install downspouts connected into tiles to channel the surface water away.

Backup or Odor

Toilets run slowly or backup; in the worst cases, the basement, shower, or other areas are flooded with sewage. Septic odors occur in the house, above the tank and drain field or escape from the vent pipe. If there are odors, this is an early sign of failure. If the system is operating properly, there should be no odors.


Your wastewater treatment system is not a substitute for the trash can or compost. Dispose of tissues, diapers, baby wipes, sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms, cigarette butts, and other solid waste with regular garbage and not down the toilet. Septic system treatments that advertise to improve your septic tank system must not replace routine pumping and may even be harmful. Additives containing solvents to unclog your system can kill the microbes needed to digest wastes in your septic tank and drain field. Be cautious when using these products. Ask a professional before using these products.

Will pumping my septic tank help slow down deterioration of the tank?

Yes. The process of deterioration happens to concrete tanks. Gases build up in the septic tank as a result of the decomposition of waste inside the tank. More solids present in the tank will mean more gases present in the tank, resulting in more rapid deterioration. Over a period of years, the gases inside the tank slowly start to eat away at the surface of the concrete. This process occurs above the water line in the tank and will affect the top of the tank. Concrete below the water level is usually not affected. As the process takes it course, the surface areas of the concrete become rough and start to crumble away. Slowly, larger pieces begin to break away. Eventually, the rebar or steel inside the concrete, once used for strength, will rust away. As the process continues, the concrete loses its strength. At some point, as the concrete weakens, the lids will collapse if not repaired or replaced. Pumping removes the waste in the tank which reduces the amount of gases in the tank. This means that more frequent pumping can greatly slow down, but not eliminate, the deterioration process of the septic tank. Over time, some deterioration of the tank is inevitable.

We have a strong odor outside our house. Could this be coming from our septic system?

Yes, but it could also be from another source. First of all, determine if the source is on your property. Going upwind from your house can help determine this. If the source of the odor is on your property, check for possible propane or gas leaks and take appropriate safety measures if such a leak is the cause. Once you eliminate the possibility of a propane or gas leak, you can move on to the septic system as a potential source. Have the tank pumped if you notice sewage in the yard or it has been 3 to 5 years since you’ve had it pumped out. You could also try having your vent pipe on top of your house extended.

Call a plumber to check your lines for plugs, breakage or leaks.

For information on repair permits, please contact the Bartow County Environmental Health Department – Northwest Health Northwest Health (

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