If you’re one of the nearly one in five Americans who have a home that uses a septic system instead of connecting to a city sewer system, then these maintenance tips are for you!  Septic tanks aren’t uncommon, especially for those who live in rural areas. But, a lack of knowledge in regard to basic upkeep of these systems is fairly common, as many families learn the hard way, when it’s too late.  

Homes that rely on a septic tank require that homeowners take a little more care of what they put down their drains.  It also means that you absolutely have to take time to do some regular maintenance in order to prevent problems from creeping up down the road.  So, let’s take a look at a few maintenance tips that will help extend the life of your septic tank and keep your property from incurring any messy damage: 

Get your tank pumped every few years – Septic tanks are essentially underground storage containers that hold solid wastes until they’re able to naturally break down.  This waste is then able to escape your tank by filtering through the soil in your yard as processed water, also known as effluent, where nature breaks it down even further.  The process is simple enough. But, over time solid waste that has not yet been able to decompose properly will begin to build up at the bottom of your tank. This buildup can then fill your tank until it eventually escapes, and you’re left with wastewater openly in your yard.  Needless to say, this is not an ideal situation and why it’s so important to have a professional pump out your septic tank every few years.

Don’t let any antibacterial substances go down your drains – When you have a home that relies on a septic tank, you can’t just put anything down the drains, especially antibacterial substances.  This is because your septic system relies on good bacteria to break down the solids. So, if you were to pour bacteria-killing bleach down your drain after cleaning your home, for example, it will continue to kill bacteria after it reaches your septic tank, which will compromise your tank’s function.  And, if you think that’s bad, it could also potentially contaminate your community’s water, as the effluent containing these harmful substances seeps out into the soil. You have to find other ways to properly dispose of such cleaning chemicals. The most harmful substances that you should avoid putting down any of your drains at all costs include:  

    • Bleach or any cleaners that contain bleach
    • Lysol
    • Any cleaner that says “kills bacteria”
    • Chlorine
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Pesticides
    • Automotive fluids, such as motor oil or anti-freeze
    • Paints and solvents
    • Medications
    • Nail polish or polish remover

Don’t put oils, fats and greases down your drains – These types of substances wreak havoc on regular plumbing systems.  So, you can imagine the type of damage these will do to a septic system!  In fact, the problems are significantly multiplied, as fatty substances don’t break down.  Therefore, as they go into your septic tank, they’ll just sit and form a level of scum that floats on top of your tank.  And, when these levels get out of control, they can overwhelm your tank and overflow the effluent onto your lawn, leaving you with a disgusting (not to mention hazardous) mess!      

Don’t put other “No-Nos” down your drains – With a septic tank, you have to be extremely careful of what goes down your drains.  Whether down your kitchen sink or flushed down the toilet, it doesn’t matter, as all of your waste is headed to the same place.  While there are many things people flush or put down their drains that seems harmless enough (even products that specifically say “flushable”), the same rules don’t apply to septic systems, as they can more easily get clogged.  Some of the more common items you should avoid putting down your drains and garbage disposal include: 

  • Toilet paper that’s too thick
  • “Flushable” wipes
  • Hygiene products
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton balls or swabs
  • Dental floss
  • “Flushable” cat litter
  • Glass or plastic
  • Stringy vegetables
  • Anything tough, sharp, or doesn’t seem likely to break down naturally

Unfortunately, when it comes to septic tanks, what you don’t know can actually hurt you.  So, take it upon yourself to become as informed as possible with your system and all of its do’s and don’ts.  If you don’t take the time to educate yourself, the consequences could be pretty messy – trust us! And, remember to make annual inspections a priority.  It’s better to get ahead of a small problem before it turns into a plumbing nightmare.