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What Happens in a Septic Tank?

All wastewater in a home drains into the septic tank. Solids sink to the bottom, forming sludge, while fats and oils float to the top, creating a layer of scum.

Bacteria in the septic tank break down the sludge and scum, leaving liquid wastewater (effluent) to exit the septic tank into the drain field. For more information, Visit Our Website to proceed.

A septic tank serves to collect wastewater in homes, public toilets, rural schools or commercial buildings that aren’t connected to the municipal sewer system. A concrete, fiberglass or plastic tank can be built for this purpose. In addition, there are also prefabricated tanks that can be buried on a property or in a hole dug at the site.

Domestic sewage from toilets and showers, bathtubs, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers runs into the main drainage pipe that leads to the septic tank. Heavier solid waste sinks to the bottom of the tank and forms sludge. Oils and grease float to the top, forming a layer of scum. Anaerobic bacteria in the septic tank break down organic wastewater pollutants, reducing their size and making them soluble. Liquids then enter an outlet pipe that takes them to the septic tank drain field or a secondary treatment system.

The septic tank also has a distribution box that is designed to distribute the dissolved pollutants evenly throughout the drain field. In the drain field, bacteria further break down any remaining contaminants, resulting in clean wastewater that seeps into the soil and watercourses.

A properly installed septic tank must be sized for the number of people living in the house. Over time, a too-small tank can fill up with solid waste that cannot be broken down by the bacteria in the septic tank. Overflow can occur when this occurs and may lead to a backup of drains in the house and a buildup of sludge in the septic tank itself.

Keeping a proper septic tank maintenance routine helps prevent this issue and extends the life of the septic tank. For example, a homeowner should keep the inlet drains free of obstructions and refrain from disposing of large amounts of cooking oils and grease. This prevents the inlet drains from becoming clogged and reduces the amount of solids that need to be pumped out of the septic tank.

A homeowner should map out the septic tank and other system components and mark them with permanent stakes. This allows easy access for pumping, maintenance and inspection without damaging the surrounding yard or landscaping. In addition, a homeowner should avoid driving or parking vehicles or structures over the absorption field, which can damage it and cause the septic tank to fail. Plants should be kept away from the absorption field as well, as their roots can grow into and clog pipes.

As wastewater flows into the septic tank, solid waste sinks to the bottom where bacteria break it down. Fats and grease float on top. The liquid waste, called effluent, leaves the tank through an exit baffle and flows into an underground drain field or absorption field. The perforated pipes in the drain field allow water to pass into the soil where gravel and soil act as biological filters to purify it.

A septic system that is not properly maintained can lead to wastewater spills or backups into the home plumbing. Suppose non-biodegradable wastes like cigarette butts, cotton buds/swabs, condoms or menstrual hygiene products are flushed down the toilet. In that case, they can clog the inlet drain and septic tank, causing the sludge layer to rise to the point where it blocks the outlet pipe. Overflows or puddles in the yard are also signs of tank issues.

The drain field must be sized and positioned correctly to ensure proper treatment of wastewater. Overloaded drain fields can cause wastewater to seep into the groundwater, contaminating the water supply. The absorption field should be surrounded by washed gravel, stone or a gravelless product to prevent surface seepage and promote long-term performance. A septic tank vent must be installed to release gases that form as bacteria break down wastewater contaminants, including hydrogen sulfide.

Most septic systems require periodic pump-out of the septic tank to reduce sludge accumulation. It is recommended that a professional evaluate the septic system and its components, including the tank and vent, every two to three years. A professional can perform a visual inspection and measure the level of sludge in the tank. The tank should be pumped out when the level reaches two-thirds of its capacity.

Some septic tanks are designed with a distribution box. This tank houses a pump that moves wastewater from the septic tank to the drain field. The distribution box evenly distributes the effluent to all of the trenches in the drain field to avoid overloading any one part of it. This is important to maintain proper wastewater flow into the soil and to avoid excessive wear on the absorption field.

The liquid wastewater (known as effluent) exits the tank through a pipe into the drainfield. Aerobic bacteria, which need oxygen to thrive, digest suspended solids and other contaminants in the wastewater. Depending on the system configuration, the aeration chamber may be fitted with a pipe that directs wastewater downstream for further purification or final dispersal. In most cases, the wastewater is directed to a perforated drainfield.

The septic tank is a buried, watertight container made of concrete, fiberglass or polyethylene. It holds the waste long enough for solids to settle to the bottom forming a layer of sludge while oils and grease float to the top to form a layer of scum. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank, but liquid wastewater flows through the tank outlet into the drainfield.

Regularly emptying the septic tank is crucial to avoid overflow, which can contaminate the soil and groundwater. Overflow can also lead to sewage back-up into toilets and drains, posing a health risk for household members and neighbors.

If a septic tank is not pumped regularly, the solids will build up until it’s 2/3 full or more. This is when a de-sludging process is required. Bacteria in the septic tank will eat the solids, which reduces the volume of the sludge and scum layers.

An alternative to septic tank pumping is installing an in-home wastewater treatment unit that separates waste and provides clean, recycled water for home use. These systems can be installed for as little as $3,500.

Chemical septic tank cleaners are not recommended because they kill the bacteria that help to break down waste in the septic tank and pipes. Instead, some homeowners use baking soda, vinegar and lemons as a natural, less expensive alternative to chemical cleaners.

If the septic tank is no longer needed due to a hookup to municipal sewer, an upgrade to a larger septic tank or a replacement of the septic tank, the old septic tank must be properly abandoned. This involves removing the tank and refilling the site with granular material to deny future access. In some communities, local ordinances require a permit and/or inspection before abandoning an old septic tank.

When properly designed, constructed and maintained, a septic system will serve a home for decades without a problem. However, if it isn’t pumped regularly or the system is compromised, you could have harmful sewage backups into your house or into groundwater supplies. The components of a septic system, also known as an onsite wastewater treatment system, include the house sewer drain, septic tank and soil absorption field.

The solids that enter your septic system through toilets, showers and sinks are meant to decompose in the tank, but sometimes they can build up too much to reach this goal. In that case, you need to have the septic tank emptied.

While there are things you can do to reduce the amount of solids that enter your septic system, the most effective way to keep it functioning well is to have the tank pumped on a routine basis. A professional service will send a truck that has a giant tank with a suction hose to literally “suck” the sludge out of your septic tank and transport it to a sewage processing facility for safe handling.

Another good maintenance measure is to have the drainfield regularly inspected for signs of a failure. Foul odors in the house, slow-running drains and water puddles above the septic tank can all be indicators that it’s time for an inspection.

You can also help your septic system work more efficiently by conserving water usage. This can be done by taking shorter showers and by washing laundry and dishes with less water. It can also be accomplished by installing low-flow faucets and toilets and by diverting down spouts away from the tank and drainfield.

If you haven’t already, learn where the septic tank is located on your property by asking the septic tank pumper to locate it for you. Make a sketch of the location and put it with your septic system records. Then, plant grass and other shallow-rooted plants over the tank site to help protect it from vehicles and other items that might pierce or damage the system.