Your septic tank is a living filter. Inside it bacteria munch away at the waste we produce, rendering it more inert while keeping the bad stuff in one place.
During the course of this process, which we explain in our post How septic tanks with bioreactors work, the bacteria create three products: wastewater or effluent, sludge and scum. Effluent is the treated water that goes out to a drain field, but the scum and sludge stay behind. Scumm drifts to the top and sludge sinks to the bottom.
If these are not periodically removed, or if the system’s pipes become blocked or overwhelmed, you end up with serious problems. There are several things that can condemn a property, such as natural disasters or fires. But a broken septic tank is the surest way to shut a property down for human use.
Yet look after your septic tank and it will serve you for decades. Here are a number of tips to keep your tank in its best condition and not end up with waste up to your knees:
1. Pump the tank regularly
Sludge and scum will form in the tank and should stay there. That means they should not reach the outlet pipe, which will cause spillover of these nasty substances and likely clog the pipes. A tank should have these pumped out at least every 3 to 5 years, depending on the level. If the bottom of the scum is around 10 centimetres away from the outlet pipe, or the top of the sludge is half a meter away, it’s time to pump.
2. Inspect annually
Even though a septic tank usually only needs to be pumped every few years, it should be inspected annually. Also, keep records to measure the performance and lifespan of the tank. These can help spot certain problems before they become critical.
3. Don’t put grease, oils and other such waste in the tank
If you follow the logic around sludge and scum buildup, it’s not hard to see that adding non-water-soluble liquids such as oils to a septic tank will only aggravate matters. Such substances can also start clogging the inlet pipes, resulting in a waste backup situation you really don’t want.
4. No nappies, sanitary pads, cigarette butts, etc
Leading from the previous point, anything that can’t be dissolved and can create a potential blockage should be avoided. Cotton balls, plastic bags, cigarette butts, sanitary hygiene products, sponges, dental floss… all of these and more can easily cause blockages in a septic system.
5. Look after the drain field
The drain field is often where effluent – the water cycled through the tank – goes. This is a key part of the process and must be looked after. Do not allow vehicles onto the drain field, as it is unlikely to support the weight. Also avoid sending runoff water, such as rainwater from your roof, into the drain field. That could saturate it, leaving no room for the effluent.
6. Watch out for chemicals
A septic tank is a living ecosystem, in which bacteria consume waste. Damage those creatures and your septic tank becomes little more than an expensive excrement collector. So avoid putting dangerous chemicals, such as household cleaner brands, into the tank through your toilets and other waste origin points. Invest in chemicals branded to not damage septic tank enzymes and biomites.
7. Conserve wastewater
The less work your tank has to do, the longer it will function. We actually pump a lot of water into septic tanks that aren’t needed there. For example, captured greywater from showers can be used to irrigate gardens. Before you send water to the septic tank, consider if you need to.
8. Avoid long-term additive use
Additives can solve many problems in a septic tank, but these are usually only effective in the short term. If you have to keep using additives to resolve problems in the tank, you are only avoiding the inevitable.