Ten essential tips about caring for your septic system

1. Conserve water. The more wastewater you create, the more your soil must treat and dispose. Here are some ways to cut back on your water use:

  • Use water-saving devices
  • Repair leaky faucets and plumbing fixtures
  • Reduce toilet reservoir volume or flow
  • Take shorter showers
  • Take baths with a partially filled tub
  • Wash only full loads of dishes and laundry

2. Keep accurate records. Know where your septic tank system is and keep a diagram of its location. Your local health department may be able to provide you with records of its size and location. You should also keep a record of the system's maintenance. These records are helpful if problems occur, and they will be valuable to your home's next owner.

3. Inspect your system once each year. Check the sludge and scum levels inside your septic tank to be sure the layers of solids are not within the "early warning" levels. Your tank should also be checked to see if the baffles or tees are still in good condition. Inspect the drainfield periodically for odors, wet spots, or surfacing sewage. If your drainfield has inspection pipes, check them to see if there is a liquid level continually over six inches. This could be an early indication of a problem.

4. Pump out your septic tank when needed. Don't wait until you have a problem. Routine pumping can prevent failures, such as clogging of the drainfield and sewage backing up into your home. Using a garbage disposal increases the amount of solids entering the septic tank and requires more frequent pumping.

5. Never flush harmful materials into the septic tank. Grease, cooking fats and oils, newspaper, "flushable wipes," paper towels, napkins, facial tissue, rags, coffee grounds, pads and tampons, condoms, and cigarettes cannot easily decompose in your tank. Chemicals like solvents, oils, paint, and pesticides are harmful to the system's proper operation and may pollute the groundwater. Septic tank additives don't improve the tank's performance, and they don't reduce the need for pumping. Learn how to  dispose of hazardous household waste properly at hazwastehelp.org

6. Keep all runoff away from your system. Water from surfaces like roofs, driveways, and patios should be diverted away from your septic tank and drainfield area. Soil over your system should be slightly mounded to help surface water runoff.

7. Protect your system from damage. Keep vehicles, heavy equipment, livestock, and other heavy items off your drainfield. The pressure can compact the soil or damage your pipes. Before you plant a garden, construct a shed, or install a pool, check on the location of your system so you don't build on top of or near it.

8. Landscape your system properly. Don't place impermeable materials over your drainfield. Materials like concrete and plastic reduce evaporation and the supply of oxygen your soil needs for proper effluent treatment. They can also make it difficult to get to your system for any pumping, inspection, or repair. Grass is the best cover for your system.

9. Never enter any septic tank. Poisonous gases or the lack of oxygen can be fatal. Any work to the tank should be done from the outside.

10. Check with your local health department for help with system problems. Although some malfunctions may require complete drainfield replacement, many problems can be corrected with a minimum amount of cost or effort.