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How to Find a Cesspool

Tracy Morris

Whether you're looking to clean out your septic system or you just want to keep people from walking on a potential collapse hazard, it's important to know the location of the cesspools or septic tanks on your property.


Do not walk on the cesspool if it appears ready to collapse. Visual clues to indicate this may include depressions of earth around the cesspool where it has already partially collapsed.

Finding them can be challenging--particularly when the property's history is not known, but it doesn't have to be. With a little detective work, finding a cesspool is easier than you might think.

  1. Check for hardware. Cesspools generally have exposed manhole covers or stakes to locate buried covers. Some have additional clean-out ports, which look like a capped 12" diameter pipe. A few even have electrical boxes. A quick visual inspection of the property may reveal the cesspool's location.

  2. Look for clues in the landscaping. For example, there will be no old growth trees planted near the cesspool. Additionally, there may be dirt mounds, rock piles, depressions in the dirt or raised areas where dirt has washed away. The vegetation atop a cesspool may also look different than surrounding greenery--either lush if the cesspool leaks or sparse if the dirt on top the cesspool has washed away.

  3. Search for a cesspool by using a metal detector. Some cesspools use reinforced concrete in their construction. A metal detector will pick up the presence of the metal reinforcements in the concrete.

  4. Ask your local septic system pumping company. If the cesspool is more than four years old, it may be possible that a local septic service company has been called out to service the system.

  5. Follow the sewer lines. Locate the point where the plumbing leaves your home, and follow the pipes to the cesspool. You can easily find buried pipes by probing the ground with the rebar rod, or running a pipe snake through the pipes and having someone listen for the sound of the snake moving through the pipes.

  6. Follow the drain lines. Drainage lines are pipes that carry the contents of a cesspool away from the cesspool tank and distribute them over an absorption field. These pipes are usually made of plastic. The vegetation over the absorption field area will appear swampy, marshy or more lush than the surrounding vegetation due to the nutrients present in the cesspool contents. Find the drain lines by probing the ground with the rebar rod until you encounter resistance or hear the sound of the rod touching the plastic piping. Once you have found the drain lines, you can follow them back to the cesspool.

  7. Let mother nature help you. In winter, snow will melt faster over cesspools and absorption fields.