How Often Do You Drain a Septic Tank?
In the concrete or plastic tank of a septic system, solid waste sinks to the bottom to decompose. Some solids won't break down in the tank, and they eventually build up to a point where clogs occur. A clogged tank sends sewage back into the home. Regular pumping and draining prevents a variety of problems, and there are a number of factors that determine when to drain the tank.
Large septic tanks hold more waste, but tank size isn't the only consideration. The amount of solid waste and water you flush into the tank on a daily basis matters. For example, a 1,500-gallon tank for a two-person home may not need draining for nine years, but a 900-gallon tank would bring that time down to five years, according to North Carolina State University Extension. Most estimates use the number of people in a household instead of the number of gallons or pounds of waste because few homeowners know exactly how much they flush per day.
Adding more solid waste to a tank shortens the amount of time you can go without draining or pumping. Solid waste generally settles to the bottom of the tank and decomposes slowly or not at all. When solids build up enough, they block the openings that allow water to leave the tank. Garbage disposals are a major cause of excessive solid waste in a septic system, states the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Flushed sanitary napkins and other paper or plastic hygiene products also contribute to this problem.
Using certain chemicals or solvents in your plumbing system leads to more frequent tank draining in most cases. Antibacterial products such as bleach, some soaps and toilet-bowl fresheners all kill the beneficial bacteria living in the septic system, according to the Arizona Cooperative Extension. These bacteria break down waste products. When a chemical additive kills a large percentage of the bacteria colony, solid waste builds up faster and tank pumping is required much sooner. Drain cleaners or clog removers also cause this bacterial damage.
Checking the Tank
If you're unsure when the tank was drained last, the charts given by most health departments won't help you determine when to have your septic system serviced. An inspection by a professional service company gives you a good idea of how high the solid waste level is in your tank. If you can access the port or opening to your tank without digging up your entire yard, wrap a towel around the end of an 8-foot-long pole and touch the bottom of the concrete tank with it. The towel will show the height of waste build up.
- North Carolina State University Extension; Septic Systems and Their Maintenance; Micheal Hoover; December 1997
- Arizona Cooperative Extension; Antibacterial Products in Septic Systems; Kitt Farrell-Poe; March 2010
- University of Arizona Cooperative Extension; Maintaining Your Septic Tank; Elaine Hassinger and Kitt Farrell-Poe; February 2000
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service; Septic Systems-What You Need to Know; March 1996