SepticSmart Week: Guide to Septic System Maintenance

A septic system will serve a home for a long time if it is properly located, designed, constructed and maintained. However, even the best designed and installed septic system will eventually fail without periodic maintenance. This guide briefly describes septic system components and how they should be maintained. The full document is available as a PDF. 

Septic Tank Maintenance
A septic tank should be pumped out every two to three years. A septage waste transporter (septic tank pumper) that is licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation can inspect, measure tank layers and pump out the tank when necessary.

Maintain Your System

  • Regularly pump-out your septic tank when needed.
  • Keep a record of pumping, inspections, maintenance and repairs.
  • Map out septic tank and other system components. Either have a map or locate components with permanent stakes. This is useful for accessing the system and will prevent damaging system components when doing home maintenance or yard work.
  • Don’t park or drive heavy vehicles or equipment over the septic system or any of its components.
  • Don’t build structures, such as decks, patios or swimming pools, that would cover the absorption field or limit access to the septic tank and distribution box.
  • Don’t flush or use strong chemicals and bacteria-destroying products, such as drain cleaners, solvents, paint, paint thinners, floor cleaners, sink cleaners, motor oil, antifreeze, pesticides, and photo chemicals. These may disrupt septic tank or absorption system operation. Household bleach, disinfectants, cleansers, antibacterial soaps, when used in normal household applications should not affect system operations.
  • Don’t flush materials that don’t easily degrade, such as paper towels, cotton swabs, personal hygiene products, condoms, medications, disposable diapers, coffee grounds, cat litter, cooking fats/oils, facial tissues, dental floss, cigarette butts, plastics, grease or bones.
  • Avoid septic tank additives. A septic tank that is properly sized and maintained will adequately manage household wastewater without the use of additives.
  • Avoid garbage disposals or grinders because these substantially increase the accumulation of solids in the septic tank and in the absorption field. If they are used, the septic tank size should be increased and pumped-out more often.
  • Direct water treatment system discharges to a separate soil absorption system, if possible, to minimize discharges to the septic system. However, as long as the system is well maintained and can accommodate the additional flow, water treatment system discharges can be directed to the septic tank in many cases.
  • Direct drainage away from the septic system from roof, cellar/footing (sump pump) and surface water run-off.
  • Plant grass and other shallow-rooted plants over the absorption field. Keep trees and long-rooted plants and shrubs away from the immediate area of the absorption area. Roots can grow into the pipes and clog the system.
  • Conserve water. Check for defective toilet tank valves, repair leaky fixtures, and install appliances and fixtures that use less water and avoid wasteful practices.
  • Regularly inspect and maintain any effluent pumps and alarms that may be part of your septic system.

Source: NYS Dept of Health Septic System Operation & Maintenance

This guide is also available as a PDF

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