Frequently Asked Questions About Operation & Maintenance

C1. What are the basic septic system maintenance requirements?
2. Do's for my on-site system
3. Don'ts for my on-site system
4. How can I avoid problems with my septic system?
5. I never had any problem with my septic tank, do I have to have it pumped out anyway?
6. How often do I pump my tank and by whom?
7. What should I do when the pumper arrives?
8. Do I need to add anything to my septic system to keep it working properly?
9. Should I use septic system additives?
10. Are water softeners harmful to my septic system?
11. I’ve had my septic system for 20 years. It must be okay, right?
12. Are there basic retrofits to my septic system to enhance maintenance?


Q1: What are the basic septic system maintenance requirements?

The following are basic steps to maintaining your on-site system. You should also check your town as they may have specific requirements.

  • pump your septic tank if the sludge and scum layer is 50% or more of the liquid level of the tank, generally every 3-5 years.
  • maintain the baffles on the tank inlet and outlet
  • make sure the side slopes of your bed are not eroding by keeping a good grass cover on the bed
  • repair the septic system if necessary

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Q2: Do...

  • use water-conservation plumbing fixtures and conserve water to avoid system overload
  • have the tank pumped out and inspected by a licenced servicing company at least every 3-5 years
  • know where your system is located
  • keep maintenance records
  • divert surface water runoff away from the system
  • know what to flush
  • Use appropriate caution when inspecting the septic system. Toxic gases from tanks can kill in minutes so hire a professional

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Q3: Don't...

  • overload your septic system with more wastewater than it was designed to accept
  • use more soap or detergents than necessary
  • pour harmful chemicals (bleach, cleaners, paint etc.) down the drain, your system was not designed to treat these materials
  • put ground up food scraps, coffee grounds, grease and cooking oils down the drain
  • drive over or park on the bed, this could compact the soil in your bed
  • plant trees in or near the bed, roots have the potential to clog the tiles
  • pave over the bed, your bed needs to breathe to function properly
  • attempt to repair the septic system without obtaining the required health department permits and when making repairs use a licensed septic contractor

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Q4:How can I avoid problems with my septic system?

Get educated! Pay attention to the quantity and quality of sewage entering your system and follow the do's and don'ts of septic system operation and maintenance.

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Q5: I never had any problem with my septic tank, do I have to have it pumped out anyway?

Absolutely! All septic tanks should be pumped out before you detect a problem otherwise you could ruin your leaching bed.

Q6: How often do I pump my tank and by whom??

There are many variables that determine when your tank needs pumping. Rule of thumb - Look up a pumper in the yellow pages under "septic" and have them pump the tank every 3-5 years.

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Q7: What should I do when the pumper arrives?

When the pumper arrives, find out and record the following information:

  • Where tank is located; show diagram with location measurements.
  • How deep tank is in the ground
  • Volume of tank
  • Condition of tank - ask the pumper if the tank is cracked or if the baffles are intact
  • Is there any water running from the house into the tank when there's not supposed to be? This could indicate problem-causing water leaks in the house that you didn't know about
  • Is there any backflow from the leaching bed into the tank? This could indicate that your leaching is already saturated.
  • Mark the tank lid for easy location next time.

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Q8: Do I need to add anything to my septic system to keep it working properly?

Many products claim to help the septic system work better or cleaner. However, there is no magical potion to cure an ailing system. Most engineers and sanitation professionals believe that most of these products are unnecessary and are potentially harmful to the system. Some chemical products can cause soil pores to clog in the field or add pollutants to the ground water.

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Q9: Should I use septic system additives?

No, there is no independent data that shows septic system additives help your system to function better, and they may harm the system in the long run. Save your money for inspections and pumping.

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Q10: Are water softeners harmful to my septic system?

Several studies have been conducted to determine the impacts of water softeners on septic systems. To date, none have shown that softeners have any measurable effect on the performance of on-site systems. However, the system should always be designed to accept the additional hydraulic load that a softener will produce. In addition, the following steps can be taken to make the use of the water softener as efficient as possible:

  • A more efficient water softener will reduce the amount of salt used. In general, new water softeners are more efficient than older models.
  • The softener should be set to regenerate depending on the water flow instead of being set to regenerate at regular time intervals. This ensures that regeneration occurs only when required.
  • Water conservation practices should be established to reduce the quantity of salt sent to the septic system.
  • Soften only the water necessary. For example, water used for outdoor purposes (for example lawn watering, car washing) does not need to be softened.
  • Potassium chloride may be used instead of sodium chloride (table salt) in the water softener. Although potassium chloride is more expensive than sodium chloride, it does not cause as much degradation to soil permeability and it acts to fertilize plants over the leaching bed.
  • constructing a leaching bed, avoid using soils with high contents of swelling clay (montmorillonite).

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Q11: I’ve had my septic system for 20 years. It must be okay, right?

Every system needs pumping eventually. If your system has never been pumped then the solids are going somewhere, either direct discharge to a water body, groundwater, or into the drainfield.

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Q12: Are there basic retrofits to my septic system to enhance maintenance?

Access risers with watertight lids should be installed to the ground level so you can see them, and so they are easy to find when you need to access the tank. This will facilitate inspection, and maintenance of your system and save money by avoiding digging up the yard every time you have an inspection.