Septic systems are more than just a twisty maze of pipes and drains. They are actual, living environments that include a microbial system within. This system is made up of bacteria, yeasts and enzymes, and plays an active role in maintaining your septic systems. Their purpose in your septic system is to digest any solids that have settled at the bottom of your septic tank and get the decomposition process started.
A failing septic system often gives its owners plenty of warning about its deteriorating condition. Too often, however, these early warning signs are overlooked or ignored until the system stops working entirely. Rather than waiting for the condition of the septic tank and drain field to worsen, homeowners can take proactive steps to treat and remediate these problems before they become critical issues for health and functionality within the home.
Today, we’d like to look at a healthy septic system and let you know what it looks like.
Septic System Overview
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures, commonly used in rural areas without centralized sewer systems. They use a combination of nature and proven technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing produced by bathrooms, kitchen drains, and laundry.
A typical septic system consists of a septic tank and a drainfield, or soil absorption field.
The septic tank digests organic matter and separates floatable matter (e.g., oils and grease) and solids from the wastewater. Soil-based systems discharge the liquid (known as effluent) from the septic tank into a series of perforated pipes buried in a leach field, chambers, or other special units designed to slowly release the effluent into the soil.
Alternative systems use pumps or gravity to help septic tank effluent trickle through sand, organic matter (such as peat and sawdust), constructed wetlands, or other media to remove or neutralize pollutants like disease-causing pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. Some alternative systems are designed to evaporate wastewater or disinfect it before it is discharged to the soil.
How the Septic System Works
A septic system consists of two main parts, the tank and the drain field. The former receives wastewater from the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. When the wastewater enters the tank, the solid elements of waste sink to the bottom, which forms the sludge layer. Meanwhile, elements of grease and lighter solids float to the top, and this forms the scum layer. The separation of layers takes roughly a day for each inbound supply of wastewater.
Between these layers of scum and sludge, water pushes through and out into the drain field. The scum and sludge are eaten up by bacteria over time, and this prevents the top and bottom layer from growing too large too fast. However, sometimes the bacteria cannot keep up with the inbound volumes of wastewater into the tank. When this happens, impurities can get pushed out into the drain field. In any case, a septic tank must be pumped every three to five years to prevent the scum and sludge layers from rising too high.
5 Signs of a Healthy Septic Tank
- Your Lawn is Healthy, But Not Too Healthy
A lawn that is healthy, but not too great, signals that your septic tank is also healthy. One visible sign of a failing septic tank is a disproportionately-green lawn. Since your septic tank and drain field exist below ground, the wastewater from the septic tank can seep into your yard and affect your grass and plants. Wastewater can affect your lawn in the same manner as manure, which can result in odd, bright green spots in your yard, particularly around your drainfield.
- Drains that Drain
Your toilets and sink should drain quickly. If they do, this is a sign of a healthy septic system. Slow-moving drains in your sink or toilet signal clogs on your pipes or septic system. This means either a plumber or septic professional needs to come to take a look at your pipes and system.
- No Odors
A full septic tank that is clogged will eventually start to smell up the house as those fumes back up into your pipes. If you are starting to smell an odor, it is probably time to call your septic professional for a septic tank pump-out and inspection as a healthy septic system is not seen or smelled.
- No Sewer Backup
A damaged or full septic tank will allow wastewater to travel up your entire plumbing system and rise toward the lowest drains in your home. This is called a sewer backup. A sewer backup is one of the most noticeable signs of a distressed septic system. It is also a sign that immediate action should be taken.
- No Pooling Water
When it rains, it is normal to see some pools of water in your lawn. However, large pools of water or “mini-lakes” are not typical and can indicate a septic tank issue. When your tank reaches its capacity, solid waste can clog the system and force the liquid to rise to the surface of your lawn. A healthy septic tank does not cause this problem.
Septic Tank Health Tips
If you own a home that has a septic system, you are going to want to keep that system as healthy as possible. It is smart to maintain and take good care of that system so you do not have problems that might cause issues in the home. It is a lot better (and cheaper) to keep things up to date than to try and fix things later. Here are a few things you will want to do to keep that septic system and the tank healthy.
- Avoid Putting Anti-Bacterial Down The Drain
There are bacteria in the septic tank that help to break down the waste in the tank and keep it operating as it should. You do not want to do anything that could kill those bacteria off, or the system will not work efficiently. Avoid using soap with anti-bacterial properties in it and do not use anti-bacterial cleaners if you have a septic system. Those items are going to end up in the septic tank where they will do a lot more harm than good.
- Never Rinse Grease Down The Sink
When you cook with oil or grease, you do not want to rinse that down the sink, even if it has cooled. Grease hardens as it cools and adds a coating to the inside of the pipe that allows fewer items to get through and can cause clogs to happen rather quickly. Let the grease cool and then, simply put it in a container and throw it away instead of putting it down the drain.
- Don’t Flush Anything But Toilet Paper
It is tempting to flush things other than toilet paper. Flushable wipes have the word flushable right in the name! Sure sounds safe enough but there actually is no such thing as a wipe that is flushable. You are going to want to flush only waste and toilet paper and that is it. No napkins, no tampons, no Q-Tips. This will help you to keep your septic system healthy and in good working order.
Keeping Your Septic Tank Healthy
To keep your septic tank healthy, you need to keep the “good” bacteria in it. Harsh detergents, bleach, and chemical drain cleaners kill the good bacteria in your septic tank. One way to add good bacteria to your septic system is to flush a packet of brewer’s dry yeast down one toilet on the bottom floor of your home one time per month. Try using biodegradable and “septic safe” cleaning products such as vinegar and baking soda.
At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you do not have time to deal with septic problems. One of the ways you can maintain this balance and keep your septic system working like it should is to have your tank pumped regularly. Please give us a call at (951) 780-5922 right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.