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Most urban residents flush the toilet and send the waste out to a sewage treatment plant without them actually thinking much about the process. But those who rely on a septic system for their waste management have to think about it more than they would probably like. A well-maintained septic system only requires pumping every 3-5 years, depending on a variety of factors, such as size of the tank, the number of people using it, etc. Those relying on septic also have to be careful of what they flush and wash down the drain, but all in all, it is not typically an everyday thought.

With a septic system, waste-water leaves the house and empties into an underground septic tank that is usually 20 to 50 feet away from the house to begin the treatment process. 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.

What is a Septic System?

A septic system is a dedicated on-site wastewater treatment structures, typically relied on by properties situated in rural areas with no centralized sewer system access available. These systems use a combination of nature and reliable technology to treat wastewater from the household’s plumbing coming from its bathrooms, kitchen drains and laundry. Simple yet effective, these tank-and-soil absorption systems remove solid matter from wastewater and send the treated wastewater into the ground, where filtration, helpful microbial activity, and time all work together to render clean water safe for release to the environment.

What Are the Parts of a Septic System?

Septic systems essentially have a pair of primary elements: the tank and the drain field.

Septic Tank

After passing from the house, the wastewater collects in the septic tank. Septic tanks typically range from 1,000 to 2,000 gallons and are made of concrete, heavy plastic or metal. High-quality concrete tanks are the most durable and should last 40 years or more if they are not damaged. Many modern tanks have two chambers to increase the efficiency.

Drain Field

Also known as a leach field or absorption field, the drain field is a portion of area that is attached to a septic tank for an individual home and makes up the final processing step or sewage treatment in a septic system. The drain field is a network of underground pipes containing many small holes that works as a disposal filter for contaminants and liquids after they have been anaerobically digested and pass through the septic tank. The leach field will typically contain a system of trenches and gravel (or another porous material) covered in soil.

The main purpose of the drain field is to disperse liquids from the septic tank in the an area of soil by means of drains which eventually gets spread out in the large area known as the leach field. When the liquid waste passes through the leach field that is made up of earth, gravel and other similar material, it gets all the organic matter removed and transformed into useful substances.

A properly designed drain field considers hydraulics so the material can properly move through it, and catabolism for the biochemical oxygen demands of the wastewater.

Two Chambers in a Tank

Inside a septic tank are two chambers divided by a half-wall. As waste comes down the drain pipes and lands in the tank, solid waste falls into the first chamber, while liquid waste continues over the wall and into the liquid chamber. From there, the liquid flows out into the leach fields through the leach pipes.

•    First Chamber: Where Solids Break Down

Solids that travel down the drain pipe will enter the first chamber and break down. The septic tank is an anaerobic chamber filled with beneficial bacteria and enzymes, and these bacteria and enzymes begin breaking down the solid waste and turning it into liquid. Once it turns to liquid, other solids will displace it and allow it to flow over the half wall into the liquid chamber.

•    Second Chamber: Liquids

Liquids overflow into the second chamber where bacteria and enzymes break down any additional waste that may exist. However, once the liquid reaches the height of the drain inside the tank, it overflows out into the leach pipes, dispersing into a leach field.

After the wastes are broken down and flow out to the leach field, it drains into the sand and soil, where it will continue to be filtered until it heads back into the water table. This is the reason why properties require perk tests, as the wrong type of soil will not allow the waste to drain properly.

The System In a Nutshell

A conventional septic system works by collecting wastewater from your toilets and drains. It retains solids and scum in a septic tank and pipes liquids to your septic drain field. In your drain field, bacteria break down wastewater pollutants and treated effluent returns to your property’s soil and groundwater.

The wastewater treatment process into 10 steps:

1.    All water runs out of your house via one main drainage pipe into a septic tank.
2.    The septic tank is a buried, water-tight container usually made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. The tank is responsible for holding the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle down to the bottom forming sludge, while the oil and grease floats to the top as scum.
3.    The liquid wastewater (effluent) then exits the tank into the drainfield (a shallow, covered, excavation made in unsaturated soil). Pretreated wastewater is discharged through piping onto porous surfaces that allow wastewater to filter though the soil.
4.    The soil accepts, treats, and disperses wastewater as it percolates through the soil, ultimately discharging to groundwater.
5.    Finally, the wastewater percolates into the soil, naturally removing harmful coliform bacteria, viruses and nutrients. Coliform bacteria are a group of bacteria predominantly inhabiting the intestines of humans or other warm-blooded animals. It is an indicator of human fecal contamination.

How to Treat Your Septic System

For the most part, you do not have to do anything to keep your septic system healthy except mow the grass above and keep the drainage area clear of trees and bushes whose roots can clog the field.
As a general rule, you should mindful of what you flush and avoid sending things like cooking oil, non-flushable wipes (such as baby or makeup removal wipes), diapers, feminine hygiene products, cat litter, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, or paint and paint thinners down the drain.

How Often Do You Need to Pump A Septic Tank?

Regularly pumping your septic tank is a necessity you absolutely cannot forgo if you want to retain its function and lifespan. Septic pumping involves removing the wastes that cannot dissolve in the tank. This solid layer of scum and sludge builds up over time and will lead to a septic failure and backup if ignored. The frequency of pumpings will depend on the size of your tank, number of occupants in your household and details of your water usage. Typically, septic tanks are pumped every 3 to 5 years.


Call West Coast Sanitation Today!

The fact is that many homes and septic systems were not designed to handle the load put on them from modern appliances and modern lifestyles. But, with a little care and awareness, you can manage this impact and help to avoid increased maintenance problems and the need for costly system repairs and replacement.

At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has reached capacity, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.

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.