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SEPTIC TANK MAINTENANCE  How to care for your septic tank system


  • If you live in a rural area or have holiday home in the middle of nowhere, you’re no doubt familiar with the form and function of a septic system. In brief, a septic system is your very own onsite sewage treatment facility. It’s used primarily where access to a municipal sewer system is neither available nor economically practical. A septic system is out of sight and is odorless (when properly maintained).

  • A septic system is reasonably maintenance-free. A well-constructed, properly maintained tank could last indefinitely. However, the leach field (the underground area where all of the sewage drainpipes are located) will most likely require some treatment or perhaps replacement after about 15 to 20 years of service.

  • Following a few simple rules — like not using too much water and not depositing materials in the septic tank that bacteria can’t decompose — should help to make a septic system trouble-free for many years. 

  • According to proper septic tank maintenance, the tank does need to be cleaned out when too many solids build up.

Regularly Pumping Your System is Essential

It is important that you have your septic tank pumped and cleaned by a professional every three to five years or when the system reaches its performance limits. 

  • A septic tank in a northern climate will need to have the solids removed more often than a tank farther south. (This geographic variance is primarily because cooler temperatures inhibit bacterial action and provide less decomposition of the sewage solids.) 

  • How often you need to have your septic tank pumped also depends on the size of the tank, the volume of wastewater, and how many solids go into it. Constant foul odor, slow drains, and drains that back up are all telltale signs that your septic tank needs pumping. 

  • When in doubt, call in a septic professional.

VIDEO: Watch this video for a quick rundown on the maintenance of a standard septic tank system

Septic tanks usually need to be pumped every 3 to 5 years, depending on the amount of water use. Generally, septic tanks fill faster as more people use the septic system. This means more frequent pumping is needed with larger households.  Your installer should have advised you on pumping frequency.  


When thinking about septic tank maintenance, be mindful about what you and your family put into your septic system. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate biological balance within the tank. You can extend the life of a septic system by watching everything that’s introduced to the system and by following these maintenance recommendations:

  • Inspect your system and keep accurate records. Regularly inspect your system for proper upkeep and organise your system’s records (diagram, system maintenance, and note dates of level inspection etc.).

  • Pump out your septic tank regularly. The standard rule is to pump your septic tank every one to three years to ensure that solids are properly broken down and will not clog the drain field. Routine pumping can help prevent system failure and increase the longevity of your system.

  • Conserve water and monitor usage. Moreover, discharging more water into the system than it can handle can cause it to back up — not a desirable occurrence.

  • Don’t use excessive amounts of any household chemicals. You can use normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, and other household chemicals without stopping the bacterial action in the septic tank. But, for example, don’t dump cleaning water for latex paintbrushes and cans into the house sewer.

  • Don’t deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels (paper towels that don’t dissolve easily, like the heavy-duty kind), disposable diapers, facial tissues, cigarette butts, and other non-decomposable materials into the house sewer. These materials won’t decompose, will fill the septic tank and will plug the system.

HOW TO: Know if your Septic System is failing

Many buildings and homes have on-site wastewater management systems, commonly called septic systems. Because septic systems are buried, it is easy to forget about them as they quietly, elegantly and efficiently maintain human and environmental health. Septic systems are the norm in rural areas, but they can be quite common in urban areas as well. It is important to know if your building is on a septic system.

These are signs of a failing system:

  • Sinks and toilets drain slowly
  • Backed-up plumbing
  • Gurgling sounds coming from the plumbing
  • Sewage odors in the house or yard
  • Wet or mushy soil in the yard
  • Standing water that is greyish in color
  • Grass growing faster and greener in one particular area of the yard
  • Bacteria in well water

Problems with a septic system must be addressed. Failing systems release partially treated household waste into the environment. Untreated human waste is a health risk. It can contaminate nearby wells, ground water, streams and other sources of drinking water. It can also pollute rivers, lakes and shores. The nasty smell of a failed system can cause property values to decline. Failed systems can delay property sales and halt building permits. In a nutshell, failed systems can impact your family, your neighbors, your community and your environment. Yes, it can be very costly to repair or replace a failed septic system, but a properly working and well-maintained system is vital.  Got issues?  Talk to us.