How To Keep Your Septic System Healthy

Many people choose to live in the country because they cherish the peace and quiet, the wide open spaces, and the beauty of nature. Today, however, I am going to talk about something that may not sound or smell that pleasant: Onsite Sewage Treatment & Disposal System (OSTDS). Understanding how these systems work and how to keep them operating efficiently is critical for your family’s health. It is also important to your household’s budget.

What is a septic system?


Septic System Illustration
Figure 1. Section-view illustration of a modern septic system under a residential property

Septic systems come in many types and sizes. The most common onsite wastewater treatment system is conventional septic system (Figure 1). It consists of a septic tank and a soil absorption field, which is also called a drainfield. When sewer leaves a home, it goes to the septic tank first, which is an enclosed watertight container where the solids are separated from liquid wastes. There, microorganisms begin to break down organic matters in the wastewater. Then the partially treated wastewater moved to the drainfield. Drainfield consists of perforated pipes and soil, where treated household wastewater will evaporate, be used by plants, or drain deeper into the soil, and potentially into groundwater.

Aerobic Treatment Units (ATUs) are the other type of septic systems using in Florida. ATUs are like a miniature municipal wastewater treatment plant in your yard. An aerobic system injects oxygen into the treatment tank. The increased oxygen level increases natural bacterial activity and then reduce the nutrients in the effluent. We can usually find ATUs in homes with smaller lots, inadequate soil conditions, or for these homes that are close to a surface water body .

The operation and maintenance depended on:

  • The treatment methods used to remove contaminants in the wastewater;
  • The amount of wastewater that the system handles;
  • The strength of the wastewater, such as solids, nutrients, organic matters, and pathogens.


How to maintain a conventional septic system?

Generally speaking, a typical three-bedroom home with a 1000-gallon septic tank needs to have solids removed every three to five years. Smaller tanks must be pumped more often. Do not put this job off until the tank and sewer fill up and the toilet overflows onto the bathroom floor. If this happens, a new drainfield may also have to be installed.


Do septic tank additives work?

Believe or not, your septic tank additives that “clean” the tank are not clean. They are either not significantly effectively or may cause the solids to be flushed from the septic tank into the drianfield, causing clogging problems. Other compounds may produce a septic tank effluent which will destroy soil structure and cause premature failure of the drain field.


What can I flush?

In recent years, the use of products such as “flushable” wipes have been advertised as a better cleaning experience when compared to traditional toilet paper. These products are marketed in a variety of ways, such as “septic-safe”, “break down like toilet paper,” and “safe for sewer and septic.” The problem is that they appear to take longer time to break down when compared to traditional toilet paper. As a result they may cause major blockages in sewer systems and have to be manually removed from lift stations. Wipes that clog pipes can also cause sewage overflow into the house.

Keep in mind, everything that goes down your drains ends up in your septic system, whether you flush it down the toilet, grind it in the garbage disposal, or pour it down the sink, shower, or bath. What goes down the drains affects how well your septic system works. An easy rule of thumb: Do not flush anything besides 4Ps. We all know the first 2Ps. The other two are paper and puke. Your septic system contains a collection of living organisms that digest and treat household waste. Think at the sink. Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drains. Eliminating or limiting the use of garbage disposal will significantly reduce the amount of fats, grease, and solids that enter your septic tank and ultimately clogs its drainfield.

Septic system maintenance is not complicated, and it does not need to be expensive. If you follow these tips, inspect and pump frequently, properly dispose of water, use water efficiently, and maintain your drainfield, you should have a nearly trouble free system. Your septic system is out of sight but do not keep it out of mind!

To learn more about septic systems, please visit


Posted: June 26, 2020

Category: Natural Resources, , Water
Tags: Clogged Pipes, Septic Additives, Septic System, Septic Tank, Yilin Zhuang


Donna Castro
March 29, 2022

It is one of the most beautiful vines in the world and grows so easily. In the verbena family, it shares the quality of being a great pollinator attractor, too. Definitely must have in our gardens! Long live the Queen!

Chris Weber

September 17, 2020

Thank you Mike! Kevin has not been set up here quite yet, but I've passed your comments along to him. He's excited to be here and sure appreciates your warm welcome!

Mike McKinney
September 1, 2020

Welcome to Florida KEVIN and to IFAS. I am the retired county director from Hillsborough County. I have a fond place in my heart for orange county because I work very closely with JAY Hurber Back in the old days. Wishing you great success in your new post in orange county. Mike McKinney Professor emeritus/University of Florida Leader ship development and public policy


June 29, 2020

Hi Ms. Ellie, I am so glad to hear you found the information helpful. I will offer a webinar about septic system maintenance and private well management soon. Please stay tuned. Thanks, Yilin

Ellie Davis
June 29, 2020

I loved that you mentioned it is recommended to clean your septic tank every 3-5 years to keep it in good shape. My husband and I are thinking about how to prevent problems with our septic tank, and we are looking for advice. I will let him know about your recommendations to keep our septic tank working properly.


April 6, 2020

Celeste White did retire last year, but Hannah Wooten has taken her place in Orange County and has provided pesticide applicator training this year. Contact her at or (407) 254-9200. Although offices are closed to the public, agents are still working. The CEU Day this year will be held online over Zoom. Registration is at You can also get CEUs online at, and free CORE CEUs at and

Vince Witengier
April 5, 2020

Need to get my CEUs for limited pesticides applicator - 4 CEUs Was being held every January. However, this year it wasn't. At the time nobody seemed to know if when or where it would be held. With the change of Dr White this seems to have fallen between the cracks. I and several others have seeked out Alt that were feasible but those classes were for exams and other license types or way to far to travel. That said now it would need to be an online class. Please advise Sincerely Vince Witengier

Ed Thralls

April 3, 2020

Send your photos as attachments to e-mail to If they are pictures of turfgrass, they are usually difficult to address because all problems with turfgrass are brown spots. Include as much information as you can -- when did it start, how often do you water, when did you last fertilize, etc.

Janice Rathman
March 22, 2020

I'm having issues with my lawn and wondered if I could upload a couple of photos to see if someone might be able to provide some guidance

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