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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 https://water.ifas.ufl.edu/septic-systems/your-septic-system/

2 Comments on “How To Keep Your Septic System Healthy

  1. 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.

    • 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

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