How do you tell when septic system needs to be emptied ?

Asked By: safeman on Saturday, April 18, 2009
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Answer Some of my drains are slow to drain.

Chuck, thanks for your question. There are a couple different schools of thought about how often, if ever, does a septic need to be emptied or pumped.

One of the is based on the idea that the septic is supposed to be full. When it fills up, the waste decomposes and any excess water goes out into the septic system drainage field. You may have heard these termed, lateral lines. The concept is that if the septic system is working properly, it does not need emptied because it empties itself do to the fact that it decomposes the waste into fine particles due to the amount of bacteria.

Since you are having a problem with the drains being slow, you need to check your sewer line cleanout and determine if it is clogged. Sometimes roots may be the problem or it could just be that you system is not functioning properly. Another thing that could be happening is that some of the lateral lines could have collapsed, but this usually only happens if a heavy truck or piece of machinery has driven over the area in which they are located.

The other school of thought is one more of maintenance. Having the tank pumped about every five years will ensure that the system performs adequately. The concept behind this is that pumping removes the solids from the system before they can flow downstream to the leach lines. Some have the idea that pumping will clog the leach field, but this thought has proven to be unfounded, although some will still advise against it.

Typically, as long as the bacterial environment it the tank is good, as mentioned above, the solids should decompose on a continual bases, that is, as long as the leach field was properly installed, is not too old and that you do not have a clog that needs to be addressed. 

If it is a septic problem, my suspicion is that there is something that is clogging the system, and if you are not able to find it yourself after troubleshooting, you may need to get a professional in to take a look at it. If you know it has been over 10 or 12 years since the system has been inspected, you are probably long over due and I would recommend having it done soon before you run into more problems.

The other thing that could be happening may actually be a plumbing problem inside the house. This may be the case if the drains that are running slow are tied into a main drain line possibly under the basement floor, that could be clogged with a large clump of paper or paper build up. A reputable company that deals with sewers and drains or a plumber that has this expertise may be the first person you call. However, if several of your drains are running slow in different parts of your home, getting the septic inspection is probably your best bet.

I hope this helps. Rick

Rick Maselli is Founder and Editor of and Ask Rick


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