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Septic Tank Maintenance

Septic systems are used in areas where access to a municipal sewer system is neither available nor economically practical. They function as your very own onsite sewage treatment facility. Moreover, septic tanks are out of sight and odorless when they are properly maintained.

Septic systems consist of two main components, a drainpipe and a tank. The tank is buried below ground and has a drainpipe running through it that carries the raw sewage from the home to the tank. A series of drainage pipes extend from the tank to create the leach field. The leach field is used to cleanse and purify wastewater.

The septic tank itself can be constructed of various materials which include wood, concrete, steel, and fiberglass. It is designed to be watertight and virtually airtight. Raw sewage is collected and stored in the tank and as it remains there, beneficial anaerobic bacteria begin to break down the sewage solids.

Liquids enter the tank with the sewage, but are quickly discharged through an outlet that is positioned slightly lower in the tank than the inlet. This liquid is referred to as effluent. Once the effluent is discharged it is sent into a network of drainage pipes and then into the surrounding soil or the "leach field."

A unique process of cleansing and breakdown occur in the leach field. This process filters the effluent as aerobic bacteria further break it down to create nutrients and chemicals that are beneficial to plant life. However, it’s important to know that using too much water can disturb the delicate biological balance within the septic tank. If this happens, the system will fail to work properly and efficiently. Furthermore, discharging more water into the system than it can handle can cause it to back up.

Septic systems are designed to last indefinitely as long as a small amount of routine maintenance is performed. However, the leach field will most likely require replacement after about 15 to 20 years of service. If you follow precautions and routine maintenance tasks, you can keep the system working efficiently for many years. Below are some descriptions of what your routine septic tank maintenance should include.

Use discretion when putting things into your septic system. It is very easy to disturb the delicate biological balance inside the tank. It also helps to add bacteria to dilute the amount of sludge and regularly pump the system.

Regular amounts of household bleaches, detergents, drain cleaners and other household chemicals can be used without upsetting the bacterial action in the septic tank. However, excessive amounts of any household chemical will cause problems and if you are not careful it will lead to a back up in your system.

Avoid putting coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels, disposable diapers, facial tissues, cigarette butts, and other non-decomposable materials into the system. Since they aren’t decomposable products, they will end up filling the septic tank and plugging the system.

Do not dump grease down the drain. Temporarily store it in an old coffee can or milk carton and dispose of it with the trash. It could end up plugging sewer pipes or building up in the septic tank and plugging the inlet.

Spend the extra cash on a high quality toilet tissue that breaks up easily when wet. You can test your tissue by placing a handful in a jar half full of water and shaking the jar up. If the tissue breaks apart easily, the product is appropriate for the septic tank.

Lastly, be sure to clean your septic tank every one to three years. More specifically, how often you clean your tank will depend on the size of the tank and how many solids go into it. It’s important not to forget to do this periodically because overtime solids will start to build up and lead to bigger problems.

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