Septic tanks are often used at properties with no access to mains drainage or sewerage. This could be on regional or rural properties, campsites, holiday homes or temporary areas like worksites.
The septic tank is a sealed round or rectangular container that is used to break down sewage into effluent (or wastewater) through the natural bacteria living in the waste matter. The resulting effluent is directed to a drainfield (or leach field) where it is filtered and allowed to dissipate into the earth.
Most of us don’t like to think too much about what goes down the drain. That means that septic tank maintenance is generally ignored until there’s a problem. Unfortunately, when those problems occur they can be seriously unpleasant. A septic tank problem can mean major plumbing issues like blocked toilets and drains, bad smells and unsanitary conditions and major water damage.
To avoid this, there are several things you can do to keep your septic system functioning properly.
- Use Water Efficiently
Water is a precious commodity, especially in Australia, so this is good advice in general. But in the case of your septic tank, too much water can overload the system and reduce the efficient breakdown of the waste matter.
In properties with a septic tank, all the water that goes down the drains will end up in the tank. This includes toilets, sinks, showers, washing machines, dishwashers and so on. Working to minimise your water usage is good for your septic system and good for the environment.
To reduce water usage, you can invest in water-efficient appliances and fixtures like low-flow toilets, high-efficiency showerheads, low-flow taps or aerators and water saving washing machines and dishwashers.
You should also make sure you fix any leaking toilets, taps or fixtures as soon as you notice them to avoid wasting water.
- Be Careful What goes Down the Drain
Everything that goes down the drain will end up in the septic system. The system is designed to handle organic waste and other materials that will easily break down, like toilet paper. However, anything else can interfere with the functioning of and waste breakdown in the septic system.
When it comes to the toilet, don’t flush anything other than human waste and toilet paper. Items to avoid flushing include:
- Non-flushable wipes, such as baby wipes or wet wipes
- Feminine hygiene products
- Dental floss
- Cigarette butts
- Cat litter
- Paper towels
- Household chemicals or cleaners
Any of these items can either clog up the plumbing or the septic tank or interfere with the natural breakdown of the waste.
You should also avoid pouring grease, oil, foodstuffs or unnecessary chemicals or cleaners down the toilet, sink or any other drains in the house. Grease can clog up the plumbing and prevent the drainfield from absorbing the effluent. And chemicals and cleaners can kill the bacteria needed to break down the waste.
- Beware of Chlorinated Water
Don’t drain swimming pools or spas into septic systems. The chlorine and other pool chemicals can also kill the bacteria doing all the good work in the septic tank. The large influx of water can also overload the system.
- Maintain the Drainfield
The drainfield (or leach field) is used to remove contaminants and impurities from the effluent that emerges from the septic tank. The drainfield should be properly maintained to protect the septic system and ensure the proper dispersal of effluent.
Avoid planting trees near the drainfield area so that there is no risk of roots getting into the tank or the plumbing. Make sure that no vehicles are able to drive over or park on the drainfield area as the excess weight can compress the earth and rupture pipes. And make sure that no other drainage systems (like guttering or rainwater runoff) are emptying into the drainfield, as excess water can slow down the waste treatment process.
- Get your Septic System Professionally Inspected
Your septic tank should be professionally pumped and cleaned every 3-5 years. However, it should be inspected every 6-12 months to ensure you catch any minor repairs before they become minor ones. Periodic septic tank cleaning and pumping will remove chemicals and other contaminants that are affecting the waste breakdown, as well as remove excess sludge build-up that can affect the efficient functioning of the system.
By following these tips, you can keep your system functioning efficiently and effectively and prevent costly and unsanitary septic problems.