Care and Maintenance
Septic systems are used by approximately one-fourth of the homes in the United States. Typically, the average indoor water use in a single-family home is around 70 gallons per day per person. This translates into more than four BILLION gallons of wastewater each day that is dispersed below the ground’s surface. Four billion gallons of wastewater emphasizes the need for properly maintained septic systems. Inadequately treated sewage can contribute to both ground and surface water contamination. Many lakes and rivers are used to supply drinking water as well as recreational sources. Improperly treated sewage contains infectious bacteria and viruses. If it reaches surface water, it increases the chance of swimmers contracting a variety of diseases such as ear infections, gastrointestinal illness or hepatitis. Household wastewater also contains elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can quickly lead to water quality degradation. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.
Diagram of how a septic system works
Sometimes aseptic system can fail because the amount of water entering the system is more than the system can handle. This could cause the water to back up into the house, the basement and the yard. Efficient water use means less water entering the septic system and less opportunity for system failure.
Toilet use accounts for 25 to 30 percent of household water use. If you don’t have a newer high-efficiency toilet there is something you can do to reduce the amount of water needed to flush. Fill a plastic half-gallon milk jug with small rocks and/or sand and replace the cap. Place the jug in the toilet tank. Make sure the jug does not interfere with the flushing mechanism or the flow of water. This will save a half-gallon of water per flush. A leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water a day. Place a few drops of red food coloring in the toilet tank. Check the toilet bowl in an hour or two, or let sit over night. If the bowl shows any red, you have a leaky toilet.
A small drip from your faucet will add many gallons of extra water to your system each day. Repair all leaks as soon as possible. Faucet aerators and high-efficiency showerheads reduce water use thereby reducing the amount of water entering your system.
Doing load after load of laundry could be harmful to your system. This does not allow your septic system time to adequately treat wastes. It will flood the drainfield by not allowing your system enough time to recover. Whenever possible spread the laundry out over the week rather than do it all in one day.
Using a garbage disposal greatly increases the amount of solids and grease entering the septic system. The bacterial action in the tank will break down some of the solids but most of the grindings will have to be pumped out.
DO NOT flush any bathroom items down the drain. They have no where to go but in the septic tank. They may become trapped somewhere in the system and damage system components. Even toilet paper is best put in a trash can. What you put down your drain can have a major impact on how well your system works. Flushing household chemicals such as pesticides, paint or antifreeze can stress or destroy the biological treatment that must take place in your system. Usually, the bacteria in your septic system will recover quickly after small amounts of household cleaners, but the smaller the amount the better.
Have your entire system inspected every three years by a licensed professional. Regular preventive maintenance is usually less expensive than required repairs after a problem surfaces.
For more information on the proper care and maintenance of your septic system, contact your local health department. The following web sites may also be helpful: