If your plumbing system is hooked up to a septic tank instead of a central sewer system, you must give it the maintenance it requires to avoid backups, blockages, drainfield floods, and other septic tank problems. One of the most critical maintenance tasks is to have your septic tank pumped on a routine basis. Learn more about what this entails and how often to have the job performed.

What is Septic Tank Pumping & Why is it Important?

Most conventional septic tanks built after 1975 feature two concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene containers buried underground. Solid waste accumulates most in the first compartment, settling at the bottom and forming sludge. Some solids also settle in the second chamber. Bacteria break down much of this waste, but it can’t eliminate all organic material from the tank.

If septic tank sludge isn’t removed with periodic pumping, it continues to accumulate and may overflow into the drainfield. Eventually, this may cause drainfield plugging and failure, requiring costly repairs to get the system up and running again.

Septic tank pumping involves removing liquids and solids with a vacuum truck, which transports and safely disposes of the sludge elsewhere. As long as you keep up with routine maintenance, it should be fairly easy for the vacuum to remove solids from the tank. If the sludge in a neglected container is thick and heavy, the process may be more difficult and time-consuming, increasing the cost of pumping.

Clearly, it’s worth keeping up with septic tank pumping for your peace of mind and the continuing functionality of your plumbing system.

How Often Should You Have Your Septic Tank Pumped

The general recommendation is to have your septic tank pumped every three to five years. Here are common factors that contribute to more frequent septic tank pumping:

  • Several people live in your home and produce high quantities of wastewater.
  • Your septic tank is small and has a lower storage capacity.
  • You use a garbage disposal that sends solids into the septic tank.
  • You use a water softener that empties regeneration cycle water into the septic tank.
  • You wash laundry frequently.

You can reduce how often you must have your septic tank pumped by following these tips:

  • Install low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets.
  • Use a water-conserving, high-efficiency washing machine.
  • Only run full loads of clothes and dishes.
  • Repair plumbing leaks, such as a dripping faucet or running toilet, as soon as possible.
  • Use mild cleaners and avoid antibacterial products that kill off important microorganisms in the septic tank.

Signs You Need Emergency Septic Tank Pumping

A flooded drainfield is one of the most prominent symptoms of a septic tank emergency. However, if you notice standing water in the drainfield, it’s best to avoid pumping the septic tank until the flood is resolved. Emptying the tank could cause it to float in the surrounding water, which could lead to broken pipes. Keep people away from the flooded area and call an emergency plumber to sort out the best course of action.

Fortunately, you can prevent drainfield flooding by watching for warning signs that the tank is getting full. If you spot any of these problems, schedule emergency septic tank pumping right away:

  • Slow drains
  • Gurgling sounds coming from the pipes
  • Water backed up in the basement
  • Foul odors in the drainfield after heavy rain