What Happens If I Don't Pump My Septic Tank?
If it’s been years (or decades) since you’ve cleaned your septic tank, this one’s for you: Neglecting your septic system can leave you with a very stinky and expensive situation on your hands.
Having your septic tank pumped is one of the main maintenance tasks you need to do to keep your wastewater system working properly. Find out why pumping is so important and what happens if you don't do it.
Your septic tank is the holding area for all the wastewater that exits your home. Inside the tank, everything you flush or send down the drain separates into three layers. You have a layer of scum on top, which includes grease and fat. In the middle is the liquid layer. At the bottom, there's a thick layer of sludge, which is formed from the solids. While bacteria digest some of the sludge, some gunk remains, with the sludge and scum layers continuing to grow.
You need to pump your tank to get rid of the sludge and scum. This prevents those layers from growing too thick and interfering with how your septic tank functions.
The Environmental Protection Agency says you should pump a septic tank every three to five years. You might need to have your septic tank pumped more or less often, depending on how you use it. The tank size affects how much it holds and can also impact timing. The number of people in your household, how much wastewater you produce and how much of that is solid also play a role in septic tank pumping frequency. You should typically hire a septic tank company to inspect your system at least once every three years. They can tell you if it's time to pump the system.
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If you don't pump your septic tank, it can become overwhelmed with the sludge and scum layers, which leaves less room for the wastewater in the tank. This will affect the operation of the system.
When things are working properly, the liquid part of the tank contents will flow out of the tank and into a secondary treatment area known as the leach field. If you don't pump the tank and the scum and sludge layers get too thick, the liquid portion gets pushed through the tank and into the leach field faster than it should since there's no room for it.
If the liquid portion gets pushed out of the tank too fast, there's not enough time for the solids to settle out of it. This can result in the solids traveling with the liquid into the leach field. Over time, those solids can clog the pipes and the soil in the leach field. Eventually, the soil can't properly absorb the water, so it could come up to the surface and cause a huge mess. In some cases, you might have sewage back up into your home if the system fails.
Most septic tank care focuses on how you use your system. Lots of normal activities that are okay with a sewer could hurt your septic tank. These tips will help:
- Only flush human waste and toilet paper down your toilets.
- Conserve water usage.
- Limit using your garbage disposal.
- Avoid putting grease and other food particles down the drain.
- Skip chemicals, such as liquid drain cleaners.
- Don't use septic tank additives — most of them don't work and could actually hinder the tank's operation.
- Don't park or plant anything on the leach field.
These habits will help your tank work properly and could help reduce how often you have to pump the tank. Work with your septic tank company to maintain the system and address any issues early to prevent major problems.
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