For many, a septic system is some mysterious underground place. It is a place where wastewater from a home goes, never to be thought of again…unless there is a problem. Then it usually becomes a big problem. Proper septic maintenance can help preserve the life of a septic system, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s first take a look of what a septic system is, how it works, and how you can keep it operating efficiently.

What Is a Septic System?

There are two main ways wastewater is removed from a home. It either drains through a community’s sewer system, or it is dispersed through a septic system.

Simply put, a septic system serves as a self-contained wastewater treatment plant. It is placed underground on the property and collects and disperses the wastewater gradually.

There are two main components to a septic system, the septic tank and its attached drainfield.

How a Septic System Works

Septic System Maintenance

Wastewater exits the house through a main wastewater or sewer pipe where it enters the septic tank, which is usually buried in the yard. The septic tank is commonly constructed of concrete, but fiberglass is also frequently used. The tank is designed to hold the wastewater, giving it a chance to separate into three layers:

  • Lighter than water types of liquids like oils and greases float to the top of the tank.

  • Solids settle to the bottom of the tank creating a sludgy material.

  • Partial clarified liquid remains in the center layer.

A septic tank stores the lighter top area as well as the heavier sludgy material. Bacteria that are naturally found in household wastewater will continue to work to break down these solids. Eventually, however materials not able to be broken down will need to be pumped from the septic tank.

In the meantime, the clarified water drains from the septic tank into a dranfield or leachfield. This is usually a pipe or pipes that are perforated to allow water to be released into an underground bed of gravel or very coarse sand. This gravel or sand serves to further clean the wastewater, before it eventually seeps into the soil.

It is important to understand that this is a biological process that naturally cleanses the wastewater, and a properly maintained septic system can last the life of a home.

Maintaining Your Septic System

You can keep help your septic system along and keep drains running smoothly by avoiding putting anything down your drain that doesn’t belong. This includes women’s sanitary napkins, hair, pieces of soap bars, and disposable diapers. When clogs occur, using an environmentally friendly drain cleaner should be used.

But even a carefully maintained system can use help once in a while. Septic tank treatments can help increase the natural biology of your septic tank, improving its ability to break down solids.

Paying a little attention to your septic system on a regular basis can help that system provide years of service to you and your family.