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Prolong the Life of Your Septic System

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Regular maintenance and pumping out your septic system will help to prevent costly repairs. However, there are daily precautions that can be taken to help a septic system function properly. 

To flush or not to flush
The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are wastewater and toilet paper. Disposing of sanitary products, paper towels, tissues, diapers, etc. will cause harm to the septic system and you will need more pump-outs.

Don't put food down your sink
Food waste, coffee grounds, fat, and grease will cause great harm to the septic tank. Instead of disposing your food down the sink, try a compost pile for any non-meat food waste.

Don't use a garbage disposal
The garbage disposal doesn't make it easier for the system to handle food, grease, and fat. If you are going to have a garbage disposal, you need to have a larger than normal tank with an effluent screen, and that you pump the system more frequently. 

Don't rinse toxic materials down the sink or toilet
Pouring disinfectants, oils, paint, drain clearing products, etc. down the drain can damage the septic system. If enough toxic material reaches the septic tank, the tank's function can be impaired. 

Reduce your water usage
Cutting back on water protects your septic system by reducing the load of wastewater that the system has to handle. If you repair all leaky faucets and toilets, install low-flow water fixtures, and turn the water off while brushing your teeth or shaving, it will save money on water bills and save your septic system in the long run.

Taking care of your septic system by following these precautions will extend the life of your septic system and reduce the number of costly repairs that need to be made down the line. 

Protecting a Septic System During and After a Flood

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When a home or the area surrounding it floods, the septic system is at risk of becoming waterlogged. This could be from a leak in the lid, rising groundwater that enters into the system, or an over-saturated drainfield that can't properly drain. A flooded septic system may lead to sewage backing up into the home and cause serious problems for the homeowner. 

Septic tanks may not always experience damage just because there is flooding, but any existing leaks in the system will allow floodwater, silt, and debris to enter the system. This presents a big problem since the extra dirt and debris can cause clogging. Extra water entering the septic system can also cause the floating solids to rise up and plug the pipes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has information on what to do after a flood to ensure your septic system is protected. Below we have summarized this information with a list of dos & don'ts:

Septic System Flooding Dos & Dont's

Do! Don't!
Conserve water as much as possible Don't drink well water until it is tested
Cut back on showers, laundry, running the dishwasher, and flushing the toilet Don't compact the soil over the drainfield by driving heavy machinery over the area
Clean affected areas within the home with a solution of 1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water if there are backups Don't use the system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house
Have the system professionally inspected and serviced if there is suspected damage Don't attempt to clean or repair the septic tank yourself
Ensure the manhole cover is secure and inspection ports have not been blocked or damaged Don't open the septic system for pumping while high groundwater conditions remain
Pump both the tank and the lift station as soon as possible after the flood subsides Don't dig into the tank or drainfield area while the soil is still wet
Examine all electrical connections before restoring electricity to the area Don't clean up floodwater by dumping it into the sink or toilet


This video provides some additional tips for how to avoid septic tank flooding and what to do if your system does flood:


Following these tips will help septic system homeowners to be prepared in the event of a flood and protect the septic system from further damages. If you need more specific advice or assistance with your septic system, contact your local health department for a list of septic system contractors in your area.

How Septic Systems Work | Onsite Overview #3

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Whether you are a septic system homeowner or an onsite wastewater professional, it is important to know all you can about the ins and outs of septic systems. Whether it be the basics of how they work, what types are available, or how to clean a septic tank, there’s no such thing as being overeducated when it comes to such an integral aspect of so many homes in the U.S. We have compiled a list of resources to get you started if you are interested in learning how to properly care for and maintain a septic system.

Our best resources on this topic:
About Septic Systems | Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
This webpage provides a brief introduction to septic systems, how septic systems operate, an inspection checklist for those who are planning to buy a property with a septic system, how to go about getting a new septic system installed, and a septic system maintenance fact sheet.

All About Septics | University of Minnesota Onsite Sewage Treatment Program
This webpage provides detailed information on septic system types (type i and iii systems), advanced treatment systems (type iv systems), special situations, and other onsite treatment areas of interest.

Septic System Basics Video: Septics 101 Course | Washington State Department of Health
This 19-minute video intended for homeowners explains the basics of how on-site sewage systems function and the steps you should take to keep your system working well. The video is divided into 5 chapters that can be viewed separately. Chapters include: Introduction and Sewage Overview, System Basics and Soil, Types of Septic Systems, and System Care & Maintenance.

Cleaning an Onsite Sewage System | Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association
This 2-page fact sheet provides onsite owners some basics about the system. These include: How an Onsite Sewage System Works, Inspection of the System, Cleaning the Outlet Filter, and Cleaning the Septic Tank. Additional references are also included in this fact sheet.

Septic Tank Pumping | Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
This 11-page manual was developed to help pumpers understand these important aspects of septage handling and disposal. Topics covered are: Septic System Components, Checking the Level of Scum and Sludge in a Septic Tank, Permit Requirements, Septic Tank Pumping, Equipment for Pumping and Transporting Septage, Septage Storage, and Septage Disposal.

How to find more resources on this topic on our website?
If you are interested in looking through our database for other resources on this topic follow the instructions below:

  1. Select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Decentralized WW Systems." 
  2. Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "TYPE" if you are looking for a specific kind of resource (videos, factsheets, etc.)
  3. Optional: In the Keyword Filter, you can type a specific word or phrase to target the search even further.
  4. The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results. 

Septic System Contamination Risks

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Can a septic system contaminate a well?

Have you ever thought about where the water goes when you flush a toilet? If you have a septic system, this question may be more important than you think. Whether it is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world or the septic system in your back yard, all wastewater systems need regular maintenance. This will not only extend the life of your system, but it will also help prevent it from potentially contaminating the surface water and groundwater.

How does a septic system contaminate the surface water and groundwater?

Water from your toilets, showers, and other appliances contains harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients that could make you sick if it were to enter your well without being properly treated first. Maintenance issues like a full or cracked septic tank or a plugged drainfield can cause untreated wastewater to enter the surface water or groundwater.  
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the most serious documented problems involve contamination of surface waters and ground water with disease-causing pathogens and nitrates.

Let’s take a peek at a conventional septic system and see how contamination can occur:

Your House:

  • Most of the wastewater will generate from the kitchen and bathroom. Watch what you put down your drains. 
  • Remember the three P’s: poop, pee, and (toilet) paper. Those are the only things that should be flushed down a toilet. 
  • Avoid flushing other chemicals or medications down the drain or toilet as they could contaminate your well. 

Septic Tank: 

  • Wastewater exits the home through a pipe and enters the septic tank which is buried and watertight.
  • The solids settle at the bottom forming sludge, while fats, oils, and grease float to the top and form scum. Sludge is broken down by microorganisms that also destroy some of the contaminants in the wastewater. 
  • If a tank is leaking, contaminated wastewater will exit the tank before it is treated. A septic tank needs serviced and pumped on a regular basis to ensure it is working properly.


  • In your yard, a series of shallow trenches were placed to create the drainfield. The partially treated wastewater flows from the septic tank into the drainfield and slowly filters down through the soil until it reaches the groundwater.  
  • Overloading your drainfield with too much water or having it clogged with solids will cause sewage to surface in your yard or even back into your house.

Treatment in the Soil: 

  • Most bacteria, viruses, and some nutrients are removed when the wastewater filters through the soil.
  • Soil cannot remove all medicines, cleaning products, and other harmful chemicals, so they pose the risk of entering the groundwater. 
  • Wastewater that surfaces in the yard may contaminate your drinking water through an unsecured cap or cracks in the well casing.


  • Groundwater is water that is beneath the Earth’s surface and is held in the soil or in the pores and crevices of rocks. 
  • Any contaminants that remain after leaving the septic system may seep into the groundwater. 
  • The biggest risk for a well to become contaminated is if it is in the path of groundwater flow beneath a septic system.

Further Resources: