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Septic Safeguards | Summer 2010 Out Here Magazine

Have your septic system pumped out periodically to keep the system functioning well.

Keep your septic tank operating with the right maintenance and care

By Cecil Hammond and Tony Tyson
Photography by iStock

Contrary to common belief, septic tanks are not maintenance free. Sending grease, garbage, and too much water to your septic system can cause inconvenient, expensive problems.

Properly cared-for septic systems, however, can function normally for many years. The key is preventive maintenance:

  • Septic tanks require periodic pumping out, depending on how many people live in the house. A good rule of thumb is to have it routinely pumped every two or three years, adjusting that, of course, to your circumstances.
  • Control what goes down the drain. Put kitchen grease and garbage into the trash, not in the septic tank, because they can clog lines.
  • Allow only household waste to be disposed into the system. No cat litter, cotton swabs, sanitary products, or items that can plug lines.
  • Repair leaking plumbing fixtures immediately. A continuous, longterm leak can saturate the drainfield and cause your septic system to fail.
  • Use water-saving showerheads and plumbing fixtures and other water conservation measures to minimize the amount of water you're sending into the drainfield. Cut back on long, leisurely showers and run only full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Direct water from downspouts from flowing near the septic tank and drainfield so they don't saturate the ground.
  • Keep vehicles away from your septic system. Damage to the septic tank and drainfield can occur from traffic or wheel loads on the system. No driveways, concrete surfaces, or asphalt should be placed over drainfield lines or the septic tank.
  • Remove trees from the drainfield area and don't plant trees near drainlines. Tree roots can enter sewage and drainfield lines and plug the lines. Remove tree roots mechanically or flush copper sulfate crystals down the toilet to help discourage or destroy the roots where the solution comes in contact with them.

    Recommended dosage rates are 2 pounds per 300 gallons of tank capacity. No more than two applications per year are recommended. Used in recommended dosage, copper sulfate will not interfere with septic tank operation. Copper sulfate is not a permanent solution for tree roots; remove the trees for a permanent solution to the problem.
  • Plant grass over the septic tank and drainfield to reduce erosion and to absorb moisture.
  • If you suspect a septic tank problem, get it checked and serviced immediately. This will help minimize damage.

Your local health department or county extension agent is a good source of information about septic tank operation. Contact them for questions or guidance regarding your septic tank.

Adapted from information from The University of Georgia and Ft. Valley (GA) State College.