What are the Best Ways to Clean a Septic Tank?

Posted by Roger Bryan on

So, you are about to purchase your first home - congratulations! This is such an important milestone in your family’s life. Buying a home is an event that will bring you a lot of joy in the future, but also adds a lot of responsibility. The effort and cost involved in maintaining your home is not insignificant. 

But, as one of the biggest investments you will ever make, it is certainly well worth it.  

Sometimes, maintenance issues sneak up on you, presenting huge and expensive problems seemingly out of nowhere. Other items are more routine and should be scheduled in your planner on a regular basis. Often, these routine items are not terribly costly. 

Keeping current with them can also help you to avoid big headaches down the road. 

What about Your Septic Tank?

If you are buying a home that is in a rural area, your new property probably is not connected to a municipal wastewater treatment plant. For this reason, it will most likely have its own septic system. This is definitely something you should know about the property before you buy it, because there’s more to it than simply viewing it as another part of the home.  

Even if your potential new home is located within a metropolitan area, be sure to ask if there is a septic system included.  If there is, request a septic system inspection report as a condition of your offer, no different than utilizing the services of a home inspector.

Once you decide to go ahead and purchase a home with a septic system and you have determined that it is in proper working order, you will need to know how to maintain it - and that’s where septic service professionals come in

All septic systems need some kind of ongoing care, typically based on a set recommendation schedule.  The septic system inspection report provided by the seller should tell you what kind of system you have, and it should also list when it will next need maintenance, as well as what services should be performed at that time. 

Make sure to keep this information in a safe place, such as with the deed to the property, and put the date in your planner. Knowing what to expect will keep you on track to ensuring your septic system functions as it needs to.

All Septic Tanks are Not Created Equal

As a prospective homeowner, you will benefit from a little bit of knowledge about different types of systems.  There are two basic kinds of septic systems:

An anaerobic system uses the bacteria found in feces and other wastes to break down solids in the wastewater.  This process takes place in the septic tank, before the wastewater is emptied to the drain field.  This is the simpler of the two kinds of systems, and it is the cheaper one to maintain. 

You can expect an anaerobic septic system to have a single, large septic tank.

Aerobic septic systems use septic tank aerators to add air to wastewater.  This increases the types and amounts of bacteria present to rid the wastewater of solids.  These types of systems often have three smaller tanks, and a more complex process of treating the water as it moves through them.  

They are more expensive and more costly to maintain, but also more efficient (this may be the kind you will want if there will be a large number of people living in your home, or if you use a lot of water for some other reason). Septic tank aerators are moving parts that will likely need more repair and replacement, but they are very efficient.

Cleaning the Septic System

No matter which system you have, it will be necessary to clean it at set intervals.  Cleaning it will involve a number of steps by your septic services professional, as follows:

  1. Determine the location of your tank(s).  In many cases, it will be buried under the ground.  The inspection report obtained at the time you purchase your property should show the exact location. You can also get a clue by looking for risers, which are vertical plastic tubes that protrude a bit above the ground.  

A few types of septic tanks rise up a bit above the ground, with an exposed cover you can remove.  If this is the case, cleaning is much easier.  If your tank is completely buried, you will need to dig it up.

  1. Once you have located the cover to your tank(s), go ahead and remove it.  Look at the tank and try to notice if there is any damage immediately visible.  See if the level of water in the tank looks normal.  If it seems to be overfilled, chances are that sludge (a slimy, mud-like substance that remains in the tank after the clean water has been discharged) has blocked the egress.  

If you have an aerobic system with more than one tank, you will need to check all of them.  This is also a good time to check the hiblow septic aerator or your Blue Diamond aerators - whichever brand is present.  After you have removed the cover from your tank, you will want to put some pylons up to alert others to the opening and prevent accidents.

  1. Turn on the water in a sink or shower and then go back outside to make sure the water is entering the tank in the correct spot.  Check to make sure some water is also exiting the tank from the pipe adjacent to the drain field.
  1.  Most homeowners use a professional service provider to empty the sludge from the tank.  This is often done using a special truck with a big tank and a vacuum attachment.  The process is often called “pumping out the sludge”, and the trucks are colloquially referenced as “honey wagons” in some locations. 

This service provider can also inspect your tank more carefully to check for any other maintenance problems that might be lurking.  

They should always give you a detailed report of what services and repairs they provided, along with the date of their visit and the time frame for the next maintenance.

  1. After the sludge has been pumped out of the tank and any necessary repairs or septic tank treatments have been performed/added, you can replace your tank’s cover and re-bury it.  It is obviously smart not to plant trees or gardens over the spot where your tank is buried.  Only light structures that can be easily moved should be placed on top of it.

The best way to clean out your septic tank will depend on the type of tank your home has. Sometimes, a thorough draining and cleaning will be necessary to get things back in optimal working condition, but other times, all you’ll need to do is use a product like SepticTab (click here to learn more) in order to promote bacterial growth and more efficient processing of the home’s waste water.