How does a septic tank work?

Cammack and Wilcox - Septic System - Infographic-01Typical layout of a septic tank

A typical septic tank often consists of two compartments that contain gallons and gallons of wastewater. From one side, the wastewater flows in, and from the other, the wastewater flows out into the drainfield, which is a network of pipes in gravel trenches within the soil underground.

How a septic tank works

Wastewater from your kitchens and bathrooms flows into the tank. Heavy solids will settle to the bottom of the tank, where bacteria will reduce them into gas and sludges. Lighter solids, like grease, will rise to the top and form a layer of scum. Anything that does not decompose will remain in the tank unless it is pumped. If pumping does not occur, this waste can overflow. Wastewater that leaves the tank, known as effluent, flows through the drain field and into the gravel and soil underground, which treats the material further, as well as giving nutrients to the earth.

How do I empty my septic tank?

The first thing to know is that you are responsible for the maintenance of your septic tank, as well as the quality of its discharge and the impact it has on the environment. When it comes to looking after your septic tank, more specifically cleaning it, there are steps that need to be taken for effective and safe cleaning. It is important that you receive professional assistance when it comes to the cleaning or ‘pumping’ of your septic tank.

When the level of scum in your septic tank is above 3”, it’s time for the tank to be pumped. To measure, dip a 6 foot pole into the tank, moving it around to check for resistance. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the scum, remove the pole and mark where the scum has reached.

If the level of sludge in your tank is deeper than 12”, you will need to have the septic tank pumped. Use the same pole again, but with a towel wrapped round the end, and push it down to the bottom of the tank. Once removed, measure the distance between the top of the black sludge on the towel to the marking you left before, when measuring the scum level.


Signs of failure in a septic tank

There are four key signs to look out for if you’re to identify a failing septic tank.

  1. Firstly, any odours, surface sewage, wet spots or vegetation growth in the drain field area is a problem.
  2. Secondly, back-ups, either in your tank or in your general plumbing system could be a sign that your tank is blocked, which could lead to overflowing.
  3. If you hear gurgling sounds in your pipes, contact a professional engineer to visit your premises and diagnose the problem. This could be a sign of damage.
  4. Your fixtures should drain normally if there are no issues. If they drain slowly, your septic tank could be malfunctioning.

If these faults are not caught and remedied quickly enough, solids could flow into the drain field, which can cause serious damage and render your septic tank completely broken. Replacing a septic tank can be costly, so avoid neglecting your tank at all costs.

Cammack and Wilcox are leading providers of septic tank cleaning services for customers throughout Northampton and the surrounding areas. Fully licensed and experienced, we are committed to delivering high quality service in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner. For more information, please contact us today and we’ll be happy to help.