Septic Systems 101: Septic Tank Pumping

A common myth is that a septic system should never be pumped. However, failure to pump a septic tank is the greatest reason for a failed system. A failed system not only causes a mess from the back up of septage into your home but also creates an expensive bill as the system will have to repaired and replaced. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), traditional gravity based systems should be pumped every 3 to 5 years and systems with pumps, floats, and advanced technologies should be serviced once a year. Though this timing can be different for every household, first we want to explain what happens when a tank is not pumped and then how you can calculate how often your septic tank should be pumped.

As you use your indoor plumbing, over time the sludge level (comprised of solids) at the bottom of the tank will build up. This is more thoroughly explained in The Septic Tank. Without pumping, the sludge will eventually build up enough to leave the tank through the outlet baffle and make its way into the drainfield. Sludge in the drainfield can cause a clog in the drainfield and cut off the supply of air that is needed for good bacteria to effectively purify the wastewater that comes from the tank. The untreated wastewater now either backs up into the home or puddles in the yard. The easiest way to avoid this messy and expensive disaster is regular septic tank pumping.

The easiest way to determine how often you should pump is to assess your current household and its habits. We suggest starting with the well-known recommendation that a 2-3 bedroom home with 4 residents and a common 1,000-gallon gravity-based septic tank should pump every 4 years. Now if you have more people, decrease that amount of time, for example a house of 6 may want to pump every 2-3 years. If you have less people increase the amount of time between pumping, for example a household of 2 may want to pump every 8 years. The last remaining factor in how often to pump your tank is your habits. If your household uses a garbage disposal, does laundry several times a week, or uses lots of harsh chemicals regularly, like bleach or antibacterial chemicals, you may want to increase the frequency with which you pump your tank. If you frequently have guests over, run a business out of your home, like a salon, or if someone is sick and taking strong medications, like antibiotics or chemotherapy, you will want to pump your septic tank more regularly. This is a good way to calculate how often to pump your septic tank and can help you tailor your frequency to your home. Since every household is different we recommend that you call a licensed septic service provider to help assist you if you have any questions and want a more specific time frame for septic tank pumping.

Over the years we have seen plenty of things go wrong with septic systems, and most of the time it has to do with flushing the wrong things down your toilet. These septic systems are a delicate mini-ecosystem, and should be treated that way. For a list of items not to flush down the drain click here to go to our Don’t Flush These Items page.

Finally, if you are thinking about using an additive, we encourage you to take a few more minutes and read our Septic Tank Additives page, to learn more.