If you already have a septic tank on your property you are already more than aware that they need to be handled correctly to avoid a huge smelly, unhygienic mess! The following article will teach you more about your septic tank and how to take care of it, but most importantly what to AVOID when you have a septic tank! Unfortunately, most of us do not give enough thought to the state of our septic tanks until they go horribly wrong! They are a big investment so listen up. 

What is a septic tank and how does it work?

Septic tanks are plastic tanks which can also be built out of concrete or brick and buried underground with the purpose of collecting, storing and to some extent treating sewerage, rather than it being transported to a sewerage treatment plant. The function of a sewerage tank is to convert toxic human waste into mostly harmless end products. The system consists of a tank and a soakaway.

When you use your kitchen or bathroom sink or flush your toilet, the water is directed through underground pipes into the septic tank where the solids will then separate from the liquids. Some solids such as fat, oil, and soap scum will float to the top and form a layer of scum. Heavier solids then settle to the bottom of the septic tank as sludge.

Self-forming bacteria in the septic tank helps the system to ‘digest’ the contents in the tank through a natural process of anaerobic decomposition which then reduces the amount of solid matter. Microbes in your septic tank will naturally break down the organic matter in your tank. The remaining liquids then flow out of the tank into a soakaway. This liquid is then soaked up through plant roots or drain into the water table. 

Caring for your septic tank is crucial to maintain a healthy septic tank which will save you money and avoid problems in the future. Although the septic tank system is a simple one (there is nothing electrical or mechanical to it) and is almost self-sufficient, there are things to avoid and ways to help the system work optimally. Regular care of your septic tank will require you to pump the solids out of your tank every 3 to 5 years depending on the size of your tank, the amount of use, and the kind of products that are being flushed into your septic tank system. Draining your septic tank is done by using a specialized vacuum hose to pump the solid waste out of your septic tank. Once the solids have been cleared from the tank the walls of the tank will be sprayed with clean water and it is ready to be used again.

When installing a septic tank system it is crucial to check that the system that you are having installed is compliant with the laws and regulations in your area.

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Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to help you optimise the efficient use of your septic tank system

DO stick to the same brands when using cleaning products as your unit will become tolerant to regularly used brands. Using different brands of cleaning chemicals could upset the microbe balance in your tank. Better yet, use biodegradable/eco-friendly detergents which do not contain sulphates at all times.

DO use washing liquid instead of powders detergent when doing washing and in the dishwasher. The liquids are generally kinder to the microbes in your septic tank.

DO spread your washing throughout the week, rather than washing it in one go on ‘washing day’

DO use paper towels instead of cloths when disinfecting surfaces as the used paper towels can be thrown in the dustbin rather than being washed down the drain when rinsing your cloths.

DO take out a regular maintenance contract, with a qualified expert who will ensure your unit is working properly and reduce the chance of problems in the future.

DO be water-wise. Using less water may increase the life of your septic system. Using too much water is a frequent factor in failed systems.

septic tanks

DON’T throw any medicines down the sink and or toilet. The antibiotics in the medication will kill the bacteria in your unit.

DON’T use antibacterial hand wash which will kill the microbes in your septic tank. Rather wash with a good old bar of soap and water.

DON’T empty large amounts of bleach or detergents down the sink or toilet. Try using more natural products such as vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, and even Hydrogen Peroxide as it becomes inactive after use.

DON’T use toilet freshener blocks as they are antibacterial.

DON’T empty any paint thinners or brush cleaner products down the sink or outside drains.

Septic Tank

Pros and Cons of a septic tank system

Pros

  • Septic tanks are more cost-efficient than building extensive and expensive sewer lines. Septic tanks are cheaper to install and don’t come with expensive maintenance costs.
  • Septic tanks are durable when well maintained and rarely need to be replaced.
  • Septic tanks are economically friendly as it does not contaminate the water supply. The recycled water is absorbed by nearby plant life.

Cons

  • Requires periodic maintenance as the tank needs to be pumped out every 3 to 5 years.
  • Septic tank lines can get blocked by non-biodegradable objects that should not be flushed into them (i.e. tampons, paper towels, wet wipes, etc.) Signs of a backup include slow drainage of toilets and sinks/basins. Call in the Absolute Plumbing experts before this turns into a messy disaster!
  • Potential broken or damaged pipes can be caused by tree root damage, accidental digging in that spot, a vehicle parking over the pipe, and other accidental reasons. If this happens you could have a big mess on your hands. As the wastewater leaks into the soil, the ground will become soggy and you’ll likely notice a foul smell. The ruptured pipe will need to be replaced as soon as possible by a qualified plumbing team such as Absolute Plumbing. The sooner that you get the professionals in, the less damage will be caused.
  • Some of the common problems experienced by the Absolute Plumbing team are root infestations in the pipes, blockages caused by fat (therefore it is ESSENTIAL to have a fat trap for your septic tank), and soakaways that have collapsed (This may be caused by natural movements in the soil or by driving a heavy car, etc. over the drainage field)
septic tanks

In conclusion

If treated right, your septic tank system definitely has many long-term benefits.  Using the advice above will help you to maintain a healthy septic tank system for many years, at a low cost. However, if you have any questions about septic tanks, or problems arising from septic tanks, be sure to contact our professional plumbing team at Absolute Plumbing who will offer you sound advice from years of experience, saving you in the long run.