Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual or small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state, tribal, and local responsibility. EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality.
Information for Homeowners
If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you or your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.
Ten Simple Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Septic System Working Properly
- Locate your septic tank and drain field. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
- Have your septic system inspected at least every three years.
- Pump your septic tank as needed (generally every three to five years).
- Don't dispose of household hazardous wastes in sinks or toilets.
- Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
- Use water efficiently.
- Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drain field.
- Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
- Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
- Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.
How Does it Work?
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drain field, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drain field area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drain field. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drain field for further treatment by the soil. Microorganisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.
Your Septic System is Your Responsibility!
Did you know that as a homeowner your responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed, and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater.