The Ten Essentials
- Practice water conservation. The more wastewater you produce, the more the soil must treat and dispose of. To reduce your water use:
- Use water-saving devices
- Repair leaky faucets and plumbing fixtures
- Reduce toilet reservoir volume or flow
- Take shorter showers
- Take baths with a partially filled tub
- Wash only full loads of dishes and laundry
- Keep accurate records. Know where your septic tank system is and keep a diagram of its location. Records of its size and location may be available at your local health agency. It is also wise to keep a record of maintenance on the system. These records will be helpful if problems occur, and will be valuable to the next owner of your home.
- Inspect your system once each year. Check the sludge and scum levels inside your septic tank to make sure that the layers of solids are not within the "early warning" levels. The tank also should be checked to see if the baffles or tees are in good condition. Periodically inspect the drainfield for odors, wet spots or surfacing sewage. If your drainfield has inspection pipes, check them to see if the liquid level is continually over 6 inches. This may be an early indication of a problem.
- Pump out your septic tank when needed. Don’t wait until you have a problem. Routine pumping can prevent failures, such as clogging of the drainfield and sewage back-up into the home. Using a garbage disposal will increase the amount of solids entering the septic tank and require more frequent pumping.
- Never flush harmful materials into the septic tank. Grease, cooking fats, newspaper, paper towels, rags, coffee grounds, sanitary napkins, and cigarettes cannot easily decompose in the tank. Chemicals such as solvents, oils, paint and pesticides are harmful to the system’s proper operation and may pollute the groundwater. Septic tank additives do not improve the performance of the septic tank, nor do they reduce the need for pumping. For information on the proper disposal of hazardous household waste, call the Recycle Hotline, 1-800-RECYCLE.
- Keep all runoff away from your system. Water from surfaces such as roofs, driveways, or patios should be diverted away from the septic tank and drainfield area. Soil over your system should be slightly mounded to help surface water runoff.
- Protect your system from damage. Keep traffic, such as vehicles, heavy equipment, or livestock off your drainfield or replacement area. The pressure can compact the soil or damage pipes. Before you plant a garden, construct a building, or install a pool, check on the location of your system and replacement area.
- Landscape your system properly. Don’t place impermeable materials over your drainfield or replacement area. Materials such as concrete or plastic reduce evaporation and the supply of oxygen to the soil for proper effluent treatment. They also can hinder access to the system for pumping, inspection, or repair. Grass is the best cover for your system.
- Never enter any septic tank. Poisonous gases or the lack of oxygen can be fatal. Any work to the tank should be done from the outside.
- Check with your local health agency for help with system problems. Although some malfunctions may require complete drainfield replacement, many problems can be corrected with a minimum amount of cost and effort.
Septic System Failure
Warning signs of a failure:
- Odors, surfacing sewage, wet spots or lush vegetation growth in the drainfield area
- Plumbing or septic tank backups
- Slow draining fixtures
- Gurgling sounds in the plumbing system
If you notice any of these signs or if you suspect your septic system may be having problems, contact your local health agency for assistance at King County Health Services East Service Center 206-296-4932.