When to Empty a Septic Tank

When to Empty a Septic Tank

Have your septic system pumped regularly by a septic specialist

By Kathryn Keep

Pipe going into a hole in the ground
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Septic tanks are self-contained waste-water systems used where public sewage systems are not available. Normally, septic tanks work without any problems, but they require regular maintenance. It is important to empty a septic regularly. Professional septic tank companies use specialized pumps to pump out the tank. How often this should be done depends on many factors.


A septic tank functions by holding all the waste water. Solids sink to the bottom, while grease and fat float on the top. The clarified water in between the solids and grease flows out of the tank to drain into the drain field. Waste is broken down by anaerobic (without oxygen) bacteria. If the septic tank becomes overloaded or clogged, it will not work properly.


Identifying that you have a septic tank problem is fairly easy. The toilet may flush slower and drains may also drain slower. If you start to notice these signs, it may be time to have the septic tank pumped. If the problem continues, sewage and the associated tell-tale odor can back up into the drains and toilet. Finally, you will see puddles of sewage in your yard.

Time Frame

Some homeowners, because of excessive use or other conditions, must have their septic tank pumped every year. Others may only empty their septic tank every 10 or 15 years. In general, empty your septic tank every three to five years. When you have maintenance done, ask how full your septic tank was and when you should have it pumped again. Be aware that if you have a flood, your septic tank will likely fill up with water faster than it can empty and will need pumping.


It is never a good idea to try to empty your own septic tank. You are dealing with biological hazards as well as a fire hazard because of methane gas. It is well worth the expense to hire a licensed professional who will guarantee the work. Also be aware that once you are having septic tank problems, there is nothing you can flush down your toilet to fix the problem.


Take steps to prevent the need to empty the septic tank too frequently and keep it working smoothly. Conserve water where you can because the more you put down your septic tank, the harder it has to work. Avoid putting food waste, especially oil and grease, into your septic system, even with a garbage disposal. Chemical cleaners, including drain cleaners, bleach and antibacterial soap, kill bacteria necessary in your septic tank and should be avoided where possible.

About the Author

Kathryn Keep is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She is an eco-consultant, with expertise in environmental issues, home decorating, green building, and general sustainable living.

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