HOW A SEPTIC SYSTEM WORKS
This is a generalization of the two main systems used in our area: conventional and aerobic. Your system may be different:
for questions call either your installer or our office 281-342-9891.
CONVENTIONAL SYSTEMS are the old type that most of us started with. Basically, there’s one-to-three tanks in series
that drain into a common drainfield. Water runs out of your house through the plumbing and into the first tank, this is usually
a grease trap or a combination grease/septic tank where the solids collect. On the opposite side of the tank, near the top,
there’s an outlet line that leads to the next tank. In a system that is working correctly, the heavier solids start
breaking down in this first tank and only water should spill over into the next tank. By the time the water reaches the
last tank and the drainfield, there should be no more solids involved. The water leaches out of holes in the fieldlines where
it evaporates and drains away from the septic system. Drainfields hold a lot of water, more than your tank capacities themselves,
so in a system that is working well, flowback from the lines is generally not a problem. But, if you are having a problem
with drainage, reread the section WHY DID MY TANK FILL WITH WATER? [on the Questions & Links page]. If you want to know when
your system should be cleaned, that depends on -1- how long it’s been since the last cleaning; -2- the size of your
system; -3- how you are using your system; & -4- how many people are using it. If your plumbing is backing up in more than
one place &/or you see indicators in your yard [ponding or gurgling], then the system probably does need cleaning. If you
have a plumbing backup in only one place, that may indicate a blockage, so try a plumber first. If your system smells, that
doesn’t necessarily mean it needs cleaning. Sometimes it’s just a blocked roof vent, but septic systems that
are working well have a lot of good bacteria in them and lack-thereof is usually the main problem. Bacteria not only breaks
down the solids, they also reduce odors. So it’s your responsibility to keep the bacteria healthy. Feed it Rid-X or
similar product. Also helpful are sour milk and old beer. But the best way to aid the good bacteria is to decrease the amount
of anti-bacterial cleaning products that drain through the system. Do not use the toilet bowl cleaners that sit in the back
of the tank and work constantly. When you do clean your toilets and floors [cleaning water dumped into system], use only
the minimum amount of cleaner, then about a day or two later, feed your septic system’s bacteria. A healthy system
will work many years longer than an unhealthy one, and that’s more years use out of it before you have to go the expense
of replacing it.
AEROBIC SYSTEMS are the newer systems that have sprinklers instead of a drainfield. There are usually three tanks, or compartments.
The first is the trash tank, the second is the aerobic chamber, and the third is the pump chamber. At many of the houses
we go to, the trash tank is buried under several feet of dirt and the property owner does not even know it’s there.
That is because the installer or home construction company wanted to save costs, but it is not beneficial for you that the
first tank is buried [consider having a riser installed to improve maintenance ease and costs in the future]. The best working
aerobic system is one where the solids move from tank-to-tank slowly. If it isn’t already, consider having your laundry
water rerouted to the last tank [for details on this subject, read the third paragraph under WHY DID MY TANKS FILL WITH WATER?]
Aerobic systems have bacteria too, it’s just a different kind than conventional systems have. So do not use Rid-X,
but instead you need to cultivate your bacteria in other ways. Decrease the amount of germ-killing products that go down
the drain that fills the first tank, and increase food for your bacteria [sour milk, old beer, yogurt, etc.]. How do you
know when the system needs cleaning? Your maintenance company should be on top of that and they will advise you accordingly.
Basically, you do not want solids in your pump chamber, so when they start to spill over to the third tank, it’s past
time to clean—try to get your system cleaned when your maintenance company says there’s more than a foot of solids
in the 2nd tank [aerobic chamber].
No matter what kind of system you have, it will work better if you do not treat it like a trash can. Only human wastes and
toilet paper should be flushed. All other items will create problems. See our Tip Sheet or call our office for more information.
BEST SEPTIC ONLY CLEANS TANKS—YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS FUNCTION