Septic System Maintenance

A septic system is your very own on-site sewage treatment solution and is generally trouble free if you understand how it works and follow a few simple rules to maintain it.

Poorly maintained septic systems may leak and release an overload of nutrients and pathogens (bacteria and viruses), which can harm the environment and create public health problems. Discharges can also migrate further to nearby waterways, causing even more damage.

Sewage and grey water from the house flow through sewer pipes into the septic tank, where solids settle out of the liquid. The solids remain in the tank, while the liquid continues to flow into a leach field where it can soak into the ground. Even though bacteria in the tank help to break down the solids, they will still steadily accumulate and need to be periodically removed by a licensed septic hauler to prevent failure.

Follow these tips to maintain a healthy septic system:

  • Pump your tank out regularly and have your system inspected every 2-3 years. Note that some towns mandate a 2 year schedule.
  • Your septic system does not require additives to function, but if you chose to use these products, be sure to choose one from the DEP's list of approved septic system additives. Be aware that some localities may prohibit use of these products altogether. Consult your local Board of Health for further information.
  • Ensure the products you use in your home, such as dish soap, hand soap, and toilet paper are safe for septic systems.
  • Avoid using excessive amounts of cleaning chemicals and do not dispose of household hazardous waste or medicines in sinks or toilets.
  • Do not pour grease or fats down your kitchen sink, as they solidify and can cause a blockage in the system.
  • Do not flush anything that is non-biodegradable such as diapers, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, cat litter, facial tissues, and paper towels. These items can also cause blockages.
  • Conserve water.  A septic tank can only handle a limited amount of water at once, as it needs time to separate the solids and liquids. Some ways to conserve water are:
    • Fix leaky toilets and faucets.
    • Install water efficient toilets, showerheads and faucet aerators
    • Don't run continuous loads of laundry in one day.  Spread it out over a few days to give your tank a chance to recover.
  • Don't place anything heavy on the ground where your septic tank or leach field is buried, like a shed, swimming pool, parked car, or RV.  Don't drive over these areas of your yard, either. The weight of these objects can damage the system and any associated piping.
  • Keep the leach field clear of trees and shrubs, as the roots can damage pipes and the tank.
  • Avoid garbage disposals. They allow the addition of extra solids to your septic tank, which leads to your tank needing to be pumped more frequently. Compost food scraps instead for a healthier system. If you still choose to use a garbage disposal, have your tank pumped annually.

It's important to maintain your septic system to prevent failures, avoid costly repairs, and prevent pollution.

A septic tank is an enclosed container manufactured from concrete, fiberglass or plastic and is buried in the yard.