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The article discusses the septic system, which is used by more than 60 million Americans and about one-third of new developments. It is a simple system where all the home’s drains lead to a septic tank buried outside, which separates the waste water into sludge, floating scum, and effluent. Only the effluent is discharged into the drain field. Septic systems require monitoring before problems arise, and maintenance can go a long way in avoiding problems. It is recommended to pump out the sludge and scum layers periodically, generally when they are within 6 and 12 inches of the outlet tee.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that people who have a septic tank should have it checked every one to three years to avoid overflow and contamination of nearby water bodies. Inspection involves measuring the sludge and scum levels, examining the pipes and mechanisms, and checking the drain field to ensure it is percolating the effluent properly. The average septic tank system requires pumping every three to five years. Some products that claim to prolong periods between pumping by breaking down the sludge in the tank may be superfluous or even harmful to the natural ecosystem in the tank. The EPA advises against using such products as substitutes for regular inspections and pumping. Without regular pumping, overflow can lead back to the house or flood the drain field, contaminating the water people use and drink. Septic pumping businesses specialize in removing the scum and sludge in the tank, which is then disposed of in strict accordance with federal and state laws. The contents of the septic tank may be taken to waste treatment plants, for-profit companies that specialize in the treatment of septage, or approved landfills.

Septage, the contents of a septic tank, can be used as fertilizer for crops, although this practice is controversial. Some farmers see it as a cheap and effective way to recycle waste, but others believe it poses health and environmental risks. When applied correctly to good soil with a low water table, the soil should act as a filter similar to a drain field. Additionally, septage can be used to generate electricity using fuel cells located at treatment plants, which produces little to no pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions About Septic Tank Cleaning

How often is septic tank pumping necessary?

Septic tanks should be pumped every three to five years and inspected by a professional once every three years.

Can I pump my septic tank?

You may face significant fines if you attempt to do so yourself. In most neighborhoods and localities, licensed companies handle this task.

Do septic tank additives work?

No. Studies have shown that chemical and biological additives can actually harm septic systems.

How can I tell if my septic tank needs cleaning?

If your drains are clogged and there is an unpleasant smell, your septic tank may require cleaning. Even if you don’t see these signs, consider having it cleaned every three to five years.

What is the cost of septic tank cleaning?

The average cost is approximately $375. Pumping out a 3,000-liter tank can cost $250, while a 5,000-liter tank can cost about $1,000.

More Information

Related Articles

  • How Sewer and Septic Systems Work
  • How Toilets Work
  • How Organic Certification Works
  • How Fuel Cells Work
  • 8 Famous People Who Died in the Bathroom

More Great Links

  • National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association
  • American Ground Water Trust


  • Metro Vancouver. “Turning Wastewater into Energy.” (April 13, 2022)
  • Perkins, Tom. “Questions Remain About Using Treated Sewage on Farms.” Jan. 30, 2020 (April 12, 2022)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems.” (April 12, 2022)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Frequent Questions on Septic Systems.” (April 12, 2022)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Land Application of Sewage Sludge.” December 1994. (April 13, 2022)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Septic Systems Overview.” (April 12, 2022)
  • Willow Lake Cogeneration Facility. (April 13, 2022)


1. How often should a septic tank be emptied?

Septic tanks should be emptied every 3-5 years, depending on the size of the tank and the number of people using it. A larger tank with fewer users may be able to go longer between pumpings, while a smaller tank with more users may need to be emptied more frequently. It’s important to have a professional inspect and pump the tank on a regular schedule to prevent backups and keep the system running smoothly.

2. How do I know when my septic tank needs to be emptied?

You may notice slow drains, gurgling sounds, or bad odors coming from your drains if your septic tank is full. Additionally, if it’s been more than 3-5 years since your last septic tank pumping, it’s a good idea to have it inspected and emptied to prevent any potential problems before they occur.

3. What happens if you don’t empty your septic tank?

If you don’t empty your septic tank on a regular schedule, the solids in the tank can build up and cause blockages in the pipes leading to and from the tank. This can lead to backups in your home’s plumbing system, which can be messy and expensive to clean up. Additionally, failing to empty the tank can cause damage to the tank itself, leading to costly repairs or replacement.

4. Where does the waste from a septic tank go?

When a septic tank is emptied, the waste is pumped into a truck and taken to a wastewater treatment facility. There, the waste is treated and processed to remove harmful bacteria and other contaminants before being released back into the environment.

5. Is it safe to use septic tank waste as fertilizer?

No, it is not safe to use septic tank waste as fertilizer. The waste can contain harmful bacteria and other contaminants that can be harmful to plants and animals. Additionally, using septic tank waste as fertilizer can contaminate groundwater and other water sources.

6. Can you empty a septic tank yourself?

No, it is not recommended to empty a septic tank yourself. Septic tanks can contain dangerous gases and other hazardous materials, and improper handling can lead to serious health risks. It’s important to hire a professional to empty and inspect your septic tank to ensure that the job is done safely and effectively.

7. How much does it cost to empty a septic tank?

The cost to empty a septic tank can vary depending on the size of the tank, the location, and other factors. On average, homeowners can expect to pay between $200 and $400 for a septic tank pumping. It’s important to get an estimate from a professional before scheduling the service.

8. How can I maintain my septic tank to prevent problems?

To maintain your septic tank and prevent problems, it’s important to have it inspected and pumped on a regular schedule. Additionally, you should avoid flushing anything besides human waste and toilet paper down your drains, as other materials can cause blockages and other issues. You should also avoid pouring grease or other fats down your drains, as they can solidify and cause clogs.

9. What should I do if I suspect a problem with my septic tank?

If you suspect a problem with your septic tank, such as slow drains or bad odors, you should contact a professional to inspect the system and recommend any necessary repairs or maintenance. It’s important to address septic tank problems promptly to prevent further damage and avoid costly repairs in the future.

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