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How Do Septic Tanks Work?

Your septic tank is integral to your home plumbing, but most of us don’t know much about it. And that’s no surprise — nobody wants to think about their septic tank more than they have to, and as long as it’s working right, that’s fine. The problem comes when you miss an essential detail of keeping your plumbing healthy because you don’t know what you need to know.

That’s why we’ll cover the basics of how septic tanks work (and what it means for you as the owner of a home that uses a septic tank).

A Simple Answer

The simplest possible explanation of a conventional septic tank is that it’s a system that separates the contents of your drainage and then slowly releases whatever it can safely release into the soil around it. This can work via buried pipes with holes, special chambers, or more unique devices, but the concept is the same — waste that can be safely released is released, and the rest stays in the tank and eventually needs to be pumped out.

If you’ve ever wondered how a septic tank can go so long between pumps, it’s because most of the water and safely degradable waste doesn’t stay in the tank forever.

The Finer Details

Let’s take a closer look at the septic tank, so we can understand more about what you can and can’t do with one and why problems arise:

  • All your wastewater goes into the septic tank.
  • Bacteria starts breaking down anything it can in the tank.
  • Inorganic solids and bacteria byproducts drop to the bottom.
  • Fats and grease float to the surface.
  • Water waste that isn’t scum on the top or sludge at the bottom exits the tank.
  • That wastewater slowly releases via a drain field. Bacteria process waste and water drains away.
  • Sludge and scum build up over time and need to be pumped out of your system every few years.

Putting the Wrong Things in Your Septic Tank

Your septic tank relies on a delicate balance of processes, with bacteria doing a lot of heavy lifting and various compounds leeching into the soil. It should come as no surprise, then, that many chemical cleaners, indestructible wet wipes, and similar things that one might flush or feed down a disposal can cause trouble when they arrive in your tank. Even heavy use of something simple like antibacterial soap can cause trouble, but your tank was made to deal with at least some use of such standard cleaning products.

With a septic tank working the way it does, various synthetic materials that don’t decompose or do so slowly can cause trouble — especially if they don’t sink to the bottom like other solid waste. Cigarette butts, lint from certain materials, etc., can cause problems.

Other Ways Septic Tanks Go Wrong

Your septic tank can also have trouble if you put way too much water through it in a short time, as this can let too much unprocessed waste get out into the drain field, which can have unexpected effects or damage your soil. External issues like tree roots growing where they shouldn’t, cars parking above a drain field, and compacting the soil can also cause issues.

Using This Knowledge To Maintain Your Septic System

Now that you know how your system works and how it can go wrong, you can enjoy a more reliable and effective function of your septic tank in the future. Routine professional maintenance can help get your system back on track if it has gone astray, and, of course, you’ll need to keep up with pumping it out from time to time.

If you’d like to learn more about keeping your septic tank healthy or need help with septic services, contact Superior Drainage online today or call 330-733-3711 for service throughout Northeast Ohio.

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