How Do Septic Systems Work?

As you know each time you turn on a faucet, flush a toilet, or do a load of laundry, the water and waste travels out of the house and into the Septic Tank. Some of the waste sinks to the bottom and some of it floats. As more water goes into the Septic Tank, an equal amount gets pushed out to the Drainfield.

No Baffle in Tank

From the first Septic Tanks until 1992 there was no real baffle installed in the tank to hold back the sludge from getting close to the outlet end of the tank. On these old style tanks when the water enters the tank, it stirs up the sludge and can push it out into the drainfield blocking the flow of water entering the Drainfield lines.

Baffle in Tank

In 1992, installation of the baffle made a great improvement at keeping the sludge away from the outlet therefore the stirring affect has been kept to a minimum. This does not mean sludge cannot find its way to the outlet. Only regular Septic Tank pumpouts help prevent sludge from getting into the drainfield.

Where does all the Wastewater Go?

Since the early 1970s perforated pipe and rock became the materials most used for Drainfields. The wastewater passes thru the tank into a distribution pipe called the header. Then travels thru the perforated pipes that are called laterals. There is another pipe connecting the ends of the perforated pipe together called the footer. This completes the Drainfield in a closed loop system.

If sludge gets out of the tank and flows thru the perforated pipe into the drainfield, you can see how it will clog up the pipe, rock,
then the sand under the rock bed.

Why Do Septic Systems Fail?

Why Septic Tanks Fail

If the wastewater cannot soak into the soil under the Drainfield bed, sewage may back up into the system creating two distinct symptoms – wastewater puddling on the ground, or sewage backing up into the house. After flushing the toilet, if the water does not go down, or you hear a blup-blup-blup sound – this is telling you the tank or drainfield is not accepting water.

The illustration shows how the grass will get greener and taller than the rest of your yard when the wastewater can no longer drain thru the pipe, rock, or sand.

The water will begin to push to the top of the Drainfield and begin to puddle at the surface.

Possible Causes:

  • Poor Soil Conditions
  • A septic system placed in unsuitable soil for the flow generated from a house.
  • Excessive Water Usage
  • A septic system designed too small for the house it serves or too small for the water generated from the house.
  • If sludge or scum is allowed to escape out of the septic tank and enter the drainfield, the pipe, rock, or sand may
    become clogged. If this happens the liquid will not be absorbed into the sand. This common problem is caused by a
    failure to have the septic tank regularly pumped out. It is also important to note that, over the normal operating life
    of a septic system, this clogging will naturally occur and can eventually degrade a system. Again, regular pump
    outs are the best preventative service that can be performed.
  • High Water Table and Septic System Failures
  • During wet or abnormally wet seasons, groundwater may rise into a drainfield and force sewage to the surface.
  • This is caused by an error in design or sometimes by a significant change in the surrounding landscape.
  • Roots and Clogging of Septic System Failures.
  • The roots of trees and bushes planted too close to the system can sometimes enter and block the pipes of the system.
  • Physical Damage to Septic System Components Causing Septic Failures.
  • Cars, Trucks or heavy equipment passing over ANY portion of the system can damage pipes or other portions of the septic system causing a malfunction.

My Drainfield Isn’t Working! Now What?

When your toilets back up or wastewater puddles up in your Drainfield area, chances are you will need to get it serviced or repaired. If roots have blocked your drainfield or kitchen grease, oils and fats have gotten into your lines, there may be nothing that can be done except to take out the old drainfield and install a new one. Sun Plumbing offers Free Estimates for your Drainfield Repair or Replacement.

If roots or grease are not your problem, you may want to consider getting your Drainfield Cleaned. Over the years Sun Plumbing has perfected our cleaning process with amazing results. Our success rate of Drainfield rejuvenation has consistently been above 95% of the Drainfields we have serviced. We can clean your Drainfield without disruption of water usage and with minimal disruption to your yard.

Our cleaning includes a warranty, and we offer credit toward a drainfield replacement by Sun Plumbing – if our cleaning fails. For larger failing Drainfields we may recommend adding Aeration to the septic tank. This is always an option for any drainfield that may have a biomat buildup at the absorbtion area.

If you do need a new Drainfield, there could be a chance you may have to install a pump tank with an elevated Drainfield for the new system. As a general rule, if your system needs to be replaced and it is older then 1992, the Environmental Health Department may determine your old system is to close to the ground water table. This means your new system will need to be installed higher, requiring the addition of a pump tank and pump.


How Can Aeration Help Your Septic or Drainfield?

Aeration improves the performance of a biologically clogged failing septic system by enhancing the natural bacterial treatment process. Aeration works by introducing oxygen into the septic tank. Aeration and bacteria work together to naturally break down thebiomat. Under normal conditions, a septic system will build up a biological slime (biomat) inhibiting the soils natural ability to absorb water. A healthy population of oxygen rich bacteria consumes the slime that has built up over time. Aeration at the septic tank
creates an ideal environment for this process to take place.

Oxygen is added to the system by a small air pump with a diffuser placed in the septic tank. The Aeration unit provides a means for wastewater to circulate and come in contact with the oxygen rich bacteria. Along with the addition of oxygen, the Aeration process includes a bacterial catalyst added into the septic tank to kick off the remediation process. The bacterial catalyst is a proprietary blend of facultative aerobic bacteria that accelerate the consumption of the biomat.

The oxygen rich wastewater first works to consume the waste materials built up in the tank and then moves out to the drainfield where it continues to consume the wastes there. This process is called bioremedration. Under normal conditions, a homeowner will begin to see improvement in their septic system within the first few weeks. This process can be greatly enhanced without laundry water entering the tank for the first 7-10 days. Over the past 7 years more then 4000 failing septic systems have been restored to normal with bioremediation technology. (source: Infiltrator literature).

Benefits include:

  • Eliminates the need for a complete drainfield replacement and the resulting landscape damage caused by heavy equipment.
  • Performance problems associated with a failing septic system such as odors and wet areas in the yard are eliminated in as little as a few weeks.
  • Environmental solution that strengthens the natural process of wastewater treatment and groundwater recharge.
  • Easy installation with no heavy equipment allows for minimal disruption and a quick return on investment.
  • Permanent solution that requires minimal cost to operate and maintain.


How Does Laundry Affect My Septic System?

If you have a 2 tank system (Black & Grey Water) laundry water should go into its own tank therefore you might not be concerned with this section. After 1992 septic companies started installing only one tank with a baffle, therefore, all the plumbing including the laundry now goes into this one tank. Every time you do a load of laundry, the bleaches and soaps are killing the bacteria you need in the tank. DID YOU KNOW that washing machines are one of the leading causes of septic system failure after 1992? The primary culprit is lint generated by washing machines, which clogs the soil in drainfields. These minute particles, because they are so small and light, do not settle in the septic tank.

Instead, they stay in suspension and are flushed out to the drainfield where they plug-up the pores of the soil bed.To compound the problem, much of our clothing is now manufactured with synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon. These substances are not biodegradable, and will not break down in a septic system. Instead, they accumulate and clog the soil. Once these non-organic materials enter the drainfield, there is no way to remove them.

You can also damage your septic system by doing a large number of laundry loads in a short period of time. In standard septic systems, solid materials settle in the tank, while effluent flows out into the ground. If you put more water into the septic system than it is built to handle, the high volume of water will flood your system and can flush solids out of the tank into the drainfield. A typical washing machine can use up to 62 gallons of water per wash load.

On a heavy wash day you can easily put 300, 400, gallons of water down the drain in a few hours (many washing machines use 60 or more gallons of water per load). The solution is to spread out your water use.Do 1 or 2 loads of laundry per day, rather than 6-8 loads on Saturday morning.

Fabric softners in washing machine rinse cycles are also known to have a clogging effect. Dryer sheets are recommended. In order to work, septic tanks require bacteria colonies which break down biodegradable matter. These bacteria colonies require “food” which is found in our wastewater, but not in detergent. Without “food” these bacterial colonies die, and the system fails.

[A research project conducted in several east coast states utilized some rather high tech systems for washing machine discharge and many began failing in as little as 8 months.] Consider using Sodium Percarbonate (Oxygen Bleach) in your laundry. It will not only whiten and brighten your clothes, it will also help keep your septic system healthy.

What About Pump Stations?

Pump Station
If you have a pump tank that is part of your septic system, understand that this is the only way the wastewater gets to the drainfield. As long as your septic system is properly maintained, your drainfield should last a long time. Improper maintenance (not pumping the septic tank) will allow the sludge to collect in the pump tank affecting the pumps operation, and sooner or later the sludge will end up being pumped into the drainfield. This pump will soon fail because it was not made to pump sludge.

Spend a little more money and have your pump tank cleaned out when you pump your septic tank.If your pump tank does not have a ground level access port like our illustration shows, you may want to consider having one installed for service and occasional inspections.