Septic Tank Systems 101


Septic Tank Systems 101

If you want to avoid costly repairs, maintaining and caring for your septic tank system is crucial. Many homes in rural parts of the country where municipal sewer lines are not available depend on septic tank systems to dispose of and process household wastes. Without these efficient and cost effective systems, many people would rely on the traditional out house. Below you will find the basics of how a septic tank system works and what you can do to maintain its efficiency.

How It Works

A basic septic tank system is an on-site sewage treatment and disposal system most often buried beneath the ground. There are two main components of basic septic tank systems: 1. The holding tank and 2. The absorption field. Several things happen once household waste enters the tank:

  • Organic solids float to the surface forming the scum layer. There, the solids are digested by bacteria.
  • Inorganic/ inert solid materials and byproducts from bacterial digestions sink to the bottom forming the sludge layer.
  • Clear/gray water or effluent resides in the middle layer.

The Absorption Field

Often referred to as the drain field, the absorption field is a perforated circuit of pipes resting in a bed of gravel buried beneath the ground. The effluent/gray water in the septic holding tank flows into the pipes, drains into the gravel and is absorbed by the ground.

What to Avoid

Since septic systems rely on bacteria to break down and digest the organic material/solids, bacteria is vital to maintaining proper septic tank functionality and reduced pumping/cleaning. If bacteria die, your tank will quickly reach its capacity and will require frequent pumping to maintain any sort of function. Several household products can hurt or kill off the necessary bacteria in a septic tank.

  • Laundry detergents
  • Bleach and chlorine
  • Disinfectants
  • Acids
  • Petroleum products
  • Cleaning compounds
  • Toilet bowl cleaners
  • Drain openers

Aside from the aforementioned products, you should never allow the following items to enter your septic system.

  • Cigarette butts
  • Feminine products
  • Baby diapers
  • Pet waste
  • Kitty litter
  • Plastic/household trash

The bacteria present in your septic system are your friend. Without their diligent digesting of the scum layer, waste would quickly accumulate, overflow into the absorption field and prevent proper drainage rendering your system inoperable.


Septic tank systems require little maintenance aside from periodic pumping. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection recommends a septic tank pumping once every three years. If your home utilizes a garbage disposal, your tank should be pumped annually.

For answers to your questions, contact The Pink Plumber today.

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