Soakaway Failure 101: What is this, and why is it important?


Soakaway Failure 101: What is this, and why is it important?

Homeowners who depend on septic tanks are familiar with the cost of having to invest in a new one. Their primary goal should be to maintain the septic tank and avoid soakaway failure. In fact, it’s most often the soakaway that fails before the tank itself. However, if soakaway failure occurs, you’ll have to replace the entire system: tank and soakaway.

Before you can understand why soakaway failure occurs, it’s important to know the role of the soakaway itself.

The duty of the soakaway

The septic tank itself receives the waste from the home, allowing the heavier solids to sink to the bottom, while the liquid waste rises. Inside the tank, biologicals work to sanitize the effluent, which eventually moves out the tank and into the soakaway, also called the drainfield.

The soakaway is an area on the land, usually far away from the home, into which the effluent gradually seeps. There, the bacteria that naturally exists in the soil goes to work, sanitizing the effluent again. In many cases, with proper maintenance and care for the tank and soakaway, the system should operate without problems.


Soakaways are, however, susceptible to failure in a few scenarios. Lack of maintenance is one of the primary causes of problems; however, there are also situations out of your control that can cause failure.

  • Soakaway depth. If the soakaway field is too deep, the effluent won’t be deposited in aerobic soil, an area of the ground where there’s enough oxygen to do the work required to break down the bacteria in the waste.
  • Soil type. Many types of soils are conducive for a soakaway to perform its duties; however, clay soil hinders the septic system’s performance and it’s impossible for the effluent to properly soak into the soil.
  • Water table. In the winter, as the water tables rises, it can interfere with the proper drainage from the septic tank into the drainfield if it gets too high.

Know the signs

If you’re maintaining your septic system every year, the system will be in good shape. Keep your eye out for signs of soakaway failure, which include:

  • Effluent on top of the ground.
  • Foul odors coming from the drains or the tank.
  • Toilets that flush slowly.
  • Drains that gurgle.
  • Ground near the drainfield showing signs of dipping.
  • Toilets, showers, bathtubs or washing machines that overflow.

Prevent soakaway problems and schedule maintenance for your septic tank every year. For answers to your questions, contact the Pink Plumber today.

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