Indoor Steps to Take During a Septic Loading & Dye Test
Septic system testing: here we describe in detail the exact steps to take indoors durin a septic test in order to assure that a septic loading & dye test is performed properly.
We describe avoiding a catastrophe such as spilling dyed water from an overlowing toilet, checking in the building for leaks before testing, checking during testing, and checking after septic testing.
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HOW TO PERFORM a SEPTIC DYE TEST - How to Properly Conduct a Septic Loading and Dye Test
This article series provides details of the Septic Loading and Dye Test procedure for testing the function of
septic systems, focused on condition of the effluent disposal section, also known as a leach field, seepage pits,
drainfield or drainage field.
Septic System Loading and Dye Tests often requested by certain lenders, involve flushing a special dye down a toilet or
other drain combined with a known quantity of water sufficient to put a working load on the absorption system.
If waste water leaks to the ground surface (an unsanitary condition indicating serious septic failure) one may find dye
in that water provided the septic system is flowing at common rates.
Septic dye tests involve flushing a special florescent dye down a toilet or other
drain. The dye itself does not make anything happen. It is simply a colored indicator that can identify water found outside
as having come from the fixture where the dye was introduced.
It's the volume of water introduced into the
system that forms the actual "test". If waste water is coming to the surface (an unsanitary condition
indicating serious septic failure) one may see dye in that water, provided the
septic system is flowing at common rates.
When suspect wet areas are observed, if the system has no
maintenance history, if the area is known to have problem soils, or if other historic or site
conditions raise question about the condition of the system
we recommend that the inspector perform a dye test.
STEP BY STEP SEPTIC TEST GUIDE - Septic Loading & Dye Test Procedure
INSIDE STEPS - What to DO Inside the Building During a Septic Test
- Locate and inspect key inside septic system components:
- Location of the main house waste line exit point and cleanout.
- Location of any other drain lines leaving the building, possibly suggesting more than one septic tank or drywell
- Location, type, number of plumbing fixtures. Are there fixtures that are unlikely to be draining into the septic system because
of their distance or elevation?
- Location and types of septic system pumps and alarms
- Report components that appear to be installed but which were not readily accessible for inspection.
- Run bathtub or sink water (cold faucet only) or similar fixture closest to where dye
will be introduced (typically at a toilet in the next step).
- Confirm water flow into septic: Inspect DWV lines, particularly in the basement or crawl space, to assure that
the water being run is entering the septic system (as opposed to sinks and tubs being
routed to a drywell while the toilet (and dye source) is routed to a septic system. Check that the drains are in fact
connected and not spilling into the building. (E.g. where traps were removed for winterizing.)
Confirm that water flow from fixtures being run is going into the septic system or document
that such confirmation was not possible. Often by running a test fixture the inspector can find and listen to
the main waste line, confirming that the fixture is flowing into that drain. An access port at a septic tank may also permit
- Flush the toilet with clean water where dye will (later) be introduced, assure it flushes normally so that you won't spill dye from an overflowing
toilet into the building. Do not put dye into a toilet or other fixture before you have confirmed that the fixture will
drain rather than backup and overflow into the building!
- Introduce dye into the toilet.(MUST use enough dye to stain no less than the
volume of the septic tank.
Typically this is 10 pellets or more and 2-3
tablespoons of dye. See the specs on the dye you buy, see SEPTIC TEST VOLUMES & DYE AMOUNTS to determine how much septic dye powder or how many septic dye tablets to use, and what color septic dye to use.
Some tablets are so weak you'd need 200 to stain the effluent in the septic tank!
Watch out: to avoid creating a horrible mess with septic dye powder indoors, see our side-bar article: AVOID SEPTIC DYE POWDER CATASTROPHY that describes pre-wrapping packets of septic dye powder for indoor use.
see SEPTIC DYE TEST WARNINGS.
- Record start time and estimated flow or measured GPM. Record all other pertinent
descriptive factors as listed below.
- Run additional plumbing fixtures to obtain your total flow in GPM into the system and
document which fixtures were run and the total GPM estimated or measured flow rate. Note that if
the building is served by a private pump and well, the flow rate is not constant. The flow rate
will vary as the pump on-off pressure cycle varies.
- Occupancy/Usage recording: note occupancy or time since last occupancy; note
number of occupants, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms. Observe and
record separate handling of gray water and assure it's being discharged to an
approved location (not surface nor storm drains) if it's not flowing into the
If the system has been recently pumped, or if a cesspool is installed, this
test may be invalid: it may not be possible to run enough water during the test
period to fill an empty or partly empty tank or cesspool.
A septic loading and dye test will by no means
find every septic failure, but this methods finds many failures that otherwise are unnoticed by a home
buyer until shortly after moving-in. Septic loading and dye tests are complimentary to and should precede
any further inspection steps taken such as pumping the septic tank.
Dyed effluent usually appears in 20-30 minutes on a failed
system but can take up to five days to show up. If at a building inspection suspect wet areas are observed I recommend a dye test
even if one was not previously requested. When wet areas are not found (or created by running water into the septic system) on the property
being inspected, dye tests may still be performed to meet requirements of some lenders.
Although this test can often find a costly failure
it does not find all possible problems. So by itself a dye test is not indicative of complete condition of the system.
On the other hand, I've found so many failed systems with
this procedure that it's well worth performing.
Continue reading at AVOID SEPTIC DYE POWDER CATASTROPHY or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
INSIDE SEPTIC DYE TEST STEPS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.
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Technical Reviewers & References
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Click to Show or Hide Citations & References
- New York State Department of Health, "Appendix 75-A Wastewater Treatment Standards - Individual Household Systems", [PDF] New York State Department of Health, 3 February 2010, retrieved 3/1/2010, original source: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/nycrr/title_10/part_75/appendix_75-a.htm
- Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com
- John Cranor is an ASHI member and a home inspector (The House Whisperer) is located in Glen Allen, VA 23060. He is also a contributor to InspectApedia.com in several technical areas such as plumbing and appliances (dryer vents). Contact Mr. Cranor at 804-747-7747 or by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Septic System Information Website home page for this topic
- Septic Systems Inspection, Testing, & Maintenance - online textbook. Detailed how to inspect, maintain, repair information
- The Home Buyer's Guide to Septic Systems
- Septic Tank Pumping Guide: When, Why, How to pump the septic tank
- Home & Outdoor Living Water Requirements
- Septic Tank Capacity vs Usage in Daily Gallons of Wastewater Flow, calculating required septic tank size, calculating septic tank volume from size measurements
- Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
- How Big Should the Leach Field Be? - table of soil percolation rate vs. field size
- Septic System Drainfield Absorption System Biomat Formation - what leads to drain field clogging and expensive drainfield repairs
- Table of Required Septic & Well Clearances: Distances Between Septic System & Wells, Streams, Trees, etc.
- Ten Steps to Keeping a Septic System Working, suggestions from the U.S. EPA, edits and additions by DJF
- Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
- Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
- Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair