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SEPTIC SYSTEMS, HOME BUYERS GUIDE to
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SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS
SEWAGE BACKUP PREVENTION
SEWAGE EJECTOR / GRINDER PUMPS
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SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
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TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
TRAPS on PLUMBING FIXTURES
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Sewage & septic pump clog or failure diagnosis, repair, prevention guide: this article describes the causes of and steps to prevent clogging and/or damage to septic pumps, grinder pumps, and sewage ejector pumps.
We also list septic and grinder pump types, brands, and will identify pumps that are resistant to damage from debris or objects that may enter the toilet, sewer line, or septic tank.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
InspectAPedia.com readers report troubles with several types of septic pumps, sewage pumps, and grinder pumps, both for sewage ejector pumps located in the home (such as to pump a basement toilet waste line up to a higher main drain) and for pumps that operate septic or graywater tanks.
Septic pump damage may occur from certain objects that enter building drains regardless of where and how the pump is used, including in-building sewage ejector pumps (shown at left) or pumps used in septic tanks or septic effluent tanks.
Some of the items in this list won't damage the septic tank itself as their volume is small and they don't usually block the septic piping or baffles, but if your septic system or even public sewer connection use a septic pump, grinder pump, or sewage ejector pump, the items listed here can clog and damage or even destroy a sewage pump, leading to costly repairs.
Also see WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?.
Watch out for the following conditions that cause clogging and even burnup of various types of sewage pumps, grinder pumps, ejector pumps, and septic pumps:
Don't Flush These Items Down the Toilet - They Clog or Burn Up the Grinder Pump
See WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS? for complete details.
Septic & Sewage Pump Damage & Repair
Question: why is my septic pump using too much electricity?
i don't like the idea of these sewer ejection pumps as they suck electricity, i feel my builder dug the foundation too deep and therefore stuck me with this annoyance on my new home. it seems to be not working right now after 8months i am an was not pleased to find out this had to be used as i was not told of it until it was put in already. sucks electricity and whatever else. - Dave
Reply: check your septic pump float controls and check pump motor current draw
Dave you can figure out just how much electricity your ejector pump is using either by some careful examining of the electric meter itself or by looking up the specs on your motor.
Normally these motors run only intermittently. I'd be surprised if the ejector pump was using as much overall electricity in watt-hours as your refrigerator, freezer, or air conditioner.
The septic pump float switch at left describes a common sewage pump control method used on Little Giant™ and many other submersible sewage grinder pumps. This type of sewage pump float switch, also used on lots of sump pumps, swings in an arc between its high and low positions. It's a simple, reliable electric switch, but debris in the holding tank or improper tethering can lead to switch jamming.
Note that by moving the tether position of the float wire in the pumping chamber you can adjust the pump cut-in and cut-out wastewater levels in the holding tank. Sketch courtesy of plumbingsupply.com 
Question: Our sewage ejector pump won't turn off - how do we fix it?
Our enjector sewage pump will not shut off even when there is nothing going into it - what do we do to fix this? Heather.
Reply: Check for and free up a stuck float switch or replace a failed ejector pump float control switch
Heather, sewage ejector pumps normally are operated by a float control switch. As wastewater rises in the holding tank when the level is high enough the float switch turns the pump on. The pump runs until the level of wastewater falls enough to cause the float to fall far enough for the switch to turn off the pump.
So if your sewage pump never turns off, presuming it's properly wired, the float switch is either stuck on debris in the holding tank, or the switch needs to be replaced.
The image at left shows the second very commonly-used type of float control switch, in this case using Zoeller™ pumps as an example.
The red arrow indicates the actual float - on occasion a float may become waterlogged or simply disconnected from its mounting shaft. The green arrow in our sewer pump float switch example is the actual switch assembly that turns the motor on and off as the float, on its shaft, rises and falls vertically. Image source: plumbingsupply.com 
Take a look at the two most common sewage float switch types in our Little Giant™ sketch above and the Zoeller™ sewage pump and control switch image at left. Your switch probably looks like one of these two types.
In a few rare instances I have found homes at which the ejector pump float switch had failed and the owners, rather than replacing the switch, just hard-wired the pump to turn on and off by a manual switch. This is a bad idea for obvious reasons including inconvenience and the risk that either the pump is left on longer than necessary or left off leading to a sewage backup.
To diagnose the sewage pump control problem it's best to open an inspection port on the holding tank where the ejector pump is located. It may be possible to spot and remove a object clogging the float switch. Otherwise replacing the float switch is the next step.
Watch out: in addition to obvious bacterial hazards at sewage pumping stations there are methane gas hazards of explosion and asphyxiation - don't work alone. Also see our list above of things that can clog up or damage a sewage ejector pump.
Is your sewage ejector pump already damaged? Maybe not. Some sewage pump models indicate in the installation and maintenance manual that the pump can tolerate being run "dry". But best practice is to set the float control switch so that the liquid level does not drop below the pump body.
Other sewage grinder pump and ejector pump control switches are illustrated here.
The float and tube type remote float control switch (left) is used on some sewage pumps and sump pump systems.
This switch and and float assembly is also very similar to a mechanical float and switch found as well in water softener brine tanks to control the water level in the tank.
The float moves vertically up and down in a plastic tube. The tube helps protect the float from jam-ups due to debris in the wastewater tank.
Image source: plumbingsupply.com 
By mounting this switch at an activation position higher than the normal float switch that controls pump operation, this remote control switch can activate a light or audible alarm to warn building occupants that the sewage system is not being emptied.
Image source: plumbingsupply.com 
See SEWAGE PUMPS for more guidance about buying, installing, and adjusting the controls on sewage grinder pumps and sewage ejector pumps.
Question: what is the white waxy stuff that caused my septic pump float swith to stick & clog up leading to failure of my septic pump?
What do you suppose was the large white waxy clumpy substance that I found recently in my septic pump container? The sticky substance was stuck to the sides of the tank (where it was several inches thick). It was also stuck all over the septic pump, and stuck all over the float switch.which of course was the problem and the reason for opening the tank. This accumulation happened over 2 years and 5 months.
We're not sure - you could send a sample to our forensic lab for free analysis. But a good guess is that your sewage ejector tank or septic tank that uses a septic pump was clogged by someone who used too much powdered detergents in a clothes washer or dishwasher.
It's well estblished that using excessive amounts of powdered detergent in a dishwasher or clothes washer can lead to accumulation of a gooey mess that clogs drains or even septic drainfields. Now hou have provided another important example: excessive detergent use OR using a budget detergent that contains large amounts of clay fillers can clog the pump float control switch or the pump intake in a sewage ejector pump or sewer pump as well.
We discuss detergent choices & recommendations to minimize drain and septic problems in two locations.
also see Dishwasher & Laundry Detergents Containing Phosphates & Surfactants for a discussion of the effects of phosphates & detergents on the environment.
This is part of our article series on sewage pumps that begins at SEPTIC SYSTEM PUMPS.
Continue reading at SEWAGE EJECTOR / GRINDER PUMPS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: sewage pump runs too much or won't shut off
(Aug 10, 2011) dave said:
i dont like the idea of these sewer ejection pumps as they suck electricity, i feel my builder dug the foundation too deep and therefore stuck me with this annoyance on my new home. it seems to be not working right now after 8months i am an was not pleased to find out this had to be used as i was not told of it until it was put in already. sucks electricity and watever else.
(Aug 16, 2011) Heather said:
Our enjector sewage pump will not shut off even when there is nothing going into it - what do we do to fix this
(July 11, 2012) nancy said:
We lost electricity for several days and now the grinder pump keeps coming on every 15 mins or so, even when nothing is being used, like in the middle of the night. What might be causing it to run so frequently?
(Mar 16, 2013) Anonymous said:
I have an ejector pump that is continously running. Quite possibly a bad switch. Will it hurt to turn off fr the entire weekend until calling a plumber after the weekend. I cannot remove top to inspect. Thanks in advance for advice.
(July 23, 2014) Cindy N said:
The air hole on our sewage ejector pump keeps clogging then the pump won't shut off
Reply: advice for sewage pumps or ejector pumps that won't shut off
Dave and Heather, I've posted answers to your questions and links to related information in the beginning of the sewage ejector pump Q&A section just above. We welcome your further comments, experience with pump repairs, or questions that may arise.
(Aug 17, 2011) Heather said:
Thank you but how to I get to the pump. there are 2 pipes going into my sewage tank and it looks like a sealed lid on it. Does my husband disconnect the pipes?
(Aug 18, 2011) DanJoeFriedman (mod) said:
Heather, then your sewage pump is inside the receptacle that receives wastewater from the downstairs fixtures you cite. The procedure is the same: the wastewater receptacle is opened to expose and remove/repair the pump or float switch. With the same safety hazards except that a typical in-house grinder pump receptacle is too small to fall into except as a child hazard.
If the septic pump is inside the septic tank the tank will need to be opened. Be SURE to read over
And the pump can usually be lifted out of the tank by lifting on a handle or chain designed for that purpose. Don't lift a sewage pump by its wiring.
It may be that you'll need to have a septic repair company come out and pump out the septic tank to inspect what's going on, remove and fix the float, and restore the pump and cover.
It's not something you should attempt alone, for reasons I describe at SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY
Keep us posted on what you find - it'll help other homeowners.
I'd turn off the pump rather than let it run continuously - to avoid burning up the pump. But keep in mind that you'll have to turn it on manually when using the fixtures that the pump serves -else you risk a sewage backup.
Question: sewage pump life
(Sept 30, 2011) Red said:
Woulf you be so kind to advise the life expectancy of a sewage pump for a residential home? Is the homeowner responsible for the repair/replacement of same? Would this be covered under homeowner insurance when malfunctioning? Just had to replace mine for $3400. I was not quite ready for such an expense (who is?). Just making sure I am covering all bases. My home is nine years old and is only occupied by myself. I most appreciate your advices
Red, if we take a look at the warranty period for sewage pumps as a way to see how long the manufacturer promises that the pump will last, we see warranty periods that are typically much shorter than the actual probable pump life. A typical warranty period may be just 12 months. FloTec pumps have varying warranty periods but their Sewage Ejector (Model FPSE3601A) has a lifetime warranty. That's consistent with my experience: properly installed and used as directed, sewage ejector pumps that are 15 or even 20 years old are not unusual to find still chugging away.
(Oct 5, 2011) Red said:
Thanks so very much. I will have to look into the model. I would venture to say that a builder does not use the most efficient product. Nothing personal about my builder, I think highly of him. I appreciate the opportunity to have a web site to use for people, as I who are not savvy on these topics. Best regards~
Question: sewage pump pit level, cleaning, clogs
(Nov 5, 2011) Don J said:
My pump does not empty the sewage pit until it is nearly full, thus the toilet will not flush properly. My plumber has already adjusted the float to no avail. Are there pumps you could recommend that would cycle faster so the sewage pit does not become so full?
(Dec 15, 2011) Jim Lenox said:
How often should a sewer ejector pit be cleaned out?
(Apr 13, 2012) Lisa said:
Accidentally, flushed 3 or 4 tampons down a sewage ejector pump toilet. What should I do now? Is there a chemical that can be poured down to dissolve tampons?
(Jan 31, 2013) Mike said:
How do you clean the greasy white waxy stuff around the pit and in the injector?
The conditions described above may require opening the sewage pump chamber (with power off to the pump for obvious safey reasons) to inspect for and remove solid debris that clog the pump inlet or impeller.
Lisa I'm doubtful that there is a safe chemical that could be poured into a sewage pumping chamber at a concentration that would dissolve cotton debris such as tampons.
Question: Sewage pump won't run
(Sept 29, 2012) ivan said:
My sewege pump is not working , how do i know if if burned up?
You'd have to test the motor. Search InspectAPedia for
Electric motor test procedure
To see some suggestions.
Also check that power is present on the pump circuit, that the float switch works, and if the motor hums there could be a mechanically jammed pump impeller as well.
(Dec 22, 2012) Mike Dulude said:
I have been replacing my septic pump every 8 months or so since for the past 11 years. I have tried various types of pumps including life time warranty pumps but unfortunately it still occcuring. There is no debris that seem to have clogged the pump. We do however use lots of quantity of water on a daily basis. Can this be the cause? Thank you
Something is certainly wrong. Check that you are using the proper type of pump and also that its float controls are properly switching it off. Also check for low voltage on the pump circuit and for outlet piping clogs.
(Dec 28, 2012) margaret Anderson said:
We have a rental unit in back of our property that has a pumping motor to the front of our property where septic system is located. Plumber just left and states large wad of toilet paper wrapped around motor. Is there a particular type of toilet paper that would not wad up and flush through to front of property?
Question: will ground solids clog the sewage line?
(Feb 13, 2014) Is it possible to have foreign objects get grount up like cloth napkins and end up in the sewarge line and clogging it said:
Is it possible for a cloth napkin to get through the grinder pump and actually clog or block the sewage line
Question: grease interceptors and grease traps
(Feb 16, 2014) Sam said:
Can u tell me is it possible to installed grease trap in more than 25 foot deep pumping station and how?
(Feb 16, 2014) Sam said:
I am having a pump burn cases at various pump stations what are the reasons and how to avoid it?
Sam, I've moved our grease trap specs to a new article at InspectApedia
Grease Interceptors - Grease Traps
you'll see that there are three basic types, one of which can be placed closer to the water source while others need distance to allow the water to cool - so the answer is ... it depends: on the thype of grease trap you're using as well as the type of wastewater. If you can't find the article I cite send me your email and I'll email you the link directly - (for security we can't put url links in these comments)
Question: leave pump on?
(June 13, 2014) Jess said:
What it i leave my hand pump on by accident for a couple of months.what can happen?
Jess, I'm unclear on what you mean by a 'hand pump' - that doesn't sound like an electrical device.
in general, if you leave any fluid-moving pump on for a protracted period AND when the pump might run dry, the risk is pump damage - for some pump systems running a pump "dry" can ruin a bearing or impeller.
(June 25, 2014) Eric said:
I have a two float system that was rotted so a was told to cut and wire together . Pump won't shut off know some told me the colors aren't normal can some one tell me what colors go we're ... message ends
Eric I think this question is beyond my expertise. To know the color codes of wires on a specific septic pump you'd need to get a copy of the installation and wiring guide for the unit - which means starting with the brand and model number.
9/3/2014 PN said:
We have a small business with several toilets and sinks. Our sewer line runs to a jointly owned pump vault (our sewage and our neighbor's). We have a dual-pump (ejector) system in the vault that pushes the sewage up and down a pressure line (down a side street) to the City's main in a major cross street. A new business took occupancy of the neighbor building a year ago (we've been here for more than 25 years), and over the past year we've had nothing but trouble with clogged pumps. Typically feminine products and other debris. If this were solely the neighbor's problem, we'd let them suffer through it, but they've made it our problem. Do you have any suggestions of a macerator/grinder that we could place in-line and up-stream from the pumps? And/or is there another solution you would recommend? All suggestions appreciated. Thanks
No question that tampons and the like can clog ejector and sewage pumps. Besides posting "Don't flush" signs, which are never 100% effective, one might need to install a pump whose manufacturer says can handle those obstructions. Screens clog.
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