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Septic tank cleaning or pumping: homeowner information.
This document explains the process of cleaning a septic tank, including pumping, inspection, and possible repairs.
This information is for homeowners and discusses the septic tank pumping procedure so that the reader knows what to expect from the septic tank pumping contractor, what to watch out for,and what to ask during the septic tank pumping process.
An Owner's Guide to Cleaning out Septic Tanks, Who Does It? Why? How often? What is Involved?
Septic tank pump and haul contractors can clean your tank. It is a good idea to supervise cleaning to assure that it
is done properly. To extract all the material from the tank, the scum layer must be broken up and the sludge layer mixed
with the liquid portion of the tank.
This is usually done by alternately pumping liquid from the tank and re-injecting
it into the bottom of the tank. The septic tank should be pumped through the large central manhole, not the baffle
inspection ports. Pumping a tank through the baffle inspection ports can damage the baffles, resulting in a destroyed
To facilitate future cleaning and inspection, if you don't already have inspection and cleaning
access ports, install risers from the manhole and inspection ports to the
Be sure that the septic tank cover(s) and access port covers are in good condition
and completely safe. A bad septic tank, drywell, or cesspool cover can cause a collapse and
can be fatal to someone walking in that area.
Before burying the tank also measure from a fixed landmark and mark the location of the tank, so it can be easily identified.
The thickness of the floating scum layer and settled sludge layer in a septic tank
are the keys to determining if a tank actually needs to be pumped.
we need to discuss the importance of septic inspection and pumping safety and
also effluent retention time of effluent in septic tanks and the
concept of septic tank net free area left in the tank after accounting for the thickness of the sludge and scum layers.
If you can't find your septic tank see SEPTIC TANK, HOW TO FIND - tips on locating septic tanks for inspection and septic tank pumping. Use of this information at other websites, in books or pamphlets for sale is reserved
to the author. Technical review by industry experts has been performed and is ongoing - reviewers are listed at "References."
Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
(July 14, 2014) (mod) said:
Septic tank pumpers: we do not accept advertisements posted as comments on these web articles.
Website content contributors whether it is just a small correction or an in-depth article series (which of course invites more search engine attention), are, if they choose, cited, quoted, and linked-to from the appropriate additional web pages and articles - which benefits us both. Those who wish to remain anonymous can also do so.
(July 17, 2014) Pumping Septic Tank said:
Thank you for this service, I feel a little better knowing about this Septic Tank Cleaning services can be prevented for the most part if I just take better care of my Septic Tank.
I’ll be sure to check it out soon.
(Nov 6, 2014) Tammy said:
I don't know if I could clean out my septic tank. I think it's good to know just in case though. I don't know if mine needs cleaning. Ours was leaking once and the smell nearly had me moving out! I'm so glad people do this for a job so I don't have to!
(Mar 24, 2015) Megan said:
Thanks for this information about cleaning out septic tanks. I really appreciate all of the helpful links included in this article! I like your tip about being sure that the septic tank cover and access port covers are in good condition. If they're in poor condition, they can cause a collapse and can be fatal to someone walking in that area.
Megan - from Australia
Thanks for the generous comment. I did not mean to suggest that septic tank cleaning is not necessary nor that it is something to be prevented. Rather I mean to say that the tank needs to be cleaned on a regular schedule (given in the More Reading Links above at SEPTIC TANK PUMPING SCHEDULE) and that doing that is the one of the best ways to maximize septic system life.
Additives, chemicals, treatments are generally unnecessary and sometimes harmful or even illegal.
When your septic tank is pumped, there is additional information to be gleaned that can tell us the condition of the drainfield, tank, and also that can be used to let us adjust the pumping frequency schedule as needed.
Tara Tompson said:
I moved into a home with a septic tank that I have to take care of last year. I don't know how often I'm supposed to get it pumped. I don't even know what size it is. I should talk to my landlord about it.
A septic contractor can open the tank, inspect its condition, pump it if appropriate, and determine its capacity or size. That size combined with information about the number of building occupants can give a reasonable guess at how often the tank needs to be pumped. See
Question: My septic tank was pumped without my knowledge and says it's important to leave "good bugs" sewage in the tank
(May 12, 2015) Linda said:
My septic tank was pumped without my knowledge as the driver went to the wrong house. We came home to find that the tank cover had been disturbed and we removed the cover to see if it had actually been pumped. There was about a foot of liquid and a chunk of crust in the bottom. We have had our tanke pumped every three years without fail ever since it was new and each time it was totally emptied.
The driver sheepishly returned the next day to tell us of his error and to ask for payment or it would be taken out of his pay. I asked why it wasn't totally empty. He said he always leaves some of "the good bugs" so as to not disturb the bacteria "action" and he said he even put a chemicals in!! WHAT??!!! We have never had chemicals put in our tank! Now I'm worried that it will become damaged!!! Should I be worried?
Thanks Linda, that's one we've not head before. It does sound as if the pumper was inexperienced or took a bit of a short cut. During pump-down good practice is to break up and remove the sludge, not just leave it in the tank.
The claim that we need to leave "good bugs" in the tank is balderdash and an excuse. Even a new septic tank is rapidly inoculated with bacteria naturally. No additives nor pre-charge with sewage are necessary and no additives are needed. In fact some additives are harmful to the tank, drainfield, and / or environment and are completely prohibited in many jurisdictions.
Ask this junior septictankpumper guy the brand and product that he used. It may be harmless enough to leave in place.
If he want sot be paid for pumping out the tank then he needs to finish the job. At this point that may require adding some water to permit breaking up and removing the sludge he left as an inappropriate and lazy gift.
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"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
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.
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.)
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
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
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill.
Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers:
* Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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