How Does a Septic System Work?
Septic systems are underground wastewater treatment structures that use nature and technology to treat wastewater from household plumbing. If you’re new to owning one, you’re probably wondering how septic systems work. In this article, we’ll explain common types of septic systems and how they typically function so you can take better care of yours.
Types of Septic Systems
Septic systems usually consist of a septic tank and a drainfield (aka “leach field”). Beneficial bacteria in the septic tank digest organic matter, helping to separate floatable matter (e.g. oils, grease) and solids from the wastewater. Septic systems vary in design and size, but here are some popular types:
- Conventional System
- Chamber System
- Drip Distribution System
- Aerobic Treatment Unit
- Mound Systems
- Recirculating Sand Filter System
- Evapotranspiration System
- Constructed Wetland System
- Cluster/Community System
Most septic tanks are made of concrete, although the installation of plastic tanks has become more popular in recent years. Older tanks, however, can be made of concrete blocks or steel.
How Septic Systems Function
Every time you wash dishes, flush the toilet, or run a washing machine, you’re creating wastewater. Here’s how your septic system treats wastewater so it doesn’t accumulate in your home, causing foul odors and health hazards.
- Wastewater runs out of your household from the main drainage pipe into the septic tank.
- The septic tank holds the wastewater until solids settle down to the bottom forming “sludge” while floatable matter rises to the top as “scum.” Compartments prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and entering the drainfield.
- The liquid wastewater (called “effluent”) exits the tank into the drainfield, which is a shallow, covered, excavation made in unsaturated soil.
- The pretreated wastewater is discharged through piping into porous surfaces, allowing it to filter through the soil.
- The wastewater percolates into the soil, naturally removing coliform bacteria (found in the intestinal tract of humans and other animals), viruses, and nutrients. Lastly, the treated wastewater is then discharged into groundwater.
An average household septic tank will need pumping every three to four years. It’s crucial not to overload a septic tank as it can cause plumbing issues or break the septic system. Check out our tips for preventing septic system overload
to learn more.
Septic System Tips
Prevention is crucial for maintaining a septic system. Here are four simple things your household should do to keep your system running smoothly:
- Inspect and pump regularly
- Use water efficiently
- Dispose of waste properly
- Maintain your drainfield
By following these basic tips, your septic system should operate without any issue. For more detailed information about each recommendation, read our maintenance tips for septic tanks
Take Care of Your Septic System
Knowing how your septic system works is beneficial for taking care of it, but the best way to properly maintain your system is by working with an experienced septic company. Honey-Wagon is a family-owned septic maintenance company that’s fully licensed, bonded, and insured. Since 1986, we’ve been helping homeowners take care of their septic systems. We service Miami, Wyandotte, and Johnson counties in Kansas as well as Jackson and Cass counties in Missouri.